Economics of Punctuality

Here is another gem from Prof. Kaushik Basu and Jorgen Weibull. His earlier paper on choosing to paying taxi fare which was against rationality was superb as well.

In this paper he talks about punctuality. Just like his taxi paper I heard him talk about some of his research on punctuality as well. This made me dig into the paper which was quite a fun read as well. It is

In nut shell paper says punctual or non-punctual behavior is not because of cultural issues. It is simply an equilibrium response  to what time they are expected to arrive etc.

In this paper we take the view that while the importance of culture is undeniable, the innateness of culture is not; and that societies can constructively think in terms of breaking out of ’cultural traps’. This is a large topic and we do not expect to do it justice in this short paper. Instead, we want to work here with a single example in order to demonstrate how a human trait which is widely believed to be cultural and, in all likelihood, is so to a large extent, is at the same time a matter of choice. While each individual may have no interest in opting out of his cultural trait, society as a whole may have such an interest, and each individual may in fact prefer to change if he or she had the assurance that so would others. In other words, the same set of people with the same innate preferences, endowments and abilities can settle into different cultural practices.

The example that we shall work with is punctuality and, by association, with related concepts such as tardiness, laziness and diligence. As we explain in the next section, social psychologists often think of punctuality as a cultural trait – something that is shared by the individuals in a certain group, for instance, a community, social class, or region. We shall here show that this may be true, but, at the same time, punctuality may have little to do with innate characteristics or preferences of the group. 

It may be simply an equilibrium response of individuals to what they expect others to do (and they expect others to expect from them). The same society, in other words, can get caught in a punctual equilibrium or a tardy equilibrium. This is not to deny that punctuality may be habit-forming and the habit could be subject  to evolutionary erosion or bolstering. A more detailed work (and maybe our own future research) will go into this, but our aim here is to focus on one core element of such a large agenda, namely the fact that punctuality can be both a shared social trait and an equilibrium response on the part of every individual.

It points how South Korea moved from being a tardy to a mover:

It is a short step from this to think of culture as something that is pre-ordained, as something indelibly etched onto a people’s psyche and so beyond the ambit of their choice. When in 1950 the British Charg´e d’Affaires in Korea, Alec Adams, pronounced how they (the colonial masters stationed in Korea) entertained “the lowest opinion of Korean mores, ability and industry”, and, more importantly, how he found it “hard to believe that they will ever be able to successfully govern themselves”, he was subscribing to this view of innateness of culture (Clifford, 1994, p. 29). This erroneous prediction, so close to the Korean economic take-off, could not have contributed much to Mr. Adams’ reputation as an economic forecaster. However, in his treatment of culture as something beyond the reach of a people’s choice he was not alone.

🙂 How Koreans changed this  equilibrium from a socio perspetive? No clue on this…

There is a nice game theory example (not understood fully though). How does one define non-punctuality ?

One question, that we have been on the verge of raising, but did not is: What constitutes unpunctual behavior? The reason why we could get away without confronting this question directly is because it was obvious in each of the examples considered above as to which behavior was associated with punctuality and which with the absence  of it. But once we go beyond specific examples to confront the general question of what is the essence of the lack of punctuality, we run into a host of conceptual problems.

A person who is late and unpredictably so is clearly unpunctual. However, this is a case of sufficiency, but not necessity, in describing a person as unpunctual. Problems arise when we go beyond this clear case. Consider, for instance, a person who invariably shows up half an hour after the time he is supposed to show up. Is this person unpunctual? It all depends on what we mean by “the time he is supposed to show up”, that is, what we take to be the base time to which he adds 30 minutes.

Both the situations lead to fascinating multiple equlibriums…

Great read…Expanding the areas of knowledge where economists can look into..



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