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One of my favorite scenes from The Little Mermaid is the one where Ariel brings scuttle some of the loot she found from the shipwreck for examination:

It's a dingle-hopper! Essential for combing hair. It's funny. Why? Because of course all of us know that such a tined object is used for this instead

A second illustration for today is what happened in baseball on June 1. As a Mets fan I am not all that psyched. Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in the 50+ year history of the Mets. That was pretty remarkable because the Mets have played 8,000 games and have had some of the greatest pitchers of all-time on their staff at one point. Nolan Ryan was once a Met. He threw 7 no hitters, none with the Mets. Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Brett Saberhagen, and Mike Scott – all former great Mets pitchers – threw no hitters for other teams. But what was notable about Santana's no-hitter was that it was clearly a one-hitter. In the 6th inning of the game, former Met Carlos Beltran belted a line drive down the third base line that hit the chalk of the foul-line (meaning it was fair). But it was called foul. Of course in the aftermath of this, sports-people of all stripes start their run-down of the worst blown calls of all-time (here's my candidate for #1, what's your favorite? Here is another possible one) and follow that up with calls for instant replay of everything in sports. Now, I can see wanting to get calls right. But I hate instant replay, I really do. I watch sports as much for the skill and action as I do the outcome. But think about where instant replay goes. Take the case of baseball. Today we agree that we should use it to check for fair or foul balls. Fine. Then we extend that as technology improves to automatically check balls and strikes. After all, an important game is sure to come down to a blown ball-strike call at some point. Fine, then we turn the replay on the baserunners on second base stealing signs. And off we go. In an effort to plan baseball perfectly – to make sure we get it right 100% of the time, we turn the game into a computer simulation and destroy it. Maybe you think that's a bit dramatic. I don't.

Hayek, in his absolutely wonderful article the Use of Knowledge in Society (1945 in American Economic Review) discusses the virtues of a decentralized price system as a way not only of disseminating knowledge across wide swaths of the world, but also of providing an impetus for behavior to change and most important that itself is useful for generating knowledge that actors themselves do not even know at the time they are making decisions, or are not even sure they'd need until after participating in the extended order of human cooperation. The Little Mermaid clip is a nice little illustration of this. To a shorebird who has never seen a human use a fork to eat, it is easy to do some calculations on what the object may be, it may be easy to imagine how it could be used to comb hair – but he is far from the position of people who actually use forks. After all, all he needs is his beak to eat. The knowledge in this make-believe world is as tacit and as dispersed as the knowledge is in our world. The fact that something is so obviously a fork is what makes this point salient. It really is the same point that Hayek was trying to make in his article. Because it's not at all obvious. 

The same thing for sports and instant replay. It's really amusing to hear to the talk radio call in shows where people, even those in favor of "getting it right" seem to balk at the prospect of having a central video replay system "watch" every single movement in their favorite sport. At some point I hear people arguing, "well, that's just part of the game!" And so it is. If people react with such harshness to trying to make a game so perfect, knowing that efforts to make it too perfect would destroy it, then where are those same reactions when we try to do the very same thing with human behavior? No amount of "instant replay technology" is able to produce the social ordering that we have and no amount of instant replay technology could possibly replicate what the decentralized, uncoordinated, unplanned market process could produce. Ever. When circumstances are favorable to it possibly working, such as in sporting events, people feel revulsion, it sure would be a breath of sour water fresh air if that same skepticism were brought to the public sphere.

4 Responses to “Dinglehoppers, Johan Santana, and Hayek”

  1. chuck martel says:

    Let's not forget Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling and David Cone.

  2. blink says:

    These are interesting musings.  I am a bit more cynical the reasons fan's oppose instant replay, however.  Fans simply do not want true impartiality.  Instead, they want referees and umpires to have some discretion, just not enough to be obvious.  We now have evidence of home team favoritism in many sports, especially foul calls in soccer.  We also know that race (of the pitcher) influences third strike calls in baseball and that race also influences foul calls in basketball.  Yet as you note, many vehemently oppose impartiality even when it is feasible.  In the political arena, the hypocritical impulse favoring discretion over impartiality creates leeway for politicians to dole out favors, as long as they are not too obvious.
    While I do not have an opinion about sports, for the analogy with politics we may disagree: I would prefer to see fans embrace instant replay.  If the analogy holds, such fan-citizens would similarly embrace a strong rule of law and strict limits on arbitrary political power.

  3. Michael says:

    I don't know if you managed to catch the Cardinals "triple play" against the Royals a couple of weeks back, but I found it to be a point against instant replay.  Man on first and second, batter hits it towards the pitcher who trapped the ball, but the umpire called the batter out.  So the pitcher throws to first, then the first baseman to second in order to finish the triple play.  After the play, the umpire reverses his decision and decides to put the runners on second and third with one out, despite the fact that the likely scenario would have been at least a double play had the umpire not called the batter out. 

  4. chuck martel says:

    Since the players themselves are not infallible, why should we expect the officiating to be? The biggest problem is that video review of decisions disrupts the continuity of the game.

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