Is Britney Inefficent?

6 February 2008 at 1:24 am 5 comments

| Peter Klein |

My colleague Thom Lambert has a nice piece on Britney Spears over at Truth on the Market. Yes, really. Thom asks whether Britney’s popularity, which seems unrelated to intrinsic merit, is due to network effects — people are interested in her because other people are interested in her, and so on — leading us down an irreversible path toward Britneymania. Paul David, call your office! Britney, Thom suggests, may be like the QWERTY keyboard — grossly inefficient but hard to replace.

I like Thom’s analysis but think he should go further in exploring the welfare implications. Paul David’s fable of the inefficient typewriter keyboard has been pretty well demolished by Liebowitz and Margolis, among others; perhaps with Britney we finally have an example of market failure due to network effects! Then again, it’s hard to predict, ex ante, which promising young artists will achieve long-term success; given imperfect knowledge, there is always room for  ex post regret, which doesn’t necessarily imply inefficiency. Moreover, if Britneymania isn’t remediable, to use Oliver Williamson’s term, then it’s not inefficient. Finally, what’s the alternative? Do we want a trade association or, even worse, a Ministry of Culture choosing the next pop diva? We might get the next Oleg Gazmanov.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Evolutionary Economics, Institutions.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cliff Grammich  |  6 February 2008 at 8:22 am

    Peter, would Paris Hilton be a better example for Lambert’s argument than Britney Spears? Hilton’s entertainment product–“Simple Life,” the tape with Rick Solomon–seems to me to be of even more dubious value than Spears’, but there still appears to be popular interest in her. (Or maybe appeared to be . . . I don’t really keep up, or will admit keeping up, with these things . . .)

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  6 February 2008 at 9:21 am

    Good point Cliff. Or what about George Plimpton, perhaps the original famous-for-being-famous guy? Or (old timers will remember) Edie Sedgwick?

    Wow, there’s even a wikipedia entry on this.

  • 3. Chris  |  6 February 2008 at 1:07 pm

    I don’t know the economics term, but Britney is now famous because of her crash and burn. Originally she was famous for being a pimped out teenager who sang and danced.

    Paris, she might be a good example of network effects. She is “famous for being famous”.

  • 4. michael webster  |  10 February 2008 at 3:52 pm

    I am not sure of your point, here. Paul David’s QWERTY was one of many examples, which were all apllications Schelling’s Many Person Dilemma game model.

    So I am not clear on what you are complaining about:

    1. You don’t think that the choice of QWERTY is MPD?

    2. You don’t think path dependance really exists?

    3. You don’t know what difference it makes if 2 is true?

  • 5. Peter Klein  |  10 February 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Correct, the QWERTY layout is not Pareto-inferior to Dvorak or whatever, and hence not the Nash equilibrium of a MPD.

    I think path dependence exists, but does not constitute market failure, and is thus generally irrelevant for policy.

    I’m not being original here; this is all standard Liebowitz-Margolis stuff.

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