Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

A Ridiculous Made-Up Example

December 06th, 2017 by G.

From Scott Alexander’s review of Inadequate Equilibria:

Or, to take a ridiculous example from the text that will obviously never happen:

Suppose that there’s a magical tower that only people with IQs of at least 100 and some amount of conscientiousness can enter, and this magical tower slices four years off your lifespan. The natural next thing that happens is that employers start to prefer prospective employees who have proved they can enter the tower, and employers offer these employees higher salaries, or even make entering the tower a condition of being employed at all. The natural next thing that happens is that employers start to demand that prospective employees show a certificate saying that they’ve been inside the tower. This makes everyone want to go to the tower, which enables somebody to set up a fence around the tower and charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to let people in.

Now, fortunately, after Tower One is established and has been running for a while, somebody tries to set up a competing magical tower, Tower Two, that also drains four years of life but charges less money to enter. Unfortunately, there’s a subtle way in which this competing Tower Two is hampered by the same kind of lock-in that prevents a jump from [Facebook to a competing social network]. Initially, all of the smartest people headed to Tower One. Since Tower One had limited room, it started discriminating further among its entrants, only taking the ones that have IQs above the minimum, or who are good at athletics or have rich parents or something. So when Tower Two comes along, the employers still prefer employees from Tower One, which has a more famous reputation. So the smartest people still prefer to apply to Tower One, even though it costs more money. This stabilizes Tower One’s reputation as being the place where the smartest people go.

In other words, the signaling equilibrium is a two-factor market in which the stable point, Tower One, is cemented in place by the individually best choices of two different parts of the system. Employers prefer Tower One because it’s where the smartest people go. Smart employees prefer Tower One because employers will pay them more for going there. If you try dissenting from the system unilaterally, without everyone switching at the same time, then as an employer you end up hiring the less-qualified people from Tower Two, or as an employee, you end up with lower salary offers after you go to Tower Two. So the system is stable as a matter of individual incentives, and stays in place. If you try to set up a cheaper alternative to the whole Tower system, the default thing that happens to you is that people who couldn’t handle the Towers try to go through your new system, and it acquires a reputation for non-prestigious weirdness and incompetence.

Sometimes the towers take more than four years off your life.  For women, sometimes they destroy their chance for family.

Some towers offer a Satanic bargain when you walk in the door.  They will give you your four years of life back–but you have to agree to drink and drug until you can tolerate strangers having sex with you. But this isn’t wildly recognized as a Satanic bargain because Satan is clever.  He doesn’t offer it as a bargain at all.  Instead, there is a cultural expectation that anesthizing yourself like a whore to let your body be used like a whore is the exciting part of Tower Time.  It is as if there were a widespread notion that the best part of receiving riches and power from the devil was the chance to offload your soul.

There are a few niche towers where in exchange for not losing four years of your life you get marriage and maybe a first child.  These are viewed as retrograde and oppressive.

There is a rumor that there used to be a mythic tower where you didn’t lose four years of life if you sought beauty and wisdom.  The employers don’t like the rumor, because if there were another reason to go to the Towers other than getting a good job,  you couldn’t count on the aspirations of Tower alums.  The Towers hate the rumors as a vampire hates garlic.

Comments (10)
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December 06th, 2017 07:24:30

Bruce Charlton
December 6, 2017

About a decade ago I was deep into scientometrics then IQ research – and after some years of this I was never able to find any solid evidence that the specific college or school you attended makes any consistent difference to measurable outcomes (like salary or job status) IF IQ and personality are taken into account (- and subjects studied, of course).

Maybe it makes a difference, but there is a great deal of noise in the data and the effect size is small if it exists.


Maybe there is some compelling new evidence that has emerged in the past decade, but I doubt it – given that this kind of research is anti-PC and anti-established interests.

I therefore believe that schools and colleges should mainly be chosen on the basis of non-academic reasons.

December 6, 2017

That makes me feel good since my younger son chose his college mainly because it was the best of a small group that offered him a full scholarship. I have since wondered if he made a mistake since it’s not at all prestigious, but maybe he didn’t.

December 6, 2017

The college debt crisis is even worse than you may think. See, for example: https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2016/05/18/hopes-dreams-debt/fR60cKakwUlGok0jTlONTN/story.html

December 7, 2017

At our most recent Board of Review, I asked each scout whether they had a strong desire to someday earn Eagle rank. Most of them said yes. When I asked why, they all, to a man, said that it would look good on a job application, and nothing more.

The almighty college and job application. I really don’t know, is this single-minded focus on resume-polishing a new thing? I don’t imagine my generation was all that different, but 50 or 100 years ago?

December 7, 2017


In the U.S. I would say that it very much depends on what field one enters. If it’s a “who-you-know, not what-you-know” field, then it very much helps to have gone to a prestigious school. But even that effect may well be restricted to the very tippity-top, Harvard/Yale/Stanford/Princeton/Chicago; I don’t perceive that having attended Brown or Dartmouth will really give one a leg up over a similarly capable state school grad.

December 7, 2017

MC, In my view, BSA troops outside of the Mormon-sphere do a much better job of inspiring boys. Mainly because their adult leaders are true volunteers, with real desire and motivation who have caught the BSA vision. Mormon troop leaders are conscripts.

December 7, 2017

Let me reword that, to make clear the distinction I’m making between BSA/scouting-ideals and church/gospel.

In my view, BSA troops outside of LDS-sponsorship do a much better job of inspiring boys with BSA’s ideals of scouting. Mainly because their adult leaders are true volunteers, with real desire and motivation who have caught the BSA/scouting vision. Mormon troop leaders are conscripts in the BSA/scouting cause.

And I would suppose many of them (the LDS troop leaders) have taken the “Okay, let’s just get this knocked out so we can say we have done it” approach, which effectively colors the boys’ scouting experience with “Checklist Mormonism.”

Ivan Wolfe
December 7, 2017

Some employers deliberately hire from lesser prestige. There are jobs that won’t hire from the top of the towers, feeling that you are overqualified and will bail on them at the first opportunity.

For example, I wanted to teach more than do research, and while my graduate program had an excellent teaching training program, it was a top tier research university, so many small, rural liberal arts colleges (my dream job, honestly) wouldn’t even consider me, thinking I would bail at the earliest moment, whereas they wanted someone who would put down roots and stay a long time.

But I’ve seen similar happen in the corporate world.

Ivan Wolfe
December 7, 2017

When I was in scouts “because it will get you a better job” was about the only reason adult leaders gave us for getting our Eagle Scout. Well, except for my dad, who was the only person in the ward who was actually a good scout leader (as I have mentioned before, he would often say there were a dozen men in the ward who would make great, even outstanding, bishops and stake presidents, but not a one would make a halfway decent scout leader). He actually had the vision of making boys into men and being prepared and widely skilled because that allows you to serve others more effectively and the dozens of other good reasons for getting an Eagle.

December 7, 2017

When my boys have asked me why they should earn their Eagle rank, I give the only answer that makes sense to me. If I hadn’t have earned my Eagle, I never would have had to do a very hard thing – one that made me stretch more than I wanted to. The biggest stretch? Learning to call adults on the phone and ask them to donate materials. I was terrified. Then it turned out just fine. Without that experience, I never would have been able to knock on doors as a missionary. I don’t think my Eagle rank has ever helped me get a job.

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