What’s a coffee cup worth

I’m just fiddling around waiting for supper to cook (standards tumble when it’s just me, all frozen, from the packet etc) and listening to a fascinating edition of Night Waves about behavioural economics which is just about to disappear of the iplayer which is why I’m tucking it in now.

My old markets and exchanges stuff has surfaced over the past few weeks with the friability of capitalism and the questionmarks now over whether a price discovery through a market mechanism is all it’s cracked up to be. More of that another time. I have views, she said darkly.

The behavioural economists (who’ve just got onto neuro-economics as I write) are talking though about something that matters a great deal for knowledge transfer and knowledge valuation. Here are two prisoners-dilemma-ish things on value which read across nicely to the whole question of illogic and the tug of feeling that affects action.

Two sets of people go to a place. The first set are offered a free coffee cup and at the end of the meeting sessions, the givers offer to buy it back off them at a price of their choosing. The second set are offered the chance at the end of the sessions to buy a coffee cup. It turns out that those selling back their gift want about twice the price as those offered the chance to buy a cup they weren’t given. It’s to do with ownership, possession, attachment, a bird in the hand.

Someone goes to the theatre, and on the way drops a £20 note. Someone else goes to the theatre and on the way drops the theatre ticket, priced £20. The firs person is much more likely to cough up for another ticket than the second.

Now let’s pick that up and drop it into the world of knowledge, and all sorts of interesting things about the circumstances in which people will transact or exchange start to get interesting.

I have to go and eat my readymade meal now, but there’s plenty of interesting work here about the emotions and feelings attached to value.

More on price discovery and value to follow. There’s much more to say.


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