Snow is beautiful & I hope no one in Syracuse reads this

It has snowed a lot in Syracuse last night, and the forecast is that it will snow a lot more. My walk to the school was fun like never before – loads and loads of snow all around, submerged cars (no sadism here – but it was just incredible to see it all), and an entirely new look and feel to the whole city/town/village (not sure what Syracuse is). On top of all this fun, they’ve advanced the women’s basket ball game and have announced that there will be no entry fees! Having done my masters in Economics, I know that I cannot resist it as long as I love walking around in the snow.

That reminds me of a conversation I had with my microeconomics teacher at Delhi School of Economics. He was teaching us the Hotelling lemma, where the problem goes like this. There are two ice cream vendors in a long beach with people spread uniformly all over. The vendors can park their vehicle in just one place a day – the question is where will they park it if they wish to maximise the sales. A crucial assumption here is that people like to go to the nearest vendor since there is a cost to walking in the beach. Now, I have put all this rather charmingly – atleast in comparision to all the greek gibberish that my professor threw at us. At one point (somewhere towards the begining) I started getting confused and lost track. I woke up from my trance only when he told me “there is a cost to walking at the beach”. I quickly shot back saying, “but walking in the beach is sucha pleasure”. Well, I was motivated largely by my desire to participate in the class and this was the only thing he said that I could comprehend. For him, ofcourse, it took an intellectual dimension.

That poor man started worrying about what would happen to Hotelling’s problem if walking in the beach were a pleasure instead of a pain. I did not realise it till I heard a voice from nowhere one day when I was parking my cycle at D.School. “I’ve been thinking about your problem”, said this voice from nowhere. After a few seconds this short professor who drives a blue Ambassador car emerged out of it. It had been months and I had completely forgoten it – in any case I did not realise the significance of what I had said till I saw this troubled man. It was a satisfying moment for both of us: he had an interesting intellectual problem that he had to solve (unlike a professional economist, thankfully, he did not assume away the problem by saying walking in the beach may be a pleasure in general, but walking for an ice cream is not or whatever – these economists are rather resourceful when it comes to assumptions); on my part I realised that even in a state of a trance I could critique and challenge popular economic theories.

After several years, I am enacting the problem we had discussed in knee deep snow. Knowing this perhaps SU has decided to keep the entry free to the women’s basket ball team – so that some folks would be motivated to fill up the huge carrier dome. All this is fun, and it perhaps throws out new challenges to my micro economics professor that some people have different costs to walking in the beach and the vendors may not know where exactly they will be sitting! 🙂

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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