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Friday, September 23, 2005

The Price of Freedom?

An anonymous guest post.

I was at a conference this summer where I saw several talks about distributed optimization that used the terms "social optimum" and "price of anarchy". (I believe that Christos Papadimitriou coined these terms.) Most of the speakers that I saw using these terms were European, and I found myself wondering if different terminology would have been chosen if an American theorist had initiated this line of research. (e.g., Nash only named it an "equilibrium"…) What do you readers think?

12 comments:

  1. I don't think it's a difference between American and European scientists. It's the difference between a well-read and colorful personality and one that is less so.

    I think that the phrase "social optimum" is a bit overloaded. If you read Amartya Sen's "On Economic Inequality", an early treatment of social choice, you will see that it is a bit more precise -- "utilitarianism" is the choice phrase for what now goes in TCS circles by the name of "social optimum" (optimizing the *total* utility of a society). Sen (and other economists) contrasts this primarily with egalitarianism (or "justice", if you will). Comparing the utilitarian optimum with what results from "anarchy" (and the colorful name "price of anarchy") is more in TCS style, more in Papadimitriou's style.

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  2. The "price of unhindered pursuit of happiness"?

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  3. Why is the Princeton educated Papadimitriou a European Scientist?

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  4. a well-read and colorful personality

    You mean not so well read :-)

    As you point out "social optimum" needlessly creates new terminology where economists already had one in place.

    "Anarchy" as well is called laissez-faire in economics, so the proper term was "the price of laissez-faire policy".

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  5. Point taken regarding Papadimitriou -- thanks. I should have stated things in terms of society of origin, like "...if a scientist raised in the U.S. had...".

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  6. Re "social optimum" and its use.

    The concept of social optimum predates
    CS. From a google-random sample

    http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/essays
    /paretian/paretosocial.htm#social

    "Jeremy Bentham and the utilitarianians had set the dominant interpretation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: the best criterion for any policy would be the provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. The social optimum was thus quickly defined as the allocation where the sum of individual utilities is greatest. Equity became one of the big topics of discussion: by the principle of diminishing marginal utility, a dollar is worth less to a rich man than it is to the poor, thus an egalitarian redistribution of income was called for. Of course, this raised the question of what "equity" meant anyway -- equitable in utility, equitable in income or equitable in means to income? Furthermore, there was the question of a trade-off between social equity and the efficiency of an economy. John Stuart Mill (1848) eloquently argued that income could be redistributed without sacrificing efficiency."

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  7. --- "Anarchy" as well is called laissez-faire in economics, so the proper term was "the price of laissez-faire policy".

    But "price of anarchy" is shorter and more memorable -- which is the point of defining terms in the first place.

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  8. I've seen "social optimum" used to mean a Pareto optimum, so I'm not sure how well fixed the terms are.

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  9. "Why is the Princeton educated Papadimitriou a European Scientist?"

    Mainly because he is European.
    Furthermore, his first degree is from Europe (so maybe Athens- and Princeton educated).

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  10. "Anarchy" is a super catchy term, but I don't think the way it is used in game theory and now CS does it justice. I saw an extensive history of anarchy recently in some magazine, which is archived here.

    Some alternative terms that I once thought were good enough that someone should write a paper to use one as the title: "The price of anti-capitalist anarchy" and "The value of fascism".

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  11. "Why is the Princeton educated Papadimitriou a European Scientist?"

    Mainly because he is European.
    Furthermore, his first degree is from Europe (so maybe Athens- and Princeton educated).


    I still donot understand how he is a European Scientist. He has been in USA doing research for the past 25 years. This is the whole of his research career and around 1/2 of his life. So he is *not* a European Scientist. A better term would be a Europe born Scientist.

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  12. Ok, you make it sound as if his parents were US soldiers sent to "liberate" Europe and on the way gave birth to him :-)
    He is just one of the many non-US scientists working in the US.

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