Tuesday, October 08, 2013
The Economics of "Put Me In Coach" and Other Transaction Costs
Any one who played sports as a kid knows that along the sidelines there is all kinds of lobbying. Some kids stand here hoping the coach will see how hard they tried and performed in practice and then let them play in the game. Others are constantly in the coach's face saying "put me in coach." There is a good economic explanation for this. The self-promotional ones create a little disutility for the coach and he or she can escape it by just putting the kid in. At the margin this makes all the difference. In turn, the shouters raise the transaction costs of the quiet kids. If they too want to play they have get in the coach's face. These are transaction costs because they do nothing that is productive.
Law professors do the same thing. As I noted over on Moneylaw the "put me in coach" phenomenon has extended even to signatures. It's all about "look at me." This means those who sat quietly on the side lines hoping that their good play would be recognized either have to join the game or accept sitting on the bench. And, nothing productive happens. Of course, the signature is only the latest form of "put me in coach." It goes way way back to the first instance of resume padding and extends through constant reminders of what you have done lately, kissing the dean's butt, and doing things that look like they are actual things but really aren't much. It all works just like gaming the Law School ratings until everyone does it.
Of course, none of this works unless there is a pay off. The coach who says," get your ass back on the bench" can stop this waste and reduce transaction costs. The coach, dean, search committee, or faculty member who responds to this just encourages it making it hard on those who are productive in practice but hope the coach cares enough assign playing time on the bases of merit.
Perhaps one measure of a good law school is how much of this goes on and how much the administrators feel obligated to look at substance and ignore "put me in coach" in its many forms. An administrator who is too busy or too worried about his or her own disutility only gives rise to additional waste.