Many of you have been watching the Olympics. I know we've seen quite a bit at our house. I saw one of the events over the weekend as offering a different perspective on the idea of marginal thinking in economics.
The event was a track event. At one point in one event, there was a false start. The commentators (referred to in my house as "regular spuds") stated that the first false start was charged to the entire field. A second false start would mean an automatic disqualification for the runner committing the false start. I asked my wife about the practice because she's really into the track and field events. She informed me this helped reduce the number of false starts because, assuming a field of eight runners, people would start being eliminated on the second instance. Presumably this would mean a maximum of eight false starts before someone would win by the rest of the runners defaulting.
I countered that, while it seemed logical and efficient, it also seemed unfair to the field. I could see false starts occurring because of tension or just trying to "jump the gun" and get a fraction of a second advantage. But I would also think the tendency to "jump the gun" might also be overstated. Given the tension and the psychological focus needed to compete at this level, I would think that repeated false starts would have a negative effect on performance, and that would be its own inhibitor. Granted keeping the possible maximum number of false starts to seven instead of a possible 15 is efficient; but I'm not sure the process is necessary.
And while it is, admittedly a minor issue, it still offers possibilities for understanding the idea of marginal analysis. What is the potential benefit vs. potential cost for "jumping the gun?"
On a final note, my boss pointed out that swimming uses a different system for controlling the false starts. One false start and you're out. Different incentives, different marginal analysis?
I look forward to your thoughts.