Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Economics of Superstition

Cubs fans will be relieved tonight. One fan will be particularly relieved: Steve Bartman. He was that guy who attempted to catch the foul ball that prevented left fielder Moises Alou from making the out in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Marlins. Tonight the Harry Caray's Restaurant Group, who purchased what is now known as the "Bartman ball" for $113,824, will demolish the ball at 8:30 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

Economic theory, that bastion of rational thought, generally shuns superstition. When I looked up the topic on the "Economic Literature Index" I got a paltry five hits. One of which was an article by Brian M. Lucey that explores the effects of the Friday the 13th myth on financial markets around the world. He found that

"...there is some evidence that returns on Friday the 13th are statistically different from, and generally greater than, returns on other Fridays."

In any case, economics is continually recognizing that behavior is linked to expectations. Expectations are certainly linked to beliefs. If someone believes in superstitions, this will clearly affect their behavior--regardless of the factual and empirical bases of superstitions themselves.

Professor Richard Wisemen researches the phenomenon of luck. His project "The Luck Factor" began in 1994 and has involved hundreds of "exceptionally lucky and unlucky people." What the research boils down to is people's beliefs and how they translate into people's responses to good things or bad things happening in their lives. People that consider themselves "lucky" tend to emphasize the good things that happen over the bad things. People that consider themselves "unlucky" tend to emphasize the bad things. [Note this is the same flavor of argument about recent research on divorce and why some marriages make it. Couples that make it tend to downplay the bad times and when their partner gets snippy. Couples that don't take everything too seriously and personalize the snippy remarks.]

Let's hope this symbolic demolition erases the Cubs Curse. In other words, let the demolition unleash a chain of events that alters the fundamental belief structure of all of the players and managers such that their expectations about winning and losing, and their attitudes toward the bad things can (and will) happen in a game allow them to let it all roll off their shoulders.

No comments: