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There exist social concepts which can only move in one direction, like a ratchet. We explore where this concept can be seen.

The ratchet effect

  • A ratchet is a tool which turns a bolt only one way. A type of ratchet is used on roller coaster lift hills.
  • Will security every go back to “normal?”
    • The TSA is trying to prevent attacks.
    • Each dollar spent when there was no attack can be claimed to have worked
    • This is proving the negative
    • More money means more security - less means the an attack
    • If we can never reduce security, this is a ratchet
  • Are there other things setup as a ratchet?
    • Came across the idea again when reading about copyright rules internationally.
      • The Berne Convention required synchronization to a minimum.
      • Being a shorter copyright country puts you at a disadvantage.
      • This can be a ratchet
    • It turns out that if you look, this is a very common thing.
    • Leases
      • Each year, at lease renewal the cost will be compared to market value
      • The landlord is unlikely to reduce your rent - many contracts ensure that they won’t
    • Government
      • It’s much easier to create or grow a government agency than it is to shrink it.
      • When there is a need, a new agency is created
      • When the need is gone, the agency would rather find a new need rather than the agency be dissolved.
    • Pay
      • Industry pay in a market
        • People seldom take a job for less pay unless they’re very unhappy
        • When a new, high paying company comes in, people start moving toward the high-paying job.
        • Other companies have to compete on price
        • Overall pay for this field can only go up, at least for a while
      • Raises
        • Even if the value of a worker’s output goes down, they will not generally accept a pay cut.
        • Even a smaller-than-normal raise will be seen as a bad thing by the person getting it
    • Company production
      • Once you invest in a factory (or a feature), removing it is much harder because you’ve already paid for it. You don’t want to waste your money
    • Group membership
      • In like-minded groups, people want to signal their membership.
      • As people talk, they will stake out more extreme positions because people are unlikely to want to reduce the strength of the position.
      • The end result is a kind of social ratchet who is more extreme than the positions of the individual members.
  • What is the natural end to a ratchet?
    • Steady State is possible. Everyone ends up where they are comfortable and no one wants to go further
    • Bubble explosion
    • A streamlined version comes out that everyone likes better. ___


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