N.H.L and fuel-economy

January 10, 2009 BY danariely

In a recent New Yorker article, James Surowiecki proposes that many people want to be forced to pay higher prices for gas.

Surowiecki starts by describing a very important observation made by Thomas Schelling about the N.H.L:

“At the time, players were allowed, but not required, to wear helmets, and most players chose to go helmet-less, despite the risk of severe head trauma. But when they were asked in secret ballots most players also said that the league should require them to wear helmets. The reason for this conflict, Schelling explained, was that not wearing a helmet conferred a slight advantage on the ice; crucially, it gave the player better peripheral vision, and it also made him look fearless. The players wanted to have their heads protected, but as individuals they couldn’t afford to jeopardize their effectiveness on the ice. Making helmets compulsory eliminated the dilemma: the players could protect their heads without suffering a competitive disadvantage. Without the rule, the players’ individually rational decisions added up to a collectively irrational result. With the rule, the outcome was closer to what players really wanted.”

In the rest of the article, Surowiecki tries to make the case that we all feel the same about cars with higher fuel-economy — and that we want to be forced into this situation.

I am not sure I agree.  There are clearly situations where we want to be forced into a better social equilibrium (for example, I want other people to drive safer), but this strikes me more as a situation that we want others to start driving more fuel efficient cars and less about a social coordination.

What do you think?