Al Roth, the Harvard game theorist who won a Nobel Prize for economics this morning with Lloyd Shapley, studies lots of fun things.Like repugnance.
A 2007 paper by Roth looked at the role of moral repugnance in constraining otherwise economically efficient markets.
Like dwarf tossing:
Dwarf tossing is an activity in which a large person throws a small person. The venue often is one in which alcohol is served. It is often a source of livelihood for the small person, with the large person paying for the privilege. While dwarf-tossing is legal in many places, it is sometimes banned by law. These bans suggest a concern quite different from occupational health and safety regulations that might attempt to regulate how to conduct such an event (for instance, by requiring the wearing of helmets and kneepads). For example, the summary of the Ontario Dwarf Tossing Ban Act of 2003 states: “The Bill bans dwarf tossing in Ontario and makes it an offence to engage in dwarf tossing.”
The matter came before the United Nations Human Rights Committee after the French Ministry of the Interior in 1991 issued a statement saying that “dwarf tossing should be banned on the basis of, among other things, article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.” After bans were subsequently enforced in some municipalities, a French dwarf, who had been employed by a company called Socie´te´ FunProductions, successfully sued in French courts to have the bans overturned. However, the bans were upheld on appeal in 1995 by the French Council of State on the grounds that “dwarf tossing . . . affronted human dignity.” The dwarf then brought his complaint to the United Nations, asserting that he was the victim of a discriminatory violation by France of his right to employment. A report from the Ofﬁce of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2002) further notes that he stated “that there is no work for dwarves in France and that his job does not constitute an affront to human dignity since dignity consists in having a job.” However the UN committee found in favour of France: “The Committee considers that [France] has demonstrated . . . that the ban on dwarf tossing . . . did not constitute an abusive measure but was necessary in order to protect public order, which brings into play considerations of human dignity that are compatible with the objectives of the Covenant.” Thus the UN committee, like the French Council of State, essentially concluded that dwarf tossing was so repugnant that it imposed a negative externality by diminishing human dignity, a public good
Dwarf-tossing is banned because of its repugnance. Likewise other markets, like a kidney donation market, may be constrainted by repugnance.
Game theorists like Roth have to consider things like repugnance. These insights helped him to create systems for matching kidney donors, as well as matching students to public high schools in New York and Boston.