Thursday, November 29, 2007

Citing Sources & the Coase theorem

Why the hell do scholars (and organizations) make it so hard to cite their work properly? Just put the information up in the standard author-date format and save people the annoyance of (n.d.) or (volume, page, ect. unknown).

The paper which motivated this is an old economics classic: Coase's paper on social costs which resulted in the famous Coase theorem. It is published on a website, and there's not enough on the PDF to source it properly.

The paper is well-worth reading, anyway, as it is a landmark in the study of welfare economics and externalities. It's at the bottom of the Wikipedia link: (another disadvantage of PDFs: they are hard to link - link goes to the PDF).

The point he raises is a valid one. Simply cutting off an activity which imposes externalities could just reverse the externalities, as it would put, say, factoryworkers out of work and leave the owner of the factory screwed. That's why people cognizant of externalities do not advocate simple shutdowns: they advocate taxes and payments to the people who are being affected. If the activity can't afford to pay the social cost that its private activity generates, then it should be shut down, because that activity imposes net costs on society.

Coase's argument is that in a system with well-defined property rights, two people will work out externalities through bargaining. His greatest assumption, however, is information. Imperfect information, as always, prevents the "free-market" from working efficiently. Imperfect information is further complicated when the externalities are distributed over a wide range of people (say, the population of the world), and the effects are long-term (global warming, water shortages, ecosystem collapse).


ADHR said...

Part of the problem, I think, is that every journal has its own standards of citation. So, not all of them give issue numbers, for example, because not all of them require issue numbers be cited. And so on. And there's the perennial problem with the fact that papers are all stored in different locations and different formats.

FWIW, paper publications are no better. Books and journals all use different standards. I don't quite follow why there's no standardization, while there is in, say, video tapes or DVDs. But, then again, there's so many more books, magazines, etc. published (and purchased!) that it's probably related to the size of the market.

undergroundman said...

It's still not a great excuse. :)

I like the author-date method, but it can be complicated in some ways. The MLA format is terrible.