Ceteris Paribus

Back to my first year of university, in economics, we had the option  of choosing from a number of lecturers. My first choice was a  30-something lady who seemed to be living life hard. She seemed to be an  older version of a university student. As the lecture started, she  would update us on her previous night at Tiger Tiger, and ask us what we  did for fun, to which most people lied (sitting in your room with a  group of nerdy-who-are-trying-to-be-cool guys rating other girls isn’t  the most exciting of stories for what you did on a Thursday night).

Anyway, this lecturer introduced us to Economics, and to economic modelling, and to the term ceteris paribus.   This is a Latin term which means “all other things remain equal”. In economic models, sometimes one wants to measure the impact that  something has on something else. In a complex environment, it’s difficult to do this, so we make the assumption that everything else  remains constant except for the two things being measured. For example, if there are a group of “phat” white kids who are really keen on the  latest Mandoza album, what will happen to the price of the album (assuming everything else stays constant).

In everyday  life, we tend to do exactly the same thing. In making a decision, we  tend to hold the rest of the world constant and assume these are the  only two variables at play. For example (completely fictional), a former  rugby captain who wants to copulate with a woman other than his wife  will only look at 2 things: the pleasure now, and the pleasure now. But  wait, there’s more. He doesn’t think that there may be the latest  high-definition camera with voice and facial recognition built in hiding  somewhere in the room. He may not think that there may be a wife at home who this will completely damage. He may not think that there are  people who look up to him who will be affected by this.

I’m  not throwing stones at anyone because I too have made many decisions  looking at temporary pleasure rather than the bigger picture. And I’m  99.9% sure that you have too (except of course if you are Jesus). But in  reality, the rest of the world does not stay constant when we make  decisions. There are short term, medium term, long term and eternal  dynamic consequences.

Have you ever done something only  thinking about short term pleasure? Are you about to do something only thinking about short term pleasure?

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