The Parable of the Polygons

A reader sent us the link to this interactive site explaining “how small biases in favour of one’s own social group can lead to big social effects, and how small biases in favour of diversity can reverse the problem. It draws on a famous game theory paper about segregation by Thomas C. Schelling. Obviously it doesn’t cover everything but it might be a good way in for people unfamiliar.”

3 thoughts on “The Parable of the Polygons

  1. This is a fun little animation and I guess in an ideal theory kind of way it’s worth knowing that relatively small biases can lead to relatively pronounced segregation. However, posting it without comment suggests that it’s reasonable to think that this is why we have housing segregation in the US (for example), when it definitively is not, and I think it’s a little bit more problematic than just not covering everything. We have housing segregation because of decades of active policies to keep non-whites out of white neighborhoods in almost every American city. It’s white people who don’t want to live near too many people who don’t look like them; at lot of non-whites would be happy enough to live in a predominantly white neighborhood to get access to decent schools and services and potentially own a home that is going to increase in value. We have housing segregation because white people act to preserve the value of whiteness. Possibly this situation is improving, but the notion that we have segregated neighborhoods because everyone has a slight preference for living around people who look like them is an economists’ just-so story that tends to let people off the hook for their own and their ancestors’ racism.

  2. That’s an excellent point. I took the animation to be saying *even if it was just a tiny preference* we’d have this segregation, and *even if that preference disappeared* the segregation would remain. And I thought that this was pretty dramatic, and that obviously in the real world we have a much worse situation for the reasons that you describe. But you’re absolutely right that they should not have left that unsaid. Nor should they have left unsaid the asymmetric nature of the preferences. Excellent points.

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