What is Superman's Comparative Advantage?

There is an ever-growing crop of excellent ideas about what Superman should do to best "improve the macroeconomy". (Note that the phrasing of this verbal maximization function doesn't specify Superman's abilities and constraints; and what does "improve" really mean?) Anyway it remains to be seen just how Superman will optimize his efforts and coordinate with us mortals in his endeavors. And there are several practical considerations people aren't yet talking about -- all of which come out of realizing that advising and managing Superman has to be far more difficult than running the largest corporations or the most powerful governments:

First of all, Superman cannot waft through every request for his services, so he needs to set up a bureaucracy -- an inner circle of apparatchiks and an enormous staff-- to process and deal with all the demands for his time and energy. (Won't people write to Superman like they write to Eminem and the US President? They'll want him to care, and to do something about their individual plights. How will they react to a form letter and signed photo?) These people will have enormous power and responsibility, and it's unclear to me who should fill these roles.

Second, Superman most likely doesn't have a comparative advantage in analyzing and comparing the relative costs and benefits of performing any given task, so he will need a team of specialized analysts to provide bottom-line benefit and risk scenarios. Whom will Superman benefit by helping build a space elevator today? How much is that benefit? Is that a better option than finding and exploding all IEDs in Iraq before they are used to kill someone? On August 28-29, 2005 should he have been in New Orleans shoring up the levees?

Third, it's unclear whether Superman -- even though he is altruistic and incorruptible -- will really make good decisions about what he must do to improve the macroeconomy, and how he should balance this with other goals. How will he do making his own decisions compared to the median response of a random sample of the world's adult population? Superman has a absolute advantage in many realms of space, defense, and transportation, but not decision-making. If we can demonstrate (say via simulation or trial and error) that Superman is a poor decision-maker, to whom can we entrust the power of "decider" for Superman?


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on June 7, 2006 3:56 PM.

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