Game Theory, Individual v. Collective, Live and Learn

Supermarket Savvy

A novella about the imprint of expectations


It was then I noticed the stronghold expectations had on our lives. The lines at the supermarket were unsteady – first robustly bursting at the seams only to cast out into the others, thinning briefly but soon back to strongly fortified concentrations of everyday folks. The cycle was ever long; people pinning their hopes and dreams of exiting the store adeptly on the store clerk, the grocery bagger and the amount of groceries in each cart.

How many elderly people would be handwriting checks? Will the shopper fumble about for their club card? Does the clerk appear lethargic?

There are so many signals to download and interpret by each customer eager to check out; a cascade of information gushing out trying to converge at a single answer.

How often do you guess the fastest line in a busy supermarket correctly? To do so you must survey the scene, draw accurate expectations from the signals flooding in and capture a little luck.

The economics of the supermarket lines aren’t too different than any other market. It is actually impossible, even if you had access to weeks of security footage, to guess the speediest line correctly every time. The inconsistencies and unknowns of the people involved will make sure of that.

Economics is about resource distribution and resources don’t go on forever. To best use the resources at our fingertips we know it will require constant adjustment. The question is: who can best adapt to new information, new signals, inconsistencies and unknowns…a private individual or government programs and processes?

What if the state took a month to draft and pass a bill on how supermarket customers must select a checkout line? Chances are the bill would be obsolete before it was written, passed and new zombie-like customers followed its orders.

The individual must adapt to new information in order to thrive and they can do it instantly. A person can even capitalize on a lucky accident every once in a while.

Liberty is essential in order to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable … It is because every individual knows so little and, in particular, because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it. Humiliating to human pride as it may be, we must recognize that the advance and even the preservation of civilization are dependent on a maximum of opportunity for accidents to happen.

-Friedrich August von Hayek


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One thought on “Supermarket Savvy

  1. Pingback: Craigslist Jobs: Grocery Store Hiring Increases - Proven Blog

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