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« On the plane meaning of "recommend" | Main | L is for lemming »

December 22, 2004



This touches on a hobby-horse of mine. It's a simple concern, but I don't think I can phrase it concisely enough for a comment and stay coherent. I'll try for terseness at the possible expense of coherency.

Cooperation can evolve even between 'competitors' (like the participants in a market); see Axelrod's seminal "The evolution of cooperation". But Axelrod's scenario requires that interactions be iterative; there should be a high probability that participants will interact again in the future. Unfortunately, in very large markets, this re-interaction is diluted to the point where it is no longer important. The advantages of cooperation diminish, and what's left is pure cutthroat scrambling for resources. The scammers perceive a tiny chance of scaring Mrs. SC into sending in $247. Would you say that it's as low as 1 in 1000? $247 more than pays for 1000 bulk-mail postings. And the goodwill cost of the 999 failures is zero, because the varmints have no interest in interacting with Mrs. SC again once they have taken her money (and forwarded the actual subscription cost to the publishers).

Semantic Compositions

That sounds like a fascinating article; I think I'll have to go find it.

For the record, though, in this case the people who sent the mail are the publishers. Sorry if that wasn't clear. Your point still stands, though; all it takes is 1 in 1000 (or something in that range) to make it worthwhile. It's too bad that they've gone about it this way; if my wife wasn't so annoyed by how she was treated in this case, she would have seriously considered subscribing, because it's actually a quite useful magazine.


To the best of my knowledge and belief, this is an illegal practice when I was a secretary who handled mail, and it is illegal now. Some moron lost a huge amount of money for defrauding old ladies with this same gambit. I think that the small-print disclaimer is not enough to pass muster.

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