Concorde, digger wasps and sunk cost

Recently came across some interesting examples on Concorde fallacy – aka sunk cost fallacy. The fallacy which makes you look silly for all your bad investments. Not sure they teach it in management classes though, do they? They should.

Concorde fallacy means a person/organisation continue to spend/consume resources/ funds/effort on a project/product with a sole rationale that already a great deal of resources/capital/effort has been poured in, even when tangible evidences show that there is no economical viable end results. In other words sunk costs should not influence your further decisions on investments; if they do then it is sunk cost fallacy.

Now the reason it is notorious as Concorde fallacy is due to an unjustified pursuit of a failed project by French and British government. Concorde was a defense aircraft, half way through the development of which there were evidences suggesting Concorde will never be economically feasible. Despite of that, governments continued spending on it with only reason “a lot has been spent on it already”.

British Airways Concorde in 1986
British Airways Concorde in 1986 – through Wikipedia

Let’s talk about shoes – Let’s suppose you have perfectly working formal shoes. Since people around you notice that you haven’t contributed for golden arrow for a long time, and you visit a showroom to buy new ones. Now, a smart ass salesman sells you a pair double the cost of your current shoes. But on 16th day she starts to hurt your feet, but you can’t take it back since there is no visible damage on the product. What will you do?

  1. You would still throw the old, working, comfortable shoes to attic and choose to wear brand new one, because you need to utilize all money spent on it. If it continues to hurt you, Karma to blame.
  2. You would decommission newer one and continue to use older one. Again, you can blame it on karma for money wasted.
  3. Go shopping again. Golden arrow will be extremely happy and karma never gets tired of taking blame.

If you are answer is 1) sunk cost fallacy 2) poor fellow like me 3) crazy shopaholic.

Let’s come to that interesting example I promised. Concorde fallacy is not just business philosophy; it is of interest to scientists as well. Apparently it’s not just humans who display such behavior; there are examples from biology books too.

Sphex (aka Digger wasps) insects are known to defend their nests with disproportionate amount of energy and rigor that they had spent to build them. In other words, for these wasps under attack, it would be wiser to forfeit and build a new nest, leaving pride aside. May be bad education on economics, eh?

(On related notes to wasps, but not on sunk cost itself)

Lets give it to them, digger wasps aren’t exactly the brightest folks in insect kingdom. They are known to show OCD as well. They are so much concerned about security of their nest, they become obsessive and compulsive. This is straight from Wikipedia:

Digger wasps - through wikipedia
Digger wasps – through wikipedia

Some Sphex wasps drop a paralyzed insect near the opening of the nest. Before taking provisions into the nest, the Sphex first inspects the nest, leaving the prey outside. During the inspection, an experimenter can move the prey a few inches away from the opening. When the Sphex emerges from the nest ready to drag in the prey, it finds the prey missing. The Sphex quickly locates the moved prey, but now its behavioral “program” has been reset. After dragging the prey back to the opening of the nest, once again the Sphex is compelled to inspect the nest, so the prey is again dropped and left outside during another stereotypical inspection of the nest. This iteration can be repeated again and again, with the Sphex never seeming to notice what is going on, never able to escape from its programmed sequence of behaviors.

Positive Rights vs. Negative Rights

Today’s lesson : “Positive Rights vs. Negative Rights”.

One reason there’s a lot of confusion about rights from both liberals and conservatives is that there are different sorts of rights. Besides the distinction between legal and moral rights, we also need to distinguish the different sorts of claims the assertion of a right makes. Philosophers generally use the expressions negative rights and positive rights to express these distinctions. Now there’s nothing evaluative about these terms. It’s not negative in a bad way. These are precise terms that philosophers use to make an important distinction. So let’s see if we can explore it.

Consider this claim: I have the right to go to the store and get a lottery ticket. Let’s begin with what this doesn’t mean. First of all, it doesn’t mean that I have an obligation to buy a lottery ticket. It’s up to me. No one should be forcing me to buy one, but also no one should be forcing me not to buy one. Second of all it doesn’t mean that the store clerk has any obligation to give me one. I’ll have to pay for it, which is shorthand for making a trade.

This works whether we’re talking about lottery tickets, milk, potato chips, coffee, beef. My right to get these things is not an obligation to get them, and neither is it a warrant to be given them. My right to get these things means that no one ought to stop me from making trades through which I can acquire them. That’s a little different from, say, when you get arrested and are informed that you have the right to an attorney. You know how they say it from TV. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. The store is under no obligation to provide me with a steak if I can’t afford one, but the folks who arrested me are obliged to provide me with an attorney if I cannot afford one. So these are different kinds of rights.

One way to get clear on this distinction is to think about the relationship between rights and duties. If Smith has a right then Jones has a duty. Understanding what different kinds of duties Jones might have is one way to understand what kinds of rights Smith might have. We’ll call negative rights the kind of rights which impose on others a negative duty, a duty not to do anything, a duty of noninterference. If I have a right of this sort all you have to do to respect that right is refrain from blocking me. Negative rights are sometimes called liberties.

Now we’ll call positive rights the kind of rights which impose on others a positive duty, a duty to provide or act in a certain way. If I have a right of this sort, you respect it by complying. Positive rights are also sometimes called entitlements. So my right to a lottery ticket or a steak is a negative right. No one can properly interfere with my efforts to acquire these through trade. Freedom of speech is another example of a negative right. I cannot be arrested for speaking out. The right of criminal suspects to an attorney is a positive right. One will be provided. One interesting feature of negative rights is that they don’t conflict and we can all respect everyone else’s liberties all the time. We simply have to refrain from using force to make people do our bidding.

Positive rights can conflict and in a couple of ways. One way they can conflict is scarcity. If there are 10 public defenders and 100 people get arrested, they can’t all have their right to an attorney satisfied equally. This sort of conflict can sometimes help us understand which claims are legitimate. Your property rights give you exclusive use of a resource so others can’t claim a right to vacation in your yard, at least not without your permission.

The other source of conflict raises a more troubling issue. Since positive rights create duties on others to act or provide, doesn’t that represent a violation of their negative rights, their liberty? It depends. Some positive rights are created by a contractual relationship. Since I’m a member of AAA, I have a positive right to towing services if my car breaks down. Nonmembers have a negative right to seek towing services, but I am actually entitled to receive them. That doesn’t violate anyone’s negative rights, though, because the relationship is entirely consensual and defined by a contract. If I claimed I had a positive right to a steak, someone would have an obligation to give me one, not as a trade but as a nonconsensual service. That would violate their liberty, making them involuntarily subservient to me. This suggests that if we’re free and equal by nature, any positive rights would have to be grounded in consensual arrangements.

Unfortunately, for a lot of so called positive rights this just isn’t the case.

Video and transcripts from learn liberty via Atanu Dey on India’s Development

India among the world’s most dangerous countries for women


According to survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation :

Female foeticide, child marriage and high levels of trafficking and domestic servitude make the world’s largest democracy the fourth most dangerous place for women, the poll showed.

* 100 million people, mostly women and girls, are involved in trafficking in one way or another, according to former Indian Home Secretay Madhukar Gupta.

* Up to 50 million girls are “missing” over the past century due to female infanticide and foeticide.

* 44.5 pct of girls are married before the age of 18

Even scientists agree …

There you go.., full list of Rhetological Fallacies, Errors and manipulations of rhetoric and logical thinking through information is beautiful . My personal favourite is “Over 400 prominent scientists and engineers dispute global warming”. A similer one – (funny too) “Most of the present day scientists believe in God” :-)

Any ways, I have written few examples before, “even scientists agree that temples are most scientifically designed” and “Maharashtra Police, they are second to only the Scotland Yard of Britain

Children of Taliban

If you tame a snake to kill your neighbour, after doing that, its gonna come back to bite you !

Frankenstein monster is now in Pakistan. And you can watch it (if you haven’t already!) on PBS/Frontline documentary by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy “Pakistan’s” Children of the Taliban (2010) where she explores alarming consequences.

(That was 2010 movie, if anyone has follow up documentary, please share)

The Taliban often use radio broadcasts to drive home their message.

In one typical address, a preacher proclaims:

“Sharia Law is our right, and we will exercise this right whatever happens. We will make ourselves suicide bombers! I swear to God if our leader orders me, I will sacrifice myself… and blow myself up in the middle of our enemies.“

The Taliban have destroyed more than 200 government schools in Swat since they took control of the region.  Walking through the rubble of a school that once taught 400 girls, the reporter comes across two nine-year-old girls who used to study there.

image from

There is nothing wrong with the planet!

This is George Carlin on “Saving the Planet”, I couldn’t resist sharing it. What a wonderful philosophy ! Never happened to see “Saving the Planet” from this angle until I saw this guy on You tube. Since then, I am accountable for nearly half of total 3 million views :-)

Here, the video and complete transcript (©George Carlin himself)

You got people like this around you? Country is full of them now! People walking around all day long, every minute of the day — worried about everything! Worried about the air, worried about the water, worried about the soil. Worried about insecticides, pesticides, food additives, carcinogens; worried about radon gas, worried about asbestos. Worried about saving endangered species.

Let me tell you about endangered species, all right? Saving endangered species is just one more arrogant attempt by humans to control Nature! It’s arrogant meddling! It’s what got us into trouble in the first place! Doesn’t anybody understand that? Interfering with Nature! Over 90 percent.. over… way over 90 percent of all the species that have ever lived on this planet, ever lived, on this planet are gone. Whissssshht! They are extinct!

We didn’t kill them all.

They just… disappeared! That’s what Nature does! They disappear these days at the rate of 25 a day, and I mean regardless of our behavior. Irrespective of how we act on this planet, 25 species that were here today, will be gone tomorrow! Let them go… gracefully! Leave Nature alone! Haven’t we done enough?

We’re so self-important. So self-important! Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees; save the bees; save the whales; save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all, “Save the planet.” What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned how to care for one another, we’re gonna save the fucking planet?

I’m getting tired of that shit. Tired of that shit. Tired! I’m tired of fucking Earth Day! I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists; these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. They don’t care about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.

Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The people are fucked. Difference. Difference! The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We’ve been here, what? A hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we’ve only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the conceit to think that somehow we’re a threat? That somehow we’re gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that’s just a-floatin’ around the sun?

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles; hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors; worlwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages… And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet… the planet… the planet isn’t going anywhere. we are!

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet will be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance.

You wanna know how the planet is doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, “How the planet’s doing?” You wanna know if the planet’s all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kilowaia, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room.

The planet will be here for a long, long — long— time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself; it will cleanse itself, because that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover; the earth will be renewed; and, if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the Earth plus plastic! The Earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the Earth. The Earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the Earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old philosophical question, “Why are we here?” “Plastic! Assholes.”

So! So, the plastic is here, our job is done, we can be phased out now. And I think that it has already started already, don’t you? I think, to be fair, the planet probably sees us as a mild threat. Something to be dealt with. And I am sure the planet will defend itself in the manner of a large organism, like a beehive or an ant colony, and muster a defense. I am sure the planet will think of something. What would you do if you were the planet trying to defend against this pesky, troublesome species? “Let’s see… What might… Hmm.. Viruses! Viruses might be good. They seem vulnerable to viruses. And, uh…viruses are tricky, always mutating and forming new strains whenever a vaccine is developed. Perhaps, this first virus could be one that compromises the immune system of these creatures. Perhaps a human immunodeficiency virus, making them vulnerable to all sorts of other diseases and infections that might come along. And maybe it could be spread sexually, making them a little reluctant to engage in the act of reproduction.”

Well, that’s a poetic note. And it’s a start. And I can dream, can’t I? See I don’t worry about the little things: bees, trees, whales, snails. I think we’re part of a greater wisdom than we will ever understand. A higher order. Call it what you want. Know what I call it? The Big Electron.” The Big Electron…whoooa. Whoooa. Whoooa. It doesn’t punish; it doesn’t reward; it doesn’t judge at all. It just is. And so are we. For a little while.

Thanks for being here with me for a little while tonight!