Opportunity Cost: Snowden and the NSA Leak
"Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."
The first chapter in every economics textbook out there outlines two main ideas. The first is that economics is the study of scarcity, which does not matter for our purposes right now. The second is opportunity cost.
To put it simply, opportunity cost is not the price or dollar value of a good but the next best alternative good or activity that must be forgone or sacrificed. For example, say your favorite movie is playing, and you have a final exam the next day. The opportunity cost of the movie is not the price of the ticket but the two hours that you would have spent studying and perhaps the better grade you forgo for not having studied those two extra hours. It’s also the other goods you sacrifice when you decide to use $10 to buy a ticket.
The idea of opportunity cost originally arises from Jeremy Bentham’s theories on Utility. The idea of utilitarianism is that human beings want to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This was a justification for all self-interested behavior that occurred.
Friedrich von Wieser then builds on Bentham’s seemingly simple theories of utility. Wieser believes that when we are trying to achieve a certain goal, we must keep the costs in mind. So while we are trying to maximize pleasure, and minimize pain, there are costs to doing so. He does not come up with the original theory of opportunity cost, nor is this explicitly discussing opportunity cost. However, he does streamline the thought in that direction. If there is something we want to do, we are going to give up the opportunity to do something else.
Opportunity cost seems simple enough, but doesn't really seem to have a huge effect on us, or the world around us. I don't make a decision to do something because I am thinking, “well, the opportunity cost of this one is lower, so I should probably do that.” However, it is evident in many decisions that we make, whether we explicitly think it or not.
Let’s take Edward Snowden’s decision. He leaked NSA secrets, and now has to seek asylum in another country. He can never come home. He can no longer live in the country where he was born and raised. He decided that that making sure American citizens knew the truth was greater than the cost of never being allowed back into the United States again. For Snowden, the opportunity cost of exercising his citizenship and protecting first amendment rights was much greater than sacrificing his citizenship. By his standards, he made a morally correct decision and one that might even be deemed patriotic. However, he now has to pay the (opportunity) cost of that morally correct, difficult decision. If the cost of losing his home country had been greater than his “responsibility” to leak this information, it would not have happened. But it’s hard to put a price on freedom.
In my mind, Snowden made the correct decision. He made sure that we all, as American citizens, had access to information about the extent of government surveillance of private citizens. However, for many the opportunity cost of taking action, resisting, pushing back is often too high, leading them to make different decisions. Not everyone is Atticus Finch.
Would you have been able to make the decision Snowden did? Would you have sacrificed your personal well being for the greater good? Or, would the opportunity cost have been too high for you?
Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.
- Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
- There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
- "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.
- The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
- The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
- While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.
PAUL RATJE / Contributor
- This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
- UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
- TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.