Out on the Experimental Economics Frontier

In a recent paper, University of Calgary economist Robert J. Oxoby addresses the eternal question: Who was the better singer to have fronted AC/DC, the legendary Australian hard rock : Bon Scott or Brian Johnson? Of course, on purely aesthetic grounds, answers to this question may vary, so Oxoby decided instead to conduct an experiment to see which singer’s material could help lead listeners to make more efficient decisions — under strictly controlled conditions, of course. Given that the late Bon Scott, whom Johnson replaced after his death in 1980, is most fans’ favorite, Oxoby’s conclusion is bound to be controversial…er, well, at least among those who read the paper.

The question as to who was a better singer, Bon Scott or Brian Johnson, may never ruly be resolved. However, our analysis suggests that in terms of affecting efficient ecision making among listeners, Brian Johnson was a better singer. Our analysis as direct implications for policy and organizational design: when policymakers or employers are engaging in negotiations (or setting up environments in which other arties will negotiate) and are interested in playing the music of AC/DC, they should choose from the band’s Brian Johnson era discography.

Tyler Cowen links to the paper on Marginal Revolution, and, predicatbly, it’s led to another controversy: the choice of songs in the experiment. “An interesting idea for a paper, but ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’ is not the best choice of Bon Scott songs, due to the highly unusual bagpipe solo, notes commenter “Rich,” who also concludes (and I have to agree), “I don’t deny that Johnson might yield higher efficiency ratings, but I would twist the conclusion around: the better singer is more likely to *distract* the listener from the transaction, and hence reduce efficiency.” (Thanks to Brian Doherty for the Social Science Research Network link.)