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Nicola Atkinson-Griffith's

Secrets of the World


Introduced and Edited by Dr Manfred J. Holler*

 

The following eight comments discuss, more or less explicitly, an art project under-taken by Nicola Atkinson-Griffith entitled "Secrets of the World". Perhaps it needs explaining why Homo Oeconomicus, a quarterly journal which focuses on economics and the social sciences, should be interested in publishing on such a subject. One argument is that although the concept of secret has, by-and-large, been ignored by the theoretical literature in economics and the social sciences, in the real world, secrets seem to be an important phenomenon.

 

Of course, when it comes to discussing secrets, economists would immediately point to the bulk of literature on asymmetric information, signaling, moral hazard and adverse selection which has been honored by the award of the 2001 Nobel Prize to three of its pioneer contributors: George Akerlof, Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz. Indeed these concepts could be applied to analyze secret as phenomenon. Yet, I strongly hope that the following contributions make clear that there is more to a secret than just asymmetric information: secrets can be dangerous, beautiful, exiting, im-moral; secrets can hurt and please; secrets can be shared. Secrets are produced, sold, and bought and should therefore be accessible to economic analysis. However, secrets are peculiarly strange goods and the incomplete definition of property rights seems to be part of their nature. I may hand a secret in a sealed envelop to you and you may carry this envelope to the other side of the globe. Still I can destroy this secret by pub-lishing the information which is sealed in the envelope. But it could also be that there is no information in the envelope and you merely think that you carry a secret with you.

 

To integrate the analysis of the secrecy phenomenon with an art project seems to be promising perspective. Artists have a long and intensive tradition to work with secrets and many artists made a secret out of their art. Nicola Atkinson-Griffith has chosen a rather direct approach: she made use of the myth of secret by asking people to write down their personal, private and public secrets. (For further procedural details about her project, see Holler in this volume.) Her project stirred substantial discussion, especially when put on stage in different places.

 

The following eight contributions reflect only a smaller part of this discussion. The contributions are reproduced in the order of their submission. This detail might be of some importance because the authors of later contributions have received versions of earlier contributions and therefore had a chance to react on them. It is, however, not always obvious that this material had been read.

 

The contributors were chosen from a network which gravitates around the Institute of SocioEconomics of the University of Hamburg and the, so far only of virtually existing ARTS&Games Academy. Further contributions on "Secret of the World" are expected to be published in "Scandal and Its Theory II", forthcoming as Homo Oeconomicus XIX(2) in 2002. Special thanks go to Ben Spencer who initiated this verbalization of the discussion (see next page), to John Sedgwick who commented the material that follows, and to Nicola Atkinson-Griffith.

 

Manfred J Holler Institute of SocioEconomics, University of Hamburg, Von-Melle-Park 5, D-20146 Hamburg, Germany

 

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