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There's a lot of really strong dynasty analysis out there, especially when compared to five or ten years ago. But most of it is so dang practical-- Player X is undervalued, Player Y's workload is troubling, the market at this position is irrational, take this specific action to win your league. Dynasty, in Theory is meant as a corrective, offering insights and takeaways into the strategic and structural nature of the game that might not lead to an immediate benefit but which should help us become better players over time. (Additionally, it serves as a vehicle for me to make jokes like "theoretically, this column will help you out".)
Our Good Friend Goodhart
In a 1975 article on British monetary policy, economist Charles Goodhart wrote:
Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.
This became known as "Goodhart's Law", one of the most important observations of our time, and is frequently reformulated as "when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure". There are all manner of social ills that have arisen from one policy-maker or another ignoring Goodhart's Law.
The most common illustration would be to imagine a Soviet-era nail factor. The factory foreman wants to increase productivity, so he first decides how to measure productivity. In this case, he settles on "number of nails produced". Ordinarily, "number of nails produced" would be a great measure of a factory's productive output. But the manager then takes it a step further and, in an effort to boost productivity, makes that a target; he mandates that workers must produce a specific number of nails per shift.
Workers confronted with this mandate quickly adapt; they start making tiny nails that can be mass-produced quite quickly. Suddenly the factory's "productivity" has quadrupled overnight, but the actual useful output has fallen through the floor. So the manager goes back to the drawing board and instead mandates that workers produce a certain number of pounds of nails every shift, with predictable consequences; workers pivot to making exceptionally large nails, which are especially heavy for the amount of work required to manufacture them. The net weight of nails goes up, but the quality of the output remains terrible. "Quantity of nails" or "weight of nails" used to be good measures until they became a target, at which point they ceased being good measures.
There's a similar story about British colonial rule in India. The British governor saw many people being killed by poisonous cobra bites, so he wanted to reduce the cobra population. Ordinarily, a good measure of how well the population was being reduced would be "how many cobras are being killed?" so the governor naively set up a bounty for every dead cobra that was brought to him. Enterprising citizens saw an opportunity, so they started breeding cobras, killing them once they reached maturity, then turning them in for the bounty. The governor finally caught on to the scheme and ended the bounty program, at which point all those industrious cobra farmers no longer had a use for the snakes and released them into the wild, causing an explosion in the cobra population.
(There's a similar story about rats in Vietnam. The government issued a bounty for rat tails, so rat catchers started catching rats, cutting off their tails, then letting them go so they could breed more rats and produce more tails the next season.)
These stories are mostly morality plays of questionable authenticity, but there are plenty of real-world examples of Goodhart's Law ruining things. Ordinarily, schools that do the best job teaching produce students who perform the best on tests. Knowing that, many governments have decided that to improve the quality of teaching (a worthy goal), they would take that measure (test scores) and turn it into a target, pinning school funding on the ability to achieve specific test scores. Faced with the prospect of losing funding, schools began "teaching to the test", giving up on opportunities to teach genuine knowledge and understanding in favor of teaching tricks that would result in higher test scores. Once it became a target, test scores stopped being a good measure of how much knowledge was being imparted.
In our work lives I'm sure most of us have experience with bosses who measure productivity by the hour, rewarding "butts in the chair" over output and promoting those who stay late or arrive early even if they are not being productive in the extra time. (In fact, perversely, studies have shown for decades that reducing time away from work incurs cognitive debt and lowers overall productivity.) Most bosses would prefer a worker who did a job adequately in 8 hours a day over one who did the same job exceptionally in 6 hours a day and then left early.
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