A few weeks ago, I went to a meeting.

There was a part of the meeting where some open-ended information was disseminated and very general comments were sought. Now, one possibility when you make a comment is that it leads to interesting responses and a “whole if bigger than the sum of the parts” dynamic develops. Let us call this the brainstorming case. (This is the scenario that is meant to occur in research seminars.)

Much more likely is the “every action has an equal reaction” case where you talk, others respond but really the discussion goes nowhere and you wish no-one had talked in the first place. Let us called this the BS case. Casual empiricism suggests that the BS case is much more common than the brainstorming case.

This fact implies that comments should be taxed to internalize the negative externality but with taxation impossible we have to rely on morality to create incentives. Any moral individual should take into account the horrific effect of their casual comments. Even a rational decision-maker should take the negative feedback loop into account – in this sense, the BS case helps rational individuals take the horrific effects of talking at meetings into account. However, even this does not account for the acute suffering of the innocent by-listener so the moral individual should ratchet up the threshold for talking yet further.

Of course, this does not happen. There are always one or two people who have to talk. This is valuable not because of what they say but because of what others do not say. Namely, the people who do NOT talk are to be celebrated. They either see through the logic above and are quite moral or, to add another dimension, they are nice and kind of shy. Either case, these are nice people. Hang out with them. Meetings with just these people might be quite productive so put them on committees.