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Modularity, Identity, and the Constitutional Diagonal

Richard Langlois ()

No 2022-12, Working papers from University of Connecticut, Department of Economics

Abstract: The framework of modular systems articulated in Design Rules can be applied in the larger setting of social institutions. The principles of encapsulation and information hiding operate in society as mechanisms to internalize externalities. This essay focuses on intangible externalities, or “moralisms,” that involve the transmission across module boundaries of pure information rather than materials or energy. Such intangible externalities arise in the practice of identity, the affiliations through which individuals create and define their sense of self. Both formally and informally, individuals tend to modularize themselves into identity groups in order to minimize the costs of the intangible externalities that identities impose on one another. One important way to reduce conflict among identity groups is to create a governance structure in which some interactions are proscribed – the constitutional diagonal. In the end, because of the inherent incompatibilities – the non-modular interactions – between identities that arise inevitably from the very meaning and function of identity, genuine toleration is possible only through the increased standardization of identities. The essay applies these ideas to the problems facing large social networks like Facebook.

JEL-codes: D02 D23 D71 D74 K11 P14 P16 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 36 pages
Date: 2022-05, Revised 2022-09
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