Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Markets Should Be At The Helm

Citizinvestor bit the dust... Learning From the Civic Tech Graveyard.  I found that article because I subscribe to Google alerts for "civic crowdfunding".

Here's the feedback that I shared with the website...

**************************************

Hi,

I just finished reading your interesting article "LEARNING FROM THE CIVIC TECH GRAVEYARD" and wanted to share my thoughts. 

Here's a relevant quote from Peter Thiel...

"We are biased toward the democratic/republican side of the spectrum. That’s what we’re used to from civics classes. But the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better for startups. It is more tyrant than mob because it should be. In some sense, startups can’t be democracies because none are. None are because it doesn’t work. If you try to submit everything to voting processes when you’re trying to do something new, you end up with bad, lowest common denominator type results."

From his perspective, a dictator rather than a mob should be at the helm of a company.   But then what's the issue with a dictator being at the helm of an entire country?  It's not like any given individual is wiser when they are in charge of a company.   The difference is that it's easier for people to leave a company than it is to leave a country.   Abandoning a sinking company is easier than abandoning a sinking country. 

I agree with Thiel that democracy is worse than dictatorships for companies.   Yet... our country uses democracy to choose who should be at our country's helm.   The result is lowest common denominator leadership.   Basically, we end up with idiots at the helm. 

So Thiel considers dictatorships to be better than democracy for companies.... but there's one alternative that he didn't even consider... the market. 

After reading your article I was disappointed that there wasn't a comment section.   I like the topic so I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it, and would have also enjoyed reading other people's thoughts on the topic.  Obviously I would have also enjoyed the opportunity to publicly share my own thoughts with other people interested in the topic. 

With your organization's current system a dictator decides whether to facilitate comments.   Obviously your dictator has decided against comments.  What are the chances though that this is the best decision?  If the chances were good, then it wouldn't be an issue for countries to have dictators.   It stands to reason that an even poorer decision would be made by allowing everybody to vote for or against comments.   My best guess is that the best decision would be made by donations.   Whichever option received the most donations would be implemented. 

Every significant decision could, and should be, a fundraiser for your organization.   The market would steer your organization in the most valuable direction.   If not, then we shouldn't allow the market to steer the entire private sector. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Feedback For FEE.org

Reply to reply on The Good Intentions Fallacy Is Driving Support for Democratic Socialism by Barry Brownstein

*********************************

If FEE was doing a good job disseminating information/knowledge, then you would thoroughly understand and love Hayek's argument (against command economies) that knowledge is decentralized/dispersed. As a group, FEE's readers have FAR more knowledge, including economics knowledge, than FEE itself (leadership + staff) has. As a group, FEE's readers have read FAR more books, including economics books, than FEE itself has. As a group, FEE's readers have done FAR more jobs, lived in FAR more countries and had FAR more life experiences than FEE itself. As a group, FEE's readers have FAR more eyeballs, ears and most importantly... brains.... than FEE itself. Thanks to consumer choice, market economies utilize/harness FAR more collective intelligence and information than command economies do. This is why markets succeed while socialism fails. It's a fact that right now FEE is not a market system... it is a socialist system. Therefore, FEE is failing to do a good job educating everybody about economics.

If you need additional proof that FEE is failing to do a good job, then here it is... you don't appreciate the difference between cheap signals (ie voting) and costly signals (ie spending). The fact that lots of people voted for prohibition, for example, informs us that it was popular, but it does not at all even remotely reveal the demand for prohibition. Demand can only be revealed by each and every consumer reaching into their own pocket and putting their own money where their mouth is. What was the demand for prohibition? We don't know. Consumers were not given the opportunity to spend their own money on prohibition.

On Netflix... what is the demand for nature show? Netflix does not know. It knows how many votes nature shows receive, it knows how many hours people spend watching them, but it doesn't actually know the demand for them.

Think about a "free" lunch. Just because lots of people will vote for a "free" lunch doesn't reveal the demand for the meal. Just because lots of people will line up and eat a "free" lunch doesn't reveal the demand for the meal.

Here's what a liberal wrote...

Hoover, in Hawley’s words, allowed for the New Deal to emerge because of his “reluctance to recognize that the private sector was inherently incapable of meeting the demand for social services on its own.” - Mike Konczal, The Voluntarism Fantasy

How could he possibly know what the demand is for welfare? Voting for welfare doesn't reveal the demand for it and neither does using it. The demand for welfare can only be known by giving Konczal, and all the other liberals, the opportunity to put their own money where their mouths/hearts are. When liberals are given the opportunity to decide how they divide their own dollars between welfare, public education and public healthcare then, and only then, will the demand for welfare truly be known.

When FEE's readers are given the opportunity to decide how they divide their donated dollars between articles about the Invisible Hand and articles about other topics then, and only then, will the demand for articles about the Invisible Hand truly be known.

1. As a group FEE's readers have FAR more intelligence/information than FEE itself does. It's a basic fact that two heads are better than one.

2. In order to fully harness/utilize the collective intelligence/information of its readers, FEE needs to give each and every reader the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. It's a basic fact that actions speak louder than words.

Monday, July 16, 2018

How we rank each other matters.

My comment on Once more for the people at the back: abortion rights and trans rights are the same struggle by Zoe Stavri. 

************************************

Bodily autonomy?  You and I don't have the same body.   We have different bodies.  You know how I can tell?  It's because we have different DNA.  You know who else has different DNA?  Your mom.  My mom.  Every mom.  Mothers and children have different DNA.  Otherwise everybody would be clones.  Are you happy that we're not all clones?  I sure am. 

Imagine if I invite you over to see my really nice garden... it's brimming with nature.  Of course I'd first have to give you my address.  This is my property's unique ID.  When you find, and walk onto, my property, what happens to your bodily autonomy?  Do you lose any of your bodily autonomy?  Of course not.  That would be absurd.   In no case does any of my property, to include my own body, negate or diminish your bodily autonomy. 

By this same token, if you get pregnant, in no case does your bodily autonomy negate or diminish the bodily autonomy of the unique individual that is inside you. 

Let's say that, for whatever reason, I decide I no longer want you on my property.  Should I be free to eject you?  Sure, as long as doing so doesn't harm you.  If my property happens to be a boat that is surrounded by sharks, then I shouldn't be free to eject you. 

In a perfect world, ejecting unborn individuals at any time wouldn't at all be harmful.  Like, your fetus could be instantly and safely teleported across the galaxy into the womb of some other lady.   It wouldn't be like Adam and Eve getting ejected from the Garden of Eden into a harsh environment.  It would be like God moving them to another wonderful garden. 

Why would this be ideal?  Here's why...

We’ve spent the last few hundred years throwing out every Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein or Jonas Salk or Tim Berners-Lee who didn’t happen to be white, and didn’t happen to be a man. That’s a terrible thing to have done to those brilliant and now lost people. It’s a much worse thing to have done to the rest of humanity, including our white selves. When I think, “why don’t I have a jet car and live in Alpha Centuri by now?” I think this is because the people that would have invented sky cars and interstellar travel were born black in Detroit, or in rural India or in the medina in Algiers in the 1950s, and spent too much time figuring out how to eat and not get killed to invent my damned skycar. - Quinn Norton, How White People Got Made 

All progress depends on difference, which is why it's wonderful that we're not all clones.  Every unique individual contributes to humanity's diversity... and more diversity means more progress. 

Difference inherently means inequality.  The only way we could all be equal is if we were clones.  You naturally rank a woman and her unborn child very differently,  and so do I.  You also rank authors very differently, and so do I.   I'm sure we also rank economists very differently.   Personally, I rank economists much higher than feminists.  Since difference matters, it matters how we rank each other.  The question is whether voting (cheap signal) or spending (costly signal) is the best way to rank each other.   The answer to this question is clearly revealed by the top-ranked videos on Youtube.   Once we replace all cheap signals with costly signals, then it will be heaven on earth. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Market Is The Most Useful Tool

Comment on: If Socialists Understand the Free-Rider Problem, Then Why Are They Socialists?

******************************

Do your readers equally value your blog entries? Are your entries equally useful/beneficial/important? Do you think that you can accurately guess the demand for topics? If so, then markets wouldn't be so incredibly useful.

Right now, as far as I can tell, your blog isn't a market. Readers don't have the freedom to "donate vote" for your best entries. This means that you don't know the demand for topics, which means that your supply of topics is suboptimal.

Just like your blog isn't a market, and just like your products aren't equally useful, the same is true of unions. This means that unions don't know the demand for their products, which means that their supply of products is suboptimal.

In order to help socialists, and your readers, understand why the market is such an incredibly useful tool, you first have to actually understand this yourself. If you genuinely desire this understanding then turn your blog into a market. Give readers the freedom to use their donations to reveal their demand for your products. See if the supply noticeably improves.

So no, the problem isn't that socialists don't understand the free-rider problem. The problem is that libertarians don't understand how and why markets work. The market is the most useful tool, but libertarians fail to use it to improve their products.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Voting With Donations

My comment on Bob Murphy's blog entry... For the Purposes of the Current Debate, I Don’t Think Hayek Supported a “Basic Income Guarantee”

************************************

Three years ago on Medium the liberal economist James Kwak also made the case that Friedrich Hayek supported basic incomeI responded to his story with more or less your same point... that he was neglecting the context.

Now, three years later, for me the real issue is that Kwak doesn't understand what markets are good for.  Markets are incredibly useful because correctly guessing demand is incredibly difficult.  The crazy thing is that this critique of Kwak's understanding is also applicable to even the staunchest market defenders such as yourself.  This is easy enough to prove. 

Here you supplied a story about basic income.  But what would you guess is truly the demand for this topic?  Again, if correctly guessing demand was so easy, then markets wouldn't be so useful.  Your blog is not a market... therefore it's clear that you don't truly understand what markets are good for. 

Turning your blog into a market would be really easy.  Readers could simply "donation vote" (DV) for their favorite stories.  DV is most commonly associated with people using donations to decide who will kiss a pig, or get a pie in the face, or get dunked into a water tank.  Sometimes zoos use it to name a baby animal.  But DV is also used to rank/sort/order/prioritize all the non-profits in the world.  The Red Cross, for example, receives very many donation votes which is why it can use a very large portion of the world's limited resources. 

Right now FEE is searching for a new president.  How are the candidates going to be ranked?  They definitely aren't going to be ranked by DV.  Therefore, FEE doesn't truly understand what markets are good for.

Last year, much to my very pleasant surprise, the libertarian party (LP) used DV to choose its convention theme.  Unfortunately, the LP didn't also use DV to choose the convention location, date and speakers.  So just because an organization uses DV doesn't guarantee that it knows why the market is so useful.

The market is an incredibly useful tool.  On a daily basis we use this tool to help each other prioritize.  Yet, the LP has only once used this tool to improve its own priorities.  FEE has never used this tool to improve its priorities.  As a pro-market blogger you're in the same boat.  Strange as it might seem, right now I'm the only person preaching the benefits of DV.  Does this mean that I'm the only person in the world who truly understands what markets are good for?  I guess.  I'm the only person in this boat.  Either I'm in the wrong boat, or everybody else is.  I'd really hate to be in the wrong boat so please, if you think that I am, then I'm all ears.  Make the case that some producers, such as pro-market bloggers, should be exempt from receiving specific and substantial feedback from consumers.  Or make the case that cheap signals are just as credible as costly signals.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Questions For Vitalik Buterin

Here's the comment that I just posted on Tyler Cowen's blog entry... What should I ask Vitalik Buterin?

*********************************************

Yes! This! What does Buterin think about Cowen's critique of quadratic voting (QV)? I perceive QV to be a hybrid between voting and spending. How will Buterin determine whether QV is better than its parents at ranking things?

Is Buterin familiar with the idea of donation voting (DV)? DV is most commonly associated with using donations to decide who will kiss a pig, or get a pie in the face, or get dunked into a tank of water. Sometimes zoos use DV to decide what to name a baby animal.

The thing is, whenever anybody makes a donation, each dollar they donate is essentially a vote. This means that DV is used to rank/sort/order/prioritize all the non-profits. The Red Cross, for example, receives very many donation votes, which allows it to use a huge amount of society's limited resources.

Personally, I would be very surprised if QV is more effective than DV at ranking things. I can't imagine why it would be beneficial to arbitrarily diminish the Red Cross's control over society's limited resources. Perhaps though I'd be singing a very different tune if the Red Cross and the KKK were switched in the rankings.

My best guess is that it would be maximally beneficial if we used DV to rank potential people for Cowen to interview. DV should also be used to rank potential questions for Cowen to ask people that he plans to interview. All the money raised could be given to me. Alternatively, it could be given to Marginal Revolution University, which would allow it to compete more resources away from other uses.

It can be said that DV gives too much influence to the wealthy.  But it can also be said that it gives the smallest amount of influence to the biggest free-riders.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Dear Jag Bhalla

If you search ScientificAmerican.com for "invisible hand" you could learn that there's some guy named Jag Bhalla who is critical of the Invisible Hand.  I found his website and sent him an e-mail, which was when gmail immediately notified me that his e-mail address was broken.  So here we are.

*********************************

Karl Popper was so cool...

If I am standing quietly, without making any movement, then (according to the physiologists) my muscles are constantly at work, contracting and relaxing in an almost random fashion, but controlled, without my being aware of it, by error-elimination so that every little deviation from my posture is almost at once corrected. So I am kept standing, quietly, by more or less the same method by which an automatic pilot keeps an aircraft steadily on its course. — Karl Popper, Of Clouds and Clocks

But he wasn't nearly as cool as Adam Smith...

It is thus that the private interests and passions of individuals naturally dispose them to turn their stocks towards the employments which in ordinary cases are most advantageous to the society. But if from this natural preference they should turn too much of it towards those employments, the fall of profit in them and the rise of it in all others immediately dispose them to alter this faulty distribution. Without any intervention of law, therefore, the private interests and passions of men naturally lead them to divide and distribute the stock of every society among all the different employments carried on in it as nearly as possible in the proportion which is most agreeable to the interest of the whole society.  — Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Contrary to popular belief, the Invisible Hand is not about self-interest, it's about people using their money to communicate what their interests are.  The supply is regulated by the spending signals of countless consumers.

In Friedrich Hayek's 1945 Nobel essay he reinforced the idea that markets are all about communication...

We must look at the price system as such a mechanism for communicating information if we want to understand its real function — a function which, of course, it fulfils less perfectly as prices grow more rigid. (Even when quoted prices have become quite rigid, however, the forces which would operate through changes in price still operate to a considerable extent through changes in the other terms of the contract.) The most significant fact about this system is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action. In abbreviated form, by a kind of symbol, only the most essential information is passed on and passed on only to those concerned. It is more than a metaphor to describe the price system as a kind of machinery for registering change, or a system of telecommunications which enables individual producers to watch merely the movement of a few pointers, as an engineer might watch the hands of a few dials, in order to adjust their activities to changes of which they may never know more than is reflected in the price movement. — Friedrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society

Command economies fail because, in the absence of prices, they are unable to utilize all the relevant and necessary knowledge that is dispersed among all the consumers and producers.

In 1954 the Nobel economist Paul Samuelson critiqued Hayek's essay by pointing out that, because of the free-rider problem, prices don't work so well for public goods...

But, and this is the point sensed by Wicksell but perhaps not fully appreciated by Lindahl, now it is in the selfish interest of each person to give false signals, to pretend to have less interest in a given collective consumption activity than he really has, etc. —  Paul Samuelson, The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure

Samuelson's basic assumption was that the optimal supply of all goods is entirely dependent on honest signals.  Again, it's about using money to communicate your interests.  The problem with a good like Linux is that you can benefit from it without having to pay for it.  Let's say that your true valuation of Linux is $40 bucks.  If you only donate $20 dollars to it, you still can fully benefit from it, but you can take the $20 bucks that you saved and use it to buy a nice steak.  The amount that you spent on Linux would be a false signal because it would be less than your true valuation of it.  On its own, your false signal isn't so much of a problem... after all... you only cheated Linux out of $20 bucks.  The issue is when everybody else does the same thing.  When everybody's contribution to Linux is a lot less than their true valuation of it, then naturally it's going to be a lot lower quality than everybody truly wants it to be.  Also, there's going to be far fewer freely available alternatives to Linux than everybody truly wants.

To be clear, the only reason that consumers have the incentive to be dishonest about their true valuation of Linux (a public good) is because they have the option to spend their money on steak (a private good) instead.  If this option was eliminated, then so too would be the incentive to be dishonest.  This was the point that the Nobel economist James Buchanan made in 1963...

Under most real-world taxing institutions, the tax price per unit at which collective goods are made available to the individual will depend, at least to some degree, on his own behavior. This element is not, however, important under the major tax institutions such as the personal income tax, the general sales tax, or the real property tax. With such structures, the individual may, by changing his private behavior, modify the tax base (and thus the tax price per unit of collective goods he utilizes), but he need not have any incentive to conceal his "true" preferences for public goods. - James M. Buchanan, The Economics of Earmarked Taxes

I'll hedge my bets by sharing how other people have explained the idea of individual earmarking...

One strand of this approach-initiated in Buchanan’s (1963) seminal paper-argues that the voter who might have approved a tax increase if it were earmarked for, say, environmental protection would oppose it under general fund financing because he or she may expect the increment to be allocated to an unfavored expenditure such as defense. Earmarked taxation then permits a more satisfactory expression of individual preferences. — Ranjit S. Teja, The Case for Earmarked Taxes

Individuals who have particularly negative feelings concerning a publicly provided good (e.g. Quakers on military expenditures, Prolifers on publicly funded abortions) have also at times suggested that they should be allowed to dissent by earmarking their taxes toward other public uses. — Marc Bilodeau, Tax-earmarking and separate school financing

Imagine if Netflix gave subscribers the opportunity to use their monthly fees to help rank the content.  Would subscribers have any incentive to be dishonest? Nope. This is simply because they would not have the option to spend their fees on things like food or clothes. Subscribers would not have the option to spend their fees outside of Netflix. Therefore, how subscribers earmarked their fees would honestly communicate their true valuations of the content.  The result would be the optimal supply of content.

The most relevant economic discussion looks basically like this...

Smith: Consumers should have the freedom to spend their money to help rank goods.
Hayek: It's true, the market is the only way to utilize all the dispersed knowledge.
Samuelson: While the market does work for private goods, it fails for public goods.
Buchanan: Actually, earmarking would allow the market to also work for public goods.

So what do you think?  Have I successfully changed your mind about the Invisible Hand?  Have I efficiently eliminated one of the biggest errors that you live by?  Have I fulfilled my moral obligation to economically educate and enlighten you?

To be clear, my own beliefs in the Invisible Hand can potentially be falsified.  If Netflix gives the Invisible Hand the opportunity to regulate the content, and it didn't noticeably improve, then this would falsify my belief in the Invisible Hand.

Science is, or should be, the most fertile common ground.

Unfortunately I doubt Netflix will conduct this experiment any time soon.  Here's a potential experiment that's much more accessible.  Imagine if a bunch of people rank the following books...

The Origin Of Species
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The Handmaid’s Tale
A Tale of Two Cities
50 Shades of Grey
Principia
The Bible
War and Peace
12 Rules For Life
A Theory of Justice
The Cat in the Hat
The Wealth of Nations
The Hunger Games

First the participants would vote for all the books that match their preferences.  Then they would spend their own money to quantify just how closely these books match their preferences.

To be clear, the participants would not be buying the books.  They would simply have the opportunity to spend any amount of their own money in order to reveal the size of their love for each book.  All the money they spent would help crowdfund this experiment.

How differently would voting and spending rank the books?  My hypothesis is that voting would elevate the trash while spending would elevate the treasure.  If, however, voting ranked the Wealth of Nations higher than spending did, then this would falsify my hypothesis.

The relative effectiveness of the Invisible Hand can easily, relatively speaking, be compared to the alternative ranking systems.  The fact that these tests have not been conducted is the biggest error ever.  Let's combine our forces and eliminate this error.  Together we can demolish the massively detrimental disparity between where the world is, and where it should be.