Saturday, November 14, 2015

Integrating vs Disintegrating Information

Reply to reply: Thanks for commenting


Debating “perfect information” is like debating “heaven”. If heaven exists… then…

It took you more than half a year to respond to my response. Why? I have absolutely no idea. I’m not omniscient. I only have a microscopic clue about your preferences and circumstances. All I know is that responding to my response was on your “to do” list… and it was very very very far down on your list. How many other activities were higher on your “to do” list? How many activities have you engaged in since I responded to your story? Can I argue that your priorities are wrong? Can I argue that responding to my response should have been at the top of your “to do” list? 

Some economists like to assume omniscience for the sake of their models. But omniscience is so far removed from reality that it’s not even funny. It’s sad that so many people think that “perfect information” is relevant to anything relevant. 

What markets do is they integrate the maximum amount of information. What not-markets do is the opposite… they disintegrate the maximum amount of information. 

The government is currently a not-market. It disintegrates the maximum amount of information. People don’t appreciate this because they can’t see the impossibly massive amount of information that’s being disintegrated. If I had overridden your own priorities and placed “responding to my response” at the top of your “to do” list then how many people would know what information was disintegrated? 

It’s a given that markets “fail”. They fail for lack of information. Which is why it’s so absurd to jump to the “government” conclusion… given that the government, as it’s currently structured, disintegrates information. 

With private goods people have the incentive to supply information about their preferences/circumstances. The same isn’t necessarily true of public goods. So it’s not unreasonable to coerce people to contribute to public goods… but it’s extremely counterproductive to override people’s public goods preferences/circumstances by preventing them from choosing for themselves which public goods their taxes are spent on. It’s as if people exist for public goods and not the other way around. 

When it comes to organs… are they a private or public good? Right now I’m free to give my kidney away… but I’m not free to sell my kidney. I’m not free to sell my kidney because society, as a whole, does not appreciate/understand the value of knowing/integrating my preferences/circumstances. So it’s kinda hard to say that any organ shortage is the result of market failure. 

Opting in vs opting out with regards to organ donation is failing to see the forest for the trees. With opting out as the default there might be a larger supply of organs… but we still haven’t integrated people’s preferences/circumstances concerning their organs. So we have a distorted sense of reality… and our decisions are going to be less than optimal as a result. 

On Facebook you can post that you gave your kidney away… and I suppose that you might receive quite a few thumbs up. What if people could also give you a quarters up? Or a dollars up? Would any of your friends and family voluntarily give you any money because you gave your kidney away? Would it be strange to receive a total of $100 or $200 or $500 dollars because you gave your kidney away? 

Incentives and information both matter. If we want people to behave in maximally beneficial ways then we have to accurately communicate how much we benefit from their behavior. 

Nobody’s omniscient. This is just as true for public goods as it is for private goods. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Amazon vs America

Reply to: Damn Right Amazon Runs a Fucking Deficit and So Should America


The public sector. The public sector. The public SECTOR. The public SECTOR. The public SECTOR. The fucking public SECTOR. The mother fucking public SECTOR.

You: Hey, there are some companies, in the private SECTOR, and they run a deficit. They borrow a ton of money! Look how well they are doing! Therefore, let’s run the entire public SECTOR just like how some individual companies in the private SECTOR are run. 

It’s ok for companies to borrow lots of money. Because… if some companies make stupid spending decisions then we, the consumers, give our money to whichever companies are making smart spending decisions. We can choose not to give our money to Amazon. We have the freedom to spend our money elsewhere. It’s entirely up to each and every one of us to decide entirely for ourselves whether or not Amazon is making too many mistakes. Consumer choice is what keeps Amazon on its toes. Our freedom of choice is what Amazon thinks about when deciding how they should spend the money that they earned and borrowed. 

Borrowing in the private sector is ok because of consumer sovereignty. You know what you’re left with when you take away consumer sovereignty? Whatever your left with IS NOT a market. You’re left with a not-market. 

Not-markets have different feedback mechanisms. Like voting. The government wants to borrow a shit ton of money and spend it on an unnecessary war. Then what? Then we, the voters, have to use our votes to try and replace whichever numskulls are in charge borrowing/spending a shit ton of money. 

In the public sector we infrequently use votes to try and replace the leaders who are making terrible spending decisions. In the private sector we frequently move our money to whichever leaders are making the best spending decisions. 

This isn’t a subtle distinction. But here you are completely ignoring this distinction and, as a result, you come to a completely moronic conclusion. 

Here I am giving you feedback. It’s negative feedback. You wrote a shit story. Lots of other people also gave you feedback. But they gave you positive feedback by *hearting* your story. If Medium facilitated micropayments… then how much money would those people have given you? You don’t know. You’re not mother fucking omniscient. 

The point of markets is to clarify demand. People are free to spend their own hard-earned money and when they do so it reveals the truth of their preferences and priorities. Not-markets do not clarify… they obscure… which is why they invariably waste massive amounts of society’s limited resources. Which is why it’s massively moronic for the government to run a deficit. And why it’s fundamentally important that people be free to choose which government organizations they give their taxes to (pragmatarianism FAQ).

Let me try and put my main point in a nutshell… 

In order for deficit spending to work as well for America (one country) as it does for Amazon (one company)… leaving America would have to be as easy as leaving Amazon. Leaving America and moving to Canada would have to be as easy as moving your money from Amazon to Barnes and Noble. 

With Amazon we have easy exit. With America we do not. Therefore, deficit spending for America is incredibly stupid. When consumers can’t easily boycott mistakes in the public SECTOR… then we want the public SECTOR to be as small as possible. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Preventing Human Extinction


I love growing plants. Southern California, where I live, is a great place to grow a wide variety of plants outdoors year around. Well… it’s usually a great place. A few years back it actually got cold enough to freeze. After a few days, when the full extent of the cold damage was abundantly apparent, I realized that one of my orchids… Cattleya Portia… was a total goner. It had been happily growing on a lemon tree… but then the cold killed it completely. Surprisingly, just a few feet away on the same lemon tree, was an orchid that was entirely untouched by the freeze. What made it surprising was that it was a division of the same exact Cattleya Portia that had frozen to death just a few feet away. The two orchids were identical in every way… they were both even growing on the same tree… the only difference was their location on the tree.

This confirmed, yet again, a lesson that I had learned a long time ago… don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. Right now humans are all in the same basket… Earth. It might seem like a relatively safe and big basket… but no basket is ever safe enough to put all your eggs in it.  

So the priority, in terms of preventing human extinction, should be putting humans into as many different baskets as possible…. space stations, the moon, mars and so on. 

The problem is that people can’t choose where their taxes go. At first glance it might appear to be an absurd idea to allow everybody to decide for themselves which government organizations (GOs) they give their taxes to. But preventing people from deciding for themselves is the same thing as putting too many eggs in one basket. 

Let’s say that I convince you that getting enough humans off the planet should be our number one priority in terms of preventing extinction. Can you adjust your tax allocation accordingly? Can you go to the NASA website and give them more of your tax dollars? Nope. Neither can I. Neither can anybody else…. except for an extremely small group of government planners… congress.

Centralization blocks human diversity. This is a problem because our natural diversity naturally leads us to put our eggs in different baskets. Our natural diversity is our greatest protection against extinction. Yet our government is structured to block nearly all of our natural diversity. Therefore, the government is the greatest threat to our survival. 

This doesn’t mean that we have to get rid of the government. It simply means that taxpayers should be free to choose where their taxes go. People will put their eggs (taxes) in different baskets… and they will appreciate the importance of having their eggs in different baskets… and they will appreciate the importance of having humans in different baskets. 

So we hedge our bets and greatly increase our chances of survival by allowing people to choose where their taxes go. To learn more… here’s the pragmatarianism FAQ.

I didn’t just attach Cattleya Portia to my lemon tree. I also attached some divisions to my Cedar tree… none of which were killed by the cold. Here’s a photo of Cattleya Portia blooming on my Cedar tree

Monday, October 5, 2015

Robot Intelligence: Brain Gain vs Brain Drain

Reply to: Albert Hirschman’s Linkages, Economic Growth, and Convergence Yet Again… by J. Bradford DeLong


So it will potentially be bad for the economy if robots become smarter? Would it also be bad for the economy if you become smarter? Would it also be bad for the economy if I became smarter?

What if the US imported a bunch of geniuses? Would this also be bad for the economy? If so, then brain drain would be good for the US economy. But I’m pretty sure that you’re not going to argue that brain drain is good for any economy. Yet, here you are, arguing that we should be worried about robots getting smarter. Increasing the total amount of intelligence in an economy is the opposite of brain drain.

What if a bunch of aliens landed in a spaceship? Would your preference be for them to be dumber or smarter than us?

Let’s say that you were stranded on an island with a bunch of people. Would your preference be for them to be dumber or smarter than you?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Missing Markets: The Bane Of Our Existence

Reply to: Traditional Economics Don’t Make Sense For Open Business Models


Imagine that you’re trying to decide whether to play golf (X) or write a story on Medium (Y). The question is… how should you allocate your time? Your time is a limited resource. Your time is scarce. Given that your time is scarce, it makes sense to allocate your time to whichever activity will provide you with the most benefit. 

Whenever people talk about post-scarcity economics… it’s a pretty good sign that they are clueless. Even if you were immortal you still wouldn’t be able to play golf and write stories at the same time. And [“Her” spoiler alert]… even if you were an incredibly advanced artificial intelligence capable of writing stories, playing virtual golf and engaging in a gazillion other activities at the same time… all the resources that you allocated to these gazillion activities couldn’t also be allocated to all the other gazillions and gazillions of possible activities. 

Scarcity will always be relevant… so prioritization will always be relevant. 

The way that market economies work is that everybody can help influence everybody’s priorities. If I had to allocate one of my dollars to X (you playing golf) or Y (you writing stories)… then I’d allocate it to Y. This is because I don’t derive any benefit from X. 

This is going to sound incredibly obvious but… you can never be me. And you are not omniscient. These incredibly obvious facts of life have incredibly powerful implications. You can never truly know how much benefit I derive from either X or Y. But, when I allocate my dollar to Y rather than X, then you can know that, from my perspective…

Y > X

It stands to reason that… the more people that give you their dollars for you to do Y… the more likely you are to do Y… and the more benefit you’d create for society. 
Let’s review the economic truisms…

  1. Scarcity is, and always will be, relevant
  2. Nobody’s omniscient
  3. Incentives matter

Is this traditional economics? Well… it’s certainly economics. And it most definitely makes sense when we’re talking about open business models.  

This is what Medium might look like if they had a half-way competent economist on their payroll…

I would be able to use paypal to put money into my digital wallet. Then, if I benefited from your story, I could click the appropriate *heart* button. Let’s say that I clicked the 25 cent button. In less than a second, 25 cents would be transferred from my digital wallet to your digital wallet. I essentially gave you 25 cents of incentive to write stories rather than play golf. I increased your opportunity cost of playing golf by 25 cents.

Our society has a lot of people in it. And each person can engage in an infinite variety of activities. Market economies work because we can help encourage people to engage in the most beneficial activities.

All the biggest problems that we face as a society are not caused by markets… they are caused by the absence of markets. 

Right now we don’t have a market in Medium just like we don’t have a market in the public sector. These markets are missing because people don’t understand basic economics. People are under the impression that “recommending” or “liking” or voting can ensure that society’s limited resources are put to their most valuable uses. 

Solving the biggest problems in the world boils down to helping people understand basic economics. Then people would understand the point of markets… markets would be created wherever they are missing… and our collective intelligence and ingenuity would eliminate the world’s biggest problems. 

To help further illustrate the problem with missing markets… let’s consider this passage that you wrote…

I find this weird in so many ways. Let me highlight just one — consumption provides utility. Under this logic a tree has no utility unless it is cut down and “consumed”. I expect all of you question the logic of this. A tree can provide great utility without being consumed. It provides shade on a hot day, its leaves cleanse the air we breath, its branches provide homes for birds, its roots prevent erosion, and to many it is a thing of beauty. To assert that a tree has no utility if it is not consumed is, to me, a bizarre premise.

Benefit is in the eye of the beholder. Benefit is entirely in the eye of the beholder. 

In theory you benefit from trees being conserved rather than developed. It’s only a theory because you do not currently have the freedom to put your own taxes where your words are. Right now we don’t have a market in the public sector. A major and fundamentally important market is missing. It’s missing because people don’t understand basic economics. 

Creating a market in the public sector would be incredibly easy. People would be given the freedom to choose where their taxes go. I refer to this as “pragmatarianism”. Here’s the FAQ

Once we created a market in the public sector… then you could decide whether more trees (X) was more important to you than more defense (Y). 

If you decided that X > Y… then you’d allocate more taxes to X and less taxes to Y. Evidently, from your perspective, the world needs more trees more than it needs more tanks. 

I’d probably be in the same boat as you. How many other people would be in the same boat? We don’t know. We don’t know the demand for conservation just like we don’t know the demand for defense.
Right now you’re saying, more or less, that the supply of conservation is wrong… but why in the world would you expect it to be right? How could it possibly be right when the demand for conservation is unknown? If the supply could possibly be right without the demand being known… then markets would be entirely pointless. 

If we created a market in the public sector then the supply of conservation would be entirely determined by the demand for conservation. And then you’d be more than welcome to argue that the demand for conservation was inadequate. Would taxpayers find your arguments/information convincing? If so, then they’d give more of their taxes to the EPA. 

Sharing information isn’t the easiest thing. It takes time and effort. So if you take the time and make the effort to share your information about the environment with other people… then it becomes a lot more worthwhile to do so when the recipients of your info have the freedom to immediately act on it. 

If you’re a door and door salesman then you’re not going to waste your time making your sales pitch to a kid that answers the door. You’re going to ask to speak to whoever can make the decision to purchase your product. 

With our current system… congress controls the purse. So all the sales pitches are made to congress rather than to the public. The public is treated like some kid. This is a problem because, with our current system… the kid is responsible for determining who controls the purse. 

The only way that the public is going to make sound decisions about the environment is if they are given the relevant information. And the only way that it’s going to be worthwhile for the public to be given relevant information about the environment is if they have the freedom to control the money that they earned.

Missing markets are the cause of rational ignorance. The effects of ignorance, rational or otherwise, are extremely detrimental. Therefore, it would be extremely beneficial to create markets wherever they are missing. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Coffee Tastes Like Politics

Comment on: Libertarianism And The Politics Of Everything by Will Wilkinson


Coffee tastes like politics?  Yuck!  No wonder I don't drink the stuff!

You spend your money on coffee... I do not spend my money on coffee.  We spend our money differently because we have different preferences.  Human diversity is the basis of consumer choice.  Consumer choice is economics.  Economics is the opposite of politics.  Economics is the opportunity cost of politics.

If coffee was in the realm of politics... then one of us would have to get screwed.  Either my money would be spent on coffee... despite the fact that I can't stand the stuff... or your money wouldn't be spent on coffee... despite the fact that you love the stuff.  Would you really want coffee to be in the realm of politics?  No?  Then why in the world would you want anything to be in the realm of politics?  

Politics only exists because people don't understand economics.  If people understood economics then they would clearly see the absolute absurdity of allowing a small group of elected officials to spend everybody's taxes.

The next time that you drink coffee... don't think about politics.  Think about how you're pretty happy with your coffee despite the fact that I'm entirely free not to spend any of my money on coffee.  

To be clear... the free-rider problem is a real problem... so we need the public sector... but we really don't need it to be a political realm.   Libertarianism is the belief that we need to kick most public goods out of the public sector.  Pragmatarianism is the belief that we need to kick politics out of the public sector.

Monday, September 28, 2015

John Quiggin vs Weeds

John Quiggin is my second favorite liberal.  He's writing a book about opportunity cost!  How cool is that?  Over at Crooked Timber he's been sharing excerpts from his book so that people can share their feedback.  This is also really cool.

Here's his latest excerpt... Income redistribution: Where should we start?

Even though I love the general topic... his treatment is missing something.  The word "lackluster" comes to mind.  So does "drab".  But what, exactly, is it missing?  It's one thing to taste some soup and realize that there's something missing.  It's another thing entirely to be able to specify the missing ingredient.  Actually, nearly every dish could use more garlic!

As I was quickly scrolling through the comments... I noticed quite a few from a reader named Plume.  This is nothing new.  He is a very frequent commenter.  His comments boil down to "socialism good, capitalism bad".

What was new though was that Plume received some significant pushback from another commenter...

I know that I, at least, would be very glad if every thread even remotely related to economics didn’t devolve into an extended discussion of Plumism, or Pluminomics, or whatever it is we keep getting long dissertations on. There are lots of good topics here to be discussed, but I don’t see this as one of them. I’m almost certain that I’m not alone. I believe that it’s still free to start a blog, and perhaps starting a new one devoted just to Plumism would be a good choice for those interested in the subject. - Matt  

 Somewhat surprisingly... a few comments later... Quiggin wrote...

Plume, I agree with other commenters here. From now on, for my post, can you limit yourself to one comment per post per day.

This is the missing ingredient!  In fact, it's not just one ingredient... it's two ingredients...

Missing ingredient #1: People do different things with society's limited resources... and different people value different things differently.  This fundamentally basic but incredibly important concept is largely, or entirely, missing from Quiggin's analysis.  But there it is plain to see in the comments section!  How can any conclusion regarding the distribution/redistribution of society's limited resources possibly be correct when it doesn't take into account this essential economic truism?

Missing ingredient #2: Accessible scenarios that help convey the relevant economic concepts!  I'm pretty sure that I've read every excerpt that Quiggin has shared... and I don't think that he's ever offered an accessible scenario.  Then again... my memory isn't that great.  Then again... a really good scenario is really hard to forget!

For example...

Following a three-hour time-off-for-personal-exploration period, an excited Sylvia returns to the campsite and announces: "I've stumbled upon a huge apple tree, full of perfect apples." "Great," others exclaim, "now we can all have apple sauce, and apple pie, and apple strudel!" "Provided, of course," so Sylvia rejoins, "that you reduce my labour burden, and/or furnish me with more room in the tent, and/or with more bacon at breakfast." Her claim to (a kind of) ownership of the tree revolts the others. - G.A. Cohen, The Socialist’s Guide to Camping

It's a very simple and accessible story that wonderfully illustrates Cohen's point.  Of course I don't agree with his point... but I really admire how well he conveyed it.

Quiggin's book is the liberal sequel to Hazlitt's book... Economics In One Lesson... which was all about Bastiat's beautiful essay... What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.  When it comes to accessible economic scenarios... nobody holds a candle to Bastiat.  He really set the standard that every economist should strive to meet.

When James Goodfellow gives a hundred sous to a government official for a really useful service, this is exactly the same as when he gives a hundred sous to a shoemaker for a pair of shoes. It's a case of give-and-take, and the score is even. But when James Goodfellow hands over a hundred sous to a government official to receive no service for it or even to be subjected to inconveniences, it is as if he were to give his money to a thief. It serves no purpose to say that the official will spend these hundred sous for the great profit of our national industry; the more the thief can do with them, the more James Goodfellow could have done with them if he had not met on his way either the extralegal or the legal parasite. - Frédéric Bastiat, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen

A few other people have shared some noteworthy scenarios...

Now suppose that Wilt Chamberlain is greatly in demand by basketball teams, being a great gate attraction. (Also suppose contracts run only for a year, with players being free agents.) He signs the following sort of contract with a team: In each home game, twenty-five cents from the price of each ticket of admission goes to him. (We ignore the question of whether he is "gouging" the owners, letting them look out for themselves.) The season starts, and people cheerfully attend his team’s games; they buy their tickets, each time dropping a separate twenty-five cents of their admission price into a special box with Chamberlain’s name on it. They are excited about seeing him play; it is worth the total admission price to them. Let us suppose that in one season one million persons attend his home games, and Wilt Chamberlain winds up with $250,000, a much larger sum than the average income and larger even than anyone else has. Is he entitled to this income? Is this new distribution D2 unjust? If so, why? There is no question about whether each of the people was entitled to the control over the resources they held in D1; because that was the distribution (your favorite) that (for the purposes of argument) we assumed was acceptable. Each of these persons chose to give twenty-five cents of their money to Chamberlain. They could have spent it on going to the movies, or on candy bars, or on copies of Dissent magazine, or of Monthly Review. But they all, at least one million of them, converged on giving it to Wilt Chamberlain in exchange for watching him play basketball. If D1 was a just distribution, and people voluntarily moved from it to D2, transferring parts of their shares they were given under D1 (what was it for if not to do something with?), isn’t D2 also just? If the people were entitled to dispose of the resources to which they were entitled (under D1), didn’t this include their being entitled to give it to, or exchange it with, Wilt Chamberlain? Can anyone else complain on grounds of justice? - Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia

Quiggin will probably disagree with Nozick's point like I disagree with Cohen's point... but perhaps Quiggin will appreciate how well this scenario conveys Nozick's point.  And if Quiggin wants to argue in favor of redistribution... it would behoove him to explain, preferably by using an equally accessible scenario, how doing so does not subvert the true will of the people as revealed by the decisions that they make as consumers.

Here's another one...

Consider the following analog to Block's gardening problem. Let there be an island that contains all the known stock of Austrian Pure Snow trees. The island is inhabited by a religious sect, the first to mix their sweat and blood with the island's soil, thus satisfying Rothbard's principle of "original ownership." They worship these trees as if they were God. Never would they let them be tampered with in any way. Unknown to anyone, these trees contain an ingredient that is a sure cure for cancer, and when this is discovered a question of the ownership of this ingredient, unavailable elsewhere, arises. The religious sect will in no way, for any compensation, allow that ingredient to be extracted. Is it "evil and vicious" to believe that it would be preferable for someone else to own the right to this ingredient, requiring instead that the religious sect purchase the inviolability of this ingredient? Might not "our most cherished and precious property rights" be still more cherished and precious if the private ownership of this new resource was not confined to those who own the rest of the island? Would the answer be much different if this ingredient not only was known to the island dwellers, but was precisely that part of the trees that they worshiped? Would the answer be different if the islanders were very poor? - Harold Demsetz, Ethics and Efficiency in Property Rights Systems

As a nature lover... I appreciate all the trees in this scenario.  And, as an economics lover... I appreciate the ownership dilemma.  Although... the scenario falls apart a bit when we consider the fact that trees have seeds.  It's hard to imagine that some group wouldn't be willing to sell one seed for any price.

Here's the most recent noteworthy scenario that I've run across...

If Robinson Crusoe and Friday are on an island, and Crusoe grows seven pumpkins and Friday grows three pumpkins, Crusoe hasn’t grabbed a bigger piece of (pumpkin?) pie. He has simply created more wealth than Friday, leaving Friday no worse off. It is dishonest to say Crusoe has “taken” 70 percent of “the island’s” wealth. - Don Watkins, Turning the Tables on the Inequality Alarmists

Short and sweet.   It's unfortunate that Watkins can't keep his story straight... Limit Socialism To California.

My favorite recently-dead economist James Buchanan wasn't exactly known for his scenarios... and perhaps this is part of the reason that he is so incredibly under-appreciated.  Consider this scenario...

At some basic psychological level of choice, the demand of the citizen for more police protection by the municipality reflects the same drive as his demand for additional door locks from the local hardware store. 
Even with such a simple analogy, however, care must be taken lest the similarities be pushed too far. The person who wants to purchase a new lock goes to the local hardware store, or to several stores, surveys the array of alternatives offered for sale, along with the corresponding array of prices, makes his purchase, and is done with it. It should be evident that the person’s act of implementing his demand for additional police protection is quite different. The citizen must communicate his desires to his elected political representative, his city councilman, who may or may not listen. If he does listen, the councilman must then take the lead in trying to convince a majority of his colleagues in the representative assembly to support a budgetary adjustment. But what about quality and price? Almost anyone would desire more police protection of high quality if this should be available to him at a zero price. At one level of reaction, the citizen must understand that additional public services can be secured only at the price of either reductions in other services or increases in taxes. How can he indicate to his political representative just what quantity-quality-price mix is most preferred? And how can his political representative, in trying to please his constituents, determine this mix? - James Buchanan, Richard Wagner, Democracy in Deficit: The Political Legacy of Lord Keynes

The scenario works... but it doesn't exactly stick.  Buchanan didn't even give the person a name!

Ok, so what is Quiggin's book missing?  Based on the drafts that Quiggin has shared... his book is missing two things.  First, it doesn't really address the fact that people value things differently.  Second, it doesn't have any accessible scenarios/stories.  My dollar vote is for a scenario involving Australia's wonderful epiphytic orchids.

While I'm at it... I should point out that the solution to the comment problem really isn't to limit Plume's comments.  The solution is to create a market in the comment section!  Quiggin could spend his pennies on whichever comments he values most.  Everybody else could do the same.  Then, if people wanted to, they could sort the comments by their value.  The most valuable comments would be at the top of the comment section and the least valuable comments would be at the bottom of the comment section.

If we think of Quiggin's blog entry as a home... then the comment section would be the garden.  Plume is a weed that grows everywhere in the garden.  He takes up way too much space in the garden.  The thing is... it's a really big garden... and not all the space is equally valuable.  The most valuable space is closest to the house.  So the problem really isn't that Plume is taking up too much space... the problem is that he's taking up too much valuable space.  All the valuable space that Plume takes up could be used for far more valuable plants.  Sure, Quiggin could manually limit the amount of valuable space that Plume occupies... but a far more effective approach would be for Quiggin to give more water, food and love to the plants that he values most.  They would grow more vigorously and, as a result, they would crowd out Plume and all the other weeds.  Pretty soon all the most valuable space in the garden would be occupied entirely by the most valuable plants.  The garden would still have weeds... but they would be located in the most remote part of the very big garden.

This is how and why markets work.  Consumers can't pull weeds... but they can help nourish the most beneficial plants.  The logical result of consumer choice is that resources are unevenly distributed among the unequally beneficial plants.  Redistribution might seem fair... but it simply provides more valuable space to less valuable plants.

Nobody truly benefits when society's limited resources are placed in less beneficial hands.  In other words, the opportunity cost of fairness is way too high.