Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Micropayments Everywhere!

Nation States forum post: Micropayments Here, There, Everywhere?


Should this forum facilitate micropayments?

1. No
2. Yes

According to the poll in this thread, 60% of you believe that anti-discrimination laws are necessary.  Evidently many of you are concerned that women, blacks, gays and Hindus do not have enough options.  But is your concern sincere or superficial signaling?
In addition to CV surveys eliciting apparently inconsistent responses, some researchers question whether survey subjects are attempting to state their true demand for public goods.  The worry is not that survey takers will strategically disguise their preferences (since little can be gained by giving false answers to questions about non-binding projects), but rather that they may be doing something else all together.  For example, Diamond and Hausman (1994) suggest that respondents may be expressing an attitude that gives them a warm glow, even if they wouldn't be willing to support their response to a hypothetical question with actual money; or they may be describing what they think good citizens are supposed to say, rather than calculating how much benefit they would derive, all things considered, from allocating a specific amount to a particular good. - Jonny Anomaly, Public Goods and Government Action
How come no one voluntarily buys X?  Because people don't actually like X - at least not enough to pay for it.  Why does everyone praise X?  Because praising X sounds good.  Why do people unanimously vote for lavish spending on X?  Because voting is just a special kind of talking. - Bryan Caplan, The Public Goods Model vs. Social Desirability Bias: A Case of Observational Equivalence
It is necessary to distinguish between two types of belief, the notional and the action-impelling.  The distinction corresponds to that between cheap talk and credible commitment (“putting your money where your mouth is”). - Richard Posner, Frontiers of Legal Theory 
It's disconcerting that the very same people who rail against the externalized costs of pollution of all kinds think absolutely nothing of forcibly externalizing the cost of their own preferred consumption. - Yevdokiya Zagumenova, She Wants X, but Wants Someone Else to Pay for X
They will not indeed submit to more labours and privations than other people, for the relief of distressed fellow creatures: but they make amends by whining over them more.  It is not difficult to trace this sort of affectation to its cause. It originates in the common practice of bestowing upon feelings that praise which actions alone can deserve. - J.S. Mill
It’s very easy to support programs that other people will have to pay for. But voters, like everyone else, should bear the costs of their own decisions. Letting people vote for expensive programs that “somebody else” will finance is a good recipe for getting people to vote irresponsibly. - Steve Landsburg, Blast from the Past
Neither is value in words and doctrines. It is reflected in human conduct. It is not what a man or groups of men say about value that counts, but how they act. The oratory of moralists and the pompousness of party programs are significant as such. But they influence the course of human events only as far as they really determine the actions of men. - Ludwig von Mises, A First Analysis of the Category of Action
The only other people who are helped are the do-gooders responsible for this type of legislation and for these effects. They have the high-minded satisfaction of promoting a noble cause. The good intention is emblazoned forth for all to see. The harm is far less visible, much more indirect, much harder to connect with the good-hearted action. Besides, the harm is mostly to someone else. - Milton Friedman, Migrant Workers

The easiest way to test the honesty of a belief is to give people the opportunity to put their money where their mouths is.  What this in mind...

Should this forum facilitate micropayments?  If you say yes, then you'd like to have the chance to spend your own money in order to help give women, blacks, gays and Hindu more options.  If you say no, then your concern for these people is not genuine.


You'd use paypal to deposit money into your forum “wallet” (FW).  If you valued Gabe's thread at a penny, then you'd click the penny button and a penny would be transferred from your FW into Gabe's FW.  Once Gabe had enough pennies in his FW he could request a withdrawal. Max Barry would take his cut and paypal the rest to Gabe.


Just how feasible is to turn this forum into a market?  It's entirely feasible.

All the necessary programming is very straightforward.  Absolutely nothing fancy would be required.  Well... maybe a bit of Ajax for when you click the penny or nickle or dime or quarter buttons.  But nothing a reasonably seasoned programmer couldn't handle.

Just because it's feasible though doesn't mean that it will be cheap.  It would take quite a few hours to modify the database and write all the code.  But it's not like all the features would have to be rolled out at once.  In order to have a basically functional system you'd need to...

Add the FW column and total spending column to the members table
Add the total allocation column to the threads table
Create a table to keep track of how much each member has allocated to each thread
Add the coin buttons to the thread
Write the code to update the tables accordingly
Write the code to hide/disable the coin buttons if a member's broke
Write the code to display FW balance
Write the code to display the individual and total allocation for each thread

And that's it?  I'm sure that I'm forgetting a few steps.

With this very basically functional system... Max Barry, or trusted admins, would have to manually update your FW when you paypal'd them money.  This would only be a lot of work if a lot of people paid money.  If nobody paypals any money then clearly Barry wouldn't want to allocate any more time/money to developing a system that there's zero demand for.  So the greater the demand, the greater the justification/rationale/incentive/funding for making further improvements.


I suffer from a shortage of design skills, but perhaps sharing a bad design is better than not sharing any design...

With this layout, the coin buttons and allocation info would be immediately above the OP.  But perhaps it makes more sense for them to be immediately after the OP?  To the right of the coins you can see how much you've allocated to this thread and how much the crowd has allocated to it.  In the upper right of the page, just below your username, you'd be able to see your FW balance.


The approach to micropayments that I've proposed is the "Pay-What-You-Want" (PWYW) approach.  Another approach is the "One-Price-Fits-All" (OPFA) approach... ie Blendle.  Given that one price really does not fit all, I'm pretty sure that the PWYW approach is superior.  But I could be wrong!


Perhaps it might be objected that facilitating "one click giving" on this forum will not really give disadvantaged people better options...

Gabe's not going to be able to give up his day job if he only receives a penny for his thoughts/threads.  If this is your objection, then what you're arguing is that disadvantaged people won't create sufficiently valuable threads and/or members won't spend enough money on them...

I'm guessing that anybody who supports anti-discrimination laws also supports minimum wage laws.  If you have no problem forcing employers to pay more than their valuation of labor, then you should have no problem forcing yourself to pay more than your valuation of threads.

The more money you pay for threads, the more women, blacks, gays and Hindus would be able to give up their day jobs...

Income from posting at Nation States > Income from flipping burgers at McDonald's

Even if only white guys are able to give up their day jobs, this would still be beneficial to disadvantaged people.  Why?  Because there would be less white guys to compete with for other types of jobs.

There are other reasons to support turning this forum into a market...


There's no shortage of information on the topic of information overload...

The Age of Notifications - Steven Levy
10 Steps To Conquering Information Overload - Laura Shin
The paradox of choice - Barry Schwartz
Why sharing will eventually kill you - Aris Theophilakis

Websites are making it easier and easier to share information.  With more and more information it's more and more difficult to find information that's truly valuable.  The solution is simple.  Websites need to make it easier and easier to valuate information.  Hence, micropayments.  The crowd can use their coin clicks to help guide you to important information.  And you can use your coin clicks to help guide the crowd to information that's important to you.  Of course, the less accurate the valuations, the less accurate this value guidance system becomes.  Garbage in, garbage out.


An apple seed won’t germinate and thrive without adequate love (fertile soil, water, sun, etc). So if you love apples, then it would behoove you to contribute to the seedling’s cultivation. Otherwise, the seedling might not grow and bear fruit...which would result in a shortage of something that you love...apples.

If Nation States facilitated cultivating creativity with cash, then this would create a wide variety of viable and fertile niches for a wide variety of good thoughts/ideas to grow to fruition.


It's been said that states are the laboratories of democracy.  Given that there are only around 50 states here in the US... it shouldn't be a surprise that democracy hasn't really improved that much.  But if Nation States makes valuing threads as easy as Facebook has made it to like posts... then Nation States would become a better market.  Who wants to participate in better markets?  Everybody.  So it's a given that other websites would follow suit... Wired, The Economist, Democracy Journal, Medium, Jacobin, The New Rambler,  Crooked Timber, Huffington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street JournalNetflix, Spotify, Youtube, Facebook and countless other websites would all endeavor to become better markets.  When websites become the laboratories of markets, and there are a gazillion websites, then market failure will be quickly weeded out.  Markets will improve at an exponential rate.


"I have to say, I feel it's my fault. I failed to create an adequate simulation of the real world." - Max Barry, brb buying ByteCoin

I'm not exactly sure whether or not that was an elaborate April Fool's joke.  But clearly Barry's somewhat interested in the general topic.

And yes, I do realize that this is his website and he can do what he wants with it.  Anybody who mentions this owes me $5 dollars.


Micropayments can...

1. ...create more options for others
2. ...prioritize information
3. ...empower us to cultivate valuable ideas/thoughts
4. ...transform websites into markets


Ok citizens of Nation States, let's have some excellent discussion!

Should this forum facilitate micropayments?

Do you hate this idea so much that you'd leave if it was implemented?

What are some of the potential unintended consequences?

Would you want to see the total amount of money that another member has spent?

Which is more important to know?

A. Total number of posts that a member has made
B. Total number of dollars that a member has allocated

Would you want to be able to see another member's allocations sorted from highest to lowest?

Would you want to be able to allocate money to both threads and posts... or just threads?

If you value a thread at $0.50 cents, but you don't allocate any money to it, are you a free-rider?

Do you perceive that the free-rider problem would be significant?

If so, what are some ways to incentivize/encourage/reward voluntary contributions/allocations?  Perks?    Privileges?  Prestige?  Parades?  Wall of fame?

Do you think that micropayments are the future?

What is the proper scope of micropayments? (ie, not appropriate for forums but appropriate for Youtube because...videos > threads)

If Facebook facilitated micropayments, what's the total amount of money that would have been allocated to this post by Robert Reich?

How much would you allocate to this thread?  Be careful, you might just get the chance to put your money where your mouth is.  If it helps, I'm Mexican. But I am male and straight though.


Supporting The People And Content You Love
Beyond the Deadweight Loss of “All You Can Eat” Subscriptions
The $1,000 CPM

I’ve often been critical of economists fetish of putting a price on everything and believing that the price mechanism is a miraculous device capable of solving any problem. They vastly overstate the case. However, I think Lanier is right in this instance. He suggests that a broad middle class capable of supporting a vibrant capitalist economy can only be nurtured if all the people who actually create the value of the Internet get paid for the information they currently supply for free. Digital networking technology is more than sophisticated enough to track value creation across all the world’s users, so as to provide the information required for a system of micropayments — people who create value, no matter where and when it was ultimately used, would get paid for it. - Mark Buchanan, Our economies are messed up. And the cause is the Internet.

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