Monday, June 8, 2015

The Economics of Sense8

Sense8 is a new series on Netflix.  The following passages might help you better appreciate it...
Among men, on the contrary, the most dissimilar geniuses are of use to one another; the different produces of their respective talents, by the general disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, being brought, as it were, into a common stock, where every man may purchase whatever part of the produce of other men's talents he has occasion for. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
The principle that the multitude ought to be supreme rather than the few best is capable of a satisfactory explanation, and, though not free from difficulty, yet seems to contain an element of truth. For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse. For each individual among the many has a share of virtue and prudence, and when they meet together they become in a manner one man, who has many feet, and hands, and senses; that is a figure of their mind and disposition. Hence the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them, they understand the whole. There is a similar combination of qualities in good men, who differ from any individual of the many, as the beautiful are said to differ from those who are not beautiful, and works of art from realities, because in them the scattered elements are combined, although, if taken separately, the eye of one person or some other feature in another person would be fairer than in the picture. - Aristotle, The Politics
To recommend the market, in fact, is to recommend letting millions of creative people, each with different perspectives and different bits of knowledge and insights, each voluntarily contribute his own ideas and efforts toward dealing with the problem. It is to recommend not a single solution but, instead, a decentralized process that calls forth many competing experiments and, then, discovers the solutions that work best under the circumstances. - Donald Boudreaux, A Simple Rule for a Complex World
Provided the development coordinator has a communications medium at least as good as the Internet, and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are inevitably better than one. - Eric Steven Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar
The history of Unix should have prepared us for what we're learning from Linux (and what I've verified experimentally on a smaller scale by deliberately copying Linus's methods [EGCS]). That is, while coding remains an essentially solitary activity, the really great hacks come from harnessing the attention and brainpower of entire communities. The developer who uses only his or her own brain in a closed project is going to fall behind the developer who knows how to create an open, evolutionary context in which feedback exploring the design space, code contributions, bug-spotting, and other improvements come from hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people. - Eric Steven Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar
Perhaps in the end the open-source culture will triumph not because cooperation is morally right or software "hoarding'' is morally wrong (assuming you believe the latter, which neither Linus nor I do), but simply because the closed-source world cannot win an evolutionary arms race with open-source communities that can put orders of magnitude more skilled time into a problem. - Eric Steven Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar
The problem is thus in no way solved if we can show that all the facts, if they were known to a single mind (as we hypothetically assume them to be given to the observing economist), would uniquely determine the solution; instead we must show how a solution is produced by the interactions of people each of whom possesses only partial knowledge. To assume all the knowledge to be given to a single mind in the same manner in which we assume it to be given to us as the explaining economists is to assume the problem away and to disregard everything that is important and significant in the real world. - Friedrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society
It is the extensive cooperation among highly specialized workers that enables advanced economies to utilize a vast amount of knowledge. This is why Hayek's emphasis on the role of prices and markets in combining efficiently the specialized knowledge of different workers is so important in appreciating the performance of rich and complex economies. - Gary S. Becker, Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education
In other words, opportunities for profitable team production by inputs already within the firm may be ascertained more economically and accurately than for resources outside the firm. Superior combinations of inputs can be more economically identified and formed from resources already used in the organization than by obtaining new resources (and knowledge of them) from the outside. Promotion and revision of employee assignments (contracts) will be preferred by a firm to the hiring of new inputs. To the extent that this occurs there is reason to expect the firm to be able to operate as a conglomerate rather than persist in producing a single product. Efficient production with heterogeneous resources is a result not of having better resources but in knowing more accurately the relative productive performances of those resources. Poorer resources can be paid less in accord with their inferiority; greater accuracy of knowledge of the potential and actual productive actions of inputs rather than having high productivity resources makes a firm (or an assignment of inputs) profitable. - Harold Demsetz, Armen Alchian, Production, Information Costs, and Economic Organization
It must be remembered, besides, that even if a government were superior in intelligence and knowledge to any single individual in the nation, it must be inferior to all the individuals of the nation taken together. It can neither possess in itself, nor enlist in its service, more than a portion of the acquirements and capacities which the country contains, applicable to any given purpose. - J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy
Information isn’t in the hands of one person. It’s dispersed across many people. So relying on only your private information to make a decision guarantees that it will be less informed than it could be. - James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds
...there's no real evidence that one can become expert in something as broad as "decision making" or "policy" or "strategy." Auto repair, piloting, skiing, perhaps even management: these are skills that yield to application, hard work, and native talent. But forecasting an uncertain future and deciding the best course of action in the face of that future are much less likely to do so. And much of what we've seen so far suggests that a large group of diverse individuals will come up with better and more robust forecasts and make more intelligent decisions than even the most skilled "decision maker." - James Surowiecki, Wisdom of Crowds
as soon as a general problem enjoys a sufficiently wide interest, the means and the methods of its solution will not be lacking … - Knut Wicksell
We've gone beyond the capacity of the human mind to an extraordinary degree. And by the way, that's one of the reasons that I'm not interested in the debate about I.Q., about whether some groups have higher I.Q.s than other groups. It's completely irrelevant. What's relevant to a society is how well people are communicating their ideas, and how well they're cooperating, not how clever the individuals are. So we've created something called the collective brain. We're just the nodes in the network. We're the neurons in this brain. It's the interchange of ideas, the meeting and mating of ideas between them, that is causing technological progress, incrementally, bit by bit. However, bad things happen. And in the future, as we go forward, we will, of course, experience terrible things. There will be wars; there will be depressions; there will be natural disasters. Awful things will happen in this century, I'm absolutely sure. But I'm also sure that, because of the connections people are making, and the ability of ideas to meet and to mate as never before, I'm also sure that technology will advance, and therefore living standards will advance. Because through the cloud, through crowd sourcing, through the bottom-up world that we've created, where not just the elites but everybody is able to have their ideas and make them meet and mate, we are surely accelerating the rate of innovation. - Matt Ridley, When ideas have sex
I have suggested a different model and metaphor. The world is not a single machine. It is a complex, interactive ecology in which diversity -- biological, personal, cultural and religious -- is of the essence. Any proposed reduction of that diversity through the many forms of fundamentalism that exist today -- market, scientific or religious -- would result in a diminution of the rich texture of our shared life, a potentially disastrous narrowing of the horizons of possibility. Nature, and humanly constructed societies, economies and polities, are systems of ordered complexity. That is what makes them creative and unpredictable. Any attempt to impose on them an artificial uniformity in the name of a single culture or faith, represents a tragic misunderstanding of what it takes for a system to flourish. Because we are different, we each have something unique to contribute, and every contribution counts. A primordial instinct going back to humanity's tribal past makes us see difference as a threat. That instinct is massively dysfunctional in an age in which our several destinies are interlinked. Oddly enough, it is the market -- the least overtly spiritual of concepts -- that delivers a profoundly spiritual message: that it is through exchange that difference becomes a blessing, not a curse. When difference leads to war, both sides lose. When it leads to mutual enrichment, both sides gain. - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference
None of the modes by which a magistrate is appointed, popular election, the accident of the lot, or the accident of birth, affords, as far as we can perceive, much security for his being wiser than any of his neighbours. The chance of his being wiser than all his neighbours together is still smaller. - Thomas Macaulay, Southey's Colloquies on Society
See also: What Do Coywolves, Mr. Nobody, Plants And Fungi All Have In Common?

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