Saturday, August 15, 2015

Scott Alexander Is On Patreon!

Scott Alexander is a blogger who writes intelligent, eloquent and lengthy blog entries on a variety of interesting topics.  And now he's on Patreon!

Yesterday I had no idea what his average blog entry was worth.  Today I know that his average blog entry is worth nearly $80 dollars!

Clarifying demand is so damn cool!!!!

With 10 blog entries a month... that comes out to nearly $800 dollars a month... which comes out to nearly $10,000 a year.  Is it enough for him to quit his day job?  Nope.  But it's certainly enough to encourage him to quit less profitable uses of his spare time.

And it's such a thing of beauty that I can sign up to Patreon and help make the alternative uses of his spare time marginally less attractive.... "Hey Alexander... here's some incentive to do X rather than Y!".

So am I going to sign up?  It's tempting... but probably not.  The reason that I only just discovered that Alexander is on Patreon is because I haven't visited his blog for a while.  Even though his entries are enjoyable... I place a higher priority on reading economics blogs.

Also, because I love clarifying demand so much... I'm not entirely satisfied with the Patreon premise that Alexander's entries are equally valuable.  For example...

Book Review: Chronicles of Wasted Time

I especially enjoyed that entry.  As far as I know, Patreon doesn't enable sponsors to share monetary feedback/valuation on specific entries.  Is this shortcoming real... or imagined?  It might help to zoom out.

Let's say that Alexander is trying to decide between blogging (X) and golfing (Y).  He knows how much value he derives from each activity... but he's not quite sure how much value he creates for others when he engages in each activity.  If he had this information then he'd make a much more informed decision regarding which of these two activities he should allocate his limited spare time to.

Patreon helps solve this problem by making it a lot easier for the crowd to communicate to Alexander their valuation of X .  As a result of this information, he can now make a more informed decision.  But if he chooses X rather than Y... then he's confronted with another dilemma.  What should he write about?

Chances are pretty good that he's got more than a few possible topics that he'd derive value from writing about... A, B, C, D and E.  So which topic should he choose?  Well... according to Patreon... each topic is equally valuable.

Here's the breakdown...

X > Y

A = B = C = D = E

The activities aren't equally valuable... but the topics are?  That's not true.  Writing about different topics is essentially engaging in different activities.

Coincidentally, a few days before Alexander posted the entry that I particularly liked, he shared a link to 1Pass...

Over the past three years almost all leading publishers have put up paywalls that shut non-subscribers out. We think a lot of readers would like to buy single articles from time to time, without having to buy subscriptions, if the price is right and the transaction is frictionless; and we think the best way of doing this is by means of a common platform open to all readers and all publishers. So we’ve built the platform and called it 1Pass.

Clarifying demand is so damn cool!!!!

A year ago somebody created a subreddit for Alexandar's blog... slatestarcodex.  That link takes you to a page which displays many of his blog entries sorted by votes (popularity).  It's quite nifty to be able to see, at a glance, which of his entries are most popular.  But it would be infinitely more nifty to be able to see, at a glance, which of his entries are most valuable.

It's going to happen... I just really wish that it would happen sooner rather than later.

Here's the key concept.  As demand becomes clearer and clearer in the private sector... the demand in the public sector will look more and more opaque.  Right?  As the contrast increases... the more likely it is that some brighter folks than myself will say "Hey!  Everybody!  Listen to us clearly articulate the absurdity of this clarity disparity!"

Because heaven knows I'm doing a shit job of articulating the absurdity!

Check out this passage from Alexander...

I am glad there are all types of people in the world. I am glad that there are crotchety, contrarian, cynical old reporters who constantly feel like everything is hurling off the precipice into Hell, because when things are actually hurling off the precipice into Hell, these people are the first to notice. In the same way, I am glad that there are dedicated survivalists who stockpile canned food in underground shelters in case of the nuclear apocalypse, because if there is ever an actual nuclear apocalypse, these people will survive and rebuild the human race.

It's so well written!  The idea he conveys is crystal clear.  What's wrong with me that I can't write even half as well?  My mother swore that she held me as a baby.  Heh.  So we can cross that possible explanation off the list.

Alexander definitely understands that diversity helps us hedge our bets against adversity.  Then again, not once has he endorsed, or even critiqued, or even acknowledge, the idea of allowing people to choose where their taxes go.

He recognizes that diversity can help us survive a nuclear apocalypse, but he doesn't recognize that diversity can help us prevent a nuclear apocalypse.  My dumb dumb brain struggles to resolve this paradox.  Does he, or does he not, recognize the importance/value/necessity of diversity?

Maybe diversity is important when it comes to private goods... but it's not that important when it comes to public goods?  Humanity benefits when dedicated survivalists are free to allocate their private dollars differently... but humanity wouldn't benefit if dedicated survivalists were free to allocate their public dollars differently?  An ounce of prevention isn't worth two of cure?  A stitch in time doesn't save nine?

Earlier I neglected to mention that Alexander's average blog entry is actually worth more than $80 dollars.  I know this because I'm very confident that the free-rider problem is a real problem.  After all... here I am!  Enjoying Alexander's work for free.  And it's very unlikely that I'm the only one in this boat.

The orthodox solution to the free-rider problem has three parts...

#1. People are forced to contribute to public goods (taxation)
#2. The government supplies public goods (public provision)
#3. Voters elect people to allocate taxes (representation)

Representation destroys diversity.  Congress can't possibly embody all the different types of people in the world.  Neither can it embody all the different types of people in America.  Neither can it embody all the different types of people in the smallest state... or even the smallest county.  Maybe congress can embody all the different types of people in the smallest town.  Maybe.

I can't say that I'd necessarily agree with how dedicated survivalists would allocate their taxes.  And I certainly wouldn't be surprised if some dedicated survivalists disagreed with how other dedicated survivalists allocated their taxes.  But we're fundamentally flubbing up if we think we're doing ourselves any favors by blocking so much difference from the public sector.

Adding all this difference to the public sector would create an infinitely more robust hedge.  A much wider variety of possible problems would be spotted and solved far earlier.  Any problems that did happen to manifest themselves would be solved far quicker.

No comments:

Post a Comment