Monday, February 8, 2016

Alex Tabarrok vs Alex Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok is my favorite living economist.  Unfortunately, sometimes it really seems like he really forgets his first principles...

Facebook moved to an algorithm years ago. At the time, the move caused complaints but I think algorithmic feed has made Facebook more relevant, especially in recent years when the algorithm has gotten quite good. The profits agree with my assessment. Many people don’t understand that there is no serious alternative to an algorithmic feed because most people’s uncurated feeds contain well over a thousand posts every day. It’s curate or throw material out at random. - Alex Tabarrok, Defer to the Algorithm

Here's the first principle that it really seems like he's forgetting...

Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge. - Alex Tabarrok, A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit

Facebook is all about the "likes".  Is a "like" a tax on bullshit?  Noooooo.  It really isn't.  A "like" is simply a vote.  Therefore... Facebook is pretty much a democracy.

Heath’s conservatism makes him unwilling to suggest radical ideas. But big problems often need radical solutions. Voting, for example, reduces the cost of ignorance and irrationality. Raise the cost and people become more informed and rational. When pollsters ask Democrats and Republicans factual questions such as did inflation fall during Reagan’s presidency or were weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, they answer in a highly partisan manner. But partisan bias greatly diminishes when voters are told that they will be paid if they answer correctly. Betting is a more reliable guarantor of objectivity than voting. Or, as I once wrote, “A bet is a tax on bullshit.” — Alex Tabarrok, Is Capitalism Making Us Stupid?

Not too long ago Facebook gave users the option to boost their posts.  So now, if you want a post to reach a wider audience... then you can put your money where your post is.  Therefore... boosting posts is the same thing as betting on posts... it's a tax on bullshit.  But how many posts are actually boosted?

I just took a look at my Facebook feed and was reminded of why I rarely look at my Facebook feed... it's full of bullshit.  I doubt if any of the posts on my feed were boosted.

Would the quality of the posts on my Facebook feed be significantly lower if Facebook didn't use an algorithm to curate them?  Thanks to the algorithm, my Facebook feed is 49 shades of bullshit rather than 50 shades of bullshit.  Yay.

I'm pretty sure that Zuckerberg doesn't understand the problem with democracy.  He doesn't understand the difference between popular and valuable.  He didn't implement "boosting" to tax bullshit... he implemented it to boost his revenue.

Tabarrok understands the problem with democracy infinitely better than Zuckerberg does.  But even Tabarrok didn't bring up the problem with bullshit when he was writing about Facebook's algorithm.

Right now Facebook gives me the option to "like" the posts on my feed.  But it doesn't give me the option to boost them.  Should it?  Of course it should.  Facebook should make it as easy to value posts as it is to like them.  Then I could go into my settings and adjust my bullshit filter to hide all the posts that were less valuable than $5 dollars or $10 dollars or $1000 dollars.  Or I could simply sort any new posts by their value.

What would Facebook look like if they had a decent economist on their payroll?  Well... here's what Medium might look like if they had a decent economist on their payroll...

Here's what the NationStates forum might look like if they had a decent economist on their payroll...

Here's what Youtube might look like if they had a decent economist on their payroll...

Geppetto by Optiganally Yours

Is Tabarrok a decent economist?  He's an excellent economist... when he remembers his first principles.

Is John Quiggin an excellent economist?  Well... he's terrible at remembering his first principles.  So I tried to help him out by naming one of his most important first principles after him...

Quiggin's Implied Rule of Economics: It's better for society's limited resources to create more, rather than less, value for society

My theory was that he would be far less likely to forget something that was named after him.  So I'll test the same theory on Tabarrok...

Tabarrok's Stated Rule of Economics: A bet is a tax on bullshit

According to Tabarrok's Rule... a shortage of betting means a surplus of bullshit.  Does Facebook suffer from a shortage of betting?  Yup.  What about Twitter?  The same.  What about Reddit.  Also.  What about Medium, Youtube and the New York Times?  Yes yes yes... they all suffer from a shortage of betting... which means that they are all full of bullshit.

Of course... the greatest shortage of betting is in our public sector.  People can't choose where their taxes go.  This means that our public sector is really full of bullshit.

In other words, the Federal government spends more on preventing trade than on preventing murder, rape and theft. I call it the anti-nanny state. It’s hard to believe that this truly reflects the American public’s priorities. - Alex Tabarrok, The Anti-Nanny State

See also:


  1. You have the option to "hide posts like these" and how many people would actually pay money to boost a post?

    1. If valuing (boosting) a post is as easy as "liking" it... then I'm sure plenty of people would be happy to do so.

      You see a little kid about to wander into the street. You intervene if you can. What if you're on a two story balcony? Do you whisper? "yoohoo... folks... we have a problem... " Of course not. You point at the kid and shout "Stop that kid!!!" Some people hear you shout and they automatically look to figure out what's going on. Hopefully somebody understands you and is close enough to intervene.

      It's beneficial for people to be able to accurately communicate the intensity of their preferences. Preference intensity is very important information. Without it, resources can't be efficiently allocated.