Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Markets Should Be At The Helm

Citizinvestor bit the dust... Learning From the Civic Tech Graveyard.  I found that article because I subscribe to Google alerts for "civic crowdfunding".

Here's the feedback that I shared with the website...

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Hi,

I just finished reading your interesting article "LEARNING FROM THE CIVIC TECH GRAVEYARD" and wanted to share my thoughts. 

Here's a relevant quote from Peter Thiel...

"We are biased toward the democratic/republican side of the spectrum. That’s what we’re used to from civics classes. But the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better for startups. It is more tyrant than mob because it should be. In some sense, startups can’t be democracies because none are. None are because it doesn’t work. If you try to submit everything to voting processes when you’re trying to do something new, you end up with bad, lowest common denominator type results."

From his perspective, a dictator rather than a mob should be at the helm of a company.   But then what's the issue with a dictator being at the helm of an entire country?  It's not like any given individual is wiser when they are in charge of a company.   The difference is that it's easier for people to leave a company than it is to leave a country.   Abandoning a sinking company is easier than abandoning a sinking country. 

I agree with Thiel that democracy is worse than dictatorships for companies.   Yet... our country uses democracy to choose who should be at our country's helm.   The result is lowest common denominator leadership.   Basically, we end up with idiots at the helm. 

So Thiel considers dictatorships to be better than democracy for companies.... but there's one alternative that he didn't even consider... the market. 

After reading your article I was disappointed that there wasn't a comment section.   I like the topic so I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it, and would have also enjoyed reading other people's thoughts on the topic.  Obviously I would have also enjoyed the opportunity to publicly share my own thoughts with other people interested in the topic. 

With your organization's current system a dictator decides whether to facilitate comments.   Obviously your dictator has decided against comments.  What are the chances though that this is the best decision?  If the chances were good, then it wouldn't be an issue for countries to have dictators.   It stands to reason that an even poorer decision would be made by allowing everybody to vote for or against comments.   My best guess is that the best decision would be made by donations.   Whichever option received the most donations would be implemented. 

Every significant decision could, and should be, a fundraiser for your organization.   The market would steer your organization in the most valuable direction.   If not, then we shouldn't allow the market to steer the entire private sector. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Feedback For FEE.org

Reply to reply on The Good Intentions Fallacy Is Driving Support for Democratic Socialism by Barry Brownstein

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If FEE was doing a good job disseminating information/knowledge, then you would thoroughly understand and love Hayek's argument (against command economies) that knowledge is decentralized/dispersed. As a group, FEE's readers have FAR more knowledge, including economics knowledge, than FEE itself (leadership + staff) has. As a group, FEE's readers have read FAR more books, including economics books, than FEE itself has. As a group, FEE's readers have done FAR more jobs, lived in FAR more countries and had FAR more life experiences than FEE itself. As a group, FEE's readers have FAR more eyeballs, ears and most importantly... brains.... than FEE itself. Thanks to consumer choice, market economies utilize/harness FAR more collective intelligence and information than command economies do. This is why markets succeed while socialism fails. It's a fact that right now FEE is not a market system... it is a socialist system. Therefore, FEE is failing to do a good job educating everybody about economics.

If you need additional proof that FEE is failing to do a good job, then here it is... you don't appreciate the difference between cheap signals (ie voting) and costly signals (ie spending). The fact that lots of people voted for prohibition, for example, informs us that it was popular, but it does not at all even remotely reveal the demand for prohibition. Demand can only be revealed by each and every consumer reaching into their own pocket and putting their own money where their mouth is. What was the demand for prohibition? We don't know. Consumers were not given the opportunity to spend their own money on prohibition.

On Netflix... what is the demand for nature show? Netflix does not know. It knows how many votes nature shows receive, it knows how many hours people spend watching them, but it doesn't actually know the demand for them.

Think about a "free" lunch. Just because lots of people will vote for a "free" lunch doesn't reveal the demand for the meal. Just because lots of people will line up and eat a "free" lunch doesn't reveal the demand for the meal.

Here's what a liberal wrote...

Hoover, in Hawley’s words, allowed for the New Deal to emerge because of his “reluctance to recognize that the private sector was inherently incapable of meeting the demand for social services on its own.” - Mike Konczal, The Voluntarism Fantasy

How could he possibly know what the demand is for welfare? Voting for welfare doesn't reveal the demand for it and neither does using it. The demand for welfare can only be known by giving Konczal, and all the other liberals, the opportunity to put their own money where their mouths/hearts are. When liberals are given the opportunity to decide how they divide their own dollars between welfare, public education and public healthcare then, and only then, will the demand for welfare truly be known.

When FEE's readers are given the opportunity to decide how they divide their donated dollars between articles about the Invisible Hand and articles about other topics then, and only then, will the demand for articles about the Invisible Hand truly be known.

1. As a group FEE's readers have FAR more intelligence/information than FEE itself does. It's a basic fact that two heads are better than one.

2. In order to fully harness/utilize the collective intelligence/information of its readers, FEE needs to give each and every reader the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. It's a basic fact that actions speak louder than words.

Monday, July 16, 2018

How we rank each other matters.

My comment on Once more for the people at the back: abortion rights and trans rights are the same struggle by Zoe Stavri. 

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Bodily autonomy?  You and I don't have the same body.   We have different bodies.  You know how I can tell?  It's because we have different DNA.  You know who else has different DNA?  Your mom.  My mom.  Every mom.  Mothers and children have different DNA.  Otherwise everybody would be clones.  Are you happy that we're not all clones?  I sure am. 

Imagine if I invite you over to see my really nice garden... it's brimming with nature.  Of course I'd first have to give you my address.  This is my property's unique ID.  When you find, and walk onto, my property, what happens to your bodily autonomy?  Do you lose any of your bodily autonomy?  Of course not.  That would be absurd.   In no case does any of my property, to include my own body, negate or diminish your bodily autonomy. 

By this same token, if you get pregnant, in no case does your bodily autonomy negate or diminish the bodily autonomy of the unique individual that is inside you. 

Let's say that, for whatever reason, I decide I no longer want you on my property.  Should I be free to eject you?  Sure, as long as doing so doesn't harm you.  If my property happens to be a boat that is surrounded by sharks, then I shouldn't be free to eject you. 

In a perfect world, ejecting unborn individuals at any time wouldn't at all be harmful.  Like, your fetus could be instantly and safely teleported across the galaxy into the womb of some other lady.   It wouldn't be like Adam and Eve getting ejected from the Garden of Eden into a harsh environment.  It would be like God moving them to another wonderful garden. 

Why would this be ideal?  Here's why...

We’ve spent the last few hundred years throwing out every Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein or Jonas Salk or Tim Berners-Lee who didn’t happen to be white, and didn’t happen to be a man. That’s a terrible thing to have done to those brilliant and now lost people. It’s a much worse thing to have done to the rest of humanity, including our white selves. When I think, “why don’t I have a jet car and live in Alpha Centuri by now?” I think this is because the people that would have invented sky cars and interstellar travel were born black in Detroit, or in rural India or in the medina in Algiers in the 1950s, and spent too much time figuring out how to eat and not get killed to invent my damned skycar. - Quinn Norton, How White People Got Made 

All progress depends on difference, which is why it's wonderful that we're not all clones.  Every unique individual contributes to humanity's diversity... and more diversity means more progress. 

Difference inherently means inequality.  The only way we could all be equal is if we were clones.  You naturally rank a woman and her unborn child very differently,  and so do I.  You also rank authors very differently, and so do I.   I'm sure we also rank economists very differently.   Personally, I rank economists much higher than feminists.  Since difference matters, it matters how we rank each other.  The question is whether voting (cheap signal) or spending (costly signal) is the best way to rank each other.   The answer to this question is clearly revealed by the top-ranked videos on Youtube.   Once we replace all cheap signals with costly signals, then it will be heaven on earth. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Market Is The Most Useful Tool

Comment on: If Socialists Understand the Free-Rider Problem, Then Why Are They Socialists?

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Do your readers equally value your blog entries? Are your entries equally useful/beneficial/important? Do you think that you can accurately guess the demand for topics? If so, then markets wouldn't be so incredibly useful.

Right now, as far as I can tell, your blog isn't a market. Readers don't have the freedom to "donate vote" for your best entries. This means that you don't know the demand for topics, which means that your supply of topics is suboptimal.

Just like your blog isn't a market, and just like your products aren't equally useful, the same is true of unions. This means that unions don't know the demand for their products, which means that their supply of products is suboptimal.

In order to help socialists, and your readers, understand why the market is such an incredibly useful tool, you first have to actually understand this yourself. If you genuinely desire this understanding then turn your blog into a market. Give readers the freedom to use their donations to reveal their demand for your products. See if the supply noticeably improves.

So no, the problem isn't that socialists don't understand the free-rider problem. The problem is that libertarians don't understand how and why markets work. The market is the most useful tool, but libertarians fail to use it to improve their products.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Voting With Donations

My comment on Bob Murphy's blog entry... For the Purposes of the Current Debate, I Don’t Think Hayek Supported a “Basic Income Guarantee”

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Three years ago on Medium the liberal economist James Kwak also made the case that Friedrich Hayek supported basic incomeI responded to his story with more or less your same point... that he was neglecting the context.

Now, three years later, for me the real issue is that Kwak doesn't understand what markets are good for.  Markets are incredibly useful because correctly guessing demand is incredibly difficult.  The crazy thing is that this critique of Kwak's understanding is also applicable to even the staunchest market defenders such as yourself.  This is easy enough to prove. 

Here you supplied a story about basic income.  But what would you guess is truly the demand for this topic?  Again, if correctly guessing demand was so easy, then markets wouldn't be so useful.  Your blog is not a market... therefore it's clear that you don't truly understand what markets are good for. 

Turning your blog into a market would be really easy.  Readers could simply "donation vote" (DV) for their favorite stories.  DV is most commonly associated with people using donations to decide who will kiss a pig, or get a pie in the face, or get dunked into a water tank.  Sometimes zoos use it to name a baby animal.  But DV is also used to rank/sort/order/prioritize all the non-profits in the world.  The Red Cross, for example, receives very many donation votes which is why it can use a very large portion of the world's limited resources. 

Right now FEE is searching for a new president.  How are the candidates going to be ranked?  They definitely aren't going to be ranked by DV.  Therefore, FEE doesn't truly understand what markets are good for.

Last year, much to my very pleasant surprise, the libertarian party (LP) used DV to choose its convention theme.  Unfortunately, the LP didn't also use DV to choose the convention location, date and speakers.  So just because an organization uses DV doesn't guarantee that it knows why the market is so useful.

The market is an incredibly useful tool.  On a daily basis we use this tool to help each other prioritize.  Yet, the LP has only once used this tool to improve its own priorities.  FEE has never used this tool to improve its priorities.  As a pro-market blogger you're in the same boat.  Strange as it might seem, right now I'm the only person preaching the benefits of DV.  Does this mean that I'm the only person in the world who truly understands what markets are good for?  I guess.  I'm the only person in this boat.  Either I'm in the wrong boat, or everybody else is.  I'd really hate to be in the wrong boat so please, if you think that I am, then I'm all ears.  Make the case that some producers, such as pro-market bloggers, should be exempt from receiving specific and substantial feedback from consumers.  Or make the case that cheap signals are just as credible as costly signals.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Questions For Vitalik Buterin

Here's the comment that I just posted on Tyler Cowen's blog entry... What should I ask Vitalik Buterin?

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Yes! This! What does Buterin think about Cowen's critique of quadratic voting (QV)? I perceive QV to be a hybrid between voting and spending. How will Buterin determine whether QV is better than its parents at ranking things?

Is Buterin familiar with the idea of donation voting (DV)? DV is most commonly associated with using donations to decide who will kiss a pig, or get a pie in the face, or get dunked into a tank of water. Sometimes zoos use DV to decide what to name a baby animal.

The thing is, whenever anybody makes a donation, each dollar they donate is essentially a vote. This means that DV is used to rank/sort/order/prioritize all the non-profits. The Red Cross, for example, receives very many donation votes, which allows it to use a huge amount of society's limited resources.

Personally, I would be very surprised if QV is more effective than DV at ranking things. I can't imagine why it would be beneficial to arbitrarily diminish the Red Cross's control over society's limited resources. Perhaps though I'd be singing a very different tune if the Red Cross and the KKK were switched in the rankings.

My best guess is that it would be maximally beneficial if we used DV to rank potential people for Cowen to interview. DV should also be used to rank potential questions for Cowen to ask people that he plans to interview. All the money raised could be given to me. Alternatively, it could be given to Marginal Revolution University, which would allow it to compete more resources away from other uses.

It can be said that DV gives too much influence to the wealthy.  But it can also be said that it gives the smallest amount of influence to the biggest free-riders.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Dear Jag Bhalla

If you search ScientificAmerican.com for "invisible hand" you could learn that there's some guy named Jag Bhalla who is critical of the Invisible Hand.  I found his website and sent him an e-mail, which was when gmail immediately notified me that his e-mail address was broken.  So here we are.

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Karl Popper was so cool...

If I am standing quietly, without making any movement, then (according to the physiologists) my muscles are constantly at work, contracting and relaxing in an almost random fashion, but controlled, without my being aware of it, by error-elimination so that every little deviation from my posture is almost at once corrected. So I am kept standing, quietly, by more or less the same method by which an automatic pilot keeps an aircraft steadily on its course. — Karl Popper, Of Clouds and Clocks

But he wasn't nearly as cool as Adam Smith...

It is thus that the private interests and passions of individuals naturally dispose them to turn their stocks towards the employments which in ordinary cases are most advantageous to the society. But if from this natural preference they should turn too much of it towards those employments, the fall of profit in them and the rise of it in all others immediately dispose them to alter this faulty distribution. Without any intervention of law, therefore, the private interests and passions of men naturally lead them to divide and distribute the stock of every society among all the different employments carried on in it as nearly as possible in the proportion which is most agreeable to the interest of the whole society.  — Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Contrary to popular belief, the Invisible Hand is not about self-interest, it's about people using their money to communicate what their interests are.  The supply is regulated by the spending signals of countless consumers.

In Friedrich Hayek's 1945 Nobel essay he reinforced the idea that markets are all about communication...

We must look at the price system as such a mechanism for communicating information if we want to understand its real function — a function which, of course, it fulfils less perfectly as prices grow more rigid. (Even when quoted prices have become quite rigid, however, the forces which would operate through changes in price still operate to a considerable extent through changes in the other terms of the contract.) The most significant fact about this system is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action. In abbreviated form, by a kind of symbol, only the most essential information is passed on and passed on only to those concerned. It is more than a metaphor to describe the price system as a kind of machinery for registering change, or a system of telecommunications which enables individual producers to watch merely the movement of a few pointers, as an engineer might watch the hands of a few dials, in order to adjust their activities to changes of which they may never know more than is reflected in the price movement. — Friedrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society

Command economies fail because, in the absence of prices, they are unable to utilize all the relevant and necessary knowledge that is dispersed among all the consumers and producers.

In 1954 the Nobel economist Paul Samuelson critiqued Hayek's essay by pointing out that, because of the free-rider problem, prices don't work so well for public goods...

But, and this is the point sensed by Wicksell but perhaps not fully appreciated by Lindahl, now it is in the selfish interest of each person to give false signals, to pretend to have less interest in a given collective consumption activity than he really has, etc. —  Paul Samuelson, The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure

Samuelson's basic assumption was that the optimal supply of all goods is entirely dependent on honest signals.  Again, it's about using money to communicate your interests.  The problem with a good like Linux is that you can benefit from it without having to pay for it.  Let's say that your true valuation of Linux is $40 bucks.  If you only donate $20 dollars to it, you still can fully benefit from it, but you can take the $20 bucks that you saved and use it to buy a nice steak.  The amount that you spent on Linux would be a false signal because it would be less than your true valuation of it.  On its own, your false signal isn't so much of a problem... after all... you only cheated Linux out of $20 bucks.  The issue is when everybody else does the same thing.  When everybody's contribution to Linux is a lot less than their true valuation of it, then naturally it's going to be a lot lower quality than everybody truly wants it to be.  Also, there's going to be far fewer freely available alternatives to Linux than everybody truly wants.

To be clear, the only reason that consumers have the incentive to be dishonest about their true valuation of Linux (a public good) is because they have the option to spend their money on steak (a private good) instead.  If this option was eliminated, then so too would be the incentive to be dishonest.  This was the point that the Nobel economist James Buchanan made in 1963...

Under most real-world taxing institutions, the tax price per unit at which collective goods are made available to the individual will depend, at least to some degree, on his own behavior. This element is not, however, important under the major tax institutions such as the personal income tax, the general sales tax, or the real property tax. With such structures, the individual may, by changing his private behavior, modify the tax base (and thus the tax price per unit of collective goods he utilizes), but he need not have any incentive to conceal his "true" preferences for public goods. - James M. Buchanan, The Economics of Earmarked Taxes

I'll hedge my bets by sharing how other people have explained the idea of individual earmarking...

One strand of this approach-initiated in Buchanan’s (1963) seminal paper-argues that the voter who might have approved a tax increase if it were earmarked for, say, environmental protection would oppose it under general fund financing because he or she may expect the increment to be allocated to an unfavored expenditure such as defense. Earmarked taxation then permits a more satisfactory expression of individual preferences. — Ranjit S. Teja, The Case for Earmarked Taxes

Individuals who have particularly negative feelings concerning a publicly provided good (e.g. Quakers on military expenditures, Prolifers on publicly funded abortions) have also at times suggested that they should be allowed to dissent by earmarking their taxes toward other public uses. — Marc Bilodeau, Tax-earmarking and separate school financing

Imagine if Netflix gave subscribers the opportunity to use their monthly fees to help rank the content.  Would subscribers have any incentive to be dishonest? Nope. This is simply because they would not have the option to spend their fees on things like food or clothes. Subscribers would not have the option to spend their fees outside of Netflix. Therefore, how subscribers earmarked their fees would honestly communicate their true valuations of the content.  The result would be the optimal supply of content.

The most relevant economic discussion looks basically like this...

Smith: Consumers should have the freedom to spend their money to help rank goods.
Hayek: It's true, the market is the only way to utilize all the dispersed knowledge.
Samuelson: While the market does work for private goods, it fails for public goods.
Buchanan: Actually, earmarking would allow the market to also work for public goods.

So what do you think?  Have I successfully changed your mind about the Invisible Hand?  Have I efficiently eliminated one of the biggest errors that you live by?  Have I fulfilled my moral obligation to economically educate and enlighten you?

To be clear, my own beliefs in the Invisible Hand can potentially be falsified.  If Netflix gives the Invisible Hand the opportunity to regulate the content, and it didn't noticeably improve, then this would falsify my belief in the Invisible Hand.

Science is, or should be, the most fertile common ground.

Unfortunately I doubt Netflix will conduct this experiment any time soon.  Here's a potential experiment that's much more accessible.  Imagine if a bunch of people rank the following books...

The Origin Of Species
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The Handmaid’s Tale
A Tale of Two Cities
50 Shades of Grey
Principia
The Bible
War and Peace
12 Rules For Life
A Theory of Justice
The Cat in the Hat
The Wealth of Nations
The Hunger Games

First the participants would vote for all the books that match their preferences.  Then they would spend their own money to quantify just how closely these books match their preferences.

To be clear, the participants would not be buying the books.  They would simply have the opportunity to spend any amount of their own money in order to reveal the size of their love for each book.  All the money they spent would help crowdfund this experiment.

How differently would voting and spending rank the books?  My hypothesis is that voting would elevate the trash while spending would elevate the treasure.  If, however, voting ranked the Wealth of Nations higher than spending did, then this would falsify my hypothesis.

The relative effectiveness of the Invisible Hand can easily, relatively speaking, be compared to the alternative ranking systems.  The fact that these tests have not been conducted is the biggest error ever.  Let's combine our forces and eliminate this error.  Together we can demolish the massively detrimental disparity between where the world is, and where it should be.

Friday, May 25, 2018

James Buchanan Deserves More Attention

Here's my comment on Sam Staley's review of Nancy MacLean's book...

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Personally, I'm a huge fan of James Buchanan so I'm acutely aware of the amount of attention he typically receives. Naturally I feel like he never receives nearly enough attention. Thanks to MacLean's book, however, there was a noticeable spike in articles about Buchanan. So in this sense, which is pretty important, I do appreciate her book. I think her bad critique of Buchanan is a lot better than no critique. Of course I would have preferred a much better critique of him... but beggars can't be choosers.

Also, in MacLean's defense, she was 100% correct that Buchanan's work is an attack on democracy. Unfortunately, as a historian she didn't really appreciate or address his economic arguments.

Even Michael Munger didn't get it. On Twitter he vehemently denied that Buchanan's work is an attack on democracy. I replied...



Munger did not respond. If he does happen to believe that voting is better than spending at revealing preferences then what, if anything, would falsify his belief?

Let's say that the Independent Institute used voting and donating to rank economists. If voting ranked Buchanan higher than donating did, then this would falsify my belief that spending is better than voting.

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A few months ago in this forum discussion I shared this passage by Buchanan...

Individuals do not act so as to maximize utilities described in independently existing functions. They confront genuine choices, and the sequence of decisions taken may be conceptualized, ex post (after the choices), in terms of "as if" functions that are maximized. But these "as if" functions are, themselves, generated in the choosing process, not separately from such process. If viewed in this perspective, there is no means by which even the most idealized omniscient designer could duplicate the results of voluntary interchange. The potential participants do not know until they enter the process what their own choices will be. From this it follows that it is logically impossible for an omniscient designer to know, unless, of course, we are to preclude individual freedom of will. - James M. Buchanan, Order Defined in the Process of its Emergence

Here's part of the response that I received...

You're using as a defense a quote from the single worst President in American history to justify as generalizable the very quote that I picked from you as a representation of your system's generalizable failure. It is fitting that someone whose legacy is synonymous with the rabid defense of arbitrary social structures based on the conflation of holding socioeconomic power with the capacity to exercise socioeconomic power is your preferred tipple.

What would James Buchanan, the economist, have been named if his parents had used the market to rank potential names? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Which Economic Nutshell Is Better?

It seems like I'm forever endeavoring to stuff economics into a better nutshell.  Here are two recent nutshells... the first is bigger and more technical while the second is smaller and more accessible.  Which one is better?

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Nutshell #1 (shared here)

Here's Adam Smith's Invisible Hand...

It is thus that the private interests and passions of individuals naturally dispose them to turn their stocks towards the employments which in ordinary cases are most advantageous to the society. But if from this natural preference they should turn too much of it towards those employments, the fall of profit in them and the rise of it in all others immediately dispose them to alter this faulty distribution. Without any intervention of law, therefore, the private interests and passions of men naturally lead them to divide and distribute the stock of every society among all the different employments carried on in it as nearly as possible in the proportion which is most agreeable to the interest of the whole society.  — Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Contrary to popular belief, it's not about self-interest, it's about people using their money to communicate what their interests are.  The supply is regulated by the spending signals of countless consumers. 

In Friedrich Hayek's 1945 Nobel essay he reinforced the idea that markets are all about communication...

We must look at the price system as such a mechanism for communicating information if we want to understand its real function — a function which, of course, it fulfils less perfectly as prices grow more rigid. (Even when quoted prices have become quite rigid, however, the forces which would operate through changes in price still operate to a considerable extent through changes in the other terms of the contract.) The most significant fact about this system is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action. In abbreviated form, by a kind of symbol, only the most essential information is passed on and passed on only to those concerned. It is more than a metaphor to describe the price system as a kind of machinery for registering change, or a system of telecommunications which enables individual producers to watch merely the movement of a few pointers, as an engineer might watch the hands of a few dials, in order to adjust their activities to changes of which they may never know more than is reflected in the price movement. — Friedrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society

Hayek argued that command economies fail because, in the absence of prices, they are unable to utilize all the relevant and necessary knowledge that is dispersed among all the consumers and producers.

In 1954 the Nobel economist Paul Samuelson, who was a liberal, critiqued Hayek's essay by pointing out that, because of the free-rider problem, prices don't work so well for public goods...

But, and this is the point sensed by Wicksell but perhaps not fully appreciated by Lindahl, now it is in the selfish interest of each person to give false signals, to pretend to have less interest in a given collective consumption activity than he really has, etc. —  Paul Samuelson, The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure

Samuelson's basic assumption was that the optimal supply of all goods is entirely dependent on honest signals.  The problem with a good like Linux is that you can benefit from it without having to pay for it.  Let's say that your true valuation of Linux is $40 bucks.  If you only donate $20 dollars to it, you still can fully benefit from it, but you can take the $20 bucks that you saved and use it to buy a nice steak.  The amount you spent on Linux would be a false signal because it would be less than your true valuation of it.  Your false signal on its own isn't so much of a problem... after all... you only cheated Linux out of $20 bucks.  The issue is when everybody else does the same thing.  When everybody's contribution to Linux is a lot less than their true valuation of it, then naturally it's going to be a lot lower quality than everybody truly wants it to be.  Also, there's going to be far fewer freely available alternatives to Linux than everybody truly wants. 

To be clear, the only reason that consumers have the incentive to be dishonest about their true valuation of Linux (a public good) is because they have the option to spend their money on steak (a private good) instead.  If this option was eliminated, then so too would be the incentive to be dishonest.  This was the point that the Nobel economist James Buchanan made in 1963...

Under most real-world taxing institutions, the tax price per unit at which collective goods are made available to the individual will depend, at least to some degree, on his own behavior. This element is not, however, important under the major tax institutions such as the personal income tax, the general sales tax, or the real property tax. With such structures, the individual may, by changing his private behavior, modify the tax base (and thus the tax price per unit of collective goods he utilizes), but he need not have any incentive to conceal his "true" preferences for public goods. - James M. Buchanan, The Economics of Earmarked Taxes

Let me hedge my bets by sharing how other people have explained the idea of individual earmarking...

One strand of this approach-initiated in Buchanan’s (1963) seminal paper-argues that the voter who might have approved a tax increase if it were earmarked for, say, environmental protection would oppose it under general fund financing because he or she may expect the increment to be allocated to an unfavored expenditure such as defense. Earmarked taxation then permits a more satisfactory expression of individual preferences. — Ranjit S. Teja, The Case for Earmarked Taxes

Individuals who have particularly negative feelings concerning a publicly provided good (e.g. Quakers on military expenditures, Prolifers on publicly funded abortions) have also at times suggested that they should be allowed to dissent by earmarking their taxes toward other public uses. — Marc Bilodeau, Tax-earmarking and separate school financing

Imagine if Netflix gave subscribers the opportunity to use their monthly fees to help rank the content.  Would subscribers have any incentive to be dishonest? Nope. This is simply because they would not have the option to spend their fees on things like food or clothes. Subscribers would not have the option to spend their fees outside of Netflix. Therefore, how subscribers earmarked their fees would honestly communicate their true valuations of the content.  The result would be the optimal supply of content. 

The expert economic discussion looks basically like this...

Adam Smith (1776): Consumers should have the freedom to spend their money to help rank goods.
Friedrich Hayek (1945): It's true, the market is the only way to utilize all the dispersed knowledge.
Paul Samuelson (1954): While the market does work for private goods, it fails for public goods.
James Buchanan (1963): Actually, earmarking would allow the market to also work for public goods.

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Nutshell #2 (shared here)


Right now, because of democracy, you assume that congress makes decisions that take my well-being into consideration. My well-being? In the private sector I have to spend so much time and energy going around using my money to inform producers what works for my well-being. I shop and shop and shop. For example, I go to the supermarket and buy some artichokes. In doing so I essentially tell Frank the farmer, "Hey buddy! Good job guy! You correctly guessed that my well-being depends on artichokes! Thanks! Good lookin' out! Here's some money! Keep up the good work!" His behavior benefits my well-being, so I have to use my cash to positively reinforce his beneficial behavior.

Now here you are with the assumption that congress somehow knows what works for my well-being despite the fact that I've never once in my life shopped in the public sector. I've never once decided to give any of my tax dollars to the EPA, NASA, the DMV or any other organization in the public sector. I've never once used my tax dollars to positively reinforce behavior that benefits my well-being. Yet, despite the fact that I've never once shopped in the public sector, congress knows what works for my well-being? Woah. This boggles my mind. It blows my mind. It puts my mind into a blender. Your assumption bears repeating with emphasis... congress knows what works for my well-being despite the fact that I've never once in my life shopped in the public sector. Your assumption is really that shopping is entirely unnecessary. If you truly believe that shopping is entirely unnecessary... then please... don't hide your insight under a bushel. Start a thread here, there and everywhere and say "Hey folks! Shopping is entirely unnecessary! It's a massive waste of everybody's limited time and energy to use our money to communicate what works for our well-being! All we need to do is infrequently vote! And occasionally write our representatives!"

Every democracy has been bundled together with a market. The market, not the democracy, is why these societies have been relatively successful. Societies always work better when we better understand each other's needs... and markets are far better at revealing our needs than democracies are. Our needs aren't simple things... they are incredible complex and dynamic. The idea that infrequently voting and occasionally writing our representatives can adequately reveal our needs is the most harmful idea that has ever existed. But it's not like I can show you all the additional prosperity we would currently be enjoying if it weren't for democracy.

However I can show you the difference between voting and spending. All we need to do is use voting and donating to rank prominent skeptics. Then you'll see the difference between voting and spending and decide for yourself which ranking better reflects your own need for skeptics.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Scott Sumner VS Utopia

We also need to understand the different roles played by different people in society. The democratic system helps to prevent policy from getting too far out ahead of the public. The immediate implementation of Bryan's open borders proposal might lead to a backlash against immigration, whereas this sort of backlash is less likely from a more cautious proposal that advances through both houses and is signed by the President. The role of intellectuals is (and should be) very different from the role of policymakers. Broad policy goals (not details) should reflect the wisdom of voters, even if the average voter is not very smart. Intellectuals should try to shape public opinion (although they will always be less influential than filmmakers.) - Scott Sumner, How much idealism is ideal? 

The wisdom of voters?  Is there such a thing?  Here's a list of books...

The Origin Of Species
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The Handmaid’s Tale
A Tale of Two Cities
50 Shades of Grey
Principia
The Bible
War and Peace
A Theory of Justice
The Cat in the Hat
The Wealth of Nations
The Hunger Games

Imagine if this list was sorted by a bunch of college students. One group of students would use voting to rank the books while another group would use spending.  To be clear, the spenders wouldn’t be buying the books, they would simply be using their money to express and quantify their love for each book. All the money they spent would be used to crowdfund this experiment.

How differently would the voters and the spenders sort the books?  In theory, the voters would elevate the trash while the spenders would elevate the treasure. This would perfectly explain the exact problem with Google, Youtube, Netflix, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Medium and all the other sites where content is ranked by voting. Democracy is a major obstacle to the maximally beneficial evolution of society and its creations. Of course I might be wrong.

Am I wrong?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Smoking Gun Of Human Intelligence

My comment on: Genetics, IQ, and ‘race’ – are genetic differences in intelligence between populations likely? by Kevin Mitchell

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You're overlooking the smoking gun. Why, exactly, are humans exceptionally intelligent? It has to do with our bodies. Unlike wolves, our bodies aren't optimized for running. Unlike dolphins, our bodies aren't optimized for swimming. Unlike hawks, our bodies aren't optimized for flying. Our bodies are optimized for carrying. We're physically the best, by far, at simultaneously allocating a wide variety of resources over greater distances. This is the smoking gun.

When other animals decide to migrate they aren't confronted with a very complicated carrying problem. It was a very different story with our ancestors. Successful migration was a function of solving hard allocation problems. Figuring out the optimal combination of resources... getting the balance right... correctly calculating the (opportunity) costs and benefits... all this depended on processing a lot of information. Smarter allocators were more reproductively successful. Exceptionally intelligent individuals exerted exceptional influence on the gene pool.

The invention of bags greatly increased the difficulty of the allocation problem, which put even greater selection pressure on intelligence. Same thing with the discovery that animals could be used for transportation. The invention of carts put even more selection pressure on intelligence.

These innovations were very unequally distributed across continents. Therefore it's a given that the same is true of intelligence. However, to be clear, the type of intelligence that survival depends on, or used to depend on, really isn't measured by IQ tests. Well yeah, of course... IQ tests weren't created by economists.

Nowadays we can use trucks, trains, planes and ships to simultaneously allocate huge amounts of resources. But it's no longer the case that the goodness of allocation decisions will determine reproductive success. We've reached peak intelligence. This could potentially change once we start seriously colonizing the stars. I love that video.

Imagine you decide to join the first group of colonists to Mars. What would you take with you? What if you knew, for a fact, that the Earth was about to be destroyed by an asteroid? Would you take more seeds? If you took one coconut, you'd forgo the opportunity to take millions and millions of different orchid seeds. Just how useful are orchids anyways? It's not like you can eat them.

The point of trade is to correctly discern the social usefulness of things. There's a difference between how useful orchids are to you, and how useful they are to us. Gold isn't at all useful to me personally, I can't eat it and I have absolutely no interest in wearing it, but if I randomly happened to find a huge nugget while hiking, then I'd definitely decide to carry it because, thanks to the market, I know that it is very useful to us.

The social usefulness of academic papers is currently determined by voting. Each citation counts as a vote. But where's the paper that proves that voting is more useful than spending at determining the social usefulness of things? It doesn't exist. If it isn't the case that voting is more useful than spending, then it is the case that academics are currently far less useful to humanity than they could, and should, be.

To be clear, spending doesn't have to mean buying. Academic papers could be ranked by using donations. Alternatively, there could be a Netflix for academic papers where subscribers could earmark their subscription dollars to the most useful papers. Each subscriber would essentially use their money to say, "This paper is worth carrying, and I'll prove it by spending my money on it." Costly signals are credible signals.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Pragmatarian Model For The Seattle Times

Any excuse to pitch pragmatarianism...

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Marginal Revolution is an economics blog that I read.  One of their entries included a snippet of your article...

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/britain-playgrounds-learning-to-accept-risk-and-occasional-owie/

I wanted to read the entire article but, when I clicked on the link, I was notified by your website that I'd either have to turn off my ad-blocker or subscribe to your paper.  The reason that I have the ad-blocker turned on is because I hate ads.  It turns out that my hate for ads is greater than my interest in reading the article.

I can't remember the last time that Marginal Revolution, or any other economics blog that I read, has linked to your paper.  Since most of your content doesn't match my preferences, I'm not interested in subscribing to your paper. 

However, I would be very interested in subscribing to your paper... if you gave subscribers the opportunity to "earmark" their subscription dollars to the most useful articles.  To be clear, I'm not suggesting the iTunes model for newspapers.  Individual articles would not be behind a paywall.  Instead, each month each subscriber would have the opportunity to divide their subscription dollars among all the articles. 

Right now the Seattle Times is in a market (I'm free to decide whether I spend my money on it)... but it is not a market... (if I subscribed I wouldn't be free to decide whether to spend my subscription dollars on economics articles).  So what, exactly, are markets are good for?  What's the point of revealing the demand for the Seattle Times?  Demand is the most effective way to measure usefulness.  The more useful the Seattle Times is... the more resources it should be able to compete away from other organizations.

The top story currently on your homepage is an article about the Seahawks.  Sports aren't at all useful to me.  Right now you know how popular sports articles are... but you don't actually know how truly useful they are to your subscribers.  This virtually guarantees that there's a disparity between supply and demand.  Nobody truly benefits when you supply more, or less, sports articles than your subscribers truly need.  Nobody truly benefits when your organization is far less useful than it could, and should, be. 

As you can tell, economics matches my preferences... and so does evolution.  These are useful topics that I'd be willing to allocate my subscription dollars to.  How many other subscribers would be in the same boat?  Right now you don't know, but if you did know, then your organization would win.  Your organization would quickly become far more useful than its competition. 

It's a pretty basic fact that two heads are better than one.  Your subscribers, as a group, have far more heads than your organization does.  If your subscribers were given the freedom to earmark their subscription dollars, they really wouldn't do so randomly.  Their allocation decisions would be based on all their information.  Collectively speaking, it's a lot of information.  Putting all this information to good use would guarantee that you'd beat all your competitors.  At least until they figured out the "secret" of your success.  Your website has zero results for "Joseph Henrich". 

If your organization became a market then the most useful information would be put on a pedestal... and all your subscribers would become better informed.  It would be a virtuous cycle. 

Right now your organization largely caters to popularity.  As a result, you end up putting the news equivalent of cat videos on a pedestal.  It's a vicious cycle.  You can be the very first newspaper to break this vicious cycle.

Please let me know if you have any questions. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Invisible Hand

Comment on Why New Economics Needs a New Invisible Hand by David Sloan Wilson

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It's true that Adam Smith only used the term "invisible hand" three times, but he often discussed the concept without using the term...

It is thus that the private interests and passions of individuals naturally dispose them to turn their stocks towards the employments which in ordinary cases are most advantageous to the society. But if from this natural preference they should turn too much of it towards those employments, the fall of profit in them and the rise of it in all others immediately dispose them to alter this faulty distribution. Without any intervention of law, therefore, the private interests and passions of men naturally lead them to divide and distribute the stock of every society among all the different employments carried on in it as nearly as possible in the proportion which is most agreeable to the interest of the whole society. — Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Samantha the bee discovers a huge patch of blooming Aloes. After collecting as much pollen/nectar as she can carry, she quickly flies back to the hive to report her discovery. The way that she transfers her information to the other bees is by dancing. She dances long and hard to express her estimate of the patch's high quality. This is not a cheap signal... it's a costly signal. It costs her many of her precious calories. Because she's willing to make such a big sacrifice, many of the onlooking bees decide that it's worth it to inspect the Aloe patch for themselves. When they return to the hive they confirm, via sacrifice, that the patch is very useful. But if too many bees end up visiting the patch, then it will be harder to find nectar/pollen, and when they return to the hive they will report a lower valuation of the patch. The is how and why the Invisible Hand works.

Evonomics supplies lots of articles... but they really aren't equally useful. Most of the articles about the Invisible Hand are pretty useless. This really shouldn't be a surprise... given that the supply of articles isn't regulated by the Invisible Hand.

The solution is really simple. When people make a donation to Evonomics... just give them the opportunity to "earmark" their money to the most useful articles. Create a page on the website where the articles are sorted by usefulness. People will logically read the most useful articles and it will be a virtuous cycle.

So no, the Invisible Hand isn't primarily about selfishness. It's primarily about communication. All else being equal, whichever group is better at communicating will win.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Economics of Netflix

My comment on The Economics of Netflix’s Bright, a Netflix Original Movie Starring Will Smith (available on Netflix dot com) by spivonomist

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Netflix doesn't know the demand for its content.  Netflix knows exactly how many subscribers watched Bright.  Netflix knows exactly how many times each subscriber watched Bright.  Netflix knows exactly how many subscribers gave Bright a thumbs up/down.  But Netflix does not know the demand for Bright. 

Netflix could easily reveal the demand for Bright simply by giving subscribers the freedom to "earmark" their subscription dollars to their favorite content.  To be clear, this isn't the iTunes model.  Bright would not be behind a paywall.  Netflix subscribers would not have to pay to watch Bright.  Instead, each month subscribers would have the opportunity to allocate as many of their $10 subscription dollars as they wanted to Bright.  The total amount of subscription dollars allocated to Bright would be the demand for it. 

I'm guessing that each month you would allocate $0 subscription dollars to Bright.  Netflix has 100 million subscribers though.  They don't equally hate/love Bright.  Out of 100 million subscribers, one subscriber loves this movie the most.  How many subscription dollars would this subscriber be willing to allocate to Bright in one month... in one year... in one decade? 

Which movie/show on Netflix do you love the most?  How many subscription dollars would you be willing to allocate to it in one decade?  Personally, I love The Man From Earth.  In a decade perhaps I'd be willing to allocate $840 subscription dollars to it, assuming that Netflix didn't supply a movie that I loved even more.  Is this a reasonable assumption? 

Consider these three things...

A. Criticizing the worst content
B. Giving a thumbs up to the best content
C. Allocating many subscription dollars to the best content

Which one would most improve Netflix's supply of content? 

The biggest problem in the world is that most people don't understand the benefit of knowing the demand for things. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Surveys: Voting VS Spending

Which is a better way to rank options... voting or spending?  In other words, which is better... democracy or markets?







Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Obama Presidential Center VS Public Park

The proposed plan is for 20 acres of Chicago’s Jackson Park to be destroyed and replaced with the Obama Presidential Center. Here’s the comment that I posted on the Dezeen story…

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Imagine a survey…

Should the presidential center be built in the park?

Yes
No

But instead of participants simply voting for their preferred option, they would spend any amount of money on it. This system has two benefits…

1. Everybody would see and know the actual demand for/against the proposal.
2. The city would raise money to help reduce its ridiculously huge debt.

From my perspective, the world needs a lot more trees than buildings. So I’d definitely spend my money on the “No” option.

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It is impossible for anyone, even if he be a statesman of genius, to weigh the whole community’s utility and sacrifice against each other. — Knut Wicksell, A New Principle of Just Taxation

The Suburbanist gets credit for bringing this issue to my attention…


http://ideaplug.org/?t=Chicago_feedback

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Efficient Allocation Of Babies

In my thread... Game Theory For Baby Names... Bombadil sarcastically suggested that babies be allocated according to spending.  It reminded me of the first episode of the Australian show "Offspring"...

And we land in whichever family we scored. Do babies end up with the families that suit them best?  Would we be better off swapping around?  


Do the best with what you're given, kids, like the rest of us.  For better or worse, you can't choose your family.