Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Accurately Communicating Value

This blog entry is dedicated to Beth Cody.  Who's Beth Cody you ask?  According to her website... she's a libertarian writer who believes that "information and ideas should travel freely".  So it's not very surprising that our very first interaction took place in the Disqus comments section of this article by Jeffrey Tucker... Steal Our Stuff, Please.

Here's a screenshot of our interaction...

As you can see in the screenshot, Beth left a comment on Tucker's article four months ago.  Because her comment was liked by four other people, it was the very first comment that I saw after I finished reading Tucker's article.  Curious to learn why Beth's comment was the most popular... I read it.  It was well-written!  But... missing something.   So I hit the reply button, wrote some words, rearranged some words, deleted some words, added some words, reread my words and then... voila!  Beth received her first reply!  She posted her comment four months ago and that's how long it took before some random person (me!) came along and decided that what she wrote was worth replying to.  Shortly afterwords, my e-mail notified me that she had replied back.  I was also notified that she had commented on the blog entry that I had linked her to... Fee.org - Thumbs Up vs Quarters Up.

Back in February, thanks to Tyler Cowen's Assorted links... I learned that some website that I'd never heard of had actually started to charge people $2 to leave a comment on an article... Tablet magazine starts charging commenters.  According to the editor... the primary goal wasn't to raise money... it was to raise the quality of the comments.

Tablet's innovative approach to comments generated quite a bit of buzz...

The reviews were mixed... but none really got close to the economic heart of the matter.  So here I am!

If you read through my discussion with Beth Cody then you should already know that in my reply to her comment I made the case that Fee.org should charge its members a very reasonable amount...say $12 per year... but allow them to choose which articles they allocate their nickles, dimes and quarters to.  So rather than giving articles "thumbs up"... members could give them "quarters up".  Fee.org would take its cut and pass the rest of the money onto the writers.

To my pleasant surprise, Beth had absolutely no problem recognizing the value of this feedback mechanism.  In her comment on my blog entry she wrote that Fee.org and Liberty.me "are the sites that would understand and value the concept most".  She even took the additional step of sharing my blog entry with the editor of Fee.org... Max Borders.  It wasn't very surprising to learn that Borders himself had a similar idea a while back but was stymied by micropayments not being feasible yet.

I'd really love it if either Fee.org or Liberty.me was the first to implement "quarters up".  Fee.org in particular has a long and commendable history of endeavoring to help the public better understand economics.  So it would be especially fitting if they were the first to lead the way.  Hopefully this would generate a lot more buzz than Tablet generated when they started charging for comments.

While I agree with Beth that Fee.org and Liberty.me are more likely than other websites to recognize the value of "quarters up"... it's entirely possible that it's not currently feasible for them to take this small, but super significant, step in the right direction.  And because their mission is to endeavor to help the public understand economics... I'm sure that they will appreciate it if I don't put all my eggs in their basket.  The educational opportunities are just too huge!  So both Fee.org and Liberty.org should agree that "quarters up" should be implemented by some website sooner rather than later.

With that in mind...

A letter to the editor of Tablet


Dear Alana Newhouse,

I commend you on the boldness of your move to charge for comments!  However, I feel compelled to suggest a much better solution.

Rather than just using money to create a barrier to entry... why not use money to lift the most valuable comments to the top of the comments section?

You could achieve this efficient allocation of comments simply by giving your readers the opportunity to use their nickles, dimes and quarters to lift the most valuable comments higher up on the page.  If you write an article... then the comment that was lifted to the very top of the comments section would be the one comment that the crowd felt was most worthy of your attention.

If anybody didn't want to read the lesser valuable comments... or they didn't have the time to do so... then they simply wouldn't scroll any further down.

Think of it like this.  The reason that you've probably heard of Harry Potter isn't because money was used to block the bad writers... it's because the crowd used their money to lift J.K. Rowling's book to the top of the books "section".

This method works for "lengthy" writing such as books... and it will work for "short" writing such as comments... so it will also work for "medium" writing such as articles.  It would be quite excellent if members on your website could "quarters up" comments and articles.  Just like how members on Youtube can give their favorite videos a "thumbs up".   The difference is that "quarters up" would speak louder than "thumbs up" do.

This "quarters up" feedback mechanism for content would allow the crowd to...

1. ...accurately communicate their content preferences
2. ...easily find the most valuable content

Unfortunately, there aren't any examples of websites, that I know of, that use "quarters up" for content.  Which is a problem because it reflects the fact that people don't really understand how and why markets work!  But, given that you've already demonstrated considerable boldness... I figured that perhaps this same boldness could be used for our mutual benefit.  Your website would benefit from better feedback/sorting... and I'd benefit because I could refer to your website in order to help illustrate the value of crowd sponsored content.

For background, conceptual and technical aspects of this approach... please see... http://pragmatarianism.blogspot.com/2015/03/accurately-communicating-value.html


The opportunity cost of economic ignorance

Here's how I've wonderfully illustrated the concept of crowd lifting/amplification...

Shopping is the process by which we endeavor to find valuable voices.  When we find a voice that we value... we use our money to help amplify it.  Money is volume.  A dollar is a unit of volume.   The more dollars that the crowd gives to a writer... the more people that will hear her voice.   This is why nearly everybody in the world has heard of Harry Potter.  A very large crowd of people reached into their own pockets and helped to create a very large megaphone for J.K. Rowling.  This means that the size of her megaphone is proportional to the amount of value that she has created for the crowd.  A large crowd sponsors her because she sponsors a large crowd.  The value of her productivity to others has determined the amount of influence/control/power she has to allocate society's limited resources.

Unfortunately, the benefit of dollar voting really isn't understood by most people.  There's an endless supply of evidence to support this fact.  Here's just a small sample of the evidence...

Sector MMC BV DV
Kindle Unl.
Less Wrong

MMC = mandatory minimum contribution
BV = ballot voting (thumbs up, likes, favorites, etc)
DV = dollar voting (quarters up, dimes up, etc)

All these sectors, and countless more, should be MMC + DV.  Take Amazon Unlimited for example.  Every person who pays Amazon $9.99/month (MMC) to read over 700,000 titles should have the option to use their nickles/dimes/quarters to lift their favorite titles higher up.

Why MMC?  Two reasons...

1. All the goods in question are non-rivalrous
2. Everybody wants a free lunch (free-rider problem)

Right now there's a book on my coffee table.  It's Toleration by Andrew Cohen.  Here's how I've wonderfully illustrated our exchange...

In this illustration I'm buying Cohen's book from him in person.  But in reality, I purchased his book on Amazon.  Amazon really helped to facilitate this trade.  Amazon made it stupid easy for me to dollar vote for Cohen's content.

The question is... would I have given Cohen $20 if I could download his book for free?  Maybe not.  What about $10?  Or $1?

With the free-rider problem we end up shooting ourselves in the foot.  We rationalize that, in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal if we don't spend a dollar on a "free" book.  What difference can a dollar possibly make?  And if a dollar can't make much of a difference... then neither will anything under a dollar.

Coincidentally, I just found this article when I searched Google for "Youtube"...
No one is pulling down the kind of money internet sensation PewDiePie rakes in ($4 million a year, according to the Wall Street Journal), but you don’t have to make millions to quit your job and earn a living doing what you love. - Chris Kohler, Why Does Nintendo Want This Superfan’s YouTube Money? 
If Youtube charged a very reasonable $12/year (MMC)... but allowed members to "quarters up" their favorite videos... then I think that quite a few people would be able to quit their day job and earn a living doing what they love.  This wouldn't just benefit the creators of the content... it would also benefit the consumers of the content.  Consumers really benefit when they they use their dollars to point producers in the most valuable directions.  Consumers really don't benefit when they give producers bad directions.  If producers were omniscient then there wouldn't be any need for consumers to clearly communicate their preferences/valuations.

Maybe you need a hand visualizing the logistics?  Ok.  Here's a modified screenshot from the Youtube page of one of my favorite songs... Geppetto by Optiganally Yours.

I highly doubt that this is the best layout... and it's definitely not the best style... but hopefully you get the idea.

In this example, $3.50 is how much money that I've given to this song and $250.01 is how money much the crowd has given to it.  Giving this song a "quarters up" would be as easy as giving it a "thumbs up".  All it would take is one click to give this song a quarter.  Youtube would be making it stupid easy for me to trade with Rob Crow and all my other favorite artists.

Yes, I do realize that "truebigmacmaster" probably isn't Rob Crow.  But once Youtube makes it stupid easy for us to trade with our favorite artists... then it probably won't take very long before its stupid easy for us to find our favorite artists on Youtube.

Unlike Youtube... Netflix already has MMC... it just needs the DV.  Here are 10 of my favorite movies/shows...

  1. Amelie
  2. Black Mirror
  3. Castaway on the Moon*
  4. Rake
  5. Shaolin Soccer
  6. Sidewalls
  7. Snatch
  8. Spaced*
  9. The League
  10. The Man From Earth*

It's not my absolute top 10 list... I tried to give more weight to content that you can currently stream on Netflix.  The ones with an asterisk unfortunately are no longer available for streaming.  Castaway on the Moon isn't even available from Amazon... but I linked to it anyways just so you could read the reviews if you were so inclined.

Assuming a monthly fee of $10.00 dollars... here's what my allocation would look like for a month...

Assuming I didn't change my allocation for an entire year...

Here's the breakdown...

Movie/Show Month Year
1. Amelie $1.50 $18.00
2. Black Mirror $0.25 $3.00
3. Castaway on the Moon $0.25 $3.00
4. Rake $1.25 $15.00
5. Shaolin Soccer $0.50 $6.00
6. Sidewalls $0.25 $3.00
7. Snatch $0.25 $3.00
8. Spaced $1.00 $12.00
9. The League $0.75 $9.00
10 The Man From Earth $4.00 $48.00
$10.00 $120.00

Believe you me... it was not easy to come up with the allocation!  This is a perfect example of one of the most important economic concepts... opportunity cost.  Every allocation requires the sacrifice of alternative allocations.  A dollar that I spend on The Man From Earth is a dollar that I can't spend on any of the other movies/shows that I also love.  This is why it's informative when I do give a dollar to The Man From Earth.  If we don't have this chance to accurately communicate our valuations... then it's a given that society's limited resources will not be put to their most valuable uses.  Producers can't make informed decisions when the bulk of information is locked away in our heart of hearts.

Opportunity cost is the key to unlocking hearts.  This is why "quarters up" would speak louder than "stars up".   Do "stars up" have an opportunity cost?  Nope.  Do "thumbs up" have an opportunity cost?  Nope.  Allocating a "thumbs up" to a video doesn't require the sacrifice of alternative allocations.  Youtube gives everyone a "thumbs up" to spend on every video.  It doesn't cost Youtube a thing to supply an infinite number of thumbs.  Thumbs are cheap.  Stars are cheap.  Talk is cheap.  Quarters?  Not so cheap.  Youtube would go broke if it handed them out like thumbs.

Every valuable resource has an infinite number of different uses.  These different uses have to be prioritized... but they can't be correctly (efficiently) prioritized when consumers aren't given the chance to prioritize.  We can only arrive at the truth of people's priorities by giving people the chance to put their money where their mouths are.  True priorities are a function of personal sacrifice.

Right now there are a vast multitude of people stuck doing jobs that they really hate.  This is the logical consequence of countless sectors that haven't made it stupid easy for people to put their money where their mouths are.  If these sectors implemented MMC + DV then people who are vastly underemployed would be given significantly better options (builderism).

As more and more sectors implemented MMC + DV, the demand for cool jobs would increase.  As a result, the supply of labor would shift accordingly.  When you have more people doing cool jobs... there are less people available to do crap jobs. If the demand for crap jobs stays the same... but there's a decrease in the supply of available labor... then the cost of labor (wages) for crap jobs would increase.  This means that, if you want somebody to do a crap job... then you're going to have to pay them more to do it.

Better options are a function of the efficient allocation of resources.  And what does the efficient allocation of resources depend on?  Accurate information.

Let's get a little technical

It seems like the two main approaches to "quarters up" are in-house and out-house.  Uh.  Maybe internal and external.


This is the system that I mentioned in this blog entry... Fee.org - Thumbs Up vs Quarters Up.  You would pay Fee.org, for example, $12 dollars and they would credit your account accordingly.  This would allow you to spend 48 "quarters up" or 120 "dimes up" or 240 "nickles up".  When you gave an article a "quarters up", there wouldn't be any "real" money involved.  Your bank wouldn't be involved... Paypal wouldn't be involved... your credit card wouldn't be involved... there wouldn't be any transaction costs... it would just be Fee.org updating some numbers in its database.  Real money would only be involved when you've ran out of "quarters up"... or content creators wished to cash out.


This system would be similar to how Disqus works.  None of the comments on Fee.org articles are stored in their own database... they are all stored in Disqus databases.  In terms of micropayments... none of the transactions would be tracked by Fee.org... they would all be tracked and stored by a third party.  When you clicked the "quarters up" button for an article on Fee.org... the information would be sent to the third party who would update their database accordingly.  Just like a third party is responsible for keeping track of and "serving" how many times this article... Steal Our Stuff, Please... has been shared... a third party would be responsible for keeping track and "serving" how much money has been spent on it.

The internal approach isn't at all technically difficult.  It's not fundamentally different than Youtube keeping track of how many "thumbs up" a video has received or Flickr keeping track of how many "faves" a photo has.

Like I mentioned, I don't know of any sites that use "quarters up" for content.  According to the Wikipedia entry for micropayments... some work has been done in this area... but most of it hasn't been successful.  Perhaps Flattr is the closest example of an external "quarters up" system.  On their website they say in big bold letters... "Add money to your likes"... which is really great!  But...when you scroll down you'll discover that they also say this...
One budget for all microdonations - Support all the creators you want without thinking about the cost. The monthly budget you choose is divided by the number of flattrs you make.
Not so great.  It's better than Facebook "likes", but it's definitely not as good as a "quarters up" system.  This is because with Flattr's system you're lifting all your favorite content equally high.

Take another look at my monthly allocation for Netflix...

With Netflix's current system... all I can do is give all these shows/movies 5 stars.  There's no opportunity cost involved so there's a huge communication failure.  Flattr's system would be better because I'd only choose to allocate my money to these shows/movies. I'd be putting my money where my stars are... so there would be some opportunity cost involved.  This means that the communication wouldn't be as big of a failure.  The problem is that my favorite shows/movies would all be bundled together.  So with Flattr's system I'd be communicating that I value all these shows/movies equally.  Which, as you can see from the graph, is entirely untrue.  I really don't value Black Mirror as much as I value The Man From Earth.

Flattr's definitely on the right track though so I'll send them a link to this entry.  It would be really outstanding if they could adjust their system so that it's based on sound economics.

Doing a bit more digging into micropayments I found this Stanford project... Micropayments: A Viable Business Model?  I've only just skimmed it but it seems like a pretty great overview... especially the tab/section on solutions.  Rather than the internal/external approach that I used... they have three categories for micropayments...

1. Pay-As-You-Go
2. Prepay
3. Postpay

They give descriptions, pros/cons and examples of each.  They conclude that, because of the transaction costs, the pay-as-you-go form is a no-go.

The prepay form is pretty much what I had in mind.  Out of the examples that they give... the most relevant seems to be an online gaming website... Nexon.  You give them real money and they give you their currency which you can spend on (allocate to) whichever games of theirs most closely matches your preferences.  I think all the games are produced by Nexon.... but the mechanism is pretty much the same.  So if I had to share one website with the editor of Tablet magazine then it would probably be Nexon.  It does, however, take a bit of imagination to make the connection between "quarters up" for games and "quarters up" for articles/comments.  But as every good economist knows... every allocation is a gamble!

Tablet currently uses TinyPass online payment system in order to charge people to submit comments on their articles.  From what I read, TinyPass indicated that Tablet is the only customer they have that puts comments behind a paywall.  Looking over TinyPass's website... it seems that all their other customers use more or less standard subscription models.  I'd definitely be interested to know TinyPass's thoughts on the feasibility of their customers giving subscribers the chance to "quarters up" their preferred content.

Determining the optimal MMC

Right now neither Blogger or Medium have an MMC.  Or, we could think of it as both of them having an MMC of $0.00/year.  If Medium increases its MMC to $6.00/year... and makes it stupid easy for members to "quarters up" their favorite entries... then Medium would be more effective than Blogger is at facilitating trades. If you're going to blog... then why not blog where it's stupid easy for readers to give you money?  Google's not dumb though.  So Blogger would increase its MMC to $10/year... and also make it stupid easy for members to "quarters up" their favorite entries.  If Blogger writers started to make more money than Medium writers... then Medium would increase its MMC to $14/year.  If Blogger writers still continued to make more money than Medium writers... then perhaps $10/year is closer to the optimal MMC than $14/year.

We can imagine that with an MMC of $6.00/year... given how stupid easy it is for readers to "quarters up" their favorite entries... we can guess that lots of people are going to run out of quarters half way through the year.  That equals 4 "quarters up" per month.   And since these readers clearly enjoyed helping to lift their favorite entries... it will be worth it for them to pay for another 24 quarters.  Conversely, if the MMC is say $18.00/year... then maybe by the end of the year there would be plenty of people with unspent quarters.

We can run through the same exercise with Youtube vs Spotify.  Which sector would make it more stupid easy for me to trade with Rob Crow?

There's an infinite number of ways that a sector can help to facilitate trades.  "Quarters up" is one such way.  If Tablet successfully implements "quarters up"... then it will be extremely easy to see all the trading that is being facilitating.  We'll be able to see how much money is spent on each and every article.  We'll be able to see how much money is spent on the most valuable comments.  This information would motivate other sectors to follow suit.  They would be incentivized to adopt this superior "trait".  Any sector that failed to do so would lose resources to "fitter" sectors of the economy.

It would be survival of the fittest markets.  When a website implements "quarters up"... it's no longer just a website... it essentially becomes a market within a market.  We'd have thousands and thousands of websites all striving to become better markets.  Why?  Because there would be millions and millions of producers and consumers all striving to participate in better markets.

My main argument is that it's better when demand is clarified.  With this in mind...

The same illustration as earlier but I added a bit of insight.  You can see that there's a huge disparity between how much I paid for the book and how much I valued it.  I'm not saying this was the case in real life when I purchased Cohen's book... I'm just trying to clarify the concept.

Everybody loves getting a deal.  In this illustration you can clearly see that I'm getting an excellent deal.  It's really easy to believe that markets are quite wonderful when consumers get a bunch of really great deals.  But, when we embrace and fully appreciate the idea that money is a message... then when we pay the really wrong amounts of money... we send the really wrong messages to producers.  And consumers really don't benefit when they send the wrong messages to producers.  A much larger future benefit is sacrificed for a much smaller momentary pleasure.  We end up with more of what we want less and less of what we want more.

This concept has all sorts of broad reaching implications.  Some are easy for me to reach... while others remain tantalizingly just out of reach.  One easy implication to reach is that taxpayers should be able to choose where their taxes go.  Another easy implication is that each and every school should be a market within a market.  What's harder to reach is the implication when it comes to truly private goods...like shoes.    If we really don't want to send the wrong messages when it comes to public goods... hence the need for MMC + DV... then why in the world would we want to send the wrong messages when it comes to private goods?  But does this mean that we need MMC + DV for private goods as well?  Uhhh...

Let's shelf private goods for a second and think about MMC + DV for public goods.  When we have thousands of websites striving to become better markets... the "winners" will be the markets that do a better job of ensuring that payments accurately communicate values.  Consumers in these better markets will send more accurate messages... and, as a result, producers in these markets will be able to make better informed decisions.  The supply will more accurately reflect the demand.  Society's limited resources will be put to more, rather than less, valuable uses.  Markets with better information will produce more benefit.

When more people see, understand and study this process... then we'll be able to better determine how we might apply MMC + DV to private goods.  Given enough eyeballs, all Easter Eggs are exposed (Linus's Law).


Right now Netflix prevents non-members from "consuming" its content.  This is an example of exclusion.  If Netflix allowed its members to "quarters up" content... then would Netflix still exclude non-members?  If it did, then would this facilitate trade... or hinder it?

At first glance it seems straightforward that there might not be very many people who would pay $10.00 dollars per month for content that they can get for free.   After all... everybody wants a free lunch...
One of the selling points is that Tidal is “artist-friendly,” but as plenty of people have pointed out, if the average person cared all that much about artist royalties, Napster never would have happened. - Cortney Harding, TIDAL Wave or Shallow Pool?
Then again, the non-profit sector isn't exactly small.  More specifically... consider the musician Amanda Palmer.  She tried to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter but... she ended up with a bit more.  And thanks to Patreon (Amanda Palmer is Creating Art) she receives nearly $30,000 for every thing that she creates.  If you're even vaguely interested in the topic then I highly recommend watching her TED Talk... The Art of Asking.

Let's say that there's a knock on my door.  I open it and lo and behold... it's Frank, from the future.  He informs me that 50 years from now... exclusion and MMCs will have both been removed from the market "gene pool".  It turns out that they discovered a certain combination of different market "traits" that were far more effective at facilitating trades.  Would I be surprised to learn this?  Maybe a little bit.  Mostly about the 50 years part.  I'm pretty sure I'm the Herman Melville of economics.

Odds and ends

This entry is pretty much over... except for a few odds and ends.  If I was a better writer then I wouldn't have so much stuff left over.  Kinda like how a better surgeon doesn't have so much stuff left over after he operates.

You'd want to work harder/longer/smarter...

... if it was stupid easy to spend money in the Youtube sector of the economy.  Is this true?
If someone like Sten could individually choose the level of environmental quality, he would choose a higher level than the level set by the collective choice of society given his personal marginal cost.  In turn in order to pay for this higher level of environmental quality, Sten would work more. - Nicholas Flores, Philip E. Graves, The Valuation of Public Goods: Why Do We Work? 

Who's my Netflix buddy?  

Right now Netflix has around 50 million members.  Which of these 50 million members has a monthly allocation that most closely matches my own?  Who's my Netflix buddy!!??

In An Explanation and Some Reflections... Reed Hastings says...
For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.
He also says...
In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success. We have done very well for a long time by steadily improving our service, without doing much CEO communication. Inside Netflix I say, “Actions speak louder than words,” and we should just keep improving our service. 
So what have we learned from Reed Hastings?

1. Become great at new things that people want
2. Actions speak louder than words

I'm sure Hastings will agree that "quarters up" speak louder than "stars up".  Right?  And then Netflix will move too fast in this direction.  Right?

Speaking of content buddies...

Who in the world gave this song the most money??!!  It would be awesome to be able to click on the $250.01 and find out.  There'd be a list of members sorted by how much they allocated to this song.  When I clicked on the member at the top of the list... Frank??... his page would have a tab for recent valuations and a tab for highest valuations.  What songs/videos would I find?  Probably other artists that I'd also want to give some "quarters up" to.  This is just one way, out of an infinite number of ways, that Youtube and other sectors could facilitate trades.

Bryan Caplain hates bad questions

In a really nice bit of synchronicity... the economist Bryan Caplan recently posted a blog entry that focused on a problem with seminars and how it can be fixed.  Here's how he starts off...
I'm sick of academic seminars.  Even if the presenter has a good paper and speaks well, the audience ruins things.  How?  Two minutes into any talk, the fruitless interruptions begin.  Half the time, they're premature quality control: "Are you going to deal with ability bias?"  "Uh, yes.  On the next slide."  The other half the time, they're bizarre pet peeves.  "How does this relate to sequential equilibrium?"  "Uh, it doesn't.  It's an empirical paper."  "Yes, but that reminds me of something Rudi Dornbusch once said.  Now I'm going to talk for four minutes."
Caplan's predicament was pretty darn close to Tablet's predicament.  But wait!  There's a twist!  Tablet's solution was a lot more economical than Caplan's solution.  Rather than attempting to determine people's willingness to pay for the opportunity to question/comment... Caplan's solution simply involves telling people to hold their questions until the end.  Somehow this would make it "easier for the speaker to filter out bad questions". 

Reading through the comments... I managed to find one that was a lot closer to the "best" solution....
The answer is simple:
Have some kind of chat room or reddit-like thread open where people can post questions and you can see them on a screen. Between slides look down, if there's something important that you're not already going to answer, answer it, if not, move on. - Borrowed_Username
Very close!  But rather than simply having the crowd ballot vote for the best questions/comments... the crowd could "quarters up" the most valuable questions/comments.  People in the audience could get paid for posting valuable questions/comments!  How cool would that be?  

In an earlier comment Tyler Cowen wrote, "I find this an oddly non-Caplanian post."  I agree.  But it's certainly quite useful for illustrative purposes.  

In defense of trolls

This may come as a huge shock, but I've been accused of trolling before.  Maybe once... or twice.  So I was very tempted to share this passage by J.S. Mill in my letter to the editor of Tablet...
Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision. Born in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, "i maëstri di color che sanno," the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived—whose fame, still growing after more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious—was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality.  To pass from this to the only other instance of judicial iniquity, the mention of which, after the condemnation of Socrates, would not be an anti-climax: the event which took place on Calvary rather more than eighteen hundred years ago. The man who left on the memory of those who witnessed his life and conversation, such an impression of his moral grandeur, that eighteen subsequent centuries have done homage to him as the Almighty in person, was ignominiously put to death, as what? As a blasphemer. - J.S. Mill, On Liberty

Epiphytic thinking

What about Uber for Welfare?  I really want to like it but, unfortunately, Miles Kimball and Scott Sumner like it.  Seriously though... I do want to like it.  But it would require ignoring everything that I've endeavored to explain in this entry.  They say that repetition helps with learning so...

Is this a better market?  Nope.  Andrew Cohen's megaphone ends up being a lot smaller than it really should be.  Now here's what Morgan Warstler is recommending...

Is this a better market?  Nope.  Andrew Cohen's megaphone ends up being a lot larger than it really should be.  Poverty is the logical consequence of society's failure to understand the problem with people's megaphones being the wrong sizes.  Nobody truly benefits when we violate Quiggin's Implied Rule of Economics.  Even when somebody ends up with a much larger megaphone than they really should have... then just imagine some rich guy who's got it all... including cancer.  I'm not saying that cancer would already have been cured by now if megaphones were the correct sizes... I'm saying that nobody's balance is as beneficial as it really should be.  Again, we end up with more of what we want less and less of what we want more.

What about Star Trek?
I sort of love that Star Trek forces us to think about a society that has no money but still operates with individual freedom and without central planning. I love that democracy is still in place. I love that people can still buy and sell things. It’s real. It’s a more realistic vision of post-capitalism than I have seen anywhere else. Scarcity still exists to some extent, but society produces more than enough to satisfy everyone’s basic needs. The frustrating thing is that we pretty much do that now, we just don’t allocate properly. And allocating properly cannot be done via central planning. - Rick Webb, The Economics of Star Trek
It's a very entertaining entry... and it's certainly true that we aren't allocating properly and central planning isn't the solution.  But Webb doesn't explain that the reason that we aren't allocating properly is because consumers aren't given the opportunity to send the right messages.

Want some more epiphyte on epiphyte action?  Ok...

Quadratic voting


I joined Medium!  Consider these snippets...
At Medium, how we work is just as important as the product we work on, and growing as an individual is just as important as contributing to the organization. We constantly look for new ways to better ourselves. -  Gianni, Watching Medium
When considering potential partnerships for your business, you might be missing a big opportunity for collaboration right in front of you — your audience. - Brian Honigman, Startups, Partner With Your Audience 
But that type of thinking— and guys like me, who work in media but haven’t done anything to help support creative industries— is why these businesses are crumbling on all sides. You can’t just take take take. You have to give back. Because these systems are vital to the creation, transmission, consumption and exchange of ideas. And those ideas are what make our society great. - Paul Cantor, Why I Started Paying for Music, Movies, Newspapers and Magazines Again
Napster was awesome because it made taking stupid easy.  Will Medium be even more awesome because it makes giving stupid easy?   Will Medium make it stupid easy to give this entry a "quarters up"?  Will Medium get the quarter rolling?  Or will it be Fee.org?  Or Tablet?  Or Reed Hastings?  Whoever it is... hopefully they'll do it sooner rather than later!

See also

See also update [3 Apr 2015]

Just stumbled upon this excellent and relevant article... Our economies are messed up. And the cause is the Internet.  I probably should have searched Medium for "micropayment" before I posted this!

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