Saturday, August 20, 2016

Better Communication, Better Markets

Reply toThe “Why” in Wage Segregation by Samuel Hammond


It’s neat, and smart, that you juxtaposed the two things. But it doesn’t seem like you did an adequate job of making the case for subsidizing lower productivity workers. Why would we want to subsidize lower productivity workers? This paragraph seemed to be the extent of your case…

Rising premium on quality signals like educational attainment, polarizing wages, and lower social mobility / “Coming Apart” dynamics may therefore all be symptoms of the same phenomena. For better or worse, pooling equilibria promoted a degree of churn between rungs on the social ladder, and denied the ability of imperfect signals to sort one into a low wage destiny.

I’m pretty sure that Ezra Klein isn’t going to hire me as a writer. Which makes sense… I’m a pretty terrible writer. But if he did hire me… then I’d get paid more (certainly more than Medium pays me!)… and somehow I’d also become a better writer? A much better writer? If there was solid evidence that this was indeed the case then I think that Klein would act on it. Who doesn’t love a diamond in the rough?

However, your conclusion doesn’t seem to be that Klein really needs to open his eyes and see and appreciate and understand the enormity of my raw and untapped potential… your conclusion seems to be… universal basic income.

You give up on trying to persuade Klein of my incredibly latent value and instead reach into his pocket and put his money into my hand. Thanks? My writing skills would greatly improve? Voila!? I would shine on like the crazy diamond that I truly am?

Speaking of diamonds… I don’t think that I’ve been equally productive in every romantic relationship that I’ve ever been in. Just like I don’t think that all of my relationships have been equally healthy or beneficial. If it was possible, would it be desirable to mandate a minimum benefit for relationships? I don’t think it would be. You’d be giving people an incentive to stay in less productive relationships.

What if people could get the minimum benefit even if they weren’t in a relationship? It seems obvious that this would decrease their incentive to find and start productive relationships.

No two relationships are equally productive. This isn’t just true of romantic relationships…. this is true of all relationships. The minimum wage gives workers an incentive to stay in less productive relationships. And a basic income would decrease people’s incentive to find and start productive relationships.

A good relationship depends on good communication. People’s willingness to sacrifice is a super important form of communication. Actions speak louder than words. So it’s a problem when the government decreases the goodness of communication. Like most government “solutions”, universal income would make the problem even worse.

If you truly want to help people… then you should focus on improving the goodness of communication. Can we get rid of minimum wages? At this point in time it seems a bit outside our range of effectiveness. But what about here on Medium? What if there were some coin and dollar buttons below every story?

If you liked my story, despite how poorly it was written, you could clearly communicate your valuation of my content by clicking the 50 cent button. Fifty cents would be automatically withdrawn from your digital wallet and deposited into mine. The total value of my story would increase by 50 cents. When people searched for stories the default sorting would be by their value. It would be easy to find the most valuable stories. Once I had enough money in my wallet… I could cash out and Medium would take a very fair and reasonable cut.

Wouldn’t this system increase the goodness of communication? Of course! It would eliminate the payment problem. However, there would still be the free-rider problem. So what if, for example, Netflix allowed their subscribers to use their monthly fees to communicate their valuation of the content? A while back I sat down and figured out how I might allocate one month’s worth of fees…

1. Amelie: $1.50
2. Black Mirror: $0.25
3. Castaway on the Moon: $0.25
4. Rake: $1.25
5. Shaolin Soccer: $0.50
6. Sidewalls: $0.25
7. Snatch: $0.25
8. Spaced: $1.00
9. The League: $0.75
10. The Man From Earth: $4.00

Yeah, it was really hard. Talk about opportunity cost. But I had absolutely no incentive to understate my valuations. Doing so certainly wouldn’t have decreased my monthly payment.

Wouldn’t this system (the pragmatarian model) increase the goodness of communication? Wouldn’t consumers have better relationships with content creators?

Minimum wages decrease the goodness of communication. And so would a universal basic income. Decreasing the goodness of communication makes society worse. If we want to make society better… then we need to increase the goodness of communication.

Markets are all about the goodness of communication. Improving communication means improving markets. Better communication means better markets. Right now Medium is a pretty terrible market. We can’t use our cash to communicate our valuations of each others’ stories. Facilitating payments would make Medium a much better market. If the free-rider problem is a real problem, which it probably is, then switching over to the pragmatarian model would make Medium an even better market.

How many websites are really terrible markets? Is Vox a terrible market? Of course it is. I’m sure you’ve never used your cash to communicate your valuation of any of Klein’s stories. Klein is certainly a better writer than I am… but to the extent that I understand what makes markets better… I’m certainly a much better economist than he is. He’s a great writer and a terrible economist. I’m a terrible writer and a great economist. Sounds like a match made in heaven! But he never returns my phone calls. :(

And even with those websites that do put their content behind paywalls… can subscribers use their monthly payments to communicate their valuation of the content? Nope. So they are terrible markets as well.

The internet has a gazillion really terrible markets. If we vastly improved these markets by applying the pragmatarian model to them, then we would all clearly see that any perceived necessity of a universal basic income was the consequence of people’s failure to understand the importance of good communication. And people’s failure to understand the importance of good communication is the consequence of my terrible writing skills.

Of course I might be wrong! I might have fallen asleep in a few econ classes or zoned out while reading a few econ books. So if you think there are any details, minor or major, that I’m missing… please enlighten me!

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