wcerfgba's recent activity

  1. What are your favourite mailing lists?

    I love mailing lists! They are my preferred way of discussing interesting topics with people. Please share your favourite lists, and any directories or search engines you know of. 🙂 nettime - net...

    I love mailing lists! They are my preferred way of discussing interesting topics with people. Please share your favourite lists, and any directories or search engines you know of. 🙂


    6 votes
  2. Comment on Why this computer scientist says all cryptocurrency should “die in a fire” in ~tech

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    I've heard of all of these and played with most of them except 'age'. Please could you tell us what this is or drop a link?

    I've read into and actively experimented with torrents, IPFS, BOINC, Tahoe LAFS, Tor, GNUNet, GPG, age, Mastodon, Matrix, Pidgin, CJDNS, Yggdrasil, Linux, LetsEncrypt, running home web and email servers, and probably a bunch of other things vaguely in that category.

    I've heard of all of these and played with most of them except 'age'. Please could you tell us what this is or drop a link?

    1 vote
  3. Comment on Prototyping group decision making with automatic delegation in ~tech

    wcerfgba
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    Thanks for this interesting post @lonk. A few ideas come to my mind. First, you might want to look into the experimental economics literature. These researchers often create 'toy' situations where...

    Thanks for this interesting post @lonk. A few ideas come to my mind.

    First, you might want to look into the experimental economics literature. These researchers often create 'toy' situations where participants set down and play a 'game' to explore real world behaviour around different economic mechanisms. It has a lot of overlap with the kind of prototyping work a user researcher may undertake when designing a new product or service. You may be able to short-circuit building an entire website and instead be able to hold a workshop with a few pieces of paper to work as voting counters, coming up with some example scenarios to vote on, etc. You could also host a workshop virtually over a video call and then coordinate the game using something like Google Jamboard or Google Sheets. Some advantages of running a workshop are: lower startup costs ('cos you don't have to build a complete app) and a richer opportunity to gather qualitative data (because you can ask participants questions face-to-face, before/during/after the workshop).

    Second, there are teams working on collective/democratic decision-making software and research that you might want to reach out to about this idea. They may be interested in implementing it as a feature, exploring it through prototyping, or just interested to hear your thoughts. The two that come to my mind are Loomio and mySociety.

    Finally, I'm subscribed to the UK Centre for Democracy's UK Democracy Forum mailing list, and some on there have asked me to share a draft whitepaper they've been working on. It's about democratic reform in the UK, and the document outlines some of their ideas around 'participatory representative democracy'. If that sounds interesting to anyone in this thread, and you'd like to give the draft a read and provide feedback, please drop me a DM and I'll send over the whitepaper. This invitation is open to people outside the UK, although be aware that some of the issues discussed are specific to UK constitutional issues and voting systems etc.

    OK one more thing... there used to be a website called Advogato which had an interesting trust metric system that may also be of interest given your other project. :)

    3 votes
  4. Comment on Representation and uncertainty in ~humanities

    wcerfgba
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    This was a fantastic read, thanks for sharing @skybrian . I am a bit tired so I need to go over this again and write up my notes, but my main takeaway from this is that data, statistics and models...

    This was a fantastic read, thanks for sharing @skybrian . I am a bit tired so I need to go over this again and write up my notes, but my main takeaway from this is that data, statistics and models are only as useful as our capacity for meaning: we need to have words to describe the concepts underlying variances in the world, in order to know how to collect data, if it’s useful, and how to interpret it.

    1 vote
  5. Comment on What's one weird thing about yourself? in ~talk

    wcerfgba
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    I have really vivid and weird dreams sometimes. Once I dreamed I was a twig, and I was walking down a corridor where all the other twigs lived in discarded soda cans. And then I got to a room at...

    I have really vivid and weird dreams sometimes. Once I dreamed I was a twig, and I was walking down a corridor where all the other twigs lived in discarded soda cans. And then I got to a room at the end and there was like a big gyroscope thing, and I stepped into the gyroscope and grew into a big branch.

    I can do some fun things with my eyes. I can make one of my eyes cross over while the other stares straight ahead, and then I can move them so they kinda 'ping pong'. I can also make my eyes shake left and right really quickly.

    Finally, I have super skinny wrists and ankles, the smallest of everyone I've ever met (and asked to see the wrists/ankles of, which tbf isn't literally everyone I've met).

    4 votes
  6. Comment on What's one weird thing about yourself? in ~talk

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    It's interesting to see how many other people have these 'scenes'. I have one which makes me feel a little anxious. I'm in a white room staring at a dimmer switch on the wall, and as I continue to...

    It's interesting to see how many other people have these 'scenes'.

    I have one which makes me feel a little anxious. I'm in a white room staring at a dimmer switch on the wall, and as I continue to stare at the switch I lose my depth perception and it feels like its both right in front of my face, and really really far away. As if the room is both tiny and huge at the same time.

    I think it's based on a room from my childhood but I don't really know.

    4 votes
  7. Comment on Resonate: A co-operative music streaming platform in ~music

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    I too was saddened to learn about the Epic purchase yesterday. It did occur to me that a co-op would be a great replacement, and I wish Resonate success. I have no interest in streaming and I only...

    I too was saddened to learn about the Epic purchase yesterday. It did occur to me that a co-op would be a great replacement, and I wish Resonate success.

    I have no interest in streaming and I only care about downloading MP3/FLAC so I hope they deliver that soon.

    I think the biggest challenges for Resonate will be getting enough artists and labels to use it in addition to / instead of Bandcamp; and providing existing physical features from Bandcamp like vinyl presses and merch. Vinyl in particular is a big one for certain artists and labels in certain genres.

    2 votes
  8. Comment on I need life/career advice in ~life

    wcerfgba
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    I think there are two questions you are trying to answer at the same time: What do I want to do with my life? What is my passion? How can I make a living? What job should I do? The degree to which...

    I think there are two questions you are trying to answer at the same time:

    1. What do I want to do with my life? What is my passion?
    2. How can I make a living? What job should I do?

    The degree to which you want these questions to interact, and the degree to which any one answer will overlap these questions, is highly fluid. Some options:

    • Job must also be passion. Try and make a living writing exactly what I want to write.
    • Job must be enjoyable and pay well, but not necessarily be my passion. Get a DevOps job in tech which is interesting and in demand. Pursue passion writing in spare time.
    • Job satisfaction doesn't matter, I just need money. Take a random part-time job and focus on maximising free time to work on passion writing.

    I would suggest to think about your long-term objectives and work back from there, I have found that has helped me with aligning what I'm doing now, what I want to be doing in a few years, and what I want to have achieved before I leave this plane.

    Part-time might be a good option: less money, but more time to work on your passions. You could probably pursue that through a job in tech as well, either by being open about that at recruitment time, or just by finding a good place to work and then trying to swing it after a few months.

    The job with your partner's company sounds like an ideal way to get your foot in the door. You might be able to take on more sysadmin/DevOps responsibilities over time and really enjoy it. Otherwise it just gets you something on your CV to help you start moving along the dev career path.

    Good luck! x

    5 votes
  9. Comment on When private equity becomes your landlord in ~finance

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    Hey thanks for tagging me! :D Yeah I think housing co-ops are great, I have some friends from long ago who live in one. :) The article is a depressing read, even more so when you consider how many...

    Hey thanks for tagging me! :D

    Yeah I think housing co-ops are great, I have some friends from long ago who live in one. :)

    The article is a depressing read, even more so when you consider how many other people are going through this kind of shit. :/ It's not that surprising either.

    Housing seems like an area ripe for good simulation modelling in economics due to the large amount of readily available data, which would allow researchers to compare the resilience of co-ops, public/state ownership, different regulations for private equity ownership, etc. but I haven't really looked for any of that literature in a while, it's not what I'm focusing on at the moment.

    4 votes
  10. Comment on How do you manage your music collection? in ~music

    wcerfgba
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    Rather than following / subscribing to artists, I track labels instead. Bandcamp is great for this if a label is using it, because I can subscribe to their newsletter and get email alerts any time...

    Rather than following / subscribing to artists, I track labels instead. Bandcamp is great for this if a label is using it, because I can subscribe to their newsletter and get email alerts any time they publish a new release.

    Why do I follow labels instead of artists? Two reasons. First, labels aren't clearly surfaced in the metadata in my music player, whereas the artist is. If I'm listening to a release and I'm wondering "hmm have they released any more music recently?" it only takes me a couple of minutes to look it up on the Web while I'm listening to their music. Keeping up to date with artists in this on-demand way is working fine for me. Second, labels, especially smaller ones, provide a form of curation and network knowledge around the music I like. If I find an artist I like, and I want to find more artists I might like, I look at the labels they've released on to find new artists and releases. This has worked really well for me so far for building up a network of artists and broadening my horizons. I have a few artists I love but then it's always frustrating when I want 'more' and it doesn't exist. Labels help me solve that problem.

    2 votes
  11. Comment on Why you're christian in ~humanities

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    Thanks for your reply :) I'm kinda tired so this might be a bit of a ramble-y response and not address all of your points. Foremost I am a pragmatist: I'm only really interested in philosophical...

    Thanks for your reply :) I'm kinda tired so this might be a bit of a ramble-y response and not address all of your points.

    Foremost I am a pragmatist: I'm only really interested in philosophical ideas and definitions that are useful to me, and help me to understand my self, other people, or the world around me. That said, perhaps moral relativism isn't exactly correct to describe my own perspective, depending on how we define it. I say this because philosophers also have a range of metaethical stances on the 'truth status' of ethical statements: i.e. can a sentence like "killing is wrong" be true or false?

    Honestly I don't really care if ethical statements have a truth value or not, and it's not a discussion that's relevant to me, so my position on that is "I don't know and I don't care". That could position me as some combination of moral relativist, moral anti-realist, moral non-objectivist, moral nihilist, moral skeptic, and/or emotivist.

    More specifically, I think the core of my metaethical perspective is that I believe that ethical sentences are often underspecified, but can usually be interpreted as a value judgement which is held by the speaker. So for example "killing is wrong" can be interpreted and questioned in many ways: what is killing? why is it wrong? is it always wrong or are there exceptional circumstances? is it wrong to you personally, or do you mean it is against your society's culture or laws, or that it is or should be universally disparaged? do you want me to agree with you? I would usually re-interpret such a sentence as "I believe that killing is wrong", but it's still an incredibly fuzzy sentence.

    This position firmly places ethics in the realm of discourse, because it implies that often people are talking past each other and need to get on the same page, with a very clear and precise definition of their views, through the interrogation of edge cases and the parts which have so far been unstated. If someone starts with "killing is wrong", two people could easily arrive at "we both believe that it would be wrong if either of us, or anybody we know, killed someone, and it should not be permitted in our society". Further interrogation of the statement may reveal a schism on the issue of assisted suicide: is it OK for a person A to aid another person B to commit suicide if they are, or will soon be, in incredible pain or suffering? The discussion would continue as participants outline their perspectives on a set of increasingly refined scenarios.

    All of this is informed by my ethical (not metaethical) belief that "usually, forcing people to do or believe something they don't want to do or believe, is bad, and I don't want to do that to people, nor have other people do it to me, or the people I love". So if I met someone who wanted to impose their beliefs, I would very likely take issue with that, but that's more from an ethical perspective than a metaethical perspective. That is, it's not because it goes against moral relativism per se, but because it goes against my personal values, and the values that I advocate more broadly to the world around me (and I advocate them because I believe they bring many benefits).

    I love debate, especially of ethical issues, and I would go further to say that ethical debate (both debate about ethics, and debate conducted ethically) is essential for a well-functioning society, and a democracy in particular.

    For me relativism boils down to acknowledging that different humans have different values and will disagree with each other on certain ethical statements (even highly specified ones), and that if there is a 'pure form' of 'ultimate morality' somewhere then it is inaccessible. So we are effectively stuck with just our respective, personal value systems, and the dialectical method: talk to other people about them, interrogate them ourselves, try to be highly specific with our propositions.

    4 votes
  12. Comment on Why you're christian in ~humanities

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    To either believe in or support the notion of 'human equality' or not is a value judgement, and as such one's belief in / support of the idea is contingent on one's value system. This is the...

    But there’s a problem: human equality isn’t self-evident at all. [...] Human equality is self-evident only if you assume, as Locke did, that God has given us [...] natural rights

    To either believe in or support the notion of 'human equality' or not is a value judgement, and as such one's belief in / support of the idea is contingent on one's value system. This is the foundation of moral relativism. The article doesn't address this and so myself and it are already talking past each other: I am a moral relativist, but the article assumes a position of moral universalism.

    I've come across this issue so many times now that I just find it tiring. Moral universalism is, in my opinion, extremely difficult to argue, because the burden of proof is extremely high. That is one reason why I am a moral relativist: different individuals, groups, and cultures demonstrably have different moral attitudes, and if my moral arguments are compatible with a wider range of those attitudes, or are less contingent on particular values, then my argument is de facto stronger, and could apply if either moral relativism or moral universalism are true. Inversely, if I assume moral universalism, I am more likely to construct an argument which is predicated on a particular value, or on the universality of values, and this is de facto incompatible with moral relativism.

    Moral relativism is also a more respectful position, more compatible across cultures, and places those debating in a more open minded perspective, where absolute agreement does not have to be sought, and ideas and opinions can flow freely and change independently for each person.

    More importantly, moral universalism can lead to a perspective that "you can't be moral unless you believe in God". I've had this argument with people, and I find it incredibly judgemental of myself and closed-minded. I've spent years of my life thinking about morality, meta-ethics, political philosophy. To have someone who doesn't know me as well as I know myself, to tell me that I am amoral or immoral, regardless of how much time I spend in self-reflection, is incredibly insulting.

    To be clear, I'm not accusing the author of this post of that, but reading those sentences reminded me of those memories. I've had discussions with people from this mindset before, and I've seen first hand how it can lead to an attitude of toxic self-righteousness. Yeah, super Christian of those people.

    If your approach to "human equality is an axiom I can't justify" is to instead shift to another axiom which is much harder to justify (the existence of God), then in my opinion that's just bad philosophy. Value systems are axiomatic systems: you have to start with some base set of values that you just assume to be true, and from there you can develop arguments to support/refute other value judgements. That's just how logic and argumentation work. The goal for myself when developing my own value system has always been to find the simplest set of axioms, which are both difficult to argue against, and which allow me to entail all the value judgements I want to be true. If you want to start with "all humans are equal", that's fine, you should explore the consequences of that. It's either self-evident because you made it self-evident as an axiom, or it follows logically from your axioms.

    13 votes
  13. Comment on IKEA has cut sick pay for unvaccinated workers, without mitigating circumstances, required to self isolate – retail giant acknowledged it was an emotive topic in ~life

    wcerfgba
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    Although I can sympathise with the frustration around people who are able to get vaccinated and refuse to do so, and I can understand the desire for policies like these which prioritise support...

    Although I can sympathise with the frustration around people who are able to get vaccinated and refuse to do so, and I can understand the desire for policies like these which prioritise support (be that economic, health, or other) for the can-get-and-are-vaccinated over the can-get-but-aren't-vaccinated, I think there are a couple of additional considerations which are important for evaluating these policies and determining next steps.

    First is that there are people who are unable to get vaccinated due to other health issues. This raises various questions such as "what is a valid reason for exemption?", "who can declare that a person is exempt?" and "how can an individual demonstrate their exemption to their employer, healthcare providers, nightclubs, etc.?".

    Determining the set of valid reasons for exemption, and evaluating if an individual satisfies any of those reasons, are not value-free decisions, and there are grey/debatable areas. If I have a phobia of needles, and the very thought of getting a vaccine is enough to make me feel faint, is that a valid reason for exemption? What about if I have a family history of a blood clotting disorder, but I don't know if I have that disorder? What if there is no easy way to test for that, or what if my doctor flat out refuses to run a test for that? Should it be sufficient for an individual to say "I have concerns about how this vaccine (or vaccines in general) will interact with my personal health, and for that reason I am not getting vaccinated?".

    Assuming that some of these grey areas cannot be conclusively settled, and that we can't write an 'algorithm' to determine if someone should our should not be vaccinated (because value judgements are inherently subjective, and our societies are large and contain a range of beliefs and opinions), then there have to be some people with the authority to issue a vaccine exemption based on their personal judgement. Most likely that would be individual doctors. However, we know that discrimination and bias is prevalent in the medical community, and so if we are to make doctors the arbiters of vaccine exemptions, we need to examine the demographics of vaccine refusal to determine how these proposed policies will interact with existing inequalities.

    This is my second and key point: prevalence of vaccination refusal and different reasons for vaccine refusal/exemption are not likely to be evenly distributed across different population groups. If vaccine refusal is higher amongst the poor, ethnic minorities, or people with certain disabilities -- all groups we know have a harder time accessing healthcare, experience discrimination from within healthcare systems, and have lower trust in healthcare providers -- then these policies risk making those existing inequalities worse, because we are forcing these people into a situation where they either don't have a choice, or they don't perceive they have a choice: people who begrudgingly accept the vaccine will have a lower trust in their systems of healthcare, labour, or government; and people who continue to refuse the vaccine will be materially worse off in regards to healthcare, employment, wages, or access to civil amenities.

    To be clear, I'm not saying that all the people who have refused the vaccine so far are within their right to do so and have completely valid reasons. What I am saying is that, like any policy decision, we need to carefully evaluate the current state of affairs and the potential consequences of each policy option we have, with a particular view to how those who are most marginalised will be affected. My advice to policy-makers, both in businesses like IKEA and private healthcare organisations, as well as public bodies like CDC, is to adopt a co-productive, systems led approach to understanding the problem: go and talk to people from these different marginalised groups and communities, bring them into the policy production process, understand their needs and concerns, and work to develop policies which do not eliminate choices for these people or risk deepening existing inequalities.

    3 votes
  14. Comment on How to give an unapology in ~life

    wcerfgba
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    Feel very relevant given UK PM Johnson's pretty weak apology at PMQs today :P

    Feel very relevant given UK PM Johnson's pretty weak apology at PMQs today :P

    2 votes
  15. Comment on Dan Wang's 2021 letter about China in ~misc

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    Perhaps there is plenty of culture within China, but it is not exported?

    Perhaps there is plenty of culture within China, but it is not exported?

    5 votes
  16. Comment on The importance of price signals in ~finance

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    Yes, my understanding of sales and coupons is that they allow suppliers to achieve a higher surplus by using multiple prices. e.g. instead of selling to 10 people at $5/unit and obtaining $50...

    Even mechanisms like coupons and sales exist to capture segments of markets that would have been priced out of a purchase but have need enough to use coupons or wait for sales.

    Yes, my understanding of sales and coupons is that they allow suppliers to achieve a higher surplus by using multiple prices. e.g. instead of selling to 10 people at $5/unit and obtaining $50 revenue, I could sell to 5 people at $6/unit (these people have a higher willingness-to-pay), and then do a sale at $5/unit to sell to the remaining 5, which would net me $55 revenue instead.

    However, I don't know if this is applicable in a socialist context. In a socialist economy, there might be no 'prices', or we might model the willingness-to-sell as $0, so all consumers would immediately consume what they wanted.

    1. transparent logistics, rather than keeping such information secret/proprietary because it carries a market advantage. I like this a lot, although you should consider that this data is obviously valuable and is collected and presented at some expense. Tracking and data on shipping, which is extremely useful, is a really recent development and is continuing to advance.

    Not just logistics, but transparency of all inputs: how much does the flour cost for the bread? who supplies it? what kind of flour is it? I want maximum global information. Unfortunately I don't think this would ever work under capitalism, because there are many incentives for keeping this information private. For example, a supplier of flour may want to negotiate separate contracts with different bread-makers in order to maximise its revenue, but if all the bread-makers published the prices they bought flour at, then this would affect the prices: some bread-makers will feel over-charged and ask the flour supplier for a lower price, and some bread-makers will feel under-charged and that they may now lose surplus if the flour supplier decides to increase what it charges them. So I think the incentives for a completely transparent economy are greater in a socialist system than a capitalist system.

    1. rationing. I mean, sure? But I wonder how frequently this is required. And any system works with imperfect information and will have gaps, especially in the short run where this is more critical.

    Not necessarily rationing, that's just one way a more deliberate distribution mechanism could look like in the face of certain levels of scarcity. Consider the following example. Two consumers, A is poor and hasn't eaten all day, B is wealthy and well-fed. If bread costs $2, perhaps A can't afford it but B can, although clearly A needs it and B doesn't, so this is a market failure. If bread is free but there is rationing, maybe A can get some bread but not enough, and B can get some bread but it doesn't matter how much they need since they are not hungry, so this is also a failure. However, perhaps we order the schedule of goods by how hungry people are, we could have a scenario where bread is free, but A gets 'first dibs' on however much bread they need/want, and then B can choose from the leftover bread. This seems optimal to me because now both consumers are satisfied.

    1 vote
  17. Comment on The importance of price signals in ~finance

    wcerfgba
    Link Parent
    Yes, not everyone cares about these labels, and as you say they are also simplifications. Sometimes there are also a lot of regulations involved in getting those certifications and consumers don't...

    However, I think the "lossy" aspect of it is in some ways an advantage, because a simple rule makes it much easier to shop. Ideally, if prices were "correct" then you could choose the lowest-price item that meets your needs. Anything less lossy is going to result in a more complicated decision than just comparing numbers.

    For example, sometimes there are labels. Is it organic? Fair trade? Union made? Those labels are also binary simplifications of a complicated supply chain, and not everyone looks for them.

    Yes, not everyone cares about these labels, and as you say they are also simplifications. Sometimes there are also a lot of regulations involved in getting those certifications and consumers don't even know what they mean exactly. Some labels like organic are misconstrued as indicating quality, or just provide an outlet for conspicuous consumption.

    Consumer product labelling is also not always a good thing, like calorie labelling of menu items in restaurants. This can be very damaging for people with (latent) eating disorders, but personally I find it very useful and informative. Clearly there are user experience and social justice angles to consider with labelling consumer goods

    But for the average consumer, I think that making prices "correct" (whatever that means) has a lot to be said for it.

    As indicated by our discussion on consumer product labelling, I don't think there is a single 'correct' price for a good, I think it is determined by the subjective values of individual consumers, suppliers, and also our society and culture. Externalities demonstrate this nicely. Consider the carbon/emissions intensity of certain goods, which is usually not factored in to the price at all. We may be able to introduce a Pigouvian tax to 'internalise' this externality (this is what the Zero Carbon campaign is trying to achieve in the UK) and incorporate this in to the price. It's definitely something myself and a lot of other people care about, and as the ethics of our society continue to move towards climate justice, I believe (or at least hope) that carbon taxes will be levied on all goods.

    Suppliers can of course choose to opt-in to internalising other factors of production into their prices, such as paying to offset the carbon of their business and then raising unit prices to cover this cost. But then consumers are faced with a choice between two goods, one of which is more expensive, so which are they going to choose? Brands will market their goods to appeal to certain demographics or 'tribes' and to demonstrate eco-friendly credentials or any other features of their business which affect the price of their goods, in an attempt to get consumers to pay more. But now the consumer is at the mercy of the company's marketing, which is probably not very transparent and doesn't provide strong evidence (you say your avocados are zero carbon but what does that mean? what are you actually doing to make them zero carbon?).

    Theoretically I think that would be better fixed with something like universal basic income.

    Yes, I love the simplicity of UBI and I hope to see it widely deployed in my lifetime. :) UBI could solve the problem of access to basic goods if it is set at the right level and this is maintained properly: everyone should be able to afford some kind of accommodation and a nutritious diet at an absolute minimum. If it's deployed appropriately it may be sufficient to reduce homelessness, by allowing people who are unemployed and homeless to be able to afford accommodation, which as demonstrated by Housing First programmes, is a effective first step in helping people to escape homelessness for good, work on other issues like mental health and substance use, and getting them set up with a job, bank account, etc.

    Regarding quantity, I'm not sure how that helps. How does a shopper take into account quantity available when deciding how much gas to buy? Telling them industrial metrics like the flow through a pipeline isn't going to be meaningful to them.

    Individual consumers don't care about quantity as long as they can access the quantity they want to consume, but it does help a distributor determine how they should distribute the good to a set of consumers. When shops think that consumers are liable to panic buy, like in a pandemic, they start to ration supplies of essential goods like toilet roll, "max two per person", but most of the time there is nothing stopping a consumer going into a shop and clearing the shelves. In my experience that problem doesn't happen very much, but I think it's an important conversation for our society to have: what is distributive justice, and how do we want our economy to function?

    3 votes
  18. Comment on The importance of price signals in ~finance

    wcerfgba
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    I feel that prices are very complicated, for two reasons. First, the price of any good is determined by all of the costs involved in producing the good, as well as the characteristics of the...
    • Exemplary

    I feel that prices are very complicated, for two reasons.

    First, the price of any good is determined by all of the costs involved in producing the good, as well as the characteristics of the market (e.g. monopolies can charge higher mark-up), and the motives of the seller (e.g. business may be selling at low price to grow market share, or selling at a higher price to build more profit to invest back in business for next year). Thus from an information-theoretic perspective, prices are lossy, because they take a whole bunch of numbers and reduce them to a single number.

    Second, prices are not just a signal of availability, they are also a form of access control, and they determine who is allowed to access a good based on their available capital, something I have discussed in my previous essay on money. The article touches on this in its 'Broken Pipeline' example:

    Who would pay 2x, 3x, or 4x as much money for the gasoline? It could be some wealthy people, or some essential businesses who need gasoline to operate and are still profitable at these levels. Maybe you or your wife are pregnant, due to deliver within a week or two, and you want some gasoline in your car in advance regardless of price so that you can get to the hospital when you need to. There are all sorts of reasons why some people might need it more than others and have the means to get it.

    Emphasis mine. The increasing price signals that there is a reduced availability of gasoline, but the problem of distributive justice -- who is able to access a scarce resource -- is solved independently of the price, via the wealth distribution. In this scenario it is plausible to me that there would be pregnant people who are unable to pay for the gas to get to the hospital, while some wealthy people are able to buy as much gas as they want for cruising around in their Bentleys. Is this just? Is this fair?

    In all of the examples given in the article, prices are signals, and quantities are the drivers behind the changes in price signals. I wonder if a socialist economy could function directly on quantity signals instead of price signals, i.e. instead of trying to price a good, we just advertise the amount we currently have available, possibly with other information like the quantities of individual inputs. I can think of at least two changes this would bring.

    First, it provides strictly more information to the market. If the pipeline breaks, instead of raising a price, just tell the consumers what your new daily throughput of oil is. Refineries which work with that pipeline will now know exactly how much less gasoline they can produce, and they can then tell their consumers what their new output is, and so on. Previously, a higher price travelled downstream to indicate a reduced supply, whereas in this model, a lower quantity travels downstream. If companies are transparent about their inputs and outputs and publish these somewhere, it becomes very easy to determine the effect of a demand or supply shock on large areas of the economy, because we are now modelling the economy as what it actually is: a system of stocks and flows of different goods. For scenarios like the 'Underpaid Truckers' example, I think this would make solving the problem much more obvious, because everyone in the system can immediately 'see' from the quantity signals that we need more logistics throughput. With prices, because all of the inputs are reduced into a single number, and because different firms do not publish the prices they pay for their inputs, what should be global information about an economic flow, becomes local information, with only the logistics firms and their customers able to determine that there is a shortage of truck drivers from the price signal and demand between them.

    Second, using quantities directly forces us to consider issues of distributive justice. If there is a shortage of a good, we can no longer just raise the price and pretend all is well. In a socialist economy, where all people have the same right of access to a scare resource, we have to deliberately construct a distribution mechanism which we believe is fair, and furthermore we have the flexibility to use different distribution mechanisms for different goods, instead of relying on a single wealth/cash distribution for determining who has access to what. Governments already do this to some extent with subsidies. For example, in the UK we have a Winter Fuel Payment, where the government gives a cash transfer to people over a certain age for them to use on their heating bills during the winter months. This is a way to increase the purchasing power of a particular demographic for a particular good, but rather that prioritising supply to these customers directly (e.g. distribute gas to homes by age of oldest resident, descending), because we use money and prices, the government have to create a (ring-fenced) cash transfer programme, funded by taxes.

    The 'opening up' of distributive justice in this way is potentially dangerous as it could devolve in to mob rule if not implemented properly. If every firm has the right to determine how they distribute their goods, we would end up with many more 'gay cake' rows and an economy which is incredibly difficult to navigate. However, having a single wealth distribution which determines access to all goods also seems like a bad idea, because different goods are heterogeneous and provide different value to different demographics; because it allows those who already have wealth to accumulate more of it, which widens inequalities; and because it allows the wealthy to exert undue influence over democratic processes and other areas of life which should exist independently of markets and wealth.

    All of the econ literature I've come across talks about price signals like they are this amazing invention which we would be foolish to abandon, yet they neglect to mention that they are just one signalling mechanism and that they are intimately tied to a cash-based market economy. It seems very clear to me that money is just an abstraction that we have layered on top of our economy, and that the real economy is a system of stocks and flows of resources. I have yet to find any econ literature which takes this systems theoretic perspective as its basis, and then builds out supply and demand, price signals, etc. from that grounding. If anyone has any texts like this, please recommend them!

    7 votes
  19. Comment on Jailed for fifty-one weeks for protesting? Britain is becoming a police state by stealth in ~misc

    wcerfgba
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    More coverage at Liberty: https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/issue/5-ways-the-governments-policing-bill-just-went-from-bad-to-worse/ Also, there will be protests outside Parliament on Wednesday...
    3 votes
  20. Comment on Hyundai electrifies its 1986 grandeur in a retro-futuristic restoration in ~design

    wcerfgba
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    This is gorgeous, I wish car manufacturers would try and actually manufacture some of these concept-car-esque designs for general availability.

    This is gorgeous, I wish car manufacturers would try and actually manufacture some of these concept-car-esque designs for general availability.

    2 votes