Monthly Archives: July 2017

Collaboration, reputation and a new economy

The idea of an economy posited on recognition is not new, but I found an interesting description of a precedent: scientific research.  In Chapter 8 of “The wisdom of crowds”, James Surowiecki described the publication of the first issue of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, wherein the editor worked to persuade scientists to forgo sole ownership of ideas hatched in secret in exchange for recognition amongst one’s peers.  This was a radical change from the way discovery and invention had been carried out in the Middle Ages, where it was confined “to a secretive exclusive few”.  He makes the point that this was possible because of the near-zero-cost nature of replication of scientific knowledge.  Unlike physical things of the time, copies of knowledge were effectively cost-free.

As many have noticed, lots of things are becoming cost-free to replicate.  So what has worked so well for science could well work for other fields, and that’s what we see in, for example, the open-source software world where people work for reputation.  The missing element which is just starting to happen is the institutional support that recognizes the ultimate commercial value in such work.  Large companies are seeing the value in reusing chunks of other people’s work, and in releasing chunks of their own employee’s labors to the public domain, often simply in exchange for attribution.

As more and more human artifacts become amenable to zero-cost replication, the idea of the reputation economy becomes more relevant.


“Beatriz at Dinner”, factions and the Republican Party

John Lithgow as Doug Strutt, “Beatriz at Dinner”: he’s not bad, he’s wrong.  He’s established a set of principles based on his view of the world, and then assiduously pursued action guided by those principles, and the world has rewarded him.  He engages with Beatriz because she directly challenges his view of the world, unlike the sycophants in the room, and he wants to convince her of his rightness.  It’s a tribute to Lithgow’s acting that he can show me the sympathetic aspects of Strutt’s character and make him into more than a cartoon villain of the normal Hollywood variety.

Coincidentally, I listened to a podcast by Michael Goldfarb this morning about factionalism, and as a consequence I’m reading Federalist Papers #10.  Here I read:

As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.

Factions are the same disease within a society as is displayed by Doug Strutt: a willingness to trample the rights of others in the pursuit of some (ideological, material, …) good.  And, as Madison points out, factions (and people like Strutt) are inevitable in a society that respects property, difference of opinion, and liberty to think and act.  Madison’s solutions are to control the effects of such factions, such control being possible for him by the size and consequent diversity of the Republic, and the institutions of representative, not direct, democracy.

When I watched the movie, I felt that the morally bad characters were the sycophantic supporters, especially the young lawyer on the make, because he understood that he was doing wrong and did it anyway.  Over dinner he brings up all the problems with the real estate deal they’re consummating: protected wildlife, angry protesters.  He reacts with disguised disquiet to Strutt’s enthusiasm for hunting.  He has too much to gain to listen to his conscience.

Oddly enough, we see something similar in the US Government at the moment.  The majority of Republican members of Congress hold back from approbation of bad behavior by the President, by their leadership, even though they know that they’re doing something wrong, because they stand to gain their objectives thereby.  McConnell subverts the norms of representative government with his manipulation of parliamentary procedure, Ryan approves of King Trump’s abrogation of the constitution, Susan Collins wrings her hands on the sidelines and expresses “concern” rather than acting to punish Trump or her leadership, so the party can achieve it’s legislative goals, Orrin Hatch, a man who has been in the institution for most of his life, says nothing when the norms of the institution in which he serves are violated by his leadership.  This sort of craven behavior is the real moral bad.

Also, oddly enough, I see traces of Madison’s correctives in the inability of the ruling party to pass legislation.  While we theoretically have only two “parties” of consequence in our government, the Republicans encompass a wide range of political views that would in other systems be expressed by membership in minority parties (Libertarians, religious parties, Greens, …); this divergence of principle makes it very difficult to make legislation without accommodating the rights and opinions of those with whom the majority disagree.  The institution is working, in some sense.