Arnold Kling  

Wisdom of Crowds?

Interviewed on Health Care... Outside-the-Beltway Mentality...

I really like this Jaron Lanier essay.

The collective is more likely to be smart when it isn't defining its own questions, when the goodness of an answer can be evaluated by a simple result (such as a single numeric value,) and when the information system which informs the collective is filtered by a quality control mechanism that relies on individuals to a high degree. Under those circumstances, a collective can be smarter than a person. Break any one of those conditions and the collective becomes unreliable or worse.

Meanwhile, an individual best achieves optimal stupidity on those rare occasions when one is both given substantial powers and insulated from the results of his or her actions.

Read the whole thing.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Jim Bim writes:

Meanwhile, an individual best achieves optimal stupidity on those rare occasions when one is both given substantial powers and insulated from the results of his or her actions.

Now who do we know that fits this description, keeping our discussion limited to current U.S. Presidents?

John Thacker writes:

Mr. Bim,

I should think that it applies more to certain powerful appointed-for-life people (Supreme Court Justices, some civil servants, some union heads, some tenured teachers and university professors) rather than someone who faced elections, faces elections for Congress which affect the chances for his agenda, and must deal with two other branches of government.

Admittedly, being in government does mean being able to ignore certain consequences of one's actions as opposed to being in business, but that's what elections are for.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Thanks for a link to a great read Arnold! The essay begs an important question for us creative types... How do we profit from our unique, individual expressions of ideas in a collective focused world where information is a commodity? For example, a potentially interesting Kling essay I look forward to reading is what if COA becomes the basis of wholesale health insurance and health care reform in the US? Should it be called the "Kling Plan"? Or maybe it ends up being called the "McCain Plan"... How would you plan to extract money or prestige or however else you want to measure success from such a collective action? Curious...

Arnold Kling writes:

Brad, I think I have more than enough personal fame. I don't think I would like another writer to take credit for my ideas, but I would be happy to see other people espouse similar ideas. As far as politicians adopting them, I don't foresee having anything to worry about on that score.

Ian Holsman writes:

The 'wisdom of the crowds' is a powerful force when you can use it as a signal of worth to a casual observer of a particular piece of information.

I don't belive it has to be boiled down to a number or particular question for it to be worthwhile, especially when sifting through 100's of near identical pieces of information.

The 'hard' part is making sure you have
* a large enough sample size
* a method so that a single individual (or a smaller collective) can't unduly influence the result.

and of course
* a population which represents your broad viewpoints.

that is one of the reasons I created economy-chat, to help people get a snapshot of what the economists who blog are thinking about.

Brad Hutchings writes:

I wrote that too fast. I guess I meant "theoretically", if you didn't have enough fame and fortune to just be having fun with this stuff. It could be a little lighter than if someone else wrote it because you obviously don't need the tangible rewards.

How does an individual provide distinguishing monetizable value when faced with collective "good enough" or "common sense" (even if they aren't) solutions? Might apply to commercial software developers competing against open source, Britanica competing against Wikipedia (I read everything Robert McHenry writes about it but find him resigned and jealous rather than optimistic his old employer could actually compete today), thoughtful policy wonks squaring off against populists (e.g. immigration) etc.

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