Arnold Kling

Brin, Growth and Web Logs

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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David Brin is a physicist, science fiction writer, and under-appreciated social thinker. His book The Transparent Society is an absolute must-read for anyone trying to sort out the issues of privacy and security that have become so salient since 9-11.

In Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit, Brin en passant does a nice job of articulating New Growth Theory.

Consider four marvels of our age -- science, democracy, the justice system and fair markets...for years, rules have been fine-tuned in each of these fields of endeavor, to reduce cheating and let quality or truth win much of the time. By harnessing human competitiveness, instead of suppressing it, these "accountability arenas" nourished much of our unprecedented wealth and freedom.

Brin argues that the "four marvels" combine "centrifugal structures" that allow people the freedom to innovate with "centripetal structures" where adversaries resolve conflicts and the best ideas win out. In a market, for example, every individual is free to try to build a better mousetrap, but the mousetraps that survive are the ones that consumers buy.

Brin says that in the world of political and social thought, we lack centripetal structures. Thus, ideas that are wrong can persist.

I was reminded of this last night, when I attended what was billed as a seminar on the topic of media bias. What I noticed was that:

  1. All of the panelists were liberals, and none of them represented the point of view that the media are biased.

  2. Representatives of The Washington Post and The Jerusalem Post both reported that their online audiences now exceeded their print readership, and that the online audiences were largely from out of the paper's local area.

  3. When I asked the panelists about the phenomenon of web logs, which are used by conservatives to mobilize against perceived liberal bias in the media, the panelists were not aware of these web logs. Obviously, they had not read A Technological Reformation, by Greg Reynolds.

The implications I drew from this are:

  1. Liberals are insulated from those who disagree with them.

  2. The Internet has become a significant arena for forming opinion on social and political issues.

One near-term outcome is that liberal reporters and conservative web loggers will continue to talk past each other. However, my impression is that the web loggers are engaging alternative points of view more directly, which should lead the conservatives to evolve more strongly.

Discussion Question: How do market forces work to overcome resistance to change?

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