Thursday, March 30, 2006

Coase is very good

This old Reason interview with Ronald Coase is a great read, especially the parts about regulation.
Reason: What about your article on the market for goods and the market for ideas in the American Economic Review in 1974? You created quite a stir with this and were interviewed by Time magazine. What did you say in that article, and why was it so controversial?

Coase: It was controversial because I said that the arguments for regulation of the market for goods and the regulation of the market for ideas are essentially the same, except that they're perhaps stronger in the area of ideas if you assume consumer ignorance. It's easier for people to discover that they have a bad can of peaches than it is for them to discover that they have a bad idea.

Reason: So if you think that the consumer, ignorant as he is, ought to be protected by a government regulator, then you should really believe that the government regulator ought to step in and police the speech of professors or politicians or pundits.

Coase: That's right. If the government is competent to do the one, it's competent to do the other.

Reason: Then there ought to be a federal philosophy commission.

Coase: That's right. The press was horrified by the idea. If the argument is exactly the same for regulating the press as for regulating peaches, this meant that I was arguing for regulation of the press.

Reason: You have to be careful with reductio ad absurdum arguments.

Coase: As they assumed that all regulation in the market for goods was fine, it never struck them that the argument was really the other way around.

One great thing about Reason is that they know whom to interview.

(Speaking of "whom," do me a favor: construct a sentence that might lead to confusion between a nominative and a predicate "who" that even somewhat resembles the way people talk and I'll concede that snotty word a place in the english language. The only reason I haven't quit using it entirely is because I know better than to understimate critics.) Read more.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Collection of Miscellaneous Posts I Have Meant to Make in the Past Several Days

1) I'll get the economics out of the way now. Aderack wrote an LJ entry about this story he wrote for Gamasutra. It's about the EA Mobile VP using corporationspeak to spin EA monopoly status as a good thing.
"Too much choice," Lasky explained, "is bad." He proposed that the more games were made available, the less money a carrier will actually make, just from the clutter it all creates. He proposed that if the mobile industry continues without some kind of filtering process so only the cream of the crop will be made available (such as EA Mobile's games), there is the danger of an "Atari 2600 episode", where users will turn away in droves.

Such are the enemies of progress. Likewise, through regulation and conformity, competition will increase and mobile games will have a future. "One day you're the giant killer," Lasky quipped; "the next day, you get to be the giant."

As Aderack notes, he and most others in attendance recognized it as complete horseradish. When the biggest player in the videogame industry tells us that it's good for us when smaller companies should not be allowed to compete with it, our bullshit sensors go off. We like low-budget games, we like small developers, and the lack of just that in the industry has led to stagnation and, well, EA Syndrome (rerelease of the exact same game every year). Anybody with any knowledge of economics, knowledge of videogame history, or any reasoning ability at all will get a tingling bullshit sense from a speech like that.

Which is funny, because plenty of people believe it when other industries claim the exact same thing.

There is little difference between Lasky's argument and that in favor of natural monopolies. Electricity, water, cable, and phone companies all are argued to be natural monopolies. The principle difference between these and videogames, of course, is that these companies provide uniform products while videogames differ greatly in quality by developer. But Lasky's hypothesis is exactly the same -- economies of scale lead to greater output; these economies of scale are lost when (suicidal) entrepreneurs enter the industry; profits are reduced for both large and small businesses; consumers lose because fewer total videogames become available, leading to higher prices, etc.

Natural monopoly theory is a creation of businesses who wanted to be regulated to rake in monopoly profits. Electricity, phone services, et al. were highly competitive industries at the time they were regulated. Prices were spiraling down as competitors entered. Thomas DiLorenzo's paper (PDF) on the subject will tell you more if you're curious.

2) MMO Pong is interesting because it actually displays several important economic theories regarding the logic of collective action. Namely, all groups are full of free-riders, but larger groups are even more difficult to form and maintain. If you ever hear someone say that the special interest lobbying format of government is a triumph of democracy, remember MMO Pong: the big guys lose.

3) Relatedly, a GMU student made Plasma Pong, a trippy game that uses fluid dynamics to push the ball around the screen. It's very, very good, though it needs a couple glitch fixes.

4) I've been following this South Park mess very closely (mostly by way of idontlikeyouinthatway.com). My thoughts? A) Hayes probably had reason to be offended. They were way more harsh on Scientology than they have been any other religion. At least at the end of the day with Catholicism and Mormonism, they declared that there was something worth keeping in both. B) I don't really care, because Scientology is disgusting and there isn't anything worth keeping in it. C) Not a lot of people knew that before South Park. Now they do. The risk of losing Hayes was probably worth it. D) Regarding the rumors that Hayes didn't quit himself, that another Scientologist quit for him while he was recovering from a stroke: they didn't think this through, did they? Hello! The whole point of your religion is to milk people for their money and you've just taken away a prominent member's source of income! Idiots. E) Everyone who's saying that all religion is as ridiculous as Scientology, remember the following:

i) No money, no removal of your body thetans. As much as other religions encourage donation, you become a cult the minute you require it. ii) "The message" is kept secret from you until you've payed them thousands of dollars. Ask anyone the central tenets of any religion that's not a money-making cult and chances are they won't hide it from you. Or try to sue you. iii) Most religions have explanations for the scientific inconsistencies within. Christians, for example, can justify the incongruence with physical evidence because they have an all powerful God who controls the very laws of physics. Anything is possible. Scientologists have no such justification mechanism because they claim to be scientific. They recognize many settled matters of science such as evolution, old-earth and old-universe theories, but they get them wrong. They claim that humans evolved from clams, that many volcanoes were used in OTIII that didn't exist then, and that the universe is four quadrillion years old. The only attempt to deal with these problems is to sue or harass those who point them out, as per Hubbard's own orders:
Never discuss Scientology with the critic. Just discuss his or her crimes, known and unknown.

One last link regarding Scientology, because it's pretty funny: Did Hubbard say that the quickest way to make money is to start a religion? Probably, though not conclusively.

5) I have a nasty tendency to call ol' L. Ron "Rob" Hubbard instead. I really need to quit making that mistake, because one of these days I'm going to be around someone who actually knows who Rob Hubbard is and it will be quite embarrassing. Rob Hubbard is, of course, the creator of much fantastic Commodore 64 music. I highly recommend the Crazy Comets, Monty on the Run, and Sanxion soundtracks.

6) I bought 5 SNES games over break: Secret of Evermore, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, Demon's Crest, The 7th Saga, and Kirby's Dream Course. I beat SoE last night. It is essentially Secret of Mana made by Americans. Afterward, I checked the Wikipedia entry, which linked to an old GameFAQS thread in which a designer of the game answers questions. It's a very glitchy game, and not particularly popular, so the guy seems humble. I like that. I wish more old game designers would come out of the woodwork so the public can ask them questions.

I've got plenty to ask the makers of FF:MQ, for instance. Like, "What the hell?"

FF:MQ is interesting, actually. It was brushed aside by a lot of gamers for being too kiddy and easy, but it has two great strengths that other RPGs lack: It's short and it's quick. Battles take a few seconds, typically, much like Dragon Quest games. They're also avoidable, meaning you can play the game at something other than a snail's pace. It only takes a short while to beat, compared to the other FF games which are built to drain your soul. Its weaknesses lie in tiny annoyances, though. Your characters miss often. Levels make little difference in strength. Battles outside of dungeons are handled poorly. It's too bad it's so mediocre. I wish the quick'n'easy style of RPGs had caught on.

Kirby's Dream Course is the joy I remembered it to be. It would be much better had I someone to play with.

7) My Animal Crossing town has a Space Invaders tribute that's quite cute. Observe in the Gamer's Quarter thread.

8) I know that nobody will follow all of those links, though they might have were these individual posts. Oh well.

Edit: 8) I forgot to mention that I have started a new blog, Drawings of Muhammad, for the intent purpose of offending fascist Muslim assholes. If you know any fascist Muslim assholes, feel free to direct them there.

9) Finally, please read this letter by Oliver Kamm, David Aaronovitch, and Francis Wheen regarding The Guardian's removal of Emma Brockes' interview with Noam Chomsky. It's long but worthwhile. Chomsky, in short, demonstrably minimizes the severity of an act of genocide to strengthen his case against the United States. Enemies of injustice and champions of human rights take heed. Read more.