The Spam Theory

Thomas Sowell makes a very convincing argument for markets in his book Basic Economics. In principle, the idea is that markets allow people to redistribute scarce goods (food, labour, materials, land, etc) according to where it’s most useful to society. The more creative you are, the more and better work you do, the more other people trust your judgement, the more say you get, which is to say, the more money you have. It’s not particularly difficult to argue that most of the flaws in a market economy (lack of jobs, lack of investment) are due to misprioritising the desirability of possible outcomes. A possible conclusion is that the market system can’t do away with philanthropy and altruism, but can reduce they’re necessity immensely, and can also reduce government intervention massively.

Anyway, while that’s a possible conclusion, it’s not the one we’re going to work from. What we’re going to work from instead is the theory that free markets are the best possible way of allocating scarce resources. That might or mightn’t be true, but there’s a lot of evidence for it, so it’s worth considering.

Our additional assumption is that the time I’m willing to spend only a limited amount of time reading emails, and that there’s more email that would like me to read it than I have time for. This assumption, and the preceeding theory have an obvious implication: that there should be a market in which sellers (people with email addresses), and buyers (spammers, admirers, confidants, whatever) can negotiate a fair price, and, further, creating such a market is the fairest and most efficient way of dealing with the spam problem.

This is a straightforward conclusion in a mathematical sense. The only way, at least as far as I can see, to disagree with it is to disagree with one or both of the assumptions: that is to say either that free markets are not the most effective way of allocating scarce resources, or that I don’t get too much email. Which should leave us an interesting experiment that has two possible outcomes: either an effective means of reducing spam, or a demonstation that free markets are not effective.

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