Sunday, June 22, 2008

Reputation Markets and Other Ideas

Money is a pretty amazing invention in that it take the value of an enormous variety of goods and reduce that value to a single simple number. Of course the system isn't near perfect, monetary price often doesn't perfectly match the value of things, what with economic externalities. We have governments attempt to deal with that issue through subsidies and taxes, but that is largely an imperfect system. I would love it if there were a decentralized market based way to more accurately value externalities. Well, it doesn't have to be decentralized or market based, so long as it were more accurate from the current system, I just imagine that when we do get a better solution to that problem it will be along those lines. I've got some ideas on that, but then I'm getting off my original thought.

The idea that prompted this post was that it would be great if we could find some way of attaching a simple number to other non-economic things, such as someone's social reputation and all the subdivisions thereof. Or other than social reputation, if we could attach a number to someone's intellectual contributions to society or their environmental impact or even happiness.

My reasoning behind wanting this system is that the simple number money attaches to things leads to it being the primary counting system for success in a lot of people's lives. People are very competitive, and though those other items I mentioned are important to people, because they're very subjective and arguable, this gives more weight to people fighting over their income levels. People need income to live, but I see a lot of people fighting over income simply for status. If we could reduce other important items of our lives to simple numbers, then I think people strive for them a lot more.

Now, of course that to a certiain exent is quite silly. Things like reputation, intellectual contributions and happiness are all subjective and non-fungible. Environmental impact slightly less so, but that does depend on how one values the environment. However, the various things money measure are fairly subjective as well. One number system can compare how willing I am to write code for an hour and how willing someone is to give someone else a loaf of bread.

Creating such a system would not be easy, but I imagine something similar to it might happen. After all, I'm hardly the only the person with this idea. Cory Doctorow's Whuffie system in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for example, is just such a system for personal reputation. The Internet tells me that someone named Tara Hunt is even writing a book about it. I've thrown around a few ideas on how it might be possible to get such systems off the ground, and would like to do more with them in the future. I certainly feel the modern computer aided recording of everything will certainly be a necessary component of it. Now to just tie all that information together.

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