Dynamist Blog


From Andrew Sullivan: "[T]he pope just called the love I have for my boyfriend 'evil.' That's a word he couldn't bring himself to use about Saddam Hussein."


That's how Hal Varian describes the so-called terrorism futures market in his latest Economic Scene column. From the conclusion:

[A]ssassination futures were not among the planned securities, contrary to most press reports. The market design allowed traders to propose securities in various events, and the Policy Analysis Market Web site speculated that some traders might propose to add securities in assassinations. That off-the-cuff speculative remark had fatal consequences, alas.

The securities that were an essential part of the auction design were indexes of political, economic and military activity. The most useful such market would probably have been a market for futures in a "political instability index," a weighted average of various political indicators, like the number of mass demonstrations, unemployment levels, arrests--and, yes, assassination attempts. (Type "political instability index" into Google for some examples.)

If the markets had been pitched in this way, I doubt that there would have been many objections raised.

But instead politicians, reporters and editorial writers mistakenly jumped onto "assassination and terrorist attack futures" as a fundamental part of the market design.

Given the public outcry, it seems clear that there will not be a public market in assassination futures anytime soon. But there is no reason not to have a futures market in political, social and economic indicators, which is what the Pentagon's project was actually about.

We desperately need better ways to forecast political instability, and the Policy Analysis Market had significant promise. It's sad to see poor public relations torpedo a potentially important tool for intelligence analysis.

In Washington, appearance is more important than reality. That's why airport security is confiscating pen knives, while innovations that might actually make us safer get squelched. "Thinking outside the box" is a nice idea until it comes time to write a press release.


On NRO, Michael Novak writes about the differences between Europe and America:

For instance, if a plan were proposed guaranteeing everyone the same outcome, Europeans would prefer it, even though that plan required that everyone would receive less than in a more dynamic system. By contrast, Americans would enthusiastically prefer a more dynamic system, in which the benefits of all would constantly be rising, even though the dynamism meant that some would receive more, and some less.

Europeans prefer equality at the cost of stasis. Provided that all have fair and open opportunity, Americans prefer dynamic growth, at the cost of strict equality of outcomes. Europeans watch equality like a hawk. Americans guard opportunity--and the chance to excel.


The ever sharp-eyed Professor Postrel spots an unexpected passage in the Science Times profile of Randall L. Tobias, the former Eli Lilly executive nominated to head the U.S. initiative to combat AIDS in Africa:

Because he faces Senate hearings, Mr. Tobias declined to be interviewed about the post, which would carry the rank of ambassador. He did discuss other matters in a telephone interview, including the failure of Prozac, Lilly's wonder drug, to save his first wife from depression.

Because one must point out the moose whenever it raises its head, it must be noted that he has just published a memoir and business advice book, "Put the Moose on the Table." "The moose" is a business buzzword for a sound-management principle, that if there is a problem that everyone in the room knows about--the moose at the table--it must be discussed, not ignored.

Some prominent executives, have been known to plop down a stuffed moose at meetings to encourage lively debate.

How many editorial conspirators did it take to get that little inside reference into the Times?


The Westwood Borders has become a homeless hangout. The good news is that they don't bother anybody. The bad news is that, apparently in response, the store has removed most of its chairs, including all of the comfy ones. So if you want to use the wi-fi and do a little writing, as well as buy a magazine or two, you have to sit either on the floor or, if you're lucky, a backless bench.

Speaking of books, thanks to all you fine people who've been pre-ordering The Substance of Style.


I'm blogging from a Quizno's in Westwood. No, the world's most disorganized sandwich chain hasn't installed wi-fi. But the place is three doors down from Starbucks, and if you sit in the back you can use the Starbucks T-Mobile network. Since I needed lunch and prefer Diet Coke to coffee, that's what I'm doing. And since I have a lot of travel coming up this fall, I've taken the plunge, signing up for a T-Mobile wi-fi subscription--good not just in Starbucks but in Borders and American Airlines' Admirals Clubs, both of which I frequent, well, frequently. I'm too addicted to broadband to spend months of travel relying on dial-up Earthlink access.


The Howard Dean campaign's savvy use of its technology has gotten attention for Meetup.com. Now reporters are starting to notice its broader strategy: helping people find all sorts like-minded folks for in-person conversation. Although I don't envy anyone the dating game, I've always thought it was unfortunate that only single people have lots of organized ways to meet people in the big city.

Sporadic blogger Esther Dyson, a Meetup.com board member, discusses its strategic challenge: "I'm working on how we navigate our strategy as the political side of our business gets great exposure, mostly because of Howard Dean (no relationship to Eric Dean!). It's wonderful, but we don't want to become all politics, all the time. Should we form a separate unit? What's the difference between a political rally and a Meetup? And so on..."

Update: Meetup does have a problem, which that it works only for people with easily articulated interests, whether they're Dean supporters, vegans, or Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't see myself meeting up with any of these groups, unless maybe I get serious about learning Italian--or they convince me the Buffy fans won't all be 15.


It's "Stasis vs. Dynamism" on TechCentral Station. TCS is edited, not coincidentally, by my friend and former TFAIE research assistant Nick Schulz.

The point of Sonia Arrison's article isn't, of course, to plug my first book. It's this:

The battle over how to stop online piracy of music and movies has thus far demonstrated a classic struggle between the static, institutionalized thinking of dinosaur-like entertainment companies and innovative, forward-looking technology firms.

The problem is that the technology community keeps coming up with different ways to distribute content, and instead of working out contracts to charge fees for distribution, the entertainment industry keeps trying to stop technology with the clumsy instrument of the law.

I'm all for copyright: Not only do I pay for my music, I don't even violate the NYT's copyright on my own columns! But it's not enough to "be for copyright." As Arrison argues, you have to develop institutions that work with distribution technology, not against it.

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