I am somewhat surprised that you like the first article. I didn't read it super deeply, but one of its core arguments seems to rest on this analogy, which is deeply flawed on multiple levels:
It seems that the author does not understand how scarcity works, given that, for some completely unexplained reason "gold" has "actual value" but "diamonds" only have "perceived value". The virginity thing seems a bit weird, but I guess makes sense in a Christian context, but the integrity thing seems deeply incoherent again. Why would "integrity" derive its value from being scarce? Maybe this is some christian reference again, but my model of integrity and moral virtue has nothing to do with scarcity, and if anything, having high-integrity behavior be scarce diminishes the value of other high-integrity behavior (i.e. there are increasing marginal returns to cooperation).
I think I agree with the point the overall article makes, but it strikes me as exceptionally badly argued, and seems to provide little further evidence for its position. I probably wouldn't recommend that others read the article, and think they will probably be better served by thinking for themselves for 3 minutes about what the obvious arguments against sermon podcasts are. But then again, the article takes like 2 minutes to read, so this is probably just me bikeshedding and trying to distract myself from boring data-entry tasks.
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz)
· score: 17 (4 votes) · LW
It seems that the author does not understand how scarcity works, given that, for some completely unexplained reason “gold” has “actual value” but “diamonds” only have “perceived value”.
This seems correct to me.
Re: diamonds: I assume the author is referring to the fact that while diamonds have industrial applications—e.g., in drill bits—as I understand it, synthetic diamonds work just fine for such uses. Naturally occurring diamonds are, famously, only considered to have decorative value due to the marketing and advertising efforts of De Beers. For this and related market-manipulation reasons, the market price of natural diamonds does not reflect any true scarcity or demand.
As for gold—there is no “synthetic gold”, obviously, and the gold that goes into your gold necklace could instead be used to plate connectors in electronics, etc. It is scarce because there’s a lot of demand for it, and limited supply. If tomorrow people everywhere ceased to think that shiny things are pretty, gold would not thereby become worthless (though its market value would decrease, obviously).
The virginity thing seems a bit weird, but I guess makes sense in a Christian context …
Well, I am reluctant to get into a potentially controversial discussion, but of course there are perfectly well understood game-theoretic issues here as well. The more salient point, however, is that if you think there’s something important about virginity, it is certainly a naturally scarce good; it is generally not necessary to try and keep the supply of virgins artificially low.
… but the integrity thing seems deeply incoherent again. Why would “integrity” derive its value from being scarce? Maybe this is some christian reference again, but my model of integrity and moral virtue has nothing to do with scarcity …
It may well be a Christian reference, but if so, it sailed over my head as well. Perhaps knowing the reference would lead me to deeper understanding of this one of the author’s points; but lacking that, the bit about “integrity” makes sense to me regardless.
The key thing to note is that the author does not say that integrity derives its value from being scarce. What he says is that in the case of integrity, scarcity produces real value. (Unlike the former claim, the latter claim does not exclude the possibility of integrity being valuable even if not scarce.)
It seems like a fairly straightforward claim, to say that a quality like integrity is all the more valuable for being rare. The difference between “real” and “perceived” value generated by scarcity is precisely the difference between something that is good even if not scarce (but all the more valuable if scarce), and something that is generally worthless, but which becomes perceived as valuable if scarce (often largely because it can then function as a positional good).
Then there is the fact that if integrity is scarce, and if it is also correlated with other moral virtues (that benefit those one interacts with), then it can serve as a signal—of conscientiousness, of dedication, of professionalism, of competence… of all sorts of things. If integrity is ubiquitous, this function disappears.
… and if anything, having high-integrity behavior be scarce diminishes the value of other high-integrity behavior (i.e. there are increasing marginal returns to cooperation).
I do not say that this (the non-parenthesized part) is wrong, as written, but it is not clear to me that what you take “integrity” to mean is the same as what the author means by it. I do not think that “integrity” has all that much to do with “cooperation” (indeed, integrity can often impede prosociality).
But lest I get totally distracted in a claim-rebuttal back-and-forth—I do want to answer your broader question, i.e. “why did I like this article”.
Churches, like any other institution, cannot simply adopt the latest communication technology with impunity. There are profound consequences for doing simply what is possible and popular in our culture without considering what is prudent.
This is not an argument, per se, and it is unlikely to be convincing anyone who doesn’t already believe it (or who agrees with it, taken literally, but thinks that it’s a contentless platitude). But this sort of thing absolutely needs to be said. It is of tremendous importance to keep this perspective in mind. Many contemporary developments in technology and society are driven by the opposite view. The quoted view is a direly necessary counterbalance.
I commented above on the “real vs. perceived value” bit. I think you do that part of the author’s argument a disservice. The concepts of artificial scarcity and positional goods are not new, not nonsense, and certainly do not bear casual dismissal. The concept of constructed systems of limitations as pathways to meaning is also not new (find it in flow psychology, find it in art, find it in game design… and in many loftier places).
The concepts of mediation and time-shifting, on the other hand, are… if not new as such, certainly underexplored. There is a lot to think about, here. (And as for micro-cultures… surely you’ve read this gwern classic?)
Finally, it is hard to entirely dislike a sober and serious essay on the intersection of psychology, theology, and technology, that also contains a line like:
Now really is a good time to ask, “What would Jesus podcast?”
comment by Vladimir_Nesov
· score: 5 (3 votes) · LW
It seems like a fairly straightforward claim, to say that a quality like integrity is all the more valuable for being rare.
I think the difference is between associating with producers vs. consumers. When something is more scarce, its price increases, which makes it less valuable to consumers and more valuable to producers of individual items. So for people who perceive themselves as producers of things like integrity and virginity and honest labor, scarcity would contribute to their value. And for things like medicine or the naive models of bitcoin and diamonds, decrease their value by increasing the price, since the audience of the article identify as consumers.