Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Misplaced Certainty From Moderate Voice

William Kern posts on The Moderate Voice (“An Internet hub for centrists, independents and moderates with domestic and international news, analysis, original reporting and popular features from the left, center and right”):
Wikipedia’s ‘Invisible Hand’: More Right-Wing than Left (Le Temps, Switzerland), HERE 
Participating individuals pursue their own personal goals, sometimes in competition, but they contribute to the general interest. Free competition leads to the gradual elimination of error. Marc Foglia, in his book on Wikipedia, draws a parallel with one of Adam Smith’s 18th century theories. Just as in economics, the “invisible hand” will always guide Wikipedia toward increasingly reliable information.
The anonymous authors have bought into the modern myth of the ‘invisible-hand” which does not exist and which Adam Smith never credited his use of the metaphor to have the “miraculous” power that it “will always guide Wikipedia [or anybody or anything else] toward increasingly reliable information.”
It certainly does not do that in any known economic system.  So why would it do that for a web site, even if staffed by well-intended people (remember: 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions, etc.,') and human motives lead to actions that can, and often do, have unintended consequences, as Adam Smith noted, but as regularly those consequences are not benign, especially in economics.
Therefore, I do not have confidence that Wikipedia will buck that trend and “always” begat “reliable information”.  It doesn’t happen anywhere else, and certainly not in economics.
The “wisdom of crowds”, likewise is a dangerous tiger to ride upon. The enthusiasm of crowds can produce appalling outcomes, as Nazism and Communist revolutions showed, as well as cheering crowds at some adorable political figure who leads their party, and the country, into a dead-end.


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