LØRN case C0061 -

Glenn Weyl



Radical Markets

In this episode of #LØRN Silvija Seres talks to Glen Weyl, Microsoft Office's Chief Technology Officer, Political Economist and Social Technologist (OCTOPEST), and Founder of the RadicalxChange Foundation. In all roles, he works to imagine, build and communicate a pluralistic future for social technology truer to the richness of our diversely shared lives. In this episode, they talk about constructive suggestions for how our society can be better, which are not based on utopian socialism or utopian liberalism.
LØRN case C0061 -

Glenn Weyl



Radical Markets

In this episode of #LØRN Silvija Seres talks to Glen Weyl, Microsoft Office's Chief Technology Officer, Political Economist and Social Technologist (OCTOPEST), and Founder of the RadicalxChange Foundation. In all roles, he works to imagine, build and communicate a pluralistic future for social technology truer to the richness of our diversely shared lives. In this episode, they talk about constructive suggestions for how our society can be better, which are not based on utopian socialism or utopian liberalism.

43 min

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Velkommen til Lørn.Tech – en læringsdugnad om teknologi og samfunn med Silvija Seres, Sunniva Rose og venner.

SS Hello and welcome to a special edition of Lørn podcast. This one is done in partnership with the Polytechnic Society of Norway. I'm Silvija Seres. This time we are not focusing so much on technology as on society, politics, war, peace and stuff like that, and we have a very special guest, Glen Weyl, a research professor at Microsoft Research and Princeton University. Glen can you please correct me?

GW More or less right. So I’m principal researcher at Microsoft Research in New York city, and I also teach economics at Princeton.

SS – and you have written a book, which has made one of my favorite social commentators in Norway one of your biggest fans. You wrote about radical markets. Can you tell us more about the whole title of the book, and what radical markets are?

GW So the title captures I think a bit of the idea. It’s called Radical markets: uprooting capitalism and democracy for a just society. And the argument is basically that markets contrary to many people's perceptions of them can actually be a liberatory egalitarian force that actually promotes more social cooperation and more deep provision of public goods and things that we usually associate with socialism, but only if we're willing to question some of the fundamental things we believe are associated with markets but that actually run contrary to them, we argue in the book, things like private property, one person one vote, the way that our immigration system works and the focus of the nation-state.

SS We tend to equate markets with capitalism. I always remember Churchill's quote about democracy.

GW – the worst system other than all the others that have been tried.

SS Exactly. Why do we need to uproot capitalism? What's the premise?

GW So the basic idea of the book is that the concept of markets is based on the idea of competition, and yet capitalism is fundamentally grounded in monopoly, starting from the principal of private property, which is the absolute monopoly over some piece of land or some intellectual property or some piece of radio spectrum or any of these things, and that private property inevitably creates conditions which undermine free markets because it's based on a system of monopoly, and on the other hand democracy is based on a system of one person gets one vote on every issue, which is at some level like rationing, It’s like you get one of peas and you get one orange, it doesn’t love for trade, and the fundamental principal of markets is trade. So we want to have a system of democratic decision making that allows for more trade and more exchange. And therefore for more compromises to be made among citizens. So this is the concept, is that by using markets we can rethink some of these basic institutions.

SS I have a question around what you talked about with competition. Because people are social animals, and then they are very competitive animals. Doesn’t competition automatically lead to polarization; I mean isn’t all happiness relative happiness where we actually seek to differentiate a little bit from the others?

GW Yes, so I think that the term competition as its commonly used is based on the idea of people gaining status relative to each other, just like you said. But competition in the sense that economists mean it is actually something a bit different. It’s about people not trying to exploit the people that they are in a relationship with, that they have a sail with, but instead taking some notion of a market price as given and not trying to take advantage of someone else’s needs, just sort of accepting the nature of market prices. So if you think about the types of market exchange that we find really unpleasant it's usually when you are bargaining over a house or used car or something like this where you are trying to get the best deal and the other person is trying to get the best deal. The types of market exchange I think most of us find most pleasant are you going to a shop and things are at some reasonable competitive price or on a stock market things are at some reasonable competitive price; we want to try to spread that principle throughout all the market interactions that we have. But to do that, we need to get rid of some of the aspects of private property that create this monopoly.

SS I grew up in a communist country and I have seen this idea of do as much as you can, and take as much as you need be very quickly abused because there is some safety in relative advantage. How do we avoid that?

GW There is a famous quote from Russo at the beginning of his writing on the social contract where he says that he takes “men as they are and laws as they might be”. And I think the law of communism was to do almost the opposite, it was to be very uncreative and uninventive in the forms of social organization, but to think that they could still change the way that people behave.

SS You have to explain that.

GW The hope was that with hierarchical organizations, organizing the state not so differently built upon say Henry Ford organized the factory, or something like this, you could nonetheless induce people to behave in selfless ways. What we try to do with radical markets instead is to create an incentive system where people acting in their own self-interest will nonetheless gradually be led to act in a more cooperative social fashion. We do that through a new system of private property where people have to reveal how important things are to them, and there is an incentive scheme that does that through a new system of voting where people have an incentive to reveal how important collective goods are to them, and several other designs of this sort. This is a field called mechanism design that has actually won several Nobel prices, and that’s the basis of the way that Amazon and Facebook and Google price many of their products and yet it’s really a vision of how we can make a better society, not how we can make more profits for the few companies. That’s what we try to do in this book.

SS I want to go back to your mechanism design. We work a lot on game design in the field of mathematics, and it always surprises me how politicians don’t bite onto this field where really you have some really interesting principals on how you could usher people into the right lanes of behavior, and I often think back to John von Neumann who was one of the fathers of computer science –

GW – and game theory.

SS – and one of the quotes I love by him is that “life is not a game of chess, its poker”, because not everything can be planned but quite a lot can be achieved if you understand that chance and statistics really do have a crucial role in these super complex models that is our world, our society. Before we go back to that, I heard you talk about marketopia, and just so we have something that people can have in their heads that we can build on, we have utopia; the madly wonderful idealistic society, we have dystopia; the opposite, and then some people have talked about protopia, Kevin Kelly I think; where there is constant minimal progress every year which really keeps us on the positive side. You talk about marketopia –

GW So, imagine a world where rather than private property, all the buildings and land and airplanes and IP are continually up for auction to the highest bidder, who is allowed to possess these assets as long as she makes that price that she bid as a monthly rental payment into a common pool of resources that everyone shares, and she stands ready to surrender that asset to anyone who comes and outbids her for control. So that’s a vision where on the one hand it’s the most extreme form of a free market you can possibly imagine because nobody has the monopoly power to control anything. If I want to repurpose the Polytechnic society where we are sitting right now, to turn it into a startup accelerator rather than entering into some long and complicated drawn out negotiation with you and the board, and you will probably charge me much more than you would be willing to take for it. Instead you just have a going bid, and I could buy it out any time. So it’s an extreme free market, something that even Adam Smith couldn’t have dreamed of, but on the other hand its actually an extreme form of socialism because all the benefits of all property acute equally to all citizens and are used for public projects that benefit anyone, and on the other hand everyone has an equal right to contest for control of those assets. What marketopia asks us to think about is how maybe the true version of common ownership is actually the true version of free markets, and that the mistake that both have made is to focus on forms of organizations whether capitalism or communism that concentrate a lot of power into a small number of hands. So, that’s the vision that marketopia inspires us to think about, what it actually would mean to bring that about that’s what the book is all about, but that’s the political concept that we try to stimulate.

SS I’d really like to meet the politician that would dare to go with this kind of a program. But can you tell me one of the biggest, hardest, hairiest problems facing us today. Is it with the tragedy of commons, with climate, with different kind of demographic changes, with distribution of all the goods that kind of have much bigger effect long-term than what we can price short-term? Does this avoid the tragedy of commons?

GW The tragedy of commons I think is really generated by the fact that people don’t obey what Immanuel Kant would call the categorical imperative or Christians might call the golden rule. it’s a notion that people should act as if when they make a contribution to a public project, everybody else would also make a contribution at the same time. If that were true people wouldn’t have an incentive to free ride and to take advantage of the situation, right? So the question is, can we design a set of social rules different from capitalism but that allow for complex organizations that is based on this principal that even if I’m a selfish person, when I think about making a contribution to a public project I imagine that everybody else would make a similar contribution. And it turns out that actually you can mathematically derive using game design as you were saying, but there is one particular set of rules that gives princely incentive to people.

SS That’s your radical market?

GW Yes, exactly.

SS So, I think we humans have evolved in a world of scarcity for so long. Now we might be facing abundance with all the wonderful AI and agriculture and other technology, but we can’t think properly for that. Would your system work even in a scarce setting or do you assume abundance?

GW I don’t think we are ever going to have abundance and I don’t think we are ever going to have scarcity. I think we are always going to have both. I think as a society there’s always something that are going to be –

SS – not enough for everybody.

GW Yes, and one of those things is social status if nothing else, that’s always been the most scarce thing. So what we need to learn to do is to effectively tax things that are scarce so that people pursue those less, and use the revenue that comes from that tax to fund the things we can have in abundance together as public goods. That’s actually a principal that shows up in computer science, and it’s a principal that shows up in economics. There’s a theorem called the Henry George theorem which says that if you tax things that economist would call the creasing returns to scale, things that don’t scale up with lots of people, and you use that to subsidize things that are increasing returns to scale, you can sort of get almost like a superconductor going where you are constantly flowing the things that are accumulating back into create the value for the whole system. In computer science there’s this notion of flow through a network, and things accumulate at some point in a network.

SS – buffer bloat.

GW Yes, and if you can then circle that back you can get much more flowing through the network. So that’s the same basic idea as the Henry George theorem and that’s fundamentally the principle. We have to move constantly to a world of abundance by taxing those things that are scarce and circling back to the public goods that we can all enjoy together.

SS So basically, extreme tax on status and the house on the beach and on some super advanced medical treatments, or what would you tax? What are the ultimate scarce goods?

GW Two things – physical capital, things like land, intellectual property, other assets that are scarce, and the city, the prime parts of the city. The value of them is created by all of us together and all of the people who create the enterprise in the city, it doesn’t belong to some person, and turning that deprived property creates a monopoly and its dangerous. We need to tax that. We also need to tax what I would call cultural capital and that’s the attempt of people by taking various actions to gain more social status. For example, in the United States we have these standardized tests called the SATs. I think we should tax SAT scores or something like that. Because SAT scores it’s not productive, all it does is show that you are of a higher status than someone else, right? And you get a benefit from that. You get a better job, you get a better college and whatever. But it creates this huge incentive for people to just study for the test. Anytime there is something like that in the USA often called the white privilege, it’s things that you do that put you in this dominate social position, we should be taxing those things. And we should be using the resources that come from that to fund things that are increasing returns to scale where all of us can benefit more if we all do it together.

SS I’m just wondering if there are incentives to cheat, to just do slightly worse or to hide your true results? You might not want to win the Olympics, but you would like to go to the Olympics. How do you ensure that people don’t cheat?

GW Well, I think in that case cheating is precisely what you want people to do. You want people not to spend so much on things that put them in a higher status because that’s wasteful and you actually want them to conserve their resources on that. If you actually manage to discourage that wasteful signaling that’s actually a benefit of the system. In the same way if through a tax you manage to discourage people from hoarding assets, speculating on them, keeping them away from their most productive uses by trying to, in cryptocurrencies right now, buy up a whole lot of stuff and just hold on to it and hope it goes up, if you encourage instead to be recycled back to the broader use of the community that’s actually a benefit of the system rather than a cause. So what we try to do is come up with taxes that rather than reducing the activity tax, the monopoly power, and actually lead to better allocation of resources in that way.

SS The Norwegian way seems to be public ownership rather than super-taxation of the most attractive assets. Does that work?

GW So, this is in some sense exactly public ownership except public ownership not through the state, whatever that is, some specific historically derived hierarchical organization, instead it’s a notion of creating constantly collective action in communities, and creating rules of a system, mechanism design, game design, that instantiate this notion of public ownership, but not through some particular democratic state but instead through rules of the system, market based rules of a system that capture that even better than any state apparatus can do.

SS I’m still wondering – competition is still good in many ways simply because it drives people forward. You say some of this behavior is wasteful, but much of it is also very developmental. Wont we discourage people from wanting betterment?

GW Yes, and I think that that’s why you don’t tax 100%, that’s why tax is much more useful than just saying its completely publicly owned, because if you have to go to these extremes, if you have to say it’s one thing or the other than that’s a real problem. With the tax you can take off the share of it which really belongs to the public, take off the share of it which is creating monopoly power and status, but leave to the individual the share of it which is coming from that productive effort. By calibrating that in the right way, and there are nice empirical ways that you can measure that, you can actually find exactly that balance where on the one hand you’re not overly discouraging these private efforts, but on the other hand you’re also making sure that you have public wealth and not just private wealth, because otherwise we get lots of the private effort but the things that really generate value for all of us as a whole get really underfunded. I think one thing I really admire about Norway that has been really remarkable about being here as in the United States there’s this real contrast – you go into someone's home and everything is beautiful, you go out in the streets and its dirty. Here you have more a balance between that public space and that private space and that’s what these mechanisms try to set up, but in a way that doesn’t rely on just the fact that Norwegians are wise and friendly and all this sort of stuff, but instead creates rules of the system that even if people are selfish they are lead towards that sort of a situation.

SS – right behavior. Can we talk a little bit about this digital economy where there is a new form of capital which accumulates much more aggressively than industrial wealth. You are from Palo Alto you mentioned to me, and I’m just wondering, I think there is a very strong technocratic movement in the world right now where there are these very smart people in some of the big mega monopolies in Silicon Valley and Seattle and China; they are massing so much data that gives them so much better systemic understanding of many different industries, many different arias of our lives and through that systemic understanding they gain a super privileged access to basically predicting us, guiding us, and so there is this polarization in capital, knowledge and power to those who control the data and the models and the AI surrounded by them. We don’t even tax them, I mean we do but it’s really nominal. They are the most valuable companies in the world. Is there any way of changing that dynamic in any practical way?

GW Absolutely, I’d love to talk about that. I think that you mention that this is much more than in the industrial period but I think what we forget is that the industrial period was just like this, and people said things just like you are saying, until we got labor unions, until we got anti-trust, until we got the radical market reforms that made possible the period of growth and stability that you are talking about from the 1930s through the 1970s. The model that made the sort of growth Norway has, the sort of growth the United States had over that period possible, was not something we just accepted, that just was there historically, it was created by matching the innovation of technology with innovation and how we organize ourselves as a society. And I think the problem is we have forgotten the necessity of social innovation to go along with technological innovation. That’s why I, as you mentioned earlier, call myself a social technologist because I think that what we desperately are lacking right now, and I think its leading to really the growth of essentially totalitarianism of a new sort, maybe even more dangerous someday than the totalitarianism we had before. I was talking to someone from Google, a very senior brilliant guy and he said look, I’m a technologist, I don’t understand all this fancy stuff about society and whatever, but you tell me what a good world looks like and we can build it with the AI technology we have., and I said that that is precisely the opposite of what a good world looks like, somebody saying – tell me what a good world is and I’ll build it with my technology. What a good world is is different groups, different perspectives, finding ways to build different layers of meaning and solidarity and whatever, and that’s the reason why I fear anything like oh, let’s just do it through the state or let’s just do it through any one particular mode of historically derived power. What we need instead is a system that’s constantly allowing new forms of collective organization to be created. To be checked on the attempt of any one particular thing to be the overriding authority or power. And so I think we can build those today, I think we can build what I call data labor unions for example.

SS What would they be?

GW They would be organizations that are what we call fiduciaries who would represent your interests.

SS – your data interests.

GW – your data interests, but not just your data interests, also your interests in managing your own attention, which you saying we delegate to these guys right now, your interest in information quality, and your interest in censorship, these are very controversial provocative issues and increasingly we are saying to these guys you need to be responsible, you need to manage all of these things for us, and that’s very very dangerous, because you put into a small number of guys in Silicon Valley’s hands, and they are overwhelmingly guys I’ll tell you that –

SS I know that.

GW – which is a real contrast to here in Norway, I have to say, and you put in these small number of guys hands the choice of what is the right and that will lead ultimately I think to the destruction of what we value in society, which is the complexity and diversity of all the different ways in which we are members of many different societies and communities.

SS Glenn, I have to ask you something – I love these guys and I fear these guys. and sometimes I think of Monty Python when I see mark Zuckerberg and I don’t know if you remember in Life of Bryan this guy turns around and says I didn’t lead them here, they just followed me, and I wonder if that’s how Mark feels. There are these two billion people in his country and he knows them better than they know themselves and we blame him for Cambridge Analytica and all the rest, and yet it’s just his business. We have Freedman saying that the business of business is business. He is making money on ads, he will do whatever he can do to drive traffic and you know, you can’t blame him for trying to do his business – well that’s maybe your problem with capitalism. Yet he has become a very important social force as well. And I think that we have this problem where at least these guys, and I honestly think that Bill gates sorts under the same group, they equate efficiency of a society with its goodness. What you are saying is that this sense of what’s the meaning of this society, what’s the opposite of efficiency? Not in a negative way, but in a semantic way. In Norway we believe that equality is super important. I believe you guys in the US believe individual freedom is super important. And the Chinese might believe that harmony is super important. This can’t be captured by one single measure of efficiency as markets do.

GW I actually would disagree with that, because I think that we can get more freedom through systems that also create more equality and we can use markets to do that, we just can’t use the markets that we have been told that are the way markets work. We can use markets like I was describing, markets that encourage all this collectivity and I actually think that that diversity and complexity is what a market is. A market is all about decentralization of power, but decentralization of power can only exist in a society where there are network effects, where there are cities. If we recognize the importance of collective organizations to making cooperation possible and we learn to have markets that are not based on some false vision where each of us is an island, and to ourselves and we can just do everything completely privately, that’s not how society have ever worked. So if we have markets that are actually based on a fundamentally social understanding of the world, then we can get a far more efficient outcome than we currently have with far more freedom, and in the process we will have to give much greater equality and much greater collective action.

SS I was listening to Peter Thiel or reading some comments by him, and you are smiling, he is the hyper efficient capitalist in my mind. There was a discussion about life extension technologies and happy life and something, and he said Well, I don’t understand why people are so obsessed with happy, I think the only reasonable cape here is the number of years you have, and that is something you can measure much more easily than happiness. I just see that as you move through society. We have so different interpretations of what freedom means. I remember I lived in Saudi Arabia for a while and the mother of a friend of mine had glaucoma or something with her eye, which they desperately tried to fix, and they had lots of money but they didn’t manage to fix. I met her just as she came back from London and she was very upset. I was saying I’m really sorry, and she said no, well, this is what we have, thank God. I just couldn’t get it; how can you thank god for a very very bad diagnosis that you came back with? But for them that kind of humility over some greater part is an important part of meaning in life and I just really worry that we are being driven into a future where there are two main centers of power – they have incredibly efficient technologies to make our lives frictionless as they describe it, and yet that might be the opposite of what we want in our different mid societies between these two extremes of Silicon Valley and China. And I honestly don’t know, can you stop it politically?

GW I think you can and I think the problem is that many people say there are these measurable things – these guys who want the tyranny of these metrics and we don’t like that, and so what we do is we just oppose those metrics. What I want instead is a way to bring into the market system these collective values that are not being captured by it. Because if we can find the ways to measure that, if we can derive new types of markets that are actually based on these principals of collective value then you can do it straight from basic economic theory, but you just have to free yourself from the assumptions, the conservative assumptions that underlie these traditional nodes of measurement. Then you can create a true market society, and something like that really is the principal of market. If you go to someone, highup ec. or whatever they say, markets are about not some measurement. That’s was communism is based on; communism is based on we can measure the value, we are going to calculate it. Markets are based on the notion that all of us have to express what it is that we value and if we can make a market system that really incorporates that, not just in the individual aspect but in the collective aspect, in all the different collectivities we are a part of, then what we will get is something that can really compete with those Thiel’s of the world. You have their metrics, or the Gates' of the world who want to run an experiment and measure something very particular rather than allow people to express what it is that they value.

SS So you really want to build a mechanism for honest signaling?

GW Yes.

SS – and rather than some kind of forced KPI you believe that then if we are really all honest about what we value, how much, it will rebalance. Now my question is how do we do this practically? America as it currently is might be unfixable short-term, but here you have a small golden nest, more than enough money, not too many people, reasonably balanced society, very positive outlook on the future. Norwegians really believe that the future is bright and they trust each other actually. Would there be a recipe, a number of practical steps to revise our taxation system? How do we start? What do we do?

GW I think the real problem is that there are examples like this, there is Norway, there is the other Scandinavian countries –

SS – maybe Singapore?

GW – Singapore, where principles like this are not very clearly written down, but they exist and they work. But it’s based on, in Singapore, a benevolent dictator. In Norway and Scandinavian countries not with a benevolent dictator but a very high trust society that devolve these institutions, but exactly what the institution is, not so clear. What we need to do is figure out whether these societies can be a model to the rest of the world in a way that they haven’t been able to, because they haven’t been able to make clear what they were doing. And maybe if we try experimenting with these rules we will find that maybe they do a little bit better than Norway in the way that Norway was trying to do it, but that they make clear what those principles are in a way that they can be generalized and extended to other societies. And that to me is what’s really exciting, and maybe it’s worth experimenting with these things in Norway, not because they will so dramatically improve Norwegian society, maybe they will a bit, but maybe already those things are sort of going on in their own way here, but maybe they will make it what we in the Jewish tradition call the light onto the nations, you know it’s an example to other places. And right now it is an example, people admire the Scandinavian countries, but they don’t know how to imitate. Maybe if we can learn how to formalize these principals using ideas like this we can give a model that others can imitate that’s better than the Washington consensus, that’s better than the Chinese way of running things.

SS I think we talk a lot about our social capital in Norway, and vaguely we know it has to do with distrust, and an insistence for equality. But I don’t think we have been able to translate it into a mechanism. I think the mechanism that we believe is central here, we talk a lot about our three-party collaboration between the worker’s unions, the employer’s unions and the state, might be a model of this but in the previous industrial revolution, and we now need to find a digital evolution of that. And you mentioned something about these data unions, can you help us more with understanding what that model would be?

GW The digital economy, there’s a metric that economists use which is called labor share of national income; it’s what share of the value added in the economy flows to work rather than to capitalist. Traditionally in economies this has been about 70%, but it has been falling, and is lowest in the digital economy. Facebook labor shares 5% or something like this, Google 15%, Microsoft 20%. This is because we don’t have people representing the real workers here, which are all of us who contribute our data to train the machine learning and artificial intelligent systems. And those systems which are supposed to throw us out of a job, they’re not coming from the sky, they are not just invented by Peter Field, they are actually build on everything we are contributing but none of us is being compensated for that. Now, that’s not such an unfamiliar situation, that’s what Serfdom was like and the labor movement was critical in moving beyond that, so what we need today is a way for people to collectively organize so they can have a data strike where they cut off access to these organizations and demand fear compensation that the value that’s actually being added, and on the other hand take responsibility of the quality of data that’s being provided rather than making some central entity determined those questions that are like censorship.

SS I forget who, but somebody who was in the EU a couple of days ago saying that America should do GDPR. Do you think that GDPR is a serious step in the right direction or is it just political waving of hands?

GW It is a good step in the right direction, it’s the right sort of thinking we should be doing, but it has some weaknesses. It doesn’t think enough about collective exercise of those rights, it’s very individualistic. And individuals find it very hard to exercise rights like that because you can’t read terms and conditions. It's too complicated and there is no specific way that you can mandate that.

SS – and AI's are black boxes.

GW Yes, exactly. But if people can form collective organizations with experts from the countries that have a different perspective then there can be a collective exercise of those rights. The flaw in many versions of liberalism is that its obsessed with individuals, but what makes our individuality ultimately is all the groups that we are a part of. And the great evil of totalitarianism is I think the same as the great evil of extreme individualism, which is it tries to deny all the complexity of the groups that we are a part of that make us unique. You know, what makes you interesting is that you’re a computer scientist and you have a background from eastern Europe and that you are in Norway, and who has all those identities? No one. And I have my own set of identities, and the problem is that this digital era has been making many of those older identities not so relevant or not so adaptive, and I don’t think we should bemoan the death of these, we have to move on, things have to be fluid. But we have to build up a new set of complex overlapping communities because otherwise individuals are left alone, and when they are left alone they’re vulnerable to the takeover by those centralized powers, and that is the most dangerous thing.

SS Super interesting. Glen, if we are going to help people to read more about this – what’s your most populistic talk or film, or where do we send them?

GW It obviously depends on precisely what people want to read, but there was a wonderful review in The Economist about the book. One of my favorite things is Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, who wrote a wonderful review about this. And he and I have been collaborating a lot, so I would very much recommend that. I did a number of podcasts, I think this podcast is a fun one, but there is also a wonderful podcast with Riva Tease and Eric Thornburg. These are very good podcasts, and Oxo wrote a wonderful series of articles expositing some of the ideas.

SS We will find those. We need to round up, but I would love you to say something, you mentioned Ethereum and I just realized we haven’t been much into block chain, you mentioned it briefly. Would you tell people what Ethereum is, and why did you kick it off so well, the two of you?

GW Ethereum is a block chain, you know block chain is basically related to the idea of bitcoin but bitcoin is just a currency, and Ethereum is a broader platform that doesn’t just allow money and private property, but other forms of social organizations. You can write down different economic systems and you can run them on the Ethereum block chain, and that’s very exciting because it provides a platform for us to experiment with different social technologies. Now the problem is what’s the killer app for that, and that’s really where Vitalik got interested in this, because he has been looking for what’s the right application for that social technology.

SS So he can simulate different versions of these radical markets on his Ethereum?

GW Yes, well it’s not his, that’s the great thing about it, it actually belongs to all the members of the community. But it is a platform for building those things, and there have been wonderful experiments going on trying to look at these things. And I actually think that to me is what gives me hope for saving something like the United States or these more dysfunctional societies, is that there are cross countries, these efforts starting to evolve in experimentation with these different systems of social organization.

SS – people self-organize and start using some of these among themselves. Very interesting. Glen, thank you so much for spending this evening with us in Polytechnic society and teaching us about radical markets. I look forward to reading more.

GW My pleasure. Good to meet you.

SS – and thank you for listening.

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What is the most important thing you do at your work?

The argument in my book is that markets, contrary to many people's perceptions of them, can be a liberatory egalitarian force that promotes more social cooperation and more deep provision of public goods and things that we usually associate with socialism. But only if we're willing to question some of the fundamental things we believe are associated with markets, but that run contrary to them.

What are the central concepts in your tech?

The basic idea of my book is that the concept of markets is based on the idea of competition, and yet capitalism is fundamentally grounded in monopoly, starting from the principal of private property. Other things we argue in the book is one person one vote, the way that our immigration system works and the focus of the nation-state.

Why is it exciting? What drives you here?

I think that we can get more freedom through systems that also creates more equality and we can use markets to do that.

What do you think are the relevant controversies?

I call myself a social technologist because I think that’s what we desperately are lacking right now. I think its leading to the growth of essentially totalitarianism of a new sort, maybe even more dangerous someday than the totalitarianism we had before.

What is relevant learning for the future?

What we need is a system that’s constantly allow new forms of collective organization to be created. To be checked on the attempt of any one particular thing to be the overriding authority or power. So, I think we can build those today and build what I call data labor unions for example.

Glenn Weyl
CASE ID: C0061
DATE : 181020
DURATION : 43 min
Weyl and his co-author Richard Posner are behind the book, «Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a just society»
Better society
"It’s like you get one of the peas and you get one orange, it doesn’t love for the trade, and the fundamental principle of markets is trade."
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