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Culture War Roundup for the week of December 5, 2022

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One of the reasons I support bitcoin*, honestly. Not because I "believe in the technology" or have any aspirations to "go to the moon" or whatever, but because I believe there is a huge first mover advantage in crypto and I just pray that the first coin gaining widespread acceptance will be one that isn't a tool for authoritarian control.

*Monero would be nice, but no way is that being adopted.

The problem besides the dystopian control aspect is the destruction of the price signal. We already see a lot of weakness in price function with government putting thumbs on scales, etc. But social credit system goes further.

I'm not sure if I follow. Could you elaborate?

Social credit system effectively replaces market transaction. In doing so, it replaces effectively allocating scarce resource with allocating scarce resources based on what the government believes is best (which I think is less efficient).

Consider the classic I, Pencil. The argument was no one in the world can fully build a pencil. But via market transactions, a vast swath of people can interact to build a pencil. Moreover, if there are disruptions (eg Forrest fire destroying a lot of trees) prices send signals to change the composition of pencils (eg if I’m a pen manufacturer, then I raise the cost of wood pencils and likely increase the production of say plastic pencils; the public reacts on the margin to buying more plastic pencils thereby rationing the now more scarce wood.)

The brilliance here of course is that consumers don’t need to know why wood pencils cost more; they just need to shift their consumption. In the end reality trumps belief (despite how one might feel that pencils should be wood ultimately there will be a shift — either perm or temporary to plastic pencils because wood pencils relatively become more expensive)

Stated differently the market is of human action if not human design.

But let’s say social credit system replaces money. Let’s say the person in charge decides wood pencils are better and gives bonus points for manufacturing wood pencils and punishes people for raising prices on wood pencils. What happens there? Well, I the pencil manufacturer follow my incentive and keep the cost of the wood pencil the same. But reality is still reality and there is only so much wood. Thus, there is either a shortage of pencils (as consumer patterns don’t change) or there is a shortage of another good that uses wood. And maybe the person in charge of the social credit system institutes a cross subsidy for that other good further distorting the picture.

Prices are an elegant spontaneous order system that clears markets precisely because it doesn’t require human design (just human action). As communist bloc showed, economies are too difficult for human design. Social credit system is again trying to put human design back into the system which will cause the same problems.

I agree we do see some of that with "sustainability" criteria and, on the labour market, with "equity". But the dystopia I envision has more to do with restricting individual's access to the products of a largely free market. Not for too many to make a difference in terms of affecting demand, but pour encourager les autres in terms of political and social compliance.