The Capitalism Quality Paradox

Online, there is no shortage of lengthy, well-written, insightful articles about philosophy, literature, and politics, even though these subjects don’t in any way lend themselves to moentization, yet articles about actionable stuff (such as finance or crypto-currency), in which an obvious financial incentive exists for quality, are typically of poor quality, full of ads, vague and recycled advice, and overall are terrible. There is no shortage of 4,000+ word essays about philosophy, sociology, etc., but it’s much harder to find half-way decent, original info about stock trading strategies, crypto-trading/investing strategies, or real estate, investment strategies (stuff where there is actual money involved and the reader can derive a direct benefit). On Reddit crypto currency subs, complaints about the quality of crypto-related news sites are not uncommon. Offline may be different, but online the quality is terrible. When it comes to political philosophy, for example, originally and quality is important and commonplace, but for money-related stuff, it’s the opposite. No one has ever said “Man, I wish there weren’t so many click-bait political philosophy articles!”

Scott made a post about how Peter Thiel, in challenging economic convention, argues that competition is bad, contrary to the neo-classical assumption that competition is always good and always results in the best possible outcome. Similarly, economic theory dictates that competition and money should create an incentive for quality, but it seems to be the opposite. This does no vindicate Marxism or repudiate capitalism , but it shows that there are other factors and incentives for production besides profit. Obviously, for example, ‘the arts’ don’t lend themselves to profit (unless you’re Damien Hirst I suppose) yet there is substantial production and high quality–artists slave away for days –even years–on a single piece of art that will likely never sell. Thousands of books are published every year, yet very few sell a lot of copies, and the typical “successful” writer, which requires 1-100 rarity talent by virtue of verbal IQ, probably makes less money than a garbage truck driver (which requires an average IQ). Relative to the amount of work involved, the median payoff –both in terms of monetary and social status–is terrible, with lots of losers and very few winners.

But writing a typical money-money-related article, however, has a much lower intellectual barrier to entry for success due to ad revenue and a low & average-IQ target audience that doesn’t have as discriminating of tastes as a high-IQ audience, so the quality does not need to be very good for it to be profitable, unlike creative stuff, which requires really, really exceptional quality to maybe have any hope of success. For example, in Broadway, critics and customers have little tolerance for forgotten lines and monotone delivery of Shakespeare even though these actors are not paid much, yet our expectations for non-artistic stuff are much lower even though there is much more money involved; for example, the airline industry: We expect there will be delays, long lines, lost luggage, poor service, etc.

Status, aesthetics, and to leave legacy are important incentives, but they don’t fit within an economic framework. Writing a 3000-word college-level article about, say, gender roles (which is like the least profitable subject I can imagine) that goes viral and is shared by other writers and popular blogs, confers as much status and happiness in terms of Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and other neurochemicals, if not more, as making a lot of money, and you’re making an indelible contribution to a greater cause/conversation whereas money and wealth tend to be fleeting or solitary, without the social validation that comes from artistic expression.