The 4th Estate heavily relies on externalities, and that's precarious.

There's a fair bit of discussion of how much of journalism has died with local newspapers, and separately how the proliferation of news past 3 channels has been harmful for discourse.

In both of these cases, the argument seems to be that a particular type of business transaction resulted in tremendous positive national externalities.

It seems to me very precarious to expect that society at large to only work because of a handful of accidental and temporary externalities.

In the longer term, I'm more optimistic about setups where people pay for the ultimate value, instead of this being an externality. For instance, instead of buying newspapers, which helps in small part to pay for good journalism, people donate to nonprofits that directly optimize the government reform process.

If you think about it, the process of:

  • People buy newspapers, a fraction of which are interested in causing change.
  • Great journalists come across things around government or society that should be changed, and write about them.
  • A bunch of people occasionally get really upset about some of the findings, and report this to authorities or vote differently. ...

is all really inefficient and roundabout compared to what's possible. There's very little division of expertise among the public for instance, there's no coordination where readers realize that there are 20 things that deserve equal attention, so split into 20 subgroups. This is very real work the readers aren't getting compensated for, so they'll do whatever they personally care the most about at the moment.

Basically, my impression is that the US is set up so that a well functioning 4th estate is crucial to making sure things don't spiral out of control. But this places great demands on the 4th estate that few people now are willing to pay for. Historically this functioned by positive externalities, but that's a sketchy place to be. If we develop better methods of coordination in the future I think it's possible to just coordinate to pay the fees and solve the problem.

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is all really inefficient and roundabout compared to what's possible.

This seems accurate - but just observation itself is valuable.

4ozziegooen8dFair point. I imagine when we are planning for where to aim things though, we can expect to get better at quantifying these things (over the next few hundred years), and also aim for strategies that would broadly work without assuming precarious externalities.
4Dagon8dIndeed. Additionally, we can hope to get better over the coming centuries (presuming we survive) at scaling our empathy, and the externalities can be internalized by actually caring about the impact, rather than (better: in addition to) imposition of mechanisms by force.

ozziegooen's Shortform

by ozziegooen 31st Aug 2019137 comments