Ezra Savard

What is Money?

I probably read this while link hopping from Tyler Cowen’s blog but I can no longer find a source. It was something like:

Money is one of many systems for allocating resources. Others include queuing and violence.

This idea has really stuck with me and changed how I think about things like toll roads, housing costs, and disaster response. It has also impacted how I think about the idea of fairness. Money is very fair if everyone has the same amount to spend, but if someone has much more, then their least important wants can trample over the severe needs of those who have less. Meanwhile both queuing and lotteries put everyone on equal footing, but then fail at fairness because there is no outbidding mechanism to signal greater need.

I think we build resource allocation systems to mirror our own sense of fairness. And when trying to acquire a resource, we prefer whatever mix gives us the best chance of winning. The popular restaurant is a great example to think on.

  • Long lines
  • High prices
  • A reservations system that runs a lottery
  • A nepotistic reservations system

What’s the best mix to allocate a table? Depends who you ask and what they have to trade.

On Cost Disease

I’ve read some great articles around the idea that everything is getting more expensive for no good reason. They usually focus on education and healthcare when giving examples. The discussion showed up in my blogosphere in 2017 and then flared up again in mid 2019 when Alex Tabarrok and Eric Helland published their book Why Are the Prices So D*mn High?


The dominant hypotheses I’ve seen were that (1) cost increase is primarily driven by the Baumol Effect, and (2) cost increase is primarily caused by administrative/legal/regulatory bloat.

I was trying to make sense of all the arguments I had read over time and ended up coming to this conclusion:

What if we have increasing wealth and primarily spend it on things to extend our own lives and help make our children more competitive, because we value those things so highly?

I’m probably not the first person to suggest it, but I haven’t seen it yet in my own reading, so I get to feel original.

I totally missed that Robin Hanson wrote a response to Tabarrok’s book, putting forward the same idea, but I’m still going to go ahead and post this piece without major edits.

  • Spending into healthcare is uncapped because we don’t want to die prematurely (or at all) or to suffer from conditions we can partially mitigate
  • Spending into education is uncapped because its a competition to position our children sufficiently well to secure them a good life
  • There is a strong Red Queen Effect involved, more obviously in education, but also in healthcare, since the baseline rises in both cases
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What I'm Reading - Tech Stuff

My last links write-up was getting too long, so I broke out a few of the more software specific pieces here.

The Wealthy Western Web
One of the motivations for keeping this site static, and also reworking it with semantic HTML and simpler CSS was to support accessibility, both for those who use assistance technologies, but also for people on bad internet connections and low power devices. My work has given me a lot of experience thinking about assistive technologies, but not so much low-end devices. This piece from 2017 was a part of the inspiration for thinking more about those users in particular.

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What I'm Reading

It’s been a bit long since I’ve written one of these, so this one is big. My reading pace during the summer hasn’t been as high as it was in spring however, so not too big.

A History of Purple Dyes
Starting this one off with some fashion history. For example, Tyrian Purple is a really old color and historically was produced from mollusk shells. It can still be produced that way from mollusks in Oaxaca, which are now protected.

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