open market for ideas

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The phrase "open market for ideas" was coined by Michael Pilling. It is not a widely accepted concept. It is uses a metaphor from neoclassical economics, particularly in that it implies the existance of some policy equilibrium which maximizes welfare. It varies from free trade ideology only insofar as there is some latitude for alternate currency to be used in the betting mechanism.

a market for ideas

The market for ideas metaphor borrows from the practices of a financial market in the following way, assuming:
  • resonably well defined policy positions exist
  • people can "buy into", "invest time", or "hold" a positions, because they beleive it increases their well-being.
  • positions compete freely for "customers" (citizens)

If these assumptions are roughly true, than politics might become much more efficient if as in financial markets, some proper clearinghouse or exchange were created which served the function of listing, tracking and to some extent regulating an exchange of ideas so that there are certain minimum standards for truthfulness and accountability.

quantifying the value of ideas

The most controversial aspect of the open market for ideas metaphor concerns if or how one could quantify the values of ideas in this open market. The analogy suggests that the more citizens or legislators "invest" their time and resources into an idea, the greater it's "total worth". But what is the unit of account? In neo-conservative or neo-classical economic models, this will be the uniform hard currency in which all players strive to own and control - rasing siginificant questions for social justice if imbalanced in the free market were replicated in politics.

In some sense, a parlimentary democracy is still a market for ideas, ideas (better called positions) on an issue compete for legislators votes, with the highest valued ideas meriting enough attention to become a bill. In politics as usual however this market is not open to citizens. It is also subverted by party politics who are lobbied by advocacy groups to artifically constrain what ideas are allowed to become law.

This model some assumptions of democracy itself:ideas that are widely held and or widely advocated equate with the public interest - but investment somehow does not provide ownership, nor does it guarantee incorporation into an existing body of laws.

alternative models

The open market ideal assumes some degree of authority to regulate debate that according to some critics, simply does not exist. The battlefield of ideas model in which ideas compete without being owned, implicitly compared to objects, bet on using currency, and so on, assumes that moral politics, deep framing, use of idiom, and even rhetoric and imaginative rationality, play the defining role in what is discussed and decided. Essentially the market for ideas is a rationalist approach to public policy, whereas the battle of ideas is idealist.

In market models, mass or belief makes one right. It is an egalitarian model in some ways but control of fungibility or breakdown of ideas, as with commodity contracts in markets, and of enforcement, becomes the ultimate source of power.

application in a wiki

Despite its free trade ideology, obvious limitations and deep moral hazards, some claim that there are uses for market methods in large public wikis:

Some propose that living document changes that are "good edit"s or "bad edit"s can be used as a method to measure repute:

Fluctuations in the "value/stock price" of that idea or editor could be measured as it was edited. This kind of feedback, advocates claim, could assure that modifications that found a high degree of approval will survive as the document evolves, and that those who cannot keep their edits visible will be devalued and ultimately ignored. This model is called revert currency and has been often debated on large public wikis.

Some Lowest Trolls assert that such a currency can help enable New Troll point of view in circumstances where it would otherwise be ignored, as dissent can at least sell short as they do in a real market.


The large public wikis especially political wikis are notable experimenters in these domains:

This concept involves an implicit competition since "values/stock prices" will be comparable between ideas based on a common unit of account. Some neoconservatives or neoclassicals claim that it avoids overt (or aggressive) competition between ideas using rhetoric, spin and lies.

The implicit competition between ideas is much more limited in a market metaphor: "values/stock prices" will remain comparable between ideas and somehow market manipulation will never occur! In practice, risks of manipulation do certainly exist. In the battlefield of ideas metaphor this is this risk is made an obvious part of the model.

free trade, moral hazard, market method