Archive for March 22nd, 2023

Ayn Rand vs. Elinor Ostrom: The Fight for the Future of Social Media

March 22, 2023

Pia Malaney in this interesting INET article says the fight for social media can be seen from Rand vs Ostrom lenses.

How did social media transition from decentralised platforms to centralised ones?

Elon Musk’s recent takeover of Twitter paralleled, in some sense, the 2016 earthquake when Donald Trump unexpectedly took over the Oval Office. In both cases, a populist billionaire put an existing entity with millions of members under radically new management. Unsurprisingly, whereas alarmed Americans had signaled a desire to escape to Canada in 2016, alarmed tweeters in the fall of 2022 signaled their trepidation by announcing their intention to move as well. But the most commonly threatened exit was to a structure of which few had ever heard: Mastodon.

Mastodon is but one of many new social media sites, alongside Post, Steemit, Planetary, or the Dorsey-funded Nostr, that are drawing attention in the face of Musk’s inscrutable decision-making with respect to the banning of journalists, the firing of personnel, and algorithmic changes. Many of these new sites focus specifically on shifting away from the centralized architecture of today’s tech behemoths like Twitter and Facebook.

It can be difficult to remember that a mere quarter century ago, the very social networks that have now demonstrated the terrible pitfalls of the social media revolution known as Web 2.0, were the objects of fanfare and genuine idealism. Facebook set out to “Connect the World,” while Google sought to make available all human knowledge for everyone at no cost. The latter went so far as to embrace the unofficial slogan of “Don’t be Evil.” In the spring of 2018, it was finally deliberately removed and retired from the preface to Google’s code of conduct when the obvious absurdity of the statement coming from an enormous hierarchical corporate leviathan made it more of an embarrassment than an asset.

These social media sites are perhaps the best example of the destruction of the idealism that characterized the development of the internet in the late 1960s. A time of flourishing countercultures, there was a belief, captured effectively in Richard Brautigan’s poem, “All watched over by machines of loving grace,” that we were entering a technological utopia, where machines would protect humans, and “mammals and computers (would) live together in mutually programming harmony like pure water touching clear sky.”

Rand vs Ostrom?

In the end, the issue with social networks comes back precisely to the question of scaling. At a technical level, decentralized networks have the advantage of being more robust; when faced with attacks that destroy some nodes, other nodes, and links can be decoupled, limiting damage.

At an ideological level, they attempt to break from the capitalist, profit-driven models that lie at the heart of many of the current problems of social media. But the economics of the platforms cannot get around the fundamental issue of the economies of scale. Each of the links in a network cost something to run. While these costs can be distributed among users or a non-profit structure can be created to raise resources to support networks, it will require very creative architecture to push back against the inherent tendency towards a monopolistic structure.

Nonetheless, the contrasting ideologies at play in this tech sector mirror, to a surprising extent, the conflicting ideologies in economics between the most extreme, Ayn Randian version of libertarianism and its reflection in the neoliberal economic models of the Chicago School and the more heterodox, community-oriented approach of Ostrom. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that what we are watching is the nth iteration of a cycle that we seem powerless to exit.

In this view, Ayn Rand might represent the thesis that the power of atomized market selfishness is sufficient and optimal for converting greed into a catalyst for pro-social greatness through the counterintuitive genius of the market’s invisible hand. By contrast, Elinor Ostrom represents the antithesis, as market failures due to monopoly, public goods, principal-agent problems, regulatory capture, etc. pile up until they torture the honest market argument into a form where it is almost no longer recognizable or easily defensible. What we are missing now is a synthesis into a harmonized model combining the insights of two existing schools.



Subnational Borrowings in India – Volatilities and Determinants of State Government Securities Spread

March 22, 2023

Suraj.S, Amit Pawar and Subrat Kumar Seet in this Mar-23 RBI Bulletin article analyse the volatilities and determinats of spread of State Givt securities:

The article outlines the impact of the pandemic and policy measures undertaken by the Reserve Bank on the primary and secondary markets for State Government Securities (SGS). It studies the linkages between G-Sec and SGS yields and factors driving the pricing of SGS in primary markets.


    • The Reserve Bank’s special Open Market Operations (OMO) in SGS during the pandemic was effective in stabilizing the yields.
    • Developments that have a bearing on the benchmark G-sec yield eventually weigh on SGS yields. Prevailing growth and liquidity conditions explain the variation in SGS spreads over G-sec across States.
    • Higher yield spreads with larger cash balances accompany significant negative carry costs, which is the interest rate differential between the high borrowing costs and low investment returns of States. It highlights the need for improved fiscal marksmanship in cash management by States.

Global banking crisis leaves a trail of unanswered questions

March 22, 2023

My new opinion piece in Deccan Herald on the 2023 global banking crisis.

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