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The Paradox of Abundance (perell.com)
165 points by imartin2k 2 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 108 comments





I read this slightly differently, but I think it's the same mechanism. I wrote a fairly popular comment on it in 2017: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13306700

Mass markets drive down median quality through price competition, while quality products move upmarket due to loss of scale. Instead of decent quality for a decent price, you end up with abundant dirt-cheap crap, and a few high-end boutiques, if they're even in your area / available for you to order from.

The text of my old comment:

The hollowing out of the middle ground seems to happen in most commoditized markets.

Take meat. Used to be you'd go to the butcher for your meat, and you'd get a reasonably good product, from a butcher who knew where the meat came from, probably even the farmer who reared the meat. That was the way almost everybody got their meat, so the fixed overheads of having a butcher shop was spread over a large customer base.

Move along a couple of decades. Supermarkets, with their more efficient logistics, eat into the meat trade. Butcher shops almost completely disappear. But supermarket meat goes through a longer supply chain with larger suppliers that have the efficiencies of scale to cope with the pricing power supermarkets have. The butcher shops that survive turn into boutiques, where their unique selling proposition is what used to be commonplace: that they know where the meat is coming from and probably know the farmer that reared it.

The market bifurcates into two basic strategies, low price and high quality (see also Porter's Cost Leadership and Differentiation).

The consumer who's willing to pay a little bit more for a little bit more quality ends up having to pay a lot more rather than a little bit more, because the pool of people who could spread the fixed costs of the higher quality is split - most go for the lowest priced product. There's a ratchet effect, where slightly higher quality products are, at the margin, increasingly expensive because there's no scale in that strategy: the more expensive they become the less uptake they get, which means they have less scale, which means they become more expensive.

In some ways it's a collective action problem: what would be a better outcome for a large group of people can't really occur because individual actions can't sustain a stable state change. In other ways - many, if not most economists believe this - it's a better outcome overall, because more people get to use the bargain basement product.

But I think people in the middle are usually worse off in commoditized markets.


I'm not sure I necessarily see this as a bad thing. I'm happy to be able to buy the absolute cheapest version of stuff I don't really care about so that I can have room in my budget for high quality examples of the things I do care about. maybe I min-max my life to an unhealthy degree.

If you don’t care for something then why even buy it? If you need something inferior quality will have an effect on your life. There are some things where quality differences are imperceptible though like sugar.

in general I try not to accumulate a lot of stuff, so as much as possible I try to just not buy the thing at all if I don't really need it. most of the stuff that I would theoretically buy the cheap version of I actually get for free from roommates moving out.

one good example is furniture. I don't care about furniture, but I do need a bed, a couch, etc., so I just buy the cheapest reasonable pieces I can find at walmart or ikea. there's a good chance I might move far away in the next few years. when/if that happens, I'll just sell or give away all my current furniture and buy new shitty versions wherever I end up. I'll probably recoup a lot of the money by renting a smaller uhaul and not having to pay professional movers.


in functional, competitive markets, you'd have a range of segmentation between price competition and quality competition (i.e., various differentiation strategies for diverse segments, not just one luxury segment). our markets are far from functional and competitive however, and we've let them consolidate in scope, power, and regulatory capture for far too long.

Do functional, competitive markets really exist? The true nature of markets doesn't seem to be equilibrium, but brutal swings between various local optima (which generally are pretty mediocre overall).

markets are dynamic, but not so chaotic to swing brutally (among attractors), as you put it. certainly some markets are in that stage now, but certainly not all or even most.

early on, markets tend to grow to an unsustainable number of participants, and then as participants figure out marketing and their own strengths and fits, they start to whittle down. in the best markets (for consumers; but that are also sustainable for providers), you'd have maybe tens of competitors (i.e., not 3 or 300), depending on market characteristics (like being capital-intensive or not, free cash flow restricted or not, etc.).

the problem with our markets is that we've long given up on providing the right amount of regulation to maintain that consumer-optimum, which can be stable in isolation, but for which the highly dynamic politico-social context often destabilizes. so it takes work and vigilence to maintain the optimum, and we don't have that in most (all?) markets.


This, the existence of Nash equilibria is practically guaranteed according to game theory. And of course switching implies frictional costs, activation energy, and so on in addition to the actual change. If we define “functional, competitive markets” to mean no strange equilibriums then they certainly don’t exist on this planet.

> This, the existence of Nash equilibria

Additionally there are a lot of assumptions that go into proving that markets have Nash equilibria, such as convex utility functions, and perfect information, which is often not true in reality.


Segmentation only works in ways that the market structure permits. For example it's practically impossible for a supermarket to do very good fresh bread; "fresh" supermarket bread is normally delivered frozen part baked and there isn't margin for much labour beyond schlepping things in and out of ovens, slicers and baggers. The bread you get at the start of a meal in a fine dining restaurant, baked from scratch in the kitchen? Never going to come close.

Most "luxury" products are a big marketing spend, combined with an emphasis on components and finish the customer can notice easily, ideally by sight. For things where consistency is more important than specificity, this works ok. For example, you almost always want the mass market engine, not the bespoke one tuned by the artisan mechanic. I don't think it's nearly as true for food.


yes, that's why we need to make sure our politico-economic policies shape the structures of markets to promote fair competition. but your example of a market (for bread? or food?) doesn't seem to exemplify structure limiting segmentation. you can buy bread all along the range of price and quality, from mass-produced wonder bread to the local mass bakery (labrea bakery in LA comes to mind) to the freshly handcrafted loaf (at restaurants and artisan bread shops).

one layer deeper, favoring fair and free markets really means that we should favor markets that have mostly small and mid-sized compettitors and entirely eschew large ($100MM+) corporations where the paradox of abundance applied to scale (relative to the individual) turns employees inwards toward harvesting the abundance for themselves rather than toward serving the market, and where economies of scale and scope wane in most markets.


Would a healthy market necessarily lead to incrementally ratcheted price/quality points? Seems like the barbell distribution has advantages (simplicity, plus reflecting the decline of the middle class that buys “somewhat nice” items).

that's a matter of definition i guess, but i'd say mostly yes, as a few competitors will go for a cost strategy, while others will differentiate. a decent (but not perfect) example is the laptop market. you have lenovo, hp, dell, acer, msi, asus, etc. mostly pursuing a cost strategy, with some differentiation efforts at the tops of their product lines, while apple (and perhaps razer) pursues a differentiation strategy. then you have a bunch of no-name companies also competing on price. you can buy a laptop for as little as a hundred bucks, all the way up to $5000 (and more).

Russian president was impressed and frightened by a grocery store. https://www.nhregister.com/neighborhood/bayarea/news/article...

Russian might pilot stole a jet and came to America. For a time be thought grocery stores were fake American propaganda. He traveled the country to find out why we had so much. https://www.amazon.com/Mig-Pilot-Final-Escape-Belenko/dp/038...

Our capitalist system produced so much food that socialist countries thought it all fake propaganda.


> ratchet effect

First time I've heard of this term. Reminds me of what happens with house price inflation due to lower interest rates.


Somehow I'm reminded of this classic 1841 quote by the Scottish writer, Charles Mackay, which sounds as fresh as ever:

"In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first [...]

"Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper [...] Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

— from his book, titled: 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds'


States within the US are an interesting example however. The timber lands of southern states (e.g. Alabama, Mississippi) are some of the most profitable in the world, yet you have some of the worst poverty. I'm also thinking of the coal fields of Appalachia. And off the top of my head, major oil and gas regions are also relatively poor (e.g. Texas panhandle, the Dakotas, the Louisiana petrochemical alley).


I don't see any mention of how in reality its because the profits are cordoned off by a select few. Consider the Alaska Permanent fund - Appalachia and its industry could provide for its poor, but it doesn't.

Being Dutch, I am surprised the article doesn't mention the Dutch disease.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_disease


Many people do what is easiest and feels good not necessarily what is best holistically in the long term. The case could be made that democracy on a long enough timeline starts to deform for similar reasons. This paradox is close to the Paradox of Choice [1] in that time and effort seem to be limiting factors for choosing the best outcome.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paradox_of_Choice


And when a post starts by lying by a factor close to 2 about the rate of obesity (42% 2018-2019 per CDC as opposed to 71%) what else in this post is trustworthy?

> Americans are overweight, not because of scarcity but because of abundance

He should have re-read that paragraph.

Does someone understand the graph btw ?

Also I do agree that this era is selling obesity in many forms and that the high frequency noise, flood, paradox of choice is unhealthy.

There was an article (I forgot where sorry) which claimed that difficulty and depth was more in tune with how our system works. You don't progress by doing thousands of nanosteps. Maybe I'm too masochist but I think it works better. Deep moves, deep rest, repeat.


I would contest that. If you dig more into it, you'll find the obesity crisis started around the late 70s with a change in dietary guidelines and medical guidelines saying basically 'fat & meat bad' and 'carbs good' along with the widespread introduction of vegetable oils, leading to too much insulin and other hormonal effects slowly increasing diabetes & obesity in our population.

Read "The Obesity Code" if you want a more detailed description with a lot of links to papers and studies for more info.


I mean .. isn't that obvious that obesity goes with abundance ?

I'd love to see an staring obese person.


>I'd love to see a star[v]ing obese person.

Most obese people are suffering from something called "internal starvation", which is a byproduct of insulin resistance. The mini-lecture on fat biochemistry is here[0].

[0] https://youtu.be/2PdJFbjWHEU?t=4388

[1] https://healthcareinamerica.us/what-exactly-is-insulin-resis...


I read that as scarcity of options - your only option is eat junk food and get obese. With abundance of options you can decide to eat healthy or junk.

In that case it makes sense yeah

> Does someone understand the graph btw ?

Yes. A market with decent products for a fair price bifurcates into mass-market crap and high-end boutiques. See my other comment - I think it's a correct observation.


I wasn't being sarcastic I tried to understand but only got confused.

I think the graph shows two probability distributions.

Pretty sure the axis should have the opposite labels in the (only) chart.

I understood that is a distribution, not correlation. So, in an abundance context, you have the blue distribution, in scarcity you have the black.

Not that I personally agree with this ideia.


Pretty sure 'people' is not a sensible axis. Unless it's "number of people" but that doesn't seem right.

I think that’s number of people per fitness cohort, the distribution matches the text. Is there empirical data to support it? I kind of doubt there is a second peak instead of the long tail.

Yep, I was confused for a minute.

Very interesting article. I've been thinking mostly about the viral spread of _misinformation_, I like how the author extends that to _poor information_ and explains the slightly more subtle impact that has.

It's an interesting analogy: Our approach to an abundance of food vs. our approach to an abundance of information.

Those who benefit from the food abundance seem to explore the variety of what's available. They have a wider range of food experiences and therefore a broader spectrum of choices.

For food, it's

The strip mall choices vs. 'farm to table'.

What's the spectrum for information?

Vox Clickbait vs. ?

Growing up in the Midwest, every pear I ate was as hard as an apple. Typically picked before they were ripe and mom didn't ripen them. As an adult in California, the first fresh picked, fully ripened pear I ate was incredible. Juice dripped down my arm, potent pear flavor, sweet like ice cream. How does one have a similar epiphany with information?


> How does one have a similar epiphany with information?

This is a hard problem. It's not like, with food, where you can go to an area where some kind of food is actually better and experience it (or not as easily). Even giving someone who's been on a poor information diet better quality content they may not recognize it or even accept it (in contrast to the extreme difference between a well-ripened pear and a still hard one).

Culturally, an emphasis needs to be placed on better education with a focus on critical thinking. Individually, reading broadly and interacting with people of opposing views and differing cultures helps a lot. If you grow up in an insular community and are told, "The others are heathens", you will internalize it and find it difficult to appreciate their statements (whether fact or opinion or somewhere in between) and consider them. It also helps to become somewhat detached and critical of your own views, self-questioning (not self-doubt) and introspection allow you to start separating your beliefs (opinions and interpretations of facts) from your knowledge (the actual factual basis for beliefs, if it exists). Then you can start reforming your beliefs and better reflect on the beliefs and statements of others.


How certain are you that the pear was fresh picked? (did you watch?) Do you have a high tolerance for grainy texture?

Normally, pears must be picked green. If they ripen on the tree, they get a grainy texture that most people hate. They aren't like tomatoes; they can ripen just fine after being picked.

Ripening a pear is certainly difficult. The skin is fragile. Pears are easy to bruise. It is very common for a pear to rot before ripening. Be really careful. Also, avoid buying pears with any sign of rot already starting at the bottom end, such as white fuzz.

To get pears home safely, I place them on top of soft things like bread, and then I place them separately into my car.


> How does one have a similar epiphany with information?

By becoming a paying subscriber. Gated content isn't tweaked for search algorithms and primitive human psychology and therefore always better (if it's not a scam).


This is an interesting article which feels plausible and close to my own experience - not that I consider myself to be one of these ultra people (nothing could be further from the truth). The internet contains a wealth of knowledge. However, this is also the extract same reasoning and rejection of the mainstream that leads people into believing conspiracy theories, trusting snake-oil salesmen or joining cults. The idea that the most people are sleepy brained sheep but that you can boldly find the hidden truth is an enticing lure. The key step then, is deciding who to trust to curate your inbox.

> Gresham’s Law, a finance concept which states that bad money drives out good money until only bad money is left. Gresham’s Law can explain why the median consumer reads low-quality information online

I disagree. I think it has way more to do with the fact that creating noise or uniformed posts, content, etc., even up to the point of sloppy journalism, is produced in such a higher quantity than good and information-rich sources just because it is easier to produce.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity". Or, in this case, ignorance / laziness as a substitute or part of that stupidity.


>"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity"

We really need to stop using Hanlon's razor when discussing businesses at scale. It is a great rule of thumb for everyday people, who are much more careless than malicious. With business though, there is too much money to be made by being shady and then hiding behind plausible deniability to always give the benefit of the doubt.

Outside hospital billing companies make mistakes all the time. It seems adequately explained by stupidity...until you realize the mistakes heavily tend in favor of overcharging. If the people who designed the system are benefitting from a systematic error, don't use Hanlon's razor.

If a delivery driver leaves your package at the wrong house, it's almost certainly an honest error. If a near monopoly delivery service constantly loses packages while heavily advertising package insurance, then there might be a reason they aren't improving their internal processes. (this isn't in reference to anything, I made up an example that could be either)

Anyway, off my rant and to your specific example: In the case of journalism...if clickbait headlines about stupid controversies outperform well written articles, then I have to think media executives know exactly what they're doing when they tell a journalist to bang out a dozen garbage articles a day.


I think that's a distinction without a difference. Low quality coins and low quality information are both easier/cheaper to produce and so dominate. It's the same effect.

The point of Gresham's Law is that good coins are retired from circulation because they are worth more than bad coins even though their face value as money is the same. That's why you don't see many silver dollars being used to pay for groceries at the supermarket. If you have a silver dollar you don't mix it with the rest of your dollars.

How does the analogy with online information work?


It seems that Gresham's Law does not fully apply here. Otherwise all high quality journalists would disappear.

Gresham's Law in financial case is underpinned by two things. First, it is in core interest of every market player to pay with low quality money only; but it is not in interest of every reader to consume or even pay for low quality content only. Second, Gresham's Law only works when an outside authority forces you to accept bad money at the same value as good money; but there isn't really any equivalent of fiat money in journalism. You do not have to click on clickbaity articles at the same rate as on quality ones.


My theory is that it's a combination of too many graduates produced with a lower quality of skill, and the removal of editors and traditional information filters.

Bad content drowns out good content, perhaps? "...until only bad is left" is a bit of absolutism that we haven't reached yet on the tubes.

> In theory, a world of information abundance would bring the best to the top. Using a classic Econ 101 argument, competition should benefit consumers by improving quality.

That argument makes a giant chasm of an assumption about the mechanism of the market.

In fact, the main driver of the market is the profit motives of publishers and advertisers.

Whilst it is true that one way to profit is to provide sustained long term benefit to consumers, that isn't the only viable business model. A competing model - short term appeal to consumers with long term negative health impacts - co-exists in the market and competes for attention and spending.


What is "quality", though?

Customers can crave things that harm them. For example, alcohol and drugs. An efficient market will provide them with whisky and crack for very low price, if this is what they want.

Same with bad journalism. Internetesque clickbait is just another form of tabloid journalism, and tabloids usually sell really well. Daily Mail sells a lot more copies than Financial Times.


A great point. I would argue that the "quality" of information in this context is a measure of what people want to hear, and has little to do with the accuracy or usefulness of the information. Using that definition, the overwhelming prevalence of misinformation appears to be exactly as predicted.

All true, and going even further, the sentences following that also falsly assume that most people _want_ to read the highest quality sources. Wrong. To use the author's reference to Twitter as an example, a lot of people, even very intellectual ones, use Twitter as just a way to "let steam out" so to speak, and other users only engage with content that charges them emotionally. Now adays we have days of rage, reaching major media coverage, based on trivial crap like the title of the First Lady to-be, or hell, even the picture taken for a frickin Vogue cover.

Also as you said, the publishers and advertisers have a lot of the power, and they know exactly how to push the buttons of our human biases and clickbaity titles to get clicks, regardless of the quality of the actual things they are advertising.

EDIT: I commented too quickly. The author quickly indeed verifies that the opposite is happening :)


People willing to spend gobs of money on a workout place tend to put gobs of effort looking better. The rational behind their fitness may not be health driven in the first place, rather social as well as their choice of foods but afforded by their circumstance. Our true motivations are not always aligned with the ideal but are conveniently substituted to present a more superior version of ourselves and in this article, seems to be unconsciously so.

Not much of a paradox, is it? The more cheap, high-fat, high-sugar food is available, the more people will get fat.

It's a truism masquerading as a profundity.


No. People believe that the dynamics of “free markets” where people have choices of what to consume/purchase lead to ever increasing quality. The author is claiming a the paradox in the markets of food/information where this is not true — abundance of choice ruins outcomes for most people while improving it for some.

I believe he is correct.


I think this sounds like a paradox for those who don't realize that the driving force in the market is profit not quality.

Most of the options on the market are in a race to the bottom regarding price, with a tiny minority being in a race to the top regarding quality. In abundance competition makes cheap things get cheaper, and good things get better.

The majority of the market will gravitate towards lower "price" and most options will target that, pulling down the median compared to scarcity. The smaller percentage of the population will afford to target the high quality thus pushing the maximum achievable higher than in scarcity.


> I think this sounds like a paradox for those who don't realize that the driving force in the market is profit not quality.

Profit is the driving force in every rational market and the quality/price tradeoff is a huge factor in valuation of goods. A big problem is information asymmetry. Consumers must be experts on every product they buy while producers only have to be experts on the products they sell. Some consumers do not prioritize being experts on food and so undervalue nutritional/dietary properties and overvalue appearance, flavor, and convenience which require less expertise. A related effect is the paradox of choice making it difficult to judge the best value from a selection of seemingly identical products and this may also play a role in poor nutritional choices.

The problem is excaserbated by mass advertising that promises foods are healthy or meet certain dietary guidelines while eliding the fact that the products should be eaten sparingly and not as a staple, or by directly advertising that a cheap food is shiny and yummy.


> Consumers must be experts

You're right, the reason I said "price" in quotes is that it's usually both intellectual and financial. Very few can afford to be experts and make the right choice, then pay for that choice.

The confusion related to the driving force is that people imagine more choices means more competition, and this must bring lower price and higher quality. In reality profit is the driving force and profit can come just as well from low cost, low quality as from high cost, high quality. Abundance brings in a drift between these 2 ends of the spectrum, you get extreme low cost with low quality, and extreme high quality with high cost.

Most people have no intellectual budget to afford identifying the correct option, or the financial budget to acquire it. This gets compounded and has some network effects so the more low price, low quality choices they make, the lower their chances of gaining the necessary budget to recover.


I think a middle ground is observable in where retailers choose to focus- Walmart is targeting 'price first' customers, Costco is targeting 'quality with value' customers, Whole Foods is (or at least was, pre-acquisition) targeting 'quality first and sometimes only' customers.

Customers get to outsource the detailed choices to the retailers and the retailers enforces the desired quality/cost ratios on their suppliers.


Define quality. For most people for most of human history, more calories == more quality. It still tastes better most of the time.

Then consider that people might not share your view of what quality is.


Author did not shown that "abundance of choice" caused people to gain weight or that it caused lack of healthy restaurants in that parking lot.

Based on article, there was no healthy choice available.


> People believe that the dynamics of “free markets” where people have choices of what to consume/purchase lead to ever increasing quality.

Some people may believe that -- extreme free-market libertarians being the most obvious example -- but I'd be surprised if it was a majority view. There doesn't seem to be a consensus that food safety regulations are an unnecessary irrelevance, for example.


It's only a paradox if you think abundance can't possibly be bad, or if you think that an abundance is the only way to counteract a shortage. Well, just wait until you're in an abundance of water.

Agree with 'fat', but 'cheap.....high-sugar', does not necessarily produce fat.

200g of white sugar mixed with plain water will get you a long way on a bicycle. Carbs for the win.


The average person doesn't just consume 200g of white sugar + water and go for a long ride, run, swim, or row. It's a cheap and unsatiating 774 calorie (per a google search) product which is then combined with a calorie rich food (not beverage) to eventually sate the appetite. The food itself is often extra salty (if fast food) which entices the person to consume more of the calorie rich, unsatiating drink. And if the food is similarly high in sugar it is also unsatiating (compared to high fat or high protein food stuffs), which leaves the person eating even more calories. If someone consumed 5 beverages of that sort a week, that would be an extra 3500+ calories (approximately enough to gain one pound) on top of whatever their food calories were.

Looking like a "greek statue" isn't necessarily healthy -- you see so many steroid users fall down from heart attacks at a young age.

I’m pretty sure the mental image the author is projecting is of someone with a low but healthy body fat percentage and high functional muscle. Getting huge, via steroids or otherwise, doesn’t really match the motif of Greco-Roman sculpture.

https://c.pxhere.com/photos/ac/d2/hercules_statue_greek_anci...

Turning to the point on Steroids. I used to work out at the type of gym the author describes. People were mostly in Greek statue state (can’t say I’m included) and did not appear to be on steroids. I moved away from the coasts and the gym next to my home clearly has at least a history of steroid use. Everyone is gigantic. The gym is near several schools with sports programs. The lifts are all very heavy. They do not look like a statue. More like a Marvel movie character. I’d be surprised to find much steroid use in the health focused gym world as no one really expressed the same values. They wanted to look good and live a long life. They were not looking to lift heavier and heavier or look like a walking mountain.


Right - this hopefully isn't too nit-picky because it wasn't the focus of the article, but this is probably more about the author's stereotypes about what is healthy versus what is actually healthy. If you look at the longest lived people in the world (e.g. blue zone people), they don't control their diet with "surgical precision", and they don't sculpt themselves in state of the art gyms, and they don't rely on sensors to tell them how their body is doing.

They generally just eat a variety of simple foods in moderation, and perform low impact, longer lasting light exercises like walking or calisthenics.


My understanding is that those "longest lived people" are in places that had bad vital records to begin with or had them destroyed in a war and that the long lived people backdated their birth date to avoid the draft or otherwise cheat.

Wasn't the "oldest living Japanese person" discovered to have died several years previously when they went to give her an award? Possibly on multiple occasions?

Yes: https://satwcomic.com/respect-your-elders

Sogen Kato was believed to be the oldest man in Tokyo up until 2010 when officials finally entered his apartment and realized that he had died at the age of 79 in 1978. His death had been kept a secret by his family who were collecting his pension. This lead to a huge search for all people over 100 years, and it turned out that Japan couldn't document the whereabouts of 234,354 supposed centenarians.


I fail to see how looking like a greek statue means steroid use.

Not sure how many roids the fit during Greek times had.


This is true - the author asserts that there are more ultra healthy people now than at some point in the past with less abundance, but this isn't obviously true.

This isn't about steroid use, there is some aesthetic popularity to body fat levels that are probably not actually healthy, as well as some pretty dubious dietary practice that also overlaps in practice with the same population.

On the other hand the regular exercise part is clearly positive.


arnold seems alright

He's actually had multiple open heart surgeries.

I don't see this as any sort of law or pattern. Just a few cherrypicked observations shaped to validate his worldview.

this article reads like a bunch of personal anecdotes and off-the-cuff theorizing about subjects for which the writer doesn't really have any formal background, trying to hide behind the writer's good writing skills (indeed, this person's about page is that they run a writing course and it looks like they write about just about everything: "My essays cross between topics like travel, culture, media, marketing, and technology. ").

We all have lots of off the cuff theories, anecdotes, and impressions of the world around us, that's great! I've got plenty. But I certainly wouldn't hoist them on everyone with blog posts, as though average informal musings about a random subject are adding some above-and-beyond value to the subject.


> as though average informal musings about a random subject are adding some above-and-beyond value to the subject.

The website is called perell.com... I mean, it's his own website/blog, so there's no "value" on it besides "I enjoy writting about stuff and make it public on my blog".

I enjoyed his theories though.


> The parking lot was full of restaurants, but there were no healthy options.

I've found one can find healthy options at most places. It's definitely not the easy path, but it definitely can be done. Plus for most people their weight issues could be mostly fixed by controlling calories. No, you won't get the instagram body that way, but you can be in the high-normal BMI range quite simply

EDIT: ok, little caeser's maybe an exception. But here's an example from taco bell.

https://www.tacobell.com/food/specialties/power-menu-bowl Add a diet drink or have water


Just wait until the author visits a small town where people grow their own food and raise their own livestock.

How many of those are really left in the west? There are plenty of places where people grow food and raise livestock .. which feed into the industrial distribution system. Small amounts get sold locally via the farm shop system (high quality/price), but overwhelmingly to be economically viable you have to be part of the "system".

You get a bit of that with Scottish crofters, and I suspect some of the remoter parts of Eastern Europe are only loosely plugged into the Common Agricultural policy, but subsistence farming proper is extremely hard. And of course you can't subsistence farm petroleum.

Really the OP article should talk more about quality, and be slightly less surprised that in a market system high quality (food or information) is more expensive than low quality (food or information). And ask whether the consumers have the same price-quality mapping as the author.


>Small amounts get sold locally via the farm shop system (high quality/price), but overwhelmingly to be economically viable you have to be part of the "system".

We have no problem getting most of our food locally, and as often than not it's cheaper than the grocery store; eggs, meat, vegetables (I'm in Canada, so not much fruit). I assume this is fairly common outside the urban centres.


I imagine the author expects it will follow the scarcity-scenario. What result would you expect?

Is this saying that inequality is inevitable from post-scarcity? because that's incredibly stupid.

> The Explore Tab on Twitter is the most important newspaper in the world. It’s littered with celebrity gossip and exaggerated political drama — both of which yield a wide reach but incentivize empty content. And yet, as the Paradox of Abundance predicts, Twitter is also one of the world’s top intellectual communities. It’s the bedrock of my social and intellectual life.

It's a real shame to think about the fact that the platform he so adores is heavily censored.

I wonder what this means for the long term future of the global west.


Apple: we are listening

I think a key component of Gresham's Law is being missed. It's not explicitly called out in the article and critics here saying Gresham's law isn't equivalent are right that the article doesn't solidly make the case, but I think there is a case to be made.

High quality information and analysis is being sequestered behind paywalls. This is exactly equivalent to Gresham's Law, where the coins with higher material value are hoarded. High value journalism is being hoarded outside the free flow of common discourse.

The torrent of low quality information and engagement driven 'content' makes it appear that there is an abundance of information. In fact in depth analysis, informed opinion and investigative journalism have always been expensive. Until recently most people would pay for it (newspapers, advertising supported news channels, paid cable) because there weren't many free information channels. This made it relatively cheap per consumer, because there were so many consumers of it.

Now there's a torrent of social media and low value comment available free. This is the debased currency, and it absolutely is hurting old media style high value journalism, which is being hoarded behind paywalls. Readerships are contracting and so the price per consumer is getting driven up, so it ends up disproportionately in the hands of elites.


One can argue that the abundance is an ersatz abundance, one of cheap goods substituting for time not available. Both parents work, home cooking is less manageable or less desirable. Child care is a task that rules out going to the gym or other forms of exercise. Etc.

This isn’t an example of Gresham’s law. Gresham’s law effects decisions that are hard to evaluate before making and which have a price/quality trade-off. The bad drives out the good by means of the decision maker being unable to discern ahead of time which thing is good (and so making bad things is more profitable than good and soon no good things are made).

After reading the wikipedia article, I agree. I don't see what the parallel could be for "good information" being taken "out of circulation" by hoarders (since it's non-fungible).

Perhaps he intended something like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Market_for_Lemons, that can explain people pitching bad ideas as credible due to information asymmetry.


You may have a postmodern version in mind, but the actual Gresham’s law doesn’t involve any hard decisions. It says that when using coins made of precious metals, people will always spend the lightest coins they have. A perfectly rational and simple behavior that causes all the circulating coins to be underweight.

This is still the same phenomenon. In your example it is the seller who has to decide to accept (or not accept) your currency and the buyer is incentivized to give the lowest value currency.

To use the car salesman analogy, in your example the buyer is selling lemons and the seller is deciding to buy.


Source or references?

This isn't how Gresham's law is typically discusses AFAIA.

(It is how I consider it, hence my interest.)


The problem with the conclusion is that it assumes identifying the healthy information is simple. Fewwilfully choose to be wrong. Everyone is convinced to be right. That is the true heart of the matter: the absence of self-doubt. (And, in many cases, even scorn to those who are not adamant about what they believe.)

To take a topical example, people who believe Trump are doing so because they believe he is the source of truth. They chose him over others because they think career politicians are a power-hungry liars while Trump being an outsider is telling the truth. If you start out with this premise, then everything Trump supporters do and think makes sense.

It has nothing to do with junk thoughts. It has to do with your fundamental beliefs and values.


the irony of decrying the journalistic pressure to pump out as many articles as possible - resulting in lower quality - and then promoting your own "FAST writing guide" after the article

You can both complain about how a problem was created in the first place, AND sell solutions to help people navigate the problem at the same time.

I don't see the issue.

What I find ironic, is how much HN despises anybody who tries to make money from their work. There's a bizarre ideal here of the selfless internet "Mother Theresa," who exclusively works on open source projects and only shares things with the world out of passion.

You could spend 3 years compiling research on an extremely valuable topic and publish it for free...but if you put a newsletter sign-up form on the page, somebody here will complain about it.

Strange, considering HN is hosted by an entrepreneurship incubator.


> You could spend 3 years compiling research on an extremely valuable topic and publish it for free...but if you put a newsletter sign-up form on the page, somebody here will complain about it.

I think that comes from biased expectations. Any time I see an ad for something promising to be high quality I am usually disappointed by the actual quality. Conversely when a free thing is linked on HN and upvoted to the front page it is very likely to actually be high quality.

Therefore my biased assumption for links on HN is that P(high_quality | asks_for_money) < P(high_quality | totally_free)

I haven't recorded enough information to know how badly biased my intuition is.


That attitude here on HN boggles my mind. Almost every person I talk to about this site IRL mentions it. It's a defining feature of the community that no one likes.

"but if you put a newsletter sign-up form on the page, somebody here will complain about it."

I have a freely accessible blog with 3500 subscribers, there is newsletter sign-up form at the bottom of every single article, and I haven't heard a single complaint about it ... people who actually like to read are a lot more reasonable than widely expected.

Or perhaps the prevailing culture on HN is very, very different from the wider world.


In this case, the irony comes from selling a product that will probably make the problem worse by teaching people how to pump out articles faster and add to the information glut.

The "solution" / service presented by the author would make the problem worse along the lines of the authors argument, that quality is sacrificed for fast article production. Your findings fall apart here.

What drivel - a story revealing the author’s feelings of superiority due to a carefully controlled diet and fitness regime, then extended without rationale to the information arena, and finally leaving you at the footer with a pitch for a F.A.S.T.(!) writing class.

I liked the article, and didn’t read it as super elitist. The ad at the bottom seemed pretty separate from the content to me.

I do see how it could be read as superior if you really try (because he’s juxtaposing fortunate elites with suffering average people), but my main takeaway was the clear thinking on the parallels between fast food and fast news, and the constructive suggestion that the same solutions might apply.


I felt a tinge of elitism as well from the article - not quite as much as OP but it was palpable. I think stems from the fact that the author is instructing the reader on how to be part of the elite class of information connoisseurs, rather than trying to fix the problem posed in a real way for everyone.

It reads very much like something written by people in that post-college, know everything time of their lives.

I’ve witnessed this phenomenon too, and have been guilty myself. Any more writing on this concept that you’ve read?

But who? Who are the right people?



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