January 06, 2019

Imposing a marginal minuscule cost per web-ad-message could perhaps help level the playing field for the boring truths against the much more fun fake news.

Sir, Tim Harford expresses it clearly when he writes, “Fake news itself does not pose an existential threat either to democracy or the free press. What does pose such a threat is a draconian response from governments.” “There is no need to panic about fake news” January 5.

Indeed but Basic Skepticism 101 courses are still much needed. I have for decades objected to that draconian response from regulators that states: “We will make your banks safer with risk weighted capital requirements”, which they based on the loony idea that what’s perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank systems than what is perceived as safe. 

Of course that is as fake as a regulation can be. Not only does it distort the allocation of credit to the real economy but it also puts bank crises on steroids. As for now, that only guarantees especially large crisis, because of especially large exposures, to what is especially perceived as safe, against especially little capital.

Hartford also worries about “that there is far too little transparency over political advertising in the digital age: we don’t know who is paying for what message to be shown to whom”. I agree but one important cause for that is that there is no marginal cost to be paid by those spreading news and ads on the web.

If every ad messaging on the web forced the messenger to pay a minuscule amount per message, then we would be more carefully targeted, meaning wasting less of our limited attention span, and it would be less easy for fake-more-fun-news messengers to compete with “real” not-as-fun-news outfits, if there now is such a thing.

PS. If those revenues help fund an unconditional universal basic income, then it would be even better.