Friday, May 8, 2009

In the long run, we are all dead

The Classical school of political economy holds the view that recessions are short-lived and self-correcting. When a recession occurs, some labor and capital falls idle. According to the Classicals, these idle factors of production react by accepting employment at a lower price; factor prices continue to fall until firms have willingly hired all "surplus" factors. Thus, unemployment (of capital and labor) automatically ends, through the mechanism of falling factor prices--a mechanism requiring no government intervention.
John Maynard Keynes famously disagreed with the Classical view, arguing that factor prices are "downwardly rigid"--they do fall when factors are idle, but reluctantly and slowly. "In the long run," Keynes acknowledged, falling factor prices would eliminate the recession, "but in the long run, we are all dead." In other words, the self-correcting mechanism works too slowly to be useful.
This is also the problem with the eventualist view of Wikipedia. Sure, given enough editors, articles will eventually evolve toward something fair and balanced, but the problem is that eventually can be a very long time. Too long to be useful.
Some parts of Wikipedia move towards excellence much faster than others. A sophisticated user of Wikipedia understands this, and has learned which parts are worthy of trust and which parts should best be avoided. The problem is that the average user of Wikipedia is not sophisticated--she is a high school student or college student, looking up a topic about which she knows next to nothing. That the topic may eventually have a good article is not much consolation to the student who is imbibing misinformation today. And it is certainly no consolation to her teacher, who will continue to ban Wikipedia as a legitimate source for research papers.

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