Hayek/Wikipedia vs Sunstein

Following up on Scott's post on Cass Sunstein's post at Lessig's -

Sunstein writes:

Wikipedia does aggregate dispersed information -- amazingly so. In a general way, it's definitely a Hayekian process. But there are at least two differences between Wikipedia and the price system. First, Wikipedia doesn't rest on economic incentives. People aren't participating because they're getting a commodity or money. There are no trades.

Most Austrian economists, including Hayek, emphasize the planning, coordination, and knowledge aspects of the price system, not incentives. Regardless, open-source societies still rest on property rights, barter and exchange, and incentives, even if these incentives are not monetary incentives. As was pointed out in the comment thread both there and here, Eric Raymond's Homesteading the Noosphere provides an explanation of the incentive structure behind open-source economies. Many programmers and contributors seek not money, but rather fame, satisfaction of a job well done, and prestige, for example, having a operating system used by millions named after them - "debian".

Second, Wikipedia generally works by a "last in time" rule. The last editor. and hence a single person, can do a lot. But in the price system, the last purchaser usually can't have a huge effect. (Even if you buy 10,000 copies of each of Larry's books, you won't affect the price.) The upshot is that Wikipedia is different from the price system; it aggregates dispersed information in a distinctive and less reliable way.

I don't think this is quite accurate. Try an experiment: Change a Wikipedia entry by adding something extraneous to it. See how long it takes for that edit to be removed. For popular entries, say on the London bombings, I've noticed it often takes less than a minute. The "last in time" editor does not dominate the content. The aggregate preferences of thousands, sometimes millions of individuals, who pay with their time in monitoring the entry page for the final entry state determines the content, not the "last in time" user. While this "constant toiling" model of Wikipedia content does not resemble a tangible-goods market based on marginal buyers and sellers perfectly, it more closely approximates it than Sunstein's "last in time" model.

Lastly, Hayek also emphasized the decentralized nature of knowledge and the lack of knowledge central planners have in coordinating an economy. One of Wikipedia's many strengths is the "specialists" that contribute to entries relevant to their own discipline. A single organization could never aggregate this peripheral knowledge as well as Wikipedia's open-access architecture does.

Contra Sunstein, the success of Wikipedia demonstrates the validity of Hayek's insights.

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