A guy is standing on the corner of the street smoking one cigarette after another. A lady walking by notices him and says
“Hey, don’t you know that those things can kill you? I mean, didn’t you see the giant warning on the box?!”
“That’s OK” says the guy, puffing casually “I’m a computer programmer”
“So? What’s that got to do with anything?”
“We don’t care about warnings. We only care about errors.”
In 1937, Ronald Coase answered one of the most perplexing questions in economics: if markets are so great, why do organizations exist? Why don’t people just buy and sell their own services in a market instead? Coase, who won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economics, answered the question by noting a market’s transaction costs: buyers and sellers need to find one another, then reach agreement, and so on. The Coase theorem implies that if these transaction costs are low enough, direct markets of individuals make a whole lot of sense. But if they are too high, it makes more sense to get the job done by an organization that hires people.
Economists have long understood the corollary concept of Coase’s ceiling, a point above which organizations collapse under their own weight — where hiring someone, however competent, means more work for everyone else than the new hire contributes. Software projects often bump their heads against Coase’s ceiling: recall Frederick P. Brooks Jr.’s seminal study, The Mythical Man-Month (Addison-Wesley, 1975), which showed how adding another person onto a project can slow progress and increase errors.
What’s new is something consultant and social technologist Clay Shirky calls “Coase’s Floor,” below which we find projects and activities that aren’t worth their organizational costs — things so esoteric, so frivolous, so nonsensical, or just so thoroughly unimportant that no organization, large or small, would ever bother with them. Things that you shake your head at when you see them and think, “That’s ridiculous.”
Sounds a lot like the Internet, doesn’t it? And that’s precisely Shirky’s point. His new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, explores a world where organizational costs are close to zero and where ad hoc, loosely connected groups of unpaid amateurs can create an encyclopedia larger than the Britannica and a computer operating system to challenge Microsoft’s.
The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.
Here are the winners:
Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
And the pick of the literature:
A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
2008 marks the 20th anniversary of Multinational Monitor’s annual list of the 10 Worst Corporations of the year.
In the 20 years that we’ve published our annual list, we’ve covered corporate villains, scoundrels, criminals and miscreants. We’ve reported on some really bad stuff – from Exxon’s Valdez spill to Union Carbide and Dow’s effort to avoid responsibility for the Bhopal disaster; from oil companies coddling dictators (including Chevron and CNPC, both profiled this year) to a bank (Riggs) providing financial services for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet; from oil and auto companies threatening the future of the planet by blocking efforts to address climate change to duplicitous tobacco companies marketing cigarettes around the world by associating their product with images of freedom, sports, youthful energy and good health.
But we’ve never had a year like 2008.
CNPC: Fueling Violence in Darfur.
Dole: The Sour Taste of Pineapple.
GE: Creative Accounting.
Imperial Sugar: 13 Dead.
Philip Morris International: Unshackled.
Roche: Saving Lives is Not Our Business.
It has been the food of monarchs and commoners ever since John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, first pressed some meat between two slices of bread and took a bite. Billions of butties later, the fast-food giant McDonald’s has set its sights on his invention. The company has filed patents in Europe and the US that claim the “method and apparatus for making a sandwich” as its intellectual property.
I still can has cheezburger, rite?
im in ur patent office
approvin teh obveeyus