Subject: In defense of the market
From: Russell Nelson <>
Date: Tue, 9 May 2000 15:10:50 -0400 (EDT)

Bill White writes:
 > I guess the thing I find most vexing about the corporatist gospel is the
 > sense of inevitability we are constantly told of.  We are supposed to believe
 > that the Law of the Efficient Market is as natural, inescapable and unique
 > as Newton's laws of motion.  I just don't buy it myself.  It seems like
 > it's a human, social construction.  We could construct it another way.

Sure.  But it would be less efficient, and there would be less wealth
to go around.  If there were less wealth, who do you think would keep
more of it?

This being a list top-heavy with computer-science grads, I'll point
out that a market is a heuristic algorithm.  It addresses a
bin-packing problem the size of the world.  Every person has their own
set of bins, and there's what?  6 billion of us?  A "solution"
(e.g. Neal Stephanson's "we solved the market in 2010" idea from his
_Letter from 2020_ published in Forbes ASAP as I recall) is beyond
comprehension.  Anyone who proposes that the allocation problem could
ever be solved lacks imagination -- not to think up solutions but
instead to understand the scope of the problem.

To make it even more difficult, there is no "solution", because the
optimum solution changes from moment to moment.  And even MORE
difficult is the problem of discovering that you have solved the
problem, because every person's "bins" exist solely in their head.
People do not know in their own head when their bins are filled.  Even 
if they could, they would have the difficulty of putting that
knowledge into words.  You cannot optimize what you cannot measure.

The bin-packing problem is NP-complete.  That is, the difficulty of
solving it increases exponentially with the size of the problem.  And
it's transformable in linear time to any other problem in the
NP-complete set, e.g. the travelling salesman problem.  None of them
are known to have a solution in anything less than exponential time.
If any of them did, then all of them would because of the

So, you need a pretty powerful heuristic to even attempt a beginning
of a solution.  The market is the closest anyone has come.  All other
solutions have failed miserably -- producing more or less misery the
more or less they interfere with the market.

Why do I defend the market on this list?  Because it's our air and our
water.  Like fish or birds, many businessman forget about the media in
which they live.  Defense of the free market should be JOB#1 for
businessmen -- in particular free software businessmen.  Without it we
have nothing.

-russ nelson <>
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