Where orders emerge

by Russ Roberts on June 9, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence

Indiana Jim comments on this post:

But remember, as I reminded when you guys shut down comments, YOU are the ones who advertise "where orders emerge".

If you want "followers" count me out (I am not simply an "audience"
that you are entertaining or informing). If you mean what you say and
want orders to emerge, count me in.

I'm not sure exactly what he means, but I suspect he means that if you believe in emergent order, you have to tolerate it on your blog. You can't have any rules or regulations. This is a subtler complaint than "censorship" but I believe it makes the same intellectual error and understanding this error is of much more importance than improving the comments on this blog.

Emergent order isn't always good. And there is no virtue in allowing it to emerge as a goal. The error (and if I am misconstruing you, Indiana Jim, I'm sorry) is the same mistake people make when they say that under capitalism, there's no planning. In fact, there's an immense amount of planning but it's done privately, voluntarily, and without coercion.

Similarly, I don't try to raise my children without rules and restrictions, trusting that order that will emerge. Order will emerge, but I suspect I wouldn't like it. An owner of a business doesn't just throw open the doors of the business, invite the employees in, and expect that they'll figure out what to do, that order will emerge. There are still dynamics in a business even with the boss's rules and regulations. The boss cannot steer the employees with precision like robots. The same thing happens in a family. And it happens on this blog.

Understanding emergent order means understanding the limitations of one's ability to steer it. I can't steer the comments very well through exhortation, evidently. I've tried a few times now and little has changed. So I am looking for a technology that will help me steer it. Or a set of rules. A different order will emerge that may turn out to be better or worse than what we have now. And I'm not even sure how to measure better or worse though one of my goals is more learning and less yelling.

Indiana Jim wonders if we mean what we say, whether we indeed want orders to emerge. In general, I want orders to emerge from the bottom up rather than control being imposed from the top down. But imposing (or trying to impose) order within this blog is not a violation of my principles. I don't just start typing randomly and hope my points will emerge, that the letters will arrange themselves.

Having said all that, we do produce this blog together, Don, and I, and you, the reader. That's part of the reason there are comments, to produce something greater than just the posts and yes, Indiana Jim, as you point out later, we get benefits from the experience, too. And yes, even after whatever rules or infrastructure Don and I decide to put in place, order will emerge here that is not totally under anyone's control.

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John June 9, 2009 at 7:52 am

I think that some conscious effort to discuss the posts, as opposed to certain individuals' reactions to the posts, would go a long way.

Perhaps some self policing and restraint could save the owners some headache and cash.

Adam June 9, 2009 at 8:07 am

This criticism is irrelevant not just for the obvious reason that it is your blog and commentors aren't entitled to do whatever they want, but because even if you take a heavier hand in overseeing the comments section, the result will still be an emergent, unintended order. All you can do is impose costs on those who behave in ways you find undesirable for your comments section. How that actually turns out is something beyond anyone's control.

Speedmaster June 9, 2009 at 8:10 am

It's too bad that everyone can't be civil, and moderate their own behavior to a greater extent. How about this for an idea? No one person can have more than 3 comments posted/day?

Randy June 9, 2009 at 8:11 am

Interesting post. My thought is to consider that the Progressive political class "owns" the United States, and that it therefore "owns" us. It therefore has the "right" to control and manipulate the orders that emerge. So what is my role? I don't respect Progressives, so I engage in subversion and heresy if for no other reason than to piss them off. But I do respect Russell and Don, so I will respect their ownership of this blog. I won't promise to ignore opportunities to subvert the progressives, but I will try to do it here less frequently.

Filipe Tomé June 9, 2009 at 8:14 am

Please stop discussing attacks on your blog or your blogging habits.

It's becoming increasing annoying for those who don't care if you delete one or another stupid comment.

Steve Horwitz June 9, 2009 at 8:31 am

I think it's terrific that a blog named "Cafe Hayek" recognizes Hayek's own distinction between "orders" and "organizations," and rightly sees this blog as an "organization" not an "order."

Russ has it just right in this post. Not every social phenomenon is an order in Hayek's sense. Not my family, not my classroom, not sports teams, not firms. Emergent order is what happens from the interaction of organizations, which have a significant, if not complete, degree of planning and conscious control.

Those of you criticizing Russ for his view of this blog seriously need to re-read your Hayek.

I_am_a_lead_pencil June 9, 2009 at 8:49 am


"Our spontaneous order of society is made up of a great many organizations, in a technical sense, and within an organization design is needed. And that some degree of design is even needed in the framework within which this spontaneous order operates, I would always concede; I have no doubt about this."

–F.A. Hayek, (Interview with Thomas Hazlett, Novermber 12, 1978)

vidyohs June 9, 2009 at 8:50 am

One of the things most seen here is the "dead horse beatings" that take place. They take place because of the ones who consistently back with the idea that the solution to every problem is government and more trust in it.

How much time has been spent beating the tired dead stinking corpse of socialism, yet every post from Don or Russ is an invite to certain ones to drag that decayed pony back out so we can all whack it again while they try to breath life into it.

I would love to see more comments from that silent majority that seems to read but never comment. I take particular delight in seeing comments pop up with new names.

Where does one go to learn about this nesting thing?

RLH June 9, 2009 at 9:00 am

If I boil everything down to:

1. Comments are good. Readers have insights and sharing those can benefit the entire community

2. Comments shouldn't be turned into a discussion forum, especially so that a small number of people can "dominate".

Why don't you just limit everyone to a single (or perhaps two) comments per story? That way:

1. If I do have an insight, etc. then a single carefully composed, well thought out comment is all I need. If it IS insightful, the community benefits. If you would like to make room for an expanded/revised comment (as opposed to rebuttals per se) then allow two comments.

2. Sure, conversations CAN be interesting, but I don't get the impression that that was your goal. And if the few that post the most lengthy dialogs don't like it, then they should get their own blog.

John June 9, 2009 at 9:02 am

Supply and demand.
The trolls supply their B.S. only because people respond to it.
If nobody responded to them they would get bored and go away, right?

Ike June 9, 2009 at 9:16 am

Artificial limits about numbers of comments per day/thread aren't the answer.

It gives trolls a sense of empowerment that they can simply wait and get the last word, and the appearance of victory.

It might not hurt to have a stronger enunciated policy about staying on topic.

Nested comments will help a great deal, because two or more people can go down their own rabbit hole, and keep their tete-a-tete out of the standard stream.

Russ — one more thing. Some templates post the name of the commenter before the comment instead of at the end. It would make it easier to skip certain people who are abusive, instead of getting sucked into reading the first couple grafs of a dead horse diatribe.

Daniel Kuehn June 9, 2009 at 9:21 am

John -
Re: "The trolls supply their B.S. only because people respond to it"

The so called "trolls" actually take Don and Russ's questions seriously for the most part. For the most part, they don't descend into name calling – and I consider "leftist", "socialist", "statist", "fascist" to be name calling when it is hurled at people who hold no such beliefs or ideals. The trolls aren't the ones talking about Hitler and Stalin and concentration camps when the issue of the day is GM or trade or regulation. At the very worst, the trolls may introduce a very foreign solution to the problems that Don and Russ pose, but by and large they're not the one's derailing the discussion. I 100% agree with Russ that he has the right to restrict these more foreign ideas if that's not the vision that he has for this blog – but I don't think that it's the people who have been identified as "trolls" that are the biggest threat to real consideration of the issues raised in this blog. Usually it's the people that scream "troll!" "troll!" "troll!" that threaten to disrupt things.

I didn't even know what a "troll" was till I came here – I had to look it up. Some definitions simply said that it's someone that comes on a blog with an alternative opinion and feels the need to share that opinion. If that back and forth with alternative opinions isn't what interests Don and Russ that's perfectly fine. That's one thing. But it's not the so called "trolls" that are bringing the BS, and from my several month experience, it's not the so called "trolls" that drive people off topic.

indiana jim June 9, 2009 at 9:28 am

Russ wrote: "Having said all that, we do produce this blog together, Don, and I, and you, the reader. That's part of the reason there are comments, to produce something greater than just the posts and yes, Indiana Jim, as you point out later, we get benefits from the experience, too."

Earlier, selectively quoting my post, Russ wrote that he did not understand exactly what I meant by saying that: If you want followers, count me out, but if you really mean what you say about orders emerging count me in.

Obviously I touched a nerve, ouch! Not bothering to read my comments in context and in full and engage their brains, others above have, following Russ, leaped to the working conclusion that I am advocating a fatuous demand that "anything goes." This is stupid; there is no suggestion of this in my post.

I maintain exactly the same positive appreciation for this blog as every. On various occassions I have thanked Russ and/or Don for having created and maintained this forum where "orders emerge." Yes, yes, I complained when comments were completely shut down. But that is precisely be cause the value of the conversation between Russ, and Don and those of us who spend our time and focus our minds upon overcoming ignorance. So I have to say that I am a just a little disappointed that not only did Russ not put my comments in careful context of my posted comments, but also failed to put them in the context of the history of my comments on this blog (contributing lots of content, scolding people for attacks on the man, lauding the effeorts of Russ and/or Don, etc. etc.). On the other hand, Russ's time is scarce and that is why I am "just a little disappointed" and not broken-hearted by the "slings and arrows of outrageous [mis]fortune."

I'll end with a bit of the comment Russ reacted to above that he did not quote:

"This is TIT-FOR-TAT in my view: It is mutually beneficial. Yes I am benefitting from the conversation, but so are you. Again, I am not a follower nor a member of an "audience". I like a good show as much as the next, but this is not that unless I am mistaken. If so, please delete this post."

The last time I posted this I wasn't deleted, and so it would seem: I'm good!

Daniel Kuehn June 9, 2009 at 9:36 am

indiana jim -
You backed me up when I was specifically mentioned yesterday in the post, and I want to back you up today.

My read on your post was that: (1.) there is a degree of emergent order in these comments and excessive control could threaten that, (2.) If Don and Russ are just interested in "followers", as you say, that's hugely unfortunate and doesn't say much for the blog. I didn't get the sense that you were assuming Don and Russ were only interested in followers, and I didn't get the sense that you thought they were obligated to have a comment free for all.

Indiana jim, it's tough to get called out in a post and made into a poster boy for the wrong way of thinking and doing things – trust me, I know. People complain about outlandish comments here. They should think twice about that and consider the possibility that they're putting an outlandish spin on a very reasonable comment. I agree with your thoughts on these postings indiana. (and that's two posts for me… :) ).

John June 9, 2009 at 9:42 am

Ignore him and he'll go away.
Ignore him and he'll go away.
Ignore him and he'll go away.

Dr. T June 9, 2009 at 10:01 am

Point proved: long-winded, mutually supportive comments from two of the biggest problems on this blog. The long-winded comment debaters should quit piggy-backing off Cafe Hayek's stature and form their own blogs, where they can debate illogically to their hearts' content.

Gil June 9, 2009 at 10:14 am

"They take place because of the ones who consistently back with the idea that the solution to every problem is government and more trust in it."

Who's the 'they' then vidyohs? The problem with Libertarians such as yourself is that you're so far off the political spectrum that everything that seems to be at the same spot just as London and New York can be seen to be sharing the same spot to someone living on Mars. Invariably you & co. put everyone into the pigeon hole of 'Socialist'. It's akin to the far left crying "racism" at anything a white person does and akin to the far right crying "reverse-racism" at anything a non-white person does.

P.S. I had didn't that 'statism' was even a word until I found Libertarianism and the nature of its meaning pretty much confirms that it was invented by Libertarianism.

D. Watson June 9, 2009 at 10:16 am

One means to attempt to influence the course of the discussion is to join the discussion in its middle and end, rather than only starting it. From there you can correct misunderstanding, redirect, or elucidate as the situation requires. I would be a more regular reader and commentator if you and Prof. Boudreaux responded to the comments.

David Pinto June 9, 2009 at 10:27 am

I'm fairly lucky that on my blog, about sports, the comment quality is very high. I actually enjoy the arguments that erupt every once in a while. When things do get out of hand, I step in with a comment that basically says, be civil, there's no reason for that here. Once in a while I'll delete a comment that's demeaning and crude, but I also give the author the chance to comment again in a more civil way. (If they've bothered to leave a real e-mail address. If I find the email is a fake I then ban them.)

My advice is to not worry about the comments and learn to love the good ones.

Aaron June 9, 2009 at 10:51 am

For what it's worth, I'm someone who started reading this blog on a friend's advice, and have found it immensely rewarding and edifying, even as it continues to challenge (or enhance, depending on the day) some of my deeply held beliefs. In addition to the authors' posts, I've been grateful for exchanges I've read or had, in the comments section, with Methinks, Daniel, and Vidyohs.

That said, for the past couple months I have stopped reading the comments for the most part, because I found too much of my time was spent parsing through reality-tv-style smackdowns that bore no real meaning or content.

So, as someone who considers himself a student here, some way of maintaining the comments as more than simply opportunities to vent would be welcome.

As I understand it, by the way, Wordpress has the widest range of options of any of the popular blogging software.

Randy June 9, 2009 at 10:54 am


I agree. Its the nature of the beast. This blog is fun precisely because of the outbreaks. If I wanted nothing but professional commentary I'd read a journal. If I owned the blog and wanted nothing but professional commentary I would require that commenters register, and then ban anyone who got out of line.

DAVE June 9, 2009 at 11:01 am

IJ makes a good point: that if you believe in emergent order as a legitimate scientific phenomenon, then you ought to allow it to happen on the blog.

But in truth, order IS emerging because you and Dr. B. have all the information at hand necessary to regulate this blog.

So forcing you to put up with stuff on your blog that you don't want i.e. not allowing you complete control of your property because IJ (or any outside force without the necessary knowledge) decided that he somehow knows better than you is something that the namesake of this blog referred to as a fatal conceit.

Also, you're not restricting anyone's freedom any more than if someone walked into my house with a lit cigarette and I ask them to take it outside.

Yes, it is akin to saying that capitalism is unfettered. Or that free market capitalism excludes charitable giving when all it excludes is being fettered or being forced to give by government, an outside force that cannot possibly do better than an emergent order.

Still, his point is a good one and IMHO, this is a great starting point to clarifying a delicate and often misunderstood concept.

Cheers June 9, 2009 at 11:29 am


Perhaps it may be possible to subtly direct the comments of the blog based on posts. One thing I've noticed is the difference in responses when the post is in the form of a question rather than a statement. When there has been something more specific to "solve" there seems to be at least 30 on-topic posts hashing at the answer.

I wonder if it's possible that our obvious excitability could be harnessed and directed in this way. Just based on our personalities and problem-solving tendencies, I think we're going to argue these things. I wonder if arguing about off-topic and the same issues over and over is simply because we don't feel like there's a problem to solve.

Methinks June 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

The trolls aren't the ones talking about Hitler and Stalin and concentration camps when the issue of the day is GM or trade or regulation.

I don't think you're a troll, Dan, and I've never accused you of that. However, you did go on and on pointlessly about the Holocaust when John Dewey posted the Niemoller poem to make an entirely valid point that had absolutely nothing at all to do with the Holocaust. You also tend to group everyone as "libertarian" when it suites you and I consider that name calling. It doesn't matter if you consider "socialist" name calling. It isn't. We are not bound by your personal definitions. Glass houses and stones don't mix, Dan. Just a friendly reminder.

The above comment of mine would be better off nested, I think. I still don't see the problem with nesting comments.

indiana jim June 9, 2009 at 11:59 am

Gordon Tullock's and Richard McKenzie's book "The New World of Economics" has a chapter that discusses "comment pollution" in university committee meetings. The argument is that a committee member will make comments as long as the perceived benefit to this individual exceed the "private cost" to him/her of talking. As they point out, the "social cost" may be far greater than this private cost. When Tullock visited our department for a week some years ago I recall his suggesting that one solution to the problem of committee members who talked too much would be simply to have a monetary fee required each time any person commented at the meeting (with I think the money used at the end of the meeting to pay for drinks or a pizza or something like this).

I agree also with the notion that "brevity is the soul of" good writing.

So a possible alternative to "nested comments" would be a fee per word posted of say one-half a cent; a 100 word post would cost the commenter 50 cents. (The optimal per word charge depends on the the constraints that Russ and Don face financially for the blog and their tolerance/interest in lengthier posts; I have no idea about these).

Yes, this is a long post, but I take exception to the commenter above who characterized me on the same scale as Daniel as one of the "worst offenders" and as being "long winded". I'd certainly be willing to pay my 2 cents (under the half cent per word) to tell that commenter this: "that is really ignorant!"

Daniel Kuehn June 9, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Methinks -
I'll use my third and last post here :)

I think your post was perfectly relevant because you're engaging with the way comments are made on this blog, which is the subject of this post, after all!

See, I think the Niemoller poem was a perfect example about how somebody's disagreement with the hosts was trumped up with an emotional poem that was definitely written about the Holocaust. Indeed – Neimoller is IDENTIFIED with the Holocaust. That was one of the first places I commented, but if I remember I just said something to the effect that I think the Holocaust analogy was way off base. It did go back and forth awhile, but only because other people argued just as vociferously on the other side. But of course, from the perspective of the other side it looks like I'm the one being outrageous.

I think when I say "libertarians" a lot of people think I'm talking about them, when it's really just an "if the shoe fits where it" statement. Here's the difference between the use of "libertarian" and "socialist", as I see it. When I use it, I mean it to be descriptive, not perjorative. The people who I refer to as "libertarian" call themselves that on occassion. The positions endorsed by those people resemble the positions of the Libertarian Party and any standard definition of libertarianism. If it's taken as perjorative I could try and find something else… "small-governmenters" – I don't know. But I've always thought it was descriptive and nobody has challenged the description.

Maybe this is still falling on deaf ears, but I've never considered myself a socialist. I repudiate the vast majority of the socialist platform. I've always sung the praises of markets. I do see room for intervention, but the interventions I advocate fall far short of all the definitions of socialism I know of, and would sorely disappoint people who consider themselves socialists (indeed, my interventions would disappoint a lot of people who don't call themselves socialist but just call themselves liberals or progressives!).

I really don't see it as the same thing, Methinks. I've said to people – call me an "interventionist" that's fine – because that's really the only common element I have with socialism. But it is used as a perjorative here.

I wasn't aware that people took my use of "libertarian" (or "Austrian", for that matter) in that way. I've tried to use it descriptively. I'm perfectly happy to adopt other more appropriate adjectives, Methinks, if you have any suggestions.

Douglas June 9, 2009 at 12:12 pm

No one needs to respond to a single blog post more than three times. There's a tendency, I think, for the uber-commentators to operate under the illusions that 1) more than two or three people read their posts, and 2) that they must get the last word in order to "win" the argument. These two illusions lead to incessant commentating and poison the water of otherwise fine discussions.

Methinks June 9, 2009 at 12:31 pm

When I use it, I mean it to be descriptive, not perjorative.

This is the same way that I use "socialist" and "fascist" (and also the hosts) but you always take it as a pejorative. See the problem? It doesn't matter if you disagree with the description. It wasn't meant to insult.

I've said to people – call me an "interventionist" that's fine – because that's really the only common element I have with socialism. But it is used as a perjorative here.

Maybe when people describe you. I don't know because I've never referred to you as a socialist or a fascist and I haven't read every single comment either. But you take offense no matter who or what is described as Socialist – particularly your favourite political figures with whom you seem to personally identify to a great degree. I don't have a suggestion for better adjectives. My point is that your choice to interpret an adjective as a pejorative doesn't mean it was meant as such and you shouldn't demand that others conform to your definitions. Rather, you should try to understand what the other poster is saying just as you demand that others understand you. I don't think this is unreasonable.

I think the Niemoller poem was a perfect example about how somebody's disagreement with the hosts was trumped up with an emotional poem that was definitely written about the Holocaust.

All trumping up and hysteria was created by you, not by the person who posted the poem. His point had absolutely nothing to do with the Holocaust (the lessons of which stretch beyond genocide) and no matter how many times and how many different people pointed that out to you, you insisted on clinging to your pointless rants until everyone just gave up. And you complain that you're misunderstood?

I still think this exchange would be better off nested as it is about a specific commenter rather than comments in general. These exchanges are exactly what Russ was talking about.

Seth June 9, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Don and Russ – I value Cafe Hayek and its comments and respect your property rights. I come here to learn and engage so I can get better at telling others why free markets work.

I'd like to share a couple observations:

(1) A reason the comments go astray might be because you don't participate much. We'd love to hear what you have to say about some of the comments. Even a little positive ('well said Sam Grove') or negative ('what did that insult add to the conversation?') can go a long way to corraling the comments. Feedback from the propreitors can go a long way.

(2) The little you do respond, you tend to reward bad behavior by responding or even feature their comments in your main post. If the problem is with a few commenters, why not contact them directly and discuss?

I agree that comment nesting would be an improvement. It would be a gain in efficiency for readers.

Comment ratings may also be a useful governor.

James Hanley June 9, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Apply Occam's Razor to institutional design: The simplest rule that resolves all aspects of the problem is the best. And then be experimental, as each proposed change is merely a hypothesis about what will work.

That said, my hypothesis is that nested comments will be the razor sharp solution.

(Credit to all who suggested nesting before I did–I got the idea from them, and didn't think of it myself.)

J Cortez June 9, 2009 at 1:02 pm

I remember Rothbard said once that free speech didn't/couldn't really exist and what only existed was property rights. Meaning, when you are in/on somebody's private property, you are only allowed to say what they allow you to say. If you violate the rule, then the aforementioned person has the right to censor you or eject you from their property. I've got no problem with this and I have trouble seeing how anybody that is intellectually honest with themselves would have a problem either.

This is an interesting way of thinking because, it sets up a market for free speech. Why go and comment on somebody's site if they are like Brad DeLong, deleting comments that while polite and logical, are critical of his views? As a commenter it would make sense to go to other sites that are more open.

I think the interesting thing about this is that although these sites are private property, if they get popular, people almost tend to see them as a public good. Look at some of the things that happened to Digg or see the evolution of the Slashdot commenting system, etc. The users forget that while they can use these sites, they are not theirs. I think many people feel the same way about free email systems like Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. See the outrage over Terms of Service changes. You can even see this when cable companies or internet service providers raise prices or change service. Many tend to act as if the companies in question don't down their own infrastructure. I can't say how this behavior and this line of thinking starts, but it needs to be combated.

Good luck with your changes, whatever they may be.

dg lesvic June 9, 2009 at 1:10 pm

From Why Is Macro Nonsense, below:

On Russ's more recent post he wrote: "But he (and others) will make the first or second comment on every post. What then follows is a discussion of what Daniel thinks of macroeconomics or whatever is the topic."

This is factually false. In the particular case that got Russ going, DK was the 13th commenter. What followed was sometimes about DK's views and sometimes not. Some of those about DK's views WERE directly related to Russ's post, as were some of DK's views themselves. I often do not agree with DK's views, but, like Russ, I think it is useful to be confronted with alternatives. When I think that I'm not getting a straight answer in the conversation at the Cafe, I just tell whoever this explicitly and move on.

Not so long ago, the Cafe closed comments to any thread; I hope this will not happen again, although comments are closed to the thread that Russ initiated with his Emerging Comment post. This seemed strange because Russ was asking for feedback as part of his post; well he did say he was posting at 1:45 in the morning.

Posted by: indiana jim | Jun 8, 2009 4:08:48 PM

Hoosier Hank,

Apparently a word to the wise was not sufficient for you. Prof Roberts made it perfectly clear that he was sick and tired of hosting discussions about Daniel Keuhn. So here you are charging into another one.

What are you trying to do, get the whole Comments section closed down again?

If Prof Roberts got a detail or two about
Daniel wrong, so what! Is he obliged to be an expert on Daniel Kuehn? As Bosco or Bisquith, or whatever, said: if someone is maligning your mother, or even Daniel Kuehn, or the monkey's uncle, forget it. The important thing is not to nail Prof Roberts for every bit of hyperbole, but to avoid exhausting his patience with us.

So, please, for God's sake, let his word to the wise be sufficient.

Posted by: dg lesvic | Jun 8, 2009 5:24:35 PM

dg lesvic,

Gains are largest when traders deal transparently and straightforwardly with each other. I am no politician. Russ Roberts is a mature, intelligent adult. Your suggestion that I must sugar coat my posts (even to the extent of not raising the facts of a matter) strike me as completely foreign to everything that I understand Russ Roberts to stand for.

Roberts isn't God and he surely knows it too; anyone suggesting otherwise is, to say the least, incorrect.

Posted by: indiana jim | Jun 8, 2009 11:26:27 PM

Apparently a word to the wise was not sufficient for Injun Joe.

Put him on the ignore list.

indiana jim June 9, 2009 at 1:51 pm

dg lesvic is soooo clever with "hoosier hank" and "Injun Joe"; readers of this blog should be SURE to read his posts to find out his next iteration of my blog name. I wonder if he/she would post such discredited debate methods if subjected to a per word fee as Gordon Tullock's text chapter suggests? (In my case in this case, a half a cent a word would have been sufficient incentive not to try to teach dg this obvious lesson.)

dg lesvic June 9, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Rome is burning while we're fiddling.

Enough already!

Here is the LAST WORD!

(So, I think I'm God?

No, just Nero.)

98% of the people here reject the notion that Russ is just trying to shield himself from criticism, and applaud his efforts to save the cultivation here from the intellectual crab grass overtaking it at every turn.

And that's all, all, all, folks!

RD June 9, 2009 at 2:12 pm

It seems rather arrogant to suggest to Russ that he needs your commenting. Yes, feedback is good, but any particular commenter here is easily dispensable. Most blogs have their regular commenters, they are always less valuable than they think.

Randy June 9, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Indiana Jim,

Charging for input at meetings. Awesome idea! Double the rate for teleconferences, and triple it on blogs where people have plenty of time to trim the fat.

Or maybe only charge for opinions. Facts should be submitted for free. Lies, propaganda and myths should result in banishment.

Russell Nelson June 9, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Daniel, you should try writing more succinctly. <—- Like this.

BoscoH June 9, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Russ, If you're gonna steer, please steer (a little). After three of these posts, I'm sure everyone here is throwing up their hands wondering what, if anything, they are doing wrong. It would be a heck of a lot more effective if you'd just point out specific comments you like or don't like on an ongoing basis. Not every comment, just enough to move things. Fewer is probably more. Then we can all see the benchmark and I am sure that most of us will adjust accordingly and you'll see a wonderful example of emergent self-regulation.

Daniel Kuehn June 9, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Russell Nelson -
RE: "Daniel, you should try writing more succinctly. <—- Like this."

Breaking the proposed 3 comment rule deliberately now to make two points:

1. Arbitrary comment numbers don't make much sense to me and miss the whole point of self-restraint and civility (the first of which I know I'm guilty of, the second of which I'd ask others to think hard about).

2. Arbitrary comment length concerns don't make much sense to me either. Sometimes long posts get the point across. Sometimes short posts get the point across. So what? Often I'm only discussing something with two people or so. It's very easy for me to scroll past other people's comments even if they're long to look at what I'm more interested in. I respect your concern for brevity (and other's concerns for a comment limit), but I think arbitrary concerns like that miss the point.

Elisheva Levin June 9, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I read this blog quite regularly, although I comment infrequently. Sometimes I simply do not have time to plough through all the comments. I think a nested design would be great because I could choose the threads that are of some interest to me.

There are certain commenters who disagree with the blog's perspective. However, the annoying comments are the ones that descend into true name-calling and insult. I can ignore disagreeableness, but insulting back-and-forths are extremely tiresome.

S Andrews June 9, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Prof. Roberts,

I enjoy most of your posts. The problem that Cafe currently has with one of the commenters, is that he works for the government, therefore has a lot of "free" time on his hands to spew words nonstop. Have you noticed that he doesn't comment the moment he leaves work?

While other sensible commenters here have less time on their hand and hence incapable of producing 18 lengthy comments in an hour or two, and hence the disparity.

It is wisdom of the many here against the typing speed and "free" time of a particular commenter. Threading comments, as you suggested is an interesting idea, but then that would make the Cafe less of a blog and more of a forum.

BoscoH June 9, 2009 at 3:08 pm

1. Arbitrary comment numbers don't make much sense to me …
2. Arbitrary comment length concerns don't make much sense to me either…

This is precisely why you should adhere to them.

Matt June 9, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Isn't there software that would you to organize your posts into threads. I would think you could probably organize the threads by the person making the comment? That way if you really wanted to get into a discussion with a commentator you could click on his comment and link over to another page, while everyone else that doesn't what that person had to say can just keep scrolling on down.

indiana jim June 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Randy wrote: "Charging for input at meetings. Awesome idea!"

Thanks Randy, but as I mentioned, the credit really should go to Gordon Tullock.

Randy June 9, 2009 at 4:31 pm

One of many awesome ideas then from Gordon Tullock. Passing it on was good too.

Art Historian June 9, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Nest the comments, please. I get tired of hearing (reading) the same annoying responses from the same people repeatedly and would like the option to select efficiently comments on which to focus. Thank you. :)

vidyohs June 9, 2009 at 6:56 pm

I agree with seth, but understand why it can't be done on a regular basis.

It's unfortunate.

dg lesvic June 9, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Bosco, or Bisquith,

You wrote,

"Russ, I'm sure everyone here is throwing up their hands wondering what, if anything, they are doing wrong. It would be a heck of a lot more effective if you'd just point out specific comments you like or don't like."


That one!


Face it. We are not all created equal. There are just some people here you're never going to please. So forget about them.

vikingvista June 9, 2009 at 11:59 pm

"However, the annoying comments are the ones that descend into true name-calling and insult. I can ignore disagreeableness, but insulting back-and-forths are extremely tiresome."

Back at ya, Bozo. ;^>

Colin Keesee June 10, 2009 at 2:42 am

Hello professor Horwitz, your post reminds me of your first lecture last July at the IHS seminar when you did a fine job of really showing how planning, forethought, deliberation, purposefully cordinating of activities and sacrificing individual goals all can and do frequently exist within a framework of an emergent order.

Some people confuse emergent orders with anarchy and some conflate any form of deliberate action with central planning or tyranny. Neither approach is correct.

As far as the issue at hand is concerned. I disagree with nesting comments, it would probably be an improvement over the current structure but not a fundamnetal solution to trolls or even the comments being swamps the ad hominem free but still inevitable tangent string of comments.

I like the suggestion about having the name of the poster come before the comment so one can ignore a user that another user does not generally want to read.

To build on that concept, I suggest that users be able to block even having to see certain users' comments. This seems like the best emergent orders based solution. Some enjoy feeding and fighting the trolls so those users would not block anyone and other would enjoy reading and discussing the handful of comments that are on topic. Some prefer some sort of middle ground so those users can block the worse trolls but have no problem discussing the tangents that should still be allowed to spring forth.

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