Top-down v bottom-up: Part IV

Going back through my old posts, I realized I didn’t write the fourth installment to this set up of posts on top-down vs bottom-up.

Now I don’t have to. Nassim Taleb has written about it in his latest book, Skin in the Game.

In short, bottom-up systems work better over the long-haul because decision-makers have more skin-in-the-game for their decisions, which helps the system self-correct.

They pay the consequences for making poor choices and enjoy the benefits for making good choices.

That doesn’t prevent disasters. It’s not perfect. But, it’s better than a system that doesn’t self-correct.

It’s as simple as buying a cup of coffee. If you don’t think it was worth it, you try something else. You self-correct.

Top-down systems separates decision-makers from the direct benefits and costs of their decisions and often provides unrelated benefits for those decisions.

These systems don’t self correct as well as bottom-up systems.

Public schools are a good example.

Parents pay the price when schools are run poorly. The local politician who promises to ‘fix the schools’ by ‘giving them more money’ may enjoy the benefit of winning the election, which is unrelated to the benefit or cost of giving the schools more money.

The real cost of giving more money to a group of people responsible for a failing school is borne by the parents of the children at the school and the children themselves.

Giving more money to the people responsible for a failing school is like continuing to buy the cup of coffee that you don’t like. It’s not likely to self-correct.

The problem is, many parents may have voted for the politician promising more money for the schools because that sounds good. But, if they directly paid for schools, like they do for a cup of coffee, rather than give them more money, they would have opted to find a better school.


The money question: How much would you pay for a private Facebook?

If you thought your information was private, I have a bridge to sell you.

In yesterday’s Today Show interview with Savannah Guthrie, Savannah asked FB #2 Sheryl Sandberg what it would take to give folks the option of a fully private Facebook.

Sheryl said, “Well, that would be a fee-based option.”


So, how much would you pay for that? That’s the money question.

If your answer is ‘very little’, that demonstrates how little you value your privacy and you don’t have much room to complain about Facebook using your data, as every other ad-based company does, to target messages to you.

BTW, I thought it would have been funny if Sandberg had pointed out Guthrie’s hypocrisy, as The Today Show is also for-profit program that makes its money selling ads and uses as good of data as it can get its hands to attract advertisers and target their messages to its audience — exactly what Facebook does.

I wouldn’t be surprised if The Today Show or NBC also spends a fair amount on Facebook ads that use your information to better target its ad messages.

Seth Godin discovers the powers of exit and voice, but gets something gravely wrong

In this blog post, Seth Godin discovers the powers of exit and voice.

Coming to understand those powers is one of the inspirations of this blog, as you can read in the About section, where I explored why my parents chose to move to a different school district (exit), rather than try to change the one we were in (voice).

But, Seth goes off the rails here:

Capitalism ceases to be an efficient choice when those served have no ability to exit. For-profit prisons, for example, or cable monopolies. If you can’t exit, you’re not really the customer, and you are deprived, as a result, of voice.

Cable monopolies is not capitalism. They became monopolies through government regulation, which is not capitalism.

There may have been good reasons for that regulation (to keep right-of-ways from being clogged with cables) or not (that may have just been a convenient excuse cable companies used to limit competition).

Or both. See the Bootleggers and Baptists.

Whatever the case, we know the result. We were not happy with having just one cable provider, because that cable provider has little incentive to make us happy and frankly, can’t make us all happy, no matter how hard it tries.

Even with the most well-meaning folks running the company, it’s just tough to make everyone happy.

Enter the reason for competition. Competition gives us choices to make us all happier.

Folks seem to understand this when it comes to cable providers, but do not translate the lesson to things like schools, which have problems for the same reasons.

They often believe sending more money to schools will help solve those problems, but would bristle at the thought of sending more money to the cable monopolies to solve its problems.

In turns out, their bristling is the correct reflexive reaction in both cases. The answer isn’t more money. The answer is more power of exit, or competition.

Thankfully, through capitalism, technology is finding answers to provide more power of exit from cable monopolies, which are quickly starting to look like the Blockbuster Video of the twenty teens.

It’s also helping some with the school problems, but more can be done to lessen the school monopoly’s grip on their markets.

Folks don’t understand that the cable company problem and school problem are the same problem

I don’t understand Seth’s comment about for-profit prisons. Who does he think the customer is in that case? The prisoners?

The customers are the the government-entities that contract with them, just like when they contract with for-profit construction companies to build roads, sidewalks and buildings. The representatives of those entities have a right to exit if their needs are not being served.

Frankly, I think we need to look past the strict definitions of capitalism and government and think more in terms of top-down and bottom-up, as I wrote about here.

The ‘knives, forks and spoons’ basics of soccer

As a soccer coach, I see players and parents struggle with knowing which fundamentals to work on.

Parents and players see elite players do a scissors move and assume that’s what makes them elite. So, their player learns the scissors and wonders why she isn’t promoted to A team.

They’re missing the other 95% of what makes an elite player elite. It’s easy to miss because that 95% is the boring, simple basics.

It’s not flashy and doesn’t stand out, except to a knowledgeable eye.

What makes players eligible to be elite is the high level of consistency they’ve developed in recognizing and solving the game’s most basic problems.

Long ago, knives, forks and spoons solved a vast majority of basic food eating problems.

Many coaching manuals recommend letting kids figure out the game. This overestimates their ability.

That’s like hiding silverware from kids and hoping they will reinvent them. You’ll end up with teenagers eating chicken soup with their hands. It can be done. But, it’s dumb.

The authors of these coaching manuals see young players in soccer-playing countries learn the games on the streets and assume they ‘just figure it’ out by playing.

They miss that these players are taught the “silverware” basics of the sport by other, usually older, siblings, friends, parents, cousins, neighbors and by emulating the pros and local first teamers that they idolize.

That shouldn’t be a surprise since that’s how we learned a lot of what we know about baseball, basketball and football as kids. We didn’t just ‘figure it out’ without outside influence, just like we didn’t reinvent forks.

Our parents gave us forks and showed us how to use them, and through practice, the fork became a natural extension of our hands.

We also didn’t learn everything from playing organized sports. We learned some things from that, but I  learned more than 80% of what I knew about the sports above outside organized play.

So, what are the ‘silverware’ basics of soccer?

Adjust to receive ball, across body with inside of both feet, cleanly and can do a variety of things with that touch ranging from stopping the ball dead to playing in a 360 degree radius that is safe from oncoming pressure.

Pass ball in any direction with inside of both feet, with deception.

Use inside/outside/bottom of feet for dribbling, cuts and pulbacks to keep the ball close to them (a touch on the ball with every step) when they dribble and can move, turn and change speeds with the ball without thinking about it

Defend/tackle the ball, get between attacker and goal and stay there until ball is won, pass is made or partially covered shot is taken.

Protect the ball by shielding it with body and turning, moving away from pressure, dribbling laterally and diagonally instead straight at the goal

Talk — specifically, call for a pass and let teammates know if they have time or are under pressure.

Get open for passes.

Basic directional shot.

Basic directional drive/long pass.

Understanding basic roles of positions, options in those positions and their roles in executing basic patterns (e.g. switch through the back, play out of the back) and basics of ball movement (e.g. out away from goal in our third, to the middle in their third) and basic attacking options (e.g. direct, cross, through and give-and-go).

Anticipate what comes next.

I play soccer every week. I’ve developed the habit of going down this list to help me remember things that happened in the game that I need to work on.

I should also point out that these aren’t the only things necessary to be elite. These are basic table stakes.

For example, you also need to develop good first touch with outside, top and bottom of feet, thighs, chest and head.

But, those surfaces are used 10-15% of time combined, while you use inside of feet 85-90% of the time.

If you’re shaky on such a knife-and-fork skill, it looks to a soccer person like you’re eating chicken soup with your bare hands. You will hurt your team more than you help and won’t be near consideration for the A-team.

A-team coaches don’t want players who eat chicken soup with his or her fingers. That just creates a sloppy mess that someone else will have to clean up.

Do your homework, part 2

Two quotes from recent EconTalk podcast episodes that remind me of this post of mine (Do your homework) about how the Rock the Vote culture has encouraged people to think less and act more.

Bill James episode:

Bill James (Mr. Moneyball) speaking:

Self-righteousness is the great problem that afflicts our political culture. And, the problem is that large numbers of people on both ends of the political spectrum are so convinced that they are correct and that failings to see their correctness are moral failings, that we have lost much of our ability to communicate from one end of the spectrum to the other.

And, there’s no justification for it on either end. None of us understand the world. The world is vastly more complicated than the human mind. No one understands whether these policies are going to have the intended effects, or whether the unintended effects are going to be greater than the intended effects. No one knows the answers to those questions.

And the people who are convinced that they know the answers to those questions are just wrong. And it’s become a huge concern, because people are so angry, based on their self-righteousness, that we are: anger repeatedly expressed–anger building on anger, building on anger eventually leads to violence.

And we need to get people to back away from the conviction that they are right and see that they may be wrong not about something but about everything.

Jordan Peterson episode:

Jordan Peterson:

You know, these–we take 18-year-old kids, we put them in Ivy League universities, and we tell them to criticize the system and to act as political activists. And I look at that and I think, ‘God, you kids, you don’t know anything. You’ve never had a job. You’ve never taken care of anyone, including yourself. You can’t organize your own household. You’ve never read anything. You don’t know how to write. You don’t know how to think. But, it’s okay: Your professors can tell you that, now you are in a position to criticize the foundations of Western civilization. It’s like–it’s horrifying.


Framing Matters

I came across a news story this week that was reported by a local news station differently on-air than on the story linked to by the same station’s Twitter feed.

On-air, we learn that a franchise of a national restaurant chain closed, at first temporarily, and then permanently, after an incident last weekend where two customers were accused of dining and ditching the previous day.

On-air, viewers learn that the two African American female diners were “racially-profiled” by “at least one of the restaurant’s employees”.

In the written story, from the station, linked to in their Twitter feed, I learned that the restaurant employee was the restaurant’s manager and that there were two others involved, a local police officer and mall security guard.

That made me wonder why the station didn’t report those facts on air.