New, simpler public-goods-investment explanation

I recently expressed the issue of public goods in a new and succinct way that I felt really good about. On Mastodon, Aaron Wolf: " yeah, the problem isn't coop…" - I wrote:

The problem isn’t cooperative investment itself. Co-op investment is a thing, it can work, it’s more prosocial and ethical than capitalist investment. But no investment works for FLO public goods, not even co-op style. My talk covers that. Fundamentally, for investment to have a return, even to the co-op members, they have to have a claim on something that non-investors can’t claim. That’s inherently contradictory to public goods.

I think this improved some of the simplicity of explaining public goods funding. It doesn’t require the full explanation from my talk to get the most important point that public goods are incompatible with private investment.

Restated: By definition, public goods provide value to all the public (well, anyone who learns of and chooses to use the good). Getting returns on private investment requires some private claim on value. Thus, even if done following cooperative values, any private investment is based on some exclusive claim which is inherently the opposite of public goods.

Said again in other words: All capital support of public goods is entirely donated to the public. There’s no place for anyone to have some valuable contract or claim or cryptocurrency “ownership” of anything. At most, private claims only fit in the non-public elements around public goods, e.g. experience, repute, influence, and so on. Aside from just appealing to prosocial generosity, spread-the-burden is the primary concern for supporting public goods

We can acknowledge that public-goods value and support ar not distributed completely equally (nor necessarily equitably). A 3D-printing file is more valuable to people with access to 3D printers. A guitar method is more valuable to those with guitars on hand. English writing is more valuable to those who know English. So, spread-the-burden can be about spreading it equitably (not equally necessarily) among those who most appreciate the value of something. That’s something we achieve with crowdmatching.

This explains our approach clearly. For public goods fundraising, we can discount (or even disregard) any approach that incentivizes adding exclusions (including the dominant approaches of paywalls and ads). We can acknowledge that taxes do work, especially if policy is nuanced to achieve equity and some balance toward funding by the portion of the public that benefits most.[1]

So, if spread-the-burden is the primary concern for public-goods-funding (as people constantly intuit!), instead of defending crowdmatching by saying “well, we can get to spread-the-burden once the burden is being carried at all”, we should acknowledge that crowdmatching is about spread-the-burden from the beginning!

The point of crowdmatching reframed is: Public goods can be better-or-worse, it’s not just all-or-nothing. We need to grow overall public-goods support. People hesitate to take more burden than is fair. It’s a collective-action, coordination problem. An effective fundraising method needs to work to spread-the-burden from the beginning. To the extent people are willing to be generous and self-sacrificing, that’s already available and encouraged widely — all the easy gains from that are mostly achieved already and far from adequate. To reach a wider portion of the public, people have to feel they are signing up to do their part, not that they are among a select few who are being extra generous.

In bullet form:

  • Value from public goods is public
  • So, there’s no place for any investors to claim returns
  • The only ways to fund public goods are through prosocial generosity or through some method of equitably spreading-the-burden
  • Unilateral generosity is already encouraged widely and isn’t enough
  • Taxes are the only widely successful spread-the-burden mechanism
  • Threshold crowdfunding works somewhat but is too all-or-nothing and one-off (with limited accountability)
  • Crowdmatching invites everyone to participate in a way that spreads-the-burden
    • It’s a solution specific to the problem of funding public goods
    • It involves withholding a portion of your potential contribution, participating more fully the more the burden is shared among a wider crowd
    • It’s a flexible, ongoing way to have the mutual assurance of threshold crowdfunding

I’d love to hear feedback on this. It’s not so different from older messaging, but there are some newly adjusted emphases.

  1. Acknowledging that indirect benefits can be massive. Medical care might most benefit people who directly receive it, but it’s valuable to me to live in a world where people around me are healthy. We should not draw overly-strict lines around what counts as what in our interactive, interconnected reality. ↩︎

1 Appreciation

From the perspective of trying to condense this down to the level of what’s on our about-us page, there’s an interesting framing here. Something like, “More money only when it’s a smaller % of the total”

I think this is basically the same idea that you were getting at when we were arguing about whether it’s truthful to say that you get a better matching rate as more people join the crowd. I still maintain that with the current everyone-gives-the-same mechanism, matching is only ever 1:1, because if you drop out, the crowd collectively reduces their contribution by the amount you were contributing. But from this new perspective, I agree it’s important to convey the “smaller slice of the pie even as my individual donation goes up” concept up front, and that it would help a lot with people’s intuitions.

I’ll test it on a family member of mine who has always struggled with the intuition around this and see if the new framing makes it finally click.

1 Appreciation

I don’t think it’s worth focusing on, but if we compare before-and-after from one-new-patron joining from the perspective of an existing patron, the increase the existing patron gives does always and reliably go with the project getting a much more massive increase given everyone increasing together.

That does not need to be argued to be a change in match-rate. It’s still a notable framing. I am happy that my increase goes with everyone else increasing too. And I’m happier about that the larger the crowd is (though regardless, I’m happier the larger the crowd is).

I think the best crowdmatching intuitive framing remains basically threshold-style but no threshold. “I’m in! I’m willing to be part of the crowd. I’ll give $X if everyone else is doing it too. If only half of the others agree to join, I’ll give half of $X. I don’t want to do all I can while everyone else freerides, I want to be part of the whole community cooperating.”

The key point I wanted to make in this topic is the one about why private investment is incompatible with public-goods. I think just getting people to fully accept that primes them to be ready for thinking, “okay, but then how can we possibly have public goods?”