Increasing Marginal Utility

A blog so good it violates the law of diminishing marginal utility.

More on My Strangely Positivist Economics of Culture

This is the short of it.

-With respect to virtually any margin we can measure objectively, quality of various forms of entertainment (one may probably generalize this further) has gotten better. For movies, this can be cinematography. For theater, special effects or stage direction. I can name dozens in baseball because it is the form of entertainment I know best.

-My priors are that if, whenever we can measure the quality of something, it’s moving in one direction, then what we cannot measure is probably also moving in that direction.

-At the absolute most, I will accept the position that we should assume that what we can’t measure has been stationary, but I think that’s a failure of Bayesian updating.

-Even if I grant the latter, the best of whatever it is we’re are talking about is probably very recent. For instance, Babe Ruth is probably not the best baseball player ever. The best baseball player is probably an active player or recently retired player.

-The argument to the contrary, that there are all these invisible soft factors which have moved in the opposite direction, BUT ONLY THE EXPERT CAN DIVINE, is counterintuitive, asserted on nothing but authority (“How dare you say Casablanca was boring!”), and bears a striking resemblance to professional organizations who circle the wagons and refuse to be objectively evaluated by the unclean. My null hypothesis *even if something passes the market test* is that expertise does not exist.

-I don’t accept the argument (really, assertion) that there are zero hard/measurable/objective factors for certain forms of entertainment. Give me a half hour with an expert in the form of entertainment who has no dog in this fight. And even if hard/measurable/objective measures are hard to find, the fact that they have gotten better in every other area of human existence is evidence that this form of entertainment is getting better.

2 responses to “More on My Strangely Positivist Economics of Culture

  1. gcallah March 22, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Hmm, let’s try this: we are going to “measure” the “goodness” of a painting by how closely the painting mirrors what a photograph of the same scene would look like. Now, by this measure, we can “objectively” show that the most mediocre of Renaissance artists is vastly superior to Picasso.

    Of course, this is egregiously stupid, as the measure in question has nothing to do with the value of a painting as a work of art. Just like the quality of the cameras used or the high-tech wizardy that goes into special effects has nothing to do with the value of a movie as a work of art.

    • rhmurphy March 26, 2012 at 3:49 am

      The artist can consciously choose not to use the most state-of-the-art whatever it is we are talking about it. But before Citizen Kane, ripping up floor boards to get a better shot wasn’t even a thing. The advancement in technology is like a constantly broadening palette of colors to choose from, not a progressively better choice in colors.

      For example, Sin City, whatever its faults and merits otherwise, was able to ape the characteristics of both old and new movies. That just wasn’t an option ten years before it came out. It wasn’t part of the palette.

      Electronically sequenced classical music (or “orchestral,” whatever terminology is fine by me) is also rapidly approaching the point where only the silliest pedant – sorry, I mean connoisseur – can distinguish it. Obviously, electronic sequencing leaves many more options open than existed in the past. Unless we believe that the soft factors are getting worse, the presumption should be that classical music should get better as time goes on, even in the absence of instruments or skilled musicians!

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