Newsfutures.com pitches their prediction markets by saying “Our decision markets let you aggregate the wisdom of your crowd”, riffing on previous Marginal Revolution guest James Surowiecki‘s provocative book The Wisdom of Crowds. But it is worth noting that we often fail to use much simpler ways to draw on the wisdom of our crowds. When we make our biggest choices about careers or significant others, we rarely consult more than a few of our closest associates, and often not even them.
Having just got tenure here at GMU economics, I tried to seek the wisdom of a larger crowd on my first big post-tenure project. I wrote up a paragraph on each of ten options, and emailed the set to lots of friends, family, and associates, asking for advice. 56 wrote back, and I coded each response as assigning a number from zero to one for each option. Four different ways of weighting the responses gave the same answer: writing a book on disagreement was just a bit better than writing a book on idea futures. And so that is what I will do.
No one I’ve talked to has heard of anyone doing anything similar. Why? I can think of two reasons:
- Asking widely for advice is taken as a sign of weakness and ignorance.
- Asking someone for advice on an important decision is taken by them as a signal of intimacy; ask too many people and you are an advice “slut.”
Some people did think doing this reflected badly on my character, and some were miffed when they found out how many people I had asked. So why did I do it? I feel like the father who has more children than he can afford to feed, but can not bear to be the one to choose who must go out into the cold. Like a politician afraid to make a risky decision, I choose to delegate instead.
Addendum: My original email and the numerical scores are here.