Many are abuzz over Sam Altman’s short and politically incorrect blog post:
Earlier this year, I noticed something in China that really surprised me. I realized I felt more comfortable discussing controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco. I didn’t feel completely comfortable—this was China, after all—just more comfortable than at home.
That showed me just how bad things have become, and how much things have changed since I first got started here in 2005.
It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year. Debating a controversial idea, even if you 95% agree with the consensus side, seems ill-advised.
Nerd that I am, I am immediately reminded of the theory of price indices. If you go to a new country with the same goods and prices as your home town, you won’t buy very much. Alternatively, if your port of call has radically remixed relative prices, you will do lots of shopping and go home pretty happy.
And so it runs with shadow prices for speech, including rights to say things and to ask questions. Whatever you are free to say in America, you have said many times already, and the marginal value of exercising that freedom yet again doesn’t seem so high. But you show up in China, and wow, your pent-up urges are not forbidden topics any more. Just do be careful with your mentions of Uncle Xi, Taiwan, Tibet, Uighur terrorists, and disappearing generals. That said, in downtown Berkeley you can speculate rather freely on whether China will someday end up as a Christian nation, and hardly anybody will be offended.
For this reason, where we live typically seems especially unfree when it comes to speech. And when I am in China, I usually have so, so many new dishes I want to sample, including chestnuts and pumpkin.
All of this will seem all the more true, the longer you have lived in your home base. You will note also that price variability increases consumer surplus, so it is no wonder that Sam enjoys China so much.