We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Prediction markets

As 2005 draws to its close it is customary to make some predictions about the following year. I won’t do so. The world’s stock markets are ending the year in better shape than I would have expected a year before, notwithstanding the impact of higher oil prices and the devastating hurricanes that hit the U.S. gulf coast. What is interesting to me though is how the market in making predictions has continued to accelerate, spawining exotic derivatives connected even to the weather.

More than two years ago in the United States, some policymakers toyed with the idea of a predictions market to help figure out terrorist threats. The idea was killed off, partly, so it was argued, due to some terrible PR for the idea as well as a cowardly refusal to embrace controversial ideas. Lawrence Lessig takes a different view here.

The market in making predictions has, of course, been around for decades, if one thinks about the commodity futures markets such as the great wheat futures markets in Chicago, for instance. This Wikipedia entry I linked to shows just how broad the prediction market now goes, such as people taking bets on future scientific innovations, and so on. And these markets can be harnessed to garner useful knowledge about where certain things may be headed as well as fund valuable research.

That’s my prediction, anyway.

(Wikipedia link fixed. Thanks to a commenter for pointing out the error).

20 comments to Prediction markets

  • James

    What Wikipedia entry?

  • veryretired

    I fearlessly predict that umpteen things will happen that nobody saw coming, and if any of them are negative, it will all be Bush’s fault.

    Conversely, any number of obvious things will occur, but will be treated by an increasingly obtuse MSM as big deals because so few people have any historical context educated into their view of the world around them.

    Finally, 2006 is a mid-term election year, so we will be inundated by a torrent of political babble by every pompous prognosticator who isn’t already totally occupied talking about sports.

    The only thing more boring than politics is football. I guess that’s why one is so useful as an analogy for the other. Idiocy is congruent.

  • Julian Taylor

    Possibly this Wikipedia reference?

  • James

    Ohhh… That Wiki reference! :)

  • karl.rove

    I predict the Republicans will take a right hammering
    next November. & that it’ll make virtually nil difference to Senyor Arbusto.

    Anyone care to predict the next toy, of the type I-Pod etc.?

  • Luniversal

    The Footsie’s still a lot lower than on New Year’s Eve 1999, though, and gold has been rallying strongly. This year’s rally in equities looks like a correction within a decades-long process of disinflation, after the excesses of the second half of the 20th century.

    The coming military disengagement from the Middle East and the realisation that a neocon-addled USA–already indebted deeply to the Far East and ‘Old Europe’– has been ground down by a bunch of half-starved insurgents will cause major shifts in portfolio managers’ priorities. America is wasting hundreds of billions on outmoded forms of ‘defense’ which reflect the requirements of contractors’ bottom lines more than national needs.

    As a rogue polluter state with a lame duck president, the USA will remain the focus of international distaste.

    PS: There’s nothing new about hedging against weather. The London insurance market has had ‘Pluvius’ policies to protect village fetes against rainy days for yonks.

  • Jim Bruskin

    already indebted deeply to the Far East and ‘Old Europe’– has been ground down by a bunch of half-starved insurgents

    Keep taking the meds, dude. That might be what you want to be true but for the US to be “ground down” we’d have to be taking an order of magnitude more casualties per day than we are and we ain’t. I was there early this year in Baghdad, Habbaniyah and Basra for 3 months (as a civilian contractor) and the soldiers I spoke to (which was 75% of the people I spoke to) sure did not seem to be “ground down”. The only (and I mean only) people I met who were really pessimistic were with non-US NGOs and a German journalist. Funny that. Even most Iraqis I spoke to were cautiously upbeat.

    As a rogue polluter state with a lame duck president, the USA will remain the focus of international distaste.

    Hilarious! And as our technology and economic development leaves the rest of the world trailing in our wake, somehow I think we will survive the “international distaste”. And strangely the English writers on this blog do not seem to regard us with “distaste”, nor do the hordes of people scrambling for Green Cards.

  • permanent expat

    Well said Jim………..& maybe make an interesting visit to “Davids Medienkritik” to discover how Spiegel & Stern particularly and much of the German Press in general are “critical” of the US in the English translations of their articles but downright scathing in in the, for domestic consumption, originals.

  • Karl Rove

    “rogue polluter state”?

    So polluter states like China, India and the Euro Union aren’t rogues? Just *well-behaved* polluter states?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Luniversal, I know that weather-related finance has been around for a while but the modern insurance market is harnessing cutting-edge financial instruments in new and exotic ways.

    Your other remarks are nonsense. Of course the U.S. has a few problems with its big budget deficit, etc, but the country’s economic performance far exceeds that of the euro zone, for instance, and is likely to remain so barring a disaster. People have been predicting the demise of the United States – usually out of sour grapes – for years. The biggest mistake for the U.S. would be to turn towards rampant protectionism.

  • Derivatives, n. A term for legalised gambling.

    I see little difference between wagering investing in weather-based derivatives and betting on which raindrop will reach the bottom of the windowpane first.

    Except that the latter isn’t subject to the capital gains tax.

  • Luniversal

    “People have been predicting the demise of the United States – usually out of sour grapes – for years. ”

    Straw man. We are not talking about death but about cutting down to size.

    The USA’s manifest destiny as it heads towards being a half-non-white country– assuming it can hang together, absent any genuine external enemies– is to become Greater Brazil with nukes. Its life expectancy stats alone condemn it as unfit to be mentioned in the same breath as truly civilised polities such as Japan, Finland or Switzerland– however much conjuring is performed with GDP, that yardstick of waste and pollution. The warfare/welfare statism practised by the two factions of its single governing party is leading it towards the worst of all possible worlds.

    The continued blind adulation of the USA among Ayn Rand’s disciples is a comic illustration of how, like their opposite socialist numbers, they dwell in the past. The time for America to beat its chest was 1945. It has been losing its share of trade and power ever since: a trend that will accelerate if the weary titan fails to acknowledge its relegation, and goes on wasting as much on armaments as the next nine or ten nations put together.

    The USA is now in much the same position as Britain in 1920.

  • jojo

    I predict that by the end of 2006 there will be more people on the British public payroll and that public services will not have improved. I won’t win much at Ladbrokes with that one though!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The continued blind adulation of the USA among Ayn Rand’s disciples is a comic illustration of how, like their opposite socialist numbers, they dwell in the past. The time for America to beat its chest was 1945. It has been losing its share of trade and power ever since: a trend that will accelerate if the weary titan fails to acknowledge its relegation, and goes on wasting as much on armaments as the next nine or ten nations put together.

    Give some numbers to back up those sweeping statements. There is no “blind adulation” of the States here, although there is lot of admiration for its broad free-market, pro-liberty culture, a culture you obviously feel uncomfortable with. “Weary titan”, really? The only obvious competitors to the US now are arguably India and China – in about 20 or 30 years’ time. The euro zone economy is a crock; Japan is recovering from a long spell in the economic slow lane.

    The vibrancy of the United States if very much in the present tense rather than the past. As I said, the one thing that could really hurt the US is protectionism and further spread of Big Government. I also could not fail to notice the undercurrent of racism in your post.

  • Luniversal

    Pearce, get the stardust out of your eyes. America hasn’t had a ‘broad free-market, pro-liberty culture’ since the New Deal. Half the land west of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers is nationalised; whole states owe their economies to the military industrial complex. The country’s civil liberties have been grossly and repeatedly infringed by presidents from FDR to GWB, who has just assumed plenipotentiary powers to spy on citizens in the name of an undeclared war against an undefined enemy. You are still dreaming of a voluntary American federation of sovereign nations which died in the War Betwen the States.

    Pearce: “The only obvious competitors to the US now are arguably India and China – in about 20 or 30 years’ time.”

    Precisely. As I wrote, “in much the same position as Britain in 1920″, when we seemed to be on top of the world, branches everywhere, but were bankrupt and poised to lose our hegemony.

    BTW, as if I cared whether you thought I was a ‘racist’ or not, ducky. Maybe I just know a bit more about DNA than you Pollyannas of the Blank Slate, huh? Run along and play with Steven and Hilary Rose and the rest of the old marxist biology-deniers. This is just another example of how ‘libertarianism’ is only a late heresy of socialism: you can’t even think up your own smears.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Lunversal writes:

    Maybe I just know a bit more about DNA than you Pollyannas of the Blank Slate, huh? Run along and play with Steven and Hilary Rose and the rest of the old marxist biology-deniers. This is just another example of how ‘libertarianism’ is only a late heresy of socialism: you can’t even think up your own smears.

    Yep, as I suspected: Luniversal is definitely a racist.

    Of course government has gotten bigger in the states and civil liberties have been transgressed: even so, government looms less large in the lives of the average American than it does in most of Europe, for instance.

  • Luniversal

    Yep, as I suspected, Johnathan Pearce is definitely afraid of genetic research.

    Libertarians are soooo behind the eightball, in a time when even The Economist– that dutiful pacemaker of bien pensant sentiment– can run an article on Harpending’s and Cochran’s theory of Ashkenazi Jewish IQ superiority and its associated medical disorders.

    Discussing what will be 2006’s ‘most dangerous idea’ on Edge.org, Steven Pinker nominates the idea that “groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments”. He writes:

    “Proponents of ethnic and racial differences in the past have been targets of censorship, violence, and comparisons to Nazis. Large swaths of the intellectual landscape have been reengineered to try to rule these hypotheses out a priori (race does not exist, intelligence does not exist, the mind is a blank slate inscribed by parents). The underlying fear, that reports of group differences will fuel bigotry, is not, of course, groundless.

    “The intellectual tools to defuse the danger are available. “Is” does not imply “ought. ” Group differences, when they exist, pertain to the average or variance of a statistical distribution, rather than to individual men and women. Political equality is a commitment to universal human rights, and to policies that treat people as individuals rather than representatives of groups; it is not an empirical claim that all groups are indistinguishable. Yet many commentators seem unwilling to grasp these points, to say nothing of the wider world community.

    “Advances in genetics and genomics will soon provide the ability to test hypotheses about group differences rigorously. Perhaps geneticists will forbear performing these tests, but one shouldn’t count on it. The tests could very well emerge as by-products of research in biomedicine, genealogy, and deep history which no one wants to stop.”

    Samizdata has been in the foreground of prissy censorship: sticking its fingers in its ears, squealing and thinking it can reduce its opponents to small puddles of water by unleashing insults in return for argument. But biology won’t be denied. Wittering on about spaceships and global warming while refusing to engage with the central thrust of scientific curiosity today– the investigation of how Man’s mind governs his body, on the group as well as the individual level– is an ostrich posture. Then again, to believe in the Randian variety of blank-slate crap is to ignore human nature, so it’s hardly surprising that any demonstration of its hard-wiring has to be tabooed.

    Commenters such as Euan Gray are well equipped to expose libertarian whimsy at the empirical level. I’m just supplying a unified theory of why libertarianism is going nowhere– or rather, going backward, as many a baffled lament here testifies.

  • Johnathan

    Let’s consider what Pinker actually said, since you chose to quote him. He said there may be differences between certain groups but equality under the rule of law should not be affected by that. I agree. (Do you?) There may be group differences – though measurement of this can be fraught with problems such as deciding how to define whether a person is a member of group X or Y.

    There is, of course, nothing at all wrong in trying to measure IQ, or other racial characteristics, or trying to improve our understanding of consciousness, etc. Samizdata has not shut down debate about such things. When we did kick a bunch of racists off the site over a year ago it was mainly to do with the boorishness of the comments and their attempt to impose their agenda on areas which have nothing to do with race.

    Steve Pinker’s book is one I strongly recommend.

  • Wittering on about spaceships and global warming while refusing to engage with the central thrust of scientific curiosity today…

    So how many scientific papers have been published on racial determinism of intelligence during 2005 as opposed to, say, global warming?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Oh and Luniversal, it is nonsense to accuse Rand, BTW, of endorsing the “blank slate”. She used the expression in a very specific way: no innate ideas. As far as she was concerned, all conceptual knowledge has to be learned; that certainly does not mean that man has no specific nature whatsoever. She also had a lot of interest in and respect for the identity of man’s consciousness.

    In any event I am not a slavish admirer of Rand’s thought and as our understanding of cognition improves, maybe there may be room in future for change. In fact, the more we know about how the mind and body works, the more power it gives us to determine how our lives progress. In short, it gives us more freedom and autonomy, not less.