Software Nerd

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pure and Perfect Competition

Mark Cuban owns a web site called sharesleuth.com. It's new. The idea is: a Cuban employee researches stocks that are "bad deals" and publishes the story on the site. Cuban actually shorts the stock as well. This (last) part has been the subject of controversy. (See related OO.net thread.)

An author named Gary Weiss was critical of Cuban's plans. Weiss has written some books whose titles suggest he is against fraud on Wall-Street. So I commented, on Cuban's blog, that
"From the titles of his books, this Wise guy ought to be on ShareSleuth's side. One can only assume that his books are not about real corruption, but the typical left-wing stuff aimed at anyone who wants to make money."


Turns out that Weiss may not be a left-wing statist after all. A helpful commenter aprised me of this by posting a comment to an unrelated post on my blog. So, I decided to create this post as a collection of his comments and my reply.

Christopher said...

Hi. I'm writing to respond to a comment of yours that I saw on Mark Cuban's board.

"From the titles of his books, this Wise guy ought to be on ShareSleuth's side. One can only assume that his books are not about real corruption, but the typical left-wing stuff aimed at anyone who wants to make money."

I've read one of those books, and I think I know Weiss' general POV.

He isn't left-wing. In fact, he is a fervent believer in the efficient capital markets hypothesis and its annex, the random-walk hypothesis. These, as you probably know, are ideas often associated with laissez-faire thinkers.

In Weiss' case, his belief in ECMH leads him to the conclusion that just about any actively-managed investment fund, whether it puts the word "mutual" or the word "hedge" in front of the noun "fund," is a fraud. If it's actively managed, then managers are charging (more than adequately) on the presumption that they can beat the market, whereas in fact they can't. Almost all investors would be better off in passively-managed funds.

That is Weiss' general bias. He's against the anti-nakedness crusaders because he believes the sort of reforms they propose would undermine the efficiency of markets that he takes as a premise, and because he believes they're often just using their crusade as a cover for their own pump-and-dump schemes. Hence his term, "the baloney brigade" for Bob O'Brien, Faulk, and that crowd.

In this context you can perhaps understand his position on sharesleuth. He's happy to see Cuban short sell -- that's part of what makes markets efficient. He's also happy to have Cuban publicize the reasons for his short selling. His problem is with calling it "journalism," which blurs lines he'd rather leave unblurred and gives ammunition to the baloney brigade, which is always trying to discredit short-sellers by charging that they all do covertly what Cuban is now bragging about doing -- i.e. they buy reporters to badmouth their target stocks.

And no, I'm not Weiss. Nor do I agree with everything he writes on these matters. I do think he has a coherent and important point of view, and of course if you want to discuss his -- or for that matter my -- views on these matters I'm easy to find.


I replied,...

Thanks for the info; I really appreciate you taking the time to provide a detailed explanation.

From what you write, I slot Weiss into the set of economists who want what's called "pure and perfect competition" or something close to it.

For starters, the concept is an imaginary figment not tied to reality. Worse still, its political implementations -- like antitrust law -- try to force people to be free.

The biggest problem is that the "perfect competition" school pretends to be friends of Capitalism, saying that Capitalism is based on perfect competition. This is false: Capitalism is based on the concept of individual rights. Having an economics czar telling us we must be free, and telling us that he is not going to let Mark Cuban influence our little minds is worse than patronizing and presumtious. It is dictatorship with the garb of Capitalism.


To which, Christopher responded..

That's a bit of a stretch, SN. Leaving aside the differences between the ECMH on one hand and the "perfect competition" models for products and services to which you're alluding on the other ... Weiss isn't an official of the state. He isn't threatening to put Cuban in prison.

At most, he is suggesting that people voluntarily engage in a sort of shunning, leaving Cuban's sharesleuth unread. Which is very different. He is exercising his freedom in a way that constrains Cuban's not at all, since clearly Cuban has no right to expect an audience for sharesleuth.

I think you are right, though, to imply that Weiss' understanding of ECMH may be a bit mechanical. I said as much in a review I wrote of his second book. I'll send you a copy of the review if you're interested.


I did not say Weiss was a government official. However, the philosophy he espouses comes from the same economic ideas that the government officials have used repeatedly to throw businessmen into prison. I fully support Weiss' right to say what he likes. As for private shunning of ShareSleuth.com, I disagree; but people are free to shun it if they like... so much the better for the ones who don't!

Chris alludes to the difference between the threories of ECMH and "pure/perfect-competition". In fact, they share a genus; any attempt to ditinguish between them is not relevant to the context at hand. Further, these rationalistic economic theories have the following life-cycle in our modern-day mixed-economy:
  • their early proponents start as "positive theories" (i.e. descriptions of reality), even though they actually do not reflect reality. Their proponents instead insist that the theories represent some type of platonic essence of reality.
  • next, they begin to morph into "normative theories" in an ethical sense: where people start to claim: this is how these markets ought to behave
  • finally, someone suggests this "good" market behavior should be made into law. Worse still, some prosecutor claims that it already is law, and goes after some target

Here are two articles by George Reisman, discussing the ides of platonic competition: Part 1 and Part 2

2 Comments:

  • I'm happy to see that my effort at elucidating Weiss' view of the world for you has been appreciated.

    If you or your readers would like to discuss these subjects further, my entries in my blog for August 16 and August 25 both concerned the sharesleuth issue and the objections thereto. I'd be happy to see you there.

    And I'm sure I'll write more on ECMH and related issues in the days to come.

    As to whether ECMH is of the same genus as "pure competition," allow me to say only that one can identify if one wishes focus on common features between the music of Broadway plays and that of Wagnerian operas. They both involve composers writing the notes that performers will sing on-stage in a dramatic context, etc.

    But pressing the commonality too hard, without taking adequate note of the differences, could end up doing a great injustice to Richard Rodgers.

    By Anonymous Christopher, at 2:16 PM  

  • "As to whether ECMH is of the same genus as "pure competition," allow me to say only that one can identify if one wishes focus on common features between the music of Broadway plays and that of Wagnerian operas. They both involve composers writing the notes that performers will sing on-stage in a dramatic context, etc."

    This wont fly.

    What you're doing in essence is saying that no connections can be made and conclusions can't be reached. Two things can be compared based on *essential* similarities. In this case ECMH is but one instance (example) of pure and perfect competition.

    Pure and perfect competition is Platonic and Marxist at root. Anyone who holds it is espousing Marxist ideas. Such is the case with Richard Rodgers.

    D. Eastbrook

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:33 PM  

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