Re: SI Comparative Advantage [was Re: Free Will]

Robert J. Bradbury (
Wed, 25 Aug 1999 16:28:39 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 25 Aug 1999 wrote:

> Sorry Robert, but you've misrepresented the economist's idea of of
> comparative advantage.
> The part that *is* surprising (and particularly relevant to the SI
> discussion) is that even if some firm or country has a competitive
> advantage in *all* interesting markets, it will still benefit everyone
> if those at a disadvantage produce in the markets in which they have
> the least disadvantage. All traders would be strictly worse off if
> the worst producers refrain from producing. The implications for the
> SI debate should be obvious.

I don't disagree with this, and may have short-changed it in my discussion. Obviously if you are using resources in something that you are really *poor* at producting, then you are giving up using them for something you are *good* at producing. So you are better off producing those things you are the the very best at producing even if you have to buy some things need from others who are poorer at producing them than you are.

> Now that I've written this, I begin to suspect that it's an analysis based
> on old-fashioned static economics. If you take evolution and changing
> populations into account, it may be that the worst producers (if it's an
> inherited trait, like being biological :-) ) get competed out of the
> population over the long term. It still remains the case that in every
> market at every point in time, all potential producers should find their
> area of greatest comparative advantage (which may not be an area of
> absolute advantage) and compete there.

Yes. But the thing which is critical with regard to SIs, that doesn't occur much in normal everyday economics discussions is the time-delay factor in the value of goods, services, information, etc. This is important to some degree in our society today as we can witness with the use of FedEx, UPS overnight, "fresh" vegetables or fish, etc. But in an SI environment, the delays are going to be *huge* and the information (or material) delivery small, compared with what you already can compute (or have). In our society we may value this at something like $10.00/day (cost of overnight vs. 2-day delivery). In the cost of an SI society, it will be the equivalent of multi-years of 10^42 instructions per second. That is a *huge* overhead. Would the Spanish have funded the expiditions of Columbus if he had told them that the cost of returning the spices would be the time equivalent of 142 "trips around the world"? [Or some equally ridiculous number.] The remote SI has to be coming up with some *extremely* rare piece of information to justify it being purchased remotely (taking advantage of their comparative advantage). They could have a significant comparative advantage in producing the information but still be in a poor marketing position due to the costs (time delays) in getting the information to you.

I'll admit that if a SI can dedicate itself to computing such a piece of information and sell it at low cost (with the delays) to 10^11+ SIs, that this might still be a feasible strategy. The only way to know is to become a SI and see what the galactic offer/bid board says.