Money Isn’t Everything

by on March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

Over at Techdirt, I disagree with Jerry’s point (and Mike Linksvayer’s) about the concept of ad-supported Wikipedia. While the organization could certainly do some worthwhile things with the money, I think there’s a significant danger that fighting over the money could begin to overshadow the Wikimedia Foundation’s important mission of ensuring the integrity of the Wikipedia editing process itself.

Superficially, this might seem at odds with libertarians’ general inclination to view profit-making as a benign phenomenon. But I think the essential point here is actually one that libertarians make a lot: money generally matters less than institutions. Increased spending—on schools, narcotics control, wars, whatever—will only have beneficial effects if the underlying institutional framework is designed to use that money effectively. If your institutions aren’t designed to utilize resources effectively—if, say, you’ve got a bureaucratic monopoly school system or a hopelessly confused military strategy—then injecting additional resources into those institutions isn’t going to produce any positive results. Those additional resources will simply be dissipated into pointless rent-seeking.

There’s nothing dysfunctional about Wikipedia, viewed as an institution for editing an encyclopedia. But there’s no reason to think an institution built to edit an encyclopedia is going to have any special competence to oversee the spending of millions of dollars of free money. And given that arguments about money could easily distract and divide the already-fractious Wikipedia community, I think it’s probably smart to avoid that quagmire entirely.

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