The Median is Less than the Average

In The Economics of Media I discussed how news is written by large organizations including businesses, governments and major political parties.

The same was true in the age of paper media except with the addition of more powerful local monopolies. Much of the United States (and likely the rest of the world) had one (or few) major newspaper(s). Chaos favors the underdog. When a single company controls an industry, it is incentivized to promote stability. It is more important for a monopoly newspaper to censor offensive news than to create interesting content.

We often think of “censorship” as suppression of politically sensitive topics. Actually, most censorship pertains to merely offensive topics. In the forewords and afterwords to Gary Larson’s The Far Side collections you’ll find incident after incident of his work (which is far less titillating than xkcd) getting suppressed by puritan surburban readers—usually for reasons unrelated to politics. Paper newspapers maintained their monopolies by regurgitating bland moderation.

Centralized anything is a single point of failure. Is is easy to suppress a centralized operation like Bing, Facebook, YouTube, WeChat, a school or The Seattle Times. It is impossible to censor the entire Internet. Before the Internet, the only opinions you could conveniently access were those which passed all the filters built into the centralized paper publishers. Now you can access all the opinions.

Increased information makes smart people smarter and stupid people stupider. If you are smart then increased access to information is unequivocably a good thing. You can master basically any technical subject just from the books available on two websites. If you are stupid then increased information makes the world a confusing place because it’s harder to just conform to the party line. Increased information means there is more media specifically designed to dupe stupid people. The Internet increases the variance of human intelligence.

Human intelligence is asymmetrically distributed. Intelligence is capped on the bottom but it is long-tailed at the top. It is more like a Poisson distribution than a Gaussian distribution. The median is less than the average. As variance increases, the difference gap between average and median widens. Increased variance in intelligence is a pressure behind increasing income inequality. It makes the world less equal and more equitable.