Can Economics Fix Email?


Is scarcity an idea that is powerful enough to fix our email overload problems?

There is no scarcity with email. With no scarcity, there is no discipline. And with no discipline, there's bad behavior–and tons of email.

Economists commonly refer to this problem–where the lack of scarcity pits individual interests against the common good–as the "tragedy of the commons"

I think a better solution would be if everyone could set their own price for receiving email. That would make the sender think more about whether or not the message is really so important.

  • I agree that scarcity would only be a good thing in the prevention of information overload. With a small initial investment and negligible marginal cost of sending an email, this does nothing to help prevent abuse of the system. Perhaps more regulation or a spam filter at a national level (this is not an advocation of Communism!) would help decrease spam.

  • Personally, I think options are growing better for fighting spam all the time on an individual level, so there’s no need for government intervention or significant structural changes. Gmail seems to do pretty well with regards to spam, and Thunderbird can pick most of the bad ones out as well. It may not solve the problem of network overload, but I think it solves the consumer problem of too much junk in the inbox quite nicely.

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