On the gameshow “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, each contestant started the game with three lifelines – if they got in trouble and didn’t know the answer to a question, they could get help.
They could play a 50/50, which eliminated two wrong answers from the four possible answers.
They could Phone a Friend and speak with someone for 30 seconds whose knowledge may have exceeded their own in some regards.
Or they could Ask the Audience.
This last lifeline has always fascinated me – it represents a cornerstone of free market capitalism after all.
When you Ask the Audience, you are crowdsourcing wisdom – assuming that the majority of any large group of people will be so close to the truth (and so evenly too high and too low) that the outliers will be insignificant and the average a useful figure.
Most of the time, it works really well.
For example, if you looked in your mobile phone contacts right now, you might find about 150 individuals you know at least a little. If you texted them all right now, and asked them how much you should pay for a haircut tomorrow, I imagine you’d get some interesting replies.
If we removed the outliers (your best mate telling you he’ll do it for free, or one of your exes telling you to piss off) we might get 100 serious replies.
I suspect that regardless of your gender, we could chop off the highest ten guesses and the lowest ten and take a mean of the rest and we’d have a workable number.
Now imagine you decided to take that number under advisement and texted your question to a Premiership footballer who didn’t know you at all.
I suspect his answer might be a little………..off.
And this is like how the free market outperforms central planners.
When you rely on lots and lots of people to discover a price for you, the answer is usually quite reliable, and can take into account lots of variables.
But when you ask someone with a highly skewed impression of what things cost (“How much is a pint of milk Minister?”) things tend to get a bit weird.
So next time you are informed that your local council just spanked a million quid of your council tax on two bollards and a speed bump, don’t be surprised they don’t know the price of things.
Because they failed to Ask The Audience.