Thursday, June 7, 2012

Do you have change for used gum?

Earlier today, I happened to be thinking about microtransactions-- transactions of extremely small amounts of value, on the order of a few cents or even less than a cent. In a way, microtransactions represent a form of market failure (related to transactions costs). The value of the microtransaction is often so low that the cost of setting up the transaction prevents it from happening at all, even though both sides would be better off. However, part of this failure stems not from markets, but from the nature of our currency-- you can't make change for less than a penny, unless you're operating entirely digitally.

I had a bit of personal synchronicity on reading tomorrow's Dilbert. It turns out that Dilbert, one of the greatest popular examples of homo economicus, has already solved the microtransaction problem by switching to an alternative currency system*, one that has also been adopted by Tina the Tech Writer.

*I'm assuming it's an actual alternative currency system rather than barter, since the value of used gum vis-à-vis lint or bent staples seems to already have been established.

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