Chocolate and Gold Coins

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Blogs as an Educational Resource

Can you learn anything from blogs? Maybe. And maybe that knowledge will have a practical application.

Vikram Arumilli reads my blog regularly and has a nice blog Work In Progress. He read my post on spam. Here is the relevant excerpt:

I have a simple solution to the spam problem. The e-mail providers should simply charge the e-mail user a fee – maybe 25 cents – for each e-mail sent. The money would not go to the e-mail service or the government (leave them out of this) but to the recipient. If you send as many e-mails as you receive, it evens out, and e-mail is still free. If you receive tons of unsolicited e-mail, you are compensated for this bother. If you are a spammer, it becomes very costly to do business.

The big e-mail providers can easily switch to this kind of service overnight by asking the users to set up a money account when they open an e-mail account. They might ask for a one-time set-up fee of $10, which would pay for 40 e-mails. People like me would still have $10 in their accounts because we receive as much mail as we send. And if you discontinue service, the provider refunds your money.

It so happens that Vikram was taking an economics class. Guess what question wound up on the final? Here is an excerpt from Vikram’s post “Less study, more blogs”:

Well, today, this was a question on my Economics final exam:

5. (10 points) If you use email, you have almost surely received spam. Spam is almost free to the sender, while generating a cost on consumers and internet providers. For example, according to a February 13. 2005, New York Times article, "Hotmail alone catches about 3.2 billion messages a day."
(a) What economic concept most closely describes the spam phenomenon? Why?
(b) Describe one solution that would alleviate the spam problem and be consistent with the goal of maximum total surplus for society?

Of course, I shamelessly used Michael's ideas to answer part (b). So thanks, Michael, for writing a wonderful, educative blog, which is a delight to read daily.

Vikram: there’s nothing “shameless” about using other people’s ideas if you give credit, which you have done very nicely. That’s is what academics is all about.

But I have to admit that I would never have thought my blog would be at all useful. This was a nice surprise.

Of course, I’m assuming that the grader will agree that Vikram and I had the right idea. If Vikram doesn’t get full marks… maybe back to studying.


  • Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the feedback. Hopefully we will find out by Thursday what the graders think of the spam idea.


    By Blogger Vikram A., at 2:37 PM  

  • Hi Vikram
    If he doesn't give you full credit, I want to talk to this guy!

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:05 PM  

  • wonderful idea! I was just wondering as I read this would you call this a zero sum game - what one loses the other gains (assuming the recepient replies to all mails - excluding the spam/unsolicited ones)- or a non zero sum game - everyone gains - except for the spammer (and who cares about them anyways?!) - your solution, in an ideal world, is win-win all the way - in a less than ideal world, people refusing to reply to emails :) (incoherent -just thinking aloud)

    By Anonymous charu, at 1:37 AM  

  • Hi Charu
    Yes, this would be zero sum in essence since all of the money would stay with the e-mail users. Obviously, if one wins, someone loses. The only losers are spammer, and who cares.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 7:31 PM  

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