An excellent recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 math/current affairs show "More or Less" dramatized "The Parable of the Ox," a short article by John Kay originally published in the Financial Times (
paywalled, alas, or I'd link to it available from Kay's site). Fans of James Surowiecki's Wisdom of the Crowds will know the first part of this story -- wherein the average of several guesses about the weight of an ox was more accurate than the guesses of any of the experts in the crowd. What this podcast and the article adds is a coda about how the use of "guesses" (or stock trades) as a way of weighing the ox quickly departed from guesses about the weight of the ox (or the value of a firm) and turned into guesses about other peoples' guesses about other peoples' guesses -- a financialized system that soon has no connection to the real economy or the real ox. And it ends, predictably enough, when the ox dies.
The Parable of the Ox [More or Less]
The parable of the ox [John Kay]
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.