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Tween Girls: Not Like Wall Street Traders

Today, Bloomberg’s Amity Shlaes has an evocative and delightfully wrongheaded column on the best way to police and regulate markets. She cites the efforts to stamp out bad behavior on OMGPOP, a social network where tween girls play games and gossip. Naughty young men were using inappropriate language, Shlaes writes, meaning that the adults had to come in to restore some order:

At first, Chief Executive Officer Dan Porter and his enforcement officer and community manager, Joseph Alminawi, took the Chris Dodd approach to regulation. They made lots and lots of rules, and then tried to enforce them. The two created a list of banned words. … [The] list of banned words [soon] reached an unenforceable 9,000.

In addition, the OMGPOP discovered that publicly scapegoating wrongdoers had a counterproductive effect. Once other rogues heard of a vigilante, they didn’t want to shun him. They wanted to join him — even create a tough new gang to hijack the sweet culture of OMGPOP.

So Porter and Alminawi took a different tack. They involved players in the game, in management, even. Premium members, who have spent sufficient hours on the site, get to test new games, for example. And, like the New York Stock Exchange before the Securities and Exchange Commission, they tried to get players to police one another. Banning still happened. But management worked anonymously and played on the deep human desire not to be excluded from a desirable tribe.

Self-policing, OMGPOP discovered, worked best, with “lollipop policing” trumping “Spitzeresque policing.” Shlaes says that the OMGPOP example “highlights flaws in legislation to overhaul the financial system.”

Except, of course, that the online social communities of teenage girls and the real businesses of Wall Street traders have nothing in common. Shlaes might as well be recommending using the United States’ successful drunk-driving laws to referee the upcoming World Cup.

To state the blindingly obvious: The financial world is zero-sum and profit-driven. The incentive is to put the other players out of business and to reap all of the profits for yourself. The world of OMGPOP is not zero-sum and is community-driven. The incentive is to make friends and play games. Therefore, self-policing makes sense for OMGPOP, where regulators want to weed out bad words and keep all participants happy and chatty. Wall Street cannot and should not be self-policing, because it is competitive and filled with adults who want to make billions of dollars while “[ripping] the face off” some other trader.

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