The positive externalities of Eminem

And I probably ruined your parents’ life
And your childhood too
‘Cause if I’m the music that y’all grew up on
I’m responsible for you retarded fools
I’m the super villain Dad and Mom was losin’ their marbles to
You marvel that? Eddie Brock is you
And I’m the suit, so call me—

Eminem, 2021, Venom

In complex systems you can’t do one thing. When he was chief economist of Uber, John List and his team ran an experiment to see how tips affected drivers. They rolled out the option to tip in four cities and collected the data. Tips, List wrote, work. When drivers earned more they drove more. But you can’t do just one thing. When tipping expanded to other markets other drivers drove more too. With the increase supply of drivers but the same demand, total earnings with tips were about the same as before. But the drivers ended up working more. It was more per ride but fewer rides.

As a teen I remember big concerns about what music teens listened to. In 1990 the parental advisory label started to appear on CDs. In 1997 Eminem release The Slim Shady LP. That music was for my car only, not the house. Eminem gets this. “I’m the super villain Dad and Mom was losin’ their marbles to”. It was NOT GOOD that we were listening to this.


List’s Uber experiment explains an externality. Do one thing and this other thing happens too. Eminem’s other thing is health. Venom is my favorite workout song and Eminem is the 13th most popular artist on Spotify with fifty-three million plays. A month! That’s 100k hours a day. If one-fourth of those hours are someone exercising, that’s 14,000 pounds lost each month.

Behavior change starts with easily understood stories. Tell someone a story they agree with, or understand, or can tell to others (which raises their status). Eminem’s explicit lyrics are something to warn against. But telling a positive story through some Fermi thinking sounds good too.

This time *is* different.

“This time is different,” is often more wrong than right.

But sometimes, “this time is different” is.

This came up in the Super Pumped book about Uber. What made 2008-start-ups different from 1998-start-ups were new tools. Specifically, author Mike Isaac points out; AWS servers, consumers’ online habits (half of all homes paid for broadband), and the iPhone. That new environment meant that Uber had to do a lot to succeed, but not as much as companies of the previous generation.

Think about sports odds. Forget one team being better (in some metric), and instead, think of even odds. This highlights the importance of a bye round. A team with a first-round bye has the same chance of winning ‘both’ games as a team that’s a 70/30 favorite but with two games to play.

Tom Brady’s playoff record isn’t really the official 30-11 but rather 42-11. By winning so many games in the regular season, and earning byes, Brady effectively won twelve first-round playoff games.

This time might really be different if a business needs fewer flips of a coin. Uber succeeded because they needed less to go right.