Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sat, 13 May 2006 12:10:19 +0900

ObRef FSB:

Ben, I think you're confusing the static state of being rich with the
property of being efficient, either in a static or a dynamic sense.
This is something that is common in free software advocacy as well.

In fact, confusing the static state of "having a nonrival good" with
the dynamic process of producing it is the fundamental error we see
repeated over and over again.

The larger thread has made much of the distinction between
"discovering" ideas and "inventing" them.  Having had the privilege of
associating (at a great distance, but in the same lecture hall :-)
with several Nobel Prize-winners over a couple of decades, I can tell
you that at a philosophical level you can debate over discovery
vs. invention, but at the economic level ideas are actively invented
and innovated, not passively discovered and diffused.  The great
thinkers not only "have" ideas; they *systematically* develop and
propagate them.

That is, good producers of ideas, whether initially "discovered" or
"created", have a *repeatable process* (yes, that's a reference to the
CMM) for taking them some part of the way to the market.
"Intellectual property" is not about rewarding "creativity"; it's
about rewarding that process of communication.

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:

    Ben> In that case, the South must have been stupid to not
    Ben> voluntarily give up all their slaves!


More precisely, from the point of view of static efficiency, it had
got to the point where wage labor was at least as efficient as slave
labor.  That is why ethical slaveowners were freeing their slaves,
and unethical ones were literally using them up in unsustainable
exploitation.  But this was a destruction of capital, mathematically
similar to any business that throws good capital after bad.

The reprehensible part was that the "capital" was human beings, each
unique and irreplaceable; otherwise we could just shrug and say of
such slaveowners "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,
that's life."

Unfortunately, the fact that there is an economically better
sustainable state doesn't mean you can get there from here without
bearing substantial cost and risk.  The mechanisms for sharing that
risk are even today poorly developed.  What was economically good for
The South may not have been clearly economically good for individual
Southern slaveowners.  It seems likely that economic myopia played a
large role in the persistence of slavery.

And then, of course, there's always been a cachet to being "landed
gentry" as opposed to "grubby merchant".  So in the sense that "being
a planter" was valued per se, it may have been economically (though
not morally) justifiable to continue the slave system.

    Ben> My impression says that the starving Irish went to the North,
    Ben> not the South.  Therefore they would not have been an
    Ben> economic factor in the South.

I assume you are aware that interregional trade was even then huge?
Don't you realize that your argument is isomorphic to "starving
programmers in Shanghai and Calcutta would not be an economic factor
in San Jose?"

    Ben> The cotton gin, by removing the most labour-intensive part of
    Ben> producing cotton made the potential profit of growing it much
    Ben> higher.  Which increased the value of the complementary job
    Ben> of actually PICKING the cotton.  Therefore it made slavery
    Ben> more profitable and sustained it.

That is true, but wage labor may have been even more productive yet,
dollar for dollar.  Google for "efficiency wage".

    Ben> This strongly suggests to me that slavery was economically
    Ben> worthwhile for the slaveowners.

In the sense that they had a pile of capital that they could run into
the ground, yes.  Being rich is always economically worthwhile in that

    Ben> (Until, that is, Union soldiers showed up.  But then the
    Ben> slaves became sharecroppers, and the overall improvement was
    Ben> minimal.)

Sez Ben.  One would think you measured everything in dollars, and
cared nothing for freedom.  ;-)

Graduate School of Systems and Information Engineering   University of Tsukuba        Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
        Economics of Information Communication and Computation Systems
          Experimental Economics, Microeconomic Theory, Game Theory