Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Ben Tilly" <>
Date: Sun, 14 May 2006 22:57:30 -0700

 Sun, 14 May 2006 22:57:30 -0700
On 5/14/06, Stephen J. Turnbull <> wrote:
> yes
> >>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:
>     >> Once again you are looking at the wrong thing.
>     Ben> How so?
> You keep taking the North, with its own supply curve and its own
> demand curve, and the South, with its own supply curve and its own
> demand curve, and connecting the intersection point on graph A with
> the intersection point on graph B, and claiming that shows something
> about a *third* supply curve on graph B, which nobody has drawn yet.

That's not exactly what I'm doing...

> It doesn't.  Not without a lot more work.

I agree that it is not a proof.  However it is damned suggestive, and
it would be extraordinary in my eyes if the South could really be over
9% more efficient as a free society than the North.  Doubly so since
the reasons that I can think of why free societies are more efficient
are ones that worked better in the North than the South.

>     Ben> It is very easy for unrectified theft to be worthwhile for
>     Ben> the thief...
> How do you know?  Sure, it's guaranteed to be a positive profit, but
> what proof have you that there are no alternatives worth significantly
> more?

No proof, but the burden of proof should be on the one making the
extraordinary assertion.

> Remember, the original question was "is freedom more profitable than
> slavery?", not "will slavery quickly go bankrupt by itself?"

Slavery was 9% more efficient than freedom, and I would expect freedom
to make more of a difference in the society that was free.  Therefore
it seems extraordinary to assert that the society with slavery would
have been more efficient still had it been free.

Also note that this was not originally a question, this was an
ASSERTION that I questioned.  I've offered some relatively concrete
data backing up the position that the theft of slavery was
(temporarily) worthwhile for the thieves.  I have yet to see you quote
any actual data for the assertion that it is not.

>     >> Of course it's an economic question, and of course freedom qua
>     >> freedom makes a great deal of sense in economic terms, despite
>     >> the fact that my colleagues and I have yet to find a good way
>     >> to measure it or implement it in our models.
>     Ben> Only if you believe that all things should become part of the
>     Ben> province of economics.
> A consumer is a person who chooses what he likes, under some
> restrictions on expenditure.  Many people say they like freedom, and
> by golly they act that way at some expense to themselves.  There may
> be things we can learn about this decision to bear some expense from
> consumer theory.  That is economic analysis, stripped to the buck-
> nekkid essentials.

My impression based on what you were saying is that you were trying to
recreate utilitarianism, which (to the best of my understanding) turns
out to be a not a particularly useful approach to understanding
people's moralities.

However it seems that you're talking about something more reasonable.
So let me be sidetracked into that.

If you delve far enough into the motivations of a random consumer, you
will eventually come to the province of psychology.  In that province
the techniques of economics will avail you little.

IMO, willingness to go to war over perceptions of someone else's
freedom has more to do with the effects of propaganda than anything
else.  And while propaganda has economic causes and effects, I think
that it is much more fruitful to think of its impact as a question for
psychology, and apply psychological methods to understanding it.

Therefore while one can try to apply economics to the subject, I don't
think that you'll be able to form a very useful understanding of the
topic.  Indeed your comments suggest that nobody has managed to do
much with this approach on this topic, which does not surprise me at
all.  But don't let my naysaying dissuade you, it is always possible
someone will succeed at this.

> By defining the province of economics to be those things that are
> currently measured in dollars, you are condemning economics to
> rationalize the market, and leaving it no role in criticizing existing
> institutions.

I thought you were trying to use economics to define what is moral.
The problem with that is that there is no generally accepted
foundation for morality.  Without that it is still possible to address
the question, but only if you accept either of two limitations.

The first alternative is that you are merely seeking to inform moral
choices with concrete information about the actual consequences of
your decisions.  That is, economics is not trying to say what is
right, merely what the true choices really are.  This economics can
and does do.

The second alternative is that you're willing to accept that you're
defining a morality that nobody actually believes in.  Then you're
free to go to town.  But when you're done, I'd suggest using a
different word than "morality" because what you'll wind up with won't
be morality.

There are are a lot of non-dollar related things that economics can
and does address without tackling topics like this

> Of course you know to what subject Adam Smith's chair was dedicated.
> It's certainly appropriate that the somewhat arid subject of modern
> economics be given a different name, yet some of us practicing
> economists aspire to be worthy to return to such a chair someday.

Perhaps you DO want to define morality after all...

I assume that you're thinking of Adam Smith's second chair.  His first
one was logic.