Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Mon, 15 May 2006 21:35:19 +0900

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

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

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

Honestly, I don't see anything suggestive or extraordinary here.

The South had a relatively simple problem (extracting agricultural
product from the land, exploiting labor).  It seems reasonable to
suppose that that simplicity makes it easier to be efficient in the
sense of "fraction of potential output achieved."  If IRC that the
efficiency that Fogel meant was something like "factor productivity,"
pure rent on the excellent land and superior weather conditions in the
South could very easily account for a much larger differential in
factor productivity, measured in value units.  But value units are all
we have to work with, since the North was *not* an agricultural
economy, certainly not one based on cotton exports.

Fogel deserved his Nobel Memorial Prize (for this research among
several), but his work on slavery was important because he started the
flamewar, not because he finished it.  Among other things, his sense
of history and social context was seriously lacking (according to
other well-respected economic historians, such as Paul David, Peter
Temin, and Herbert (sp?) Guttmann), and he clearly misinterpreted
(some would say "misrepresented") several of his data.

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

And you won't, because I did not make any such assertion, not by your
definition of "worthwhile".

What I implicitly asserted was that the South could have been at least
as productive under a free regime, assuming it was politically
feasible to get to it.  You counter that the South was more productive
than the North (at least, that is what Fogel claimed IIRC), and
conclude my assertion was false.

This is like if you can jump 1 meter on the Earth, and I can jump 109
centimeters on the Moon, then you deny that when I play in your gym
you'll get all the rebounds because I jump 9% higher.  That's obvious
nonsense.  What you are saying is non-obviously nonsense, because it's
a "natural" assumption that "other things are equal" between the North
and the South.  But that assumption is definitely incorrect, and you
are talking nonsense.

You need to argue, at a distance of 150 years, that the South's
agricultural efficiency was directly comparable with the North's
commercial and manufacturing efficiency, at some specific ratio of
cotton to manufactures.  Further, that the South's economy would have
been no more benefited by freedom than the North's.  Both points will
take some arguing.

Nor will you see me quote any actual data, because there isn't any
respectable data, one way or the other.  The South didn't try freedom
(for the slaves) until it was forced to, the capital stock was
seriously diminished by war damage, and the post-war economy was
warped by the so-called Reconstruction and "carpet-bagging Yankees".
Ie, the ante-/post-bellum comparison is even more broken than the
North/South one.

My argument is simply that under the hypothesis of political
feasibility for the transition, the physical conditions of production
in the antebellum South under freedom would be the same as under
slavery (which is a tautology), and the economic conditions would be
improved according the usual arguments favoring free economies (which
as far as I know you accept---with qualifications, of course!)  Anyway,
 *I* accept those arguments as basically valid, including this case.

Thus, I claimed that economically, the North American system of
slavery, as concentrated in the Southern states, could have been
abolished at any time in the past 400 years.  I'll concede I'm to a
great extent guessing.  (I hope you'll forgive me if I don't concede
that your guess is as good as mine. It would greatly upset my
employer! :-)  I did have to rebut your data, since you presented
data.  I did so, to my satisfaction.  YMMV, of course.

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

Yes and no, but mostly yes, especially for this particular good.  So I
won't go there.

I don't recall writing anything that suggested I wanted to do any
delving into consumer psychology, though.

    Ben> IMO, willingness to go to war over perceptions of someone
    Ben> else's freedom has more to do with the effects of propaganda
    Ben> than anything else.

I don't recall using the words "go to war."  Good Lord, are you
confusing me with Tom??!?

    Ben> I thought you were trying to use economics to define what is
    Ben> moral.

My dear Ben!  You should know that to a modern economist, "de gustibus
non est disputandum."  Morals are just God's tastes,[1] and even less
disputable by economic methods than the tastes of mortals.

    >> 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.

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

I grant that there are serious, sophisticated attempts to clarify the
meaning of morality via economic theory (cf. the works of Amartya
Sen).  I am not qualified to explain that school of thought, and I
haven't contributed to it.

So, "define," no.  Contribute to the application of some assumed
definition to reality, yes.  Heaven knows, this world needs all the
application it can get.

[1]  For all you agnostics, deists, atheists, and/or Satanists, who
are lacking a sense of humor, that's a metaphor, OK?

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          Experimental Economics, Microeconomic Theory, Game Theory