My latest paper, Public Choice and Bloomington School Perspectives on Intellectual Property (pdf) written with Eli Dourado), gives capsule summaries of the Virginia school of public choice and the Ostrom’s Bloomington School and then applies some of these ideas to the political economy of intellectual property. Here is one bit on the early history of the copyright law illustrating that Disney’s rewriting of the copyright law to extend its rents is nothing new, rent seekers began to expand on the Constitutional clause almost from the day the ink was dry:
Almost immediately after the first session of Congress, writers began to petition Congress for protection for their works. The Copyright Act of 1790 was meant to fill in the administrative details of how copyright law would work. Importantly, the first draft of the new law appears to have been written not by a member of Congress, but by Noah Webster (Patry 1994)! Webster, cousin to Senator Daniel Webster, was the author of numerous textbooks and, of course, the famous dictionary that still bears his name. His draft of the copyright act, which was not adopted in full, would have extended copyright not just to authors, but also to booksellers and printers. As it was, the 1790 law covered not only books but also maps and charts (a rather broad reading of the Constitution’s writings). Webster was also instrumental in getting the 1831 act passed. The 1831 act doubled protections from 14 to 28 years. Writing to Eliza W. Jones, Webster noted,
[My] business in part was to use my influence to procure an extension of the law for securing copy-rights to authors. . . . By this bill the term of copy-right is secured for 28 years, with the right of renewal . . . for 14 years more. If this should become law, I shall be much benefited.
Webster to Eliza W. Jones, January 10, 1831.
Here is a very interesting piece from 1983 (jstor), Population and Development Review, it is called “Technological Advance, Economic Growth, and the Distribution of Income,” here is one excerpt:
In populous, poor, less developed countries, technological unemployment has existed for a long time under the name of “disguised agricultural unemployment”; in Bangladesh, for instance, there are more people on the land than are needed to cultivate it on the basis of any available technology. Industrialization is counted upon by the governments of most of these countries to relieve the situation by providing — as it did in the past — much additional employment.
If I may put this into my own terminology, Leontief is suggesting that at some margins fixed proportions mean many agricultural laborers, or would-be laborers, are ZMP or zero marginal product.
Haven’t you ever wondered how some traditional economies can have unemployment rates which are so high? Those are “structural” problems, yes, but of what kind?
By the way, Brad DeLong cites Larry Summers on ZMP workers:
My friend and coauthor Larry Summers touched on this a year and a bit ago when he was here giving the Wildavski lecture. He was talking about the extraordinary decline in American labor force participation even among prime-aged males–that a surprisingly large chunk of our male population is now in the position where there is nothing that people can think of for them to do that is useful enough to cover the costs of making sure that they actually do it correctly, and don’t break the stuff and subtract value when they are supposed to be adding to it.
I very much enjoyed this book, which also gave me an excuse to dig out old Rolling Stones albums and listen to them again (“Dear Doctor” is perhaps my favorite Stones song, an odd choice). If it were a 2013 publication this memoir would make my best books of the year list. Here is p.167:
“The only reason we got a record deal with Decca was because Dick Rowe turned down the Beatles. EMI got them, and he could not afford to make the same mistake twice. Decca was desperate…they thought, it’s just a fad, it’s a matter of a few haircuts and we’ll tame them anyway. But basically we only got a record deal because they could just not afford to fuck up twice.”
The author is Walter A. Friedman and the Amazon link is here. It is a good and readable look at a neglected corner of the history of economic thought, covering Roger Babson, Irving Fisher, John Moody, Warren Persons, Wesley Mitchell, and others. Here is one bit:
At Yale, [Irving] Fisher conducted dietary experiments with student athletes in ways that no university today would allow. These included one test that compared athletes who chewed their food thoroughly against those who did not and one that pitted the endurance of meat eaters against vegetarians. He gained enough authority as a nutrition expert for the makers of the cereal grape-Nuts to include his endorsement in a 1907 advertisement. It mentioned Fisher’s experiments on yale students “to determine the effects of the thorough mastication of food.” Fisher, the ad claimed, found that their endurance was increased 50 percent, although they took no more exercise than before and has reduce their consumption of “flesh foods” by five-sixths. Fisher also chaired a nationwide Committee of One Hundred on National Health that wrote reports and built a network of experts and public figures to agitate for “increased federal regulation of public health” — specifically, a cabinet-level department of health.
…Health, according to Fischer, deserved as much attention from economists as import and export totals.
This is a book that John P. Cullity would have enjoyed.
John Sides talks with Julio Suarez, who has been researching the topic:
Recently they don’t look much different at all. When you take the average member appointed by a Democratic president and the average member appointed by a Republican president, you observe what you expect: Since 1936, Democratic appointees are slightly more dovish than Republican appointees, although the difference is not statistically significant. The average score for a Democratic appointee is -0.22 vs. -0.08 for a Republican appointee.
There is more here, including a graph and a link to the underlying data.
Here is the second paragraph of the piece:
In Asimov’s tale ["Franchise"], set in November 2008, democratic elections have become nearly obsolete. A mysterious supercomputer said to be “half a mile long and three stories high,” named Multivac, absorbs most of the current information about economic and political conditions and estimates which candidate is going to win. The machine, however, can’t quite do the job on its own, as there are some ineffable social influences it cannot measure and evaluate. So Multivac picks out one “representative” person from the electorate to ask about the country’s mood (sample query: “What do you think of the price of eggs?”). The answers, when combined with the initial computer diagnosis, suffice to settle the election. No one actually needs to vote.
The full article is here. There is an on-line version of Asimov’s Franchise here.
Companies, academics and individual software developers will be able to use it at a small fraction of the previous cost, drawing on IBM’s specialists in fields like computational linguistics to build machines that can interpret complex data and better interact with humans.
That is a big deal, obviously. The story is here.
The author is Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey and that is a new book published by MIT Press. The Amazon link is here. Here is a bit from the book’s home page:
In this book, Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey provides a systematic examination of deliberation on monetary policy from 1976 to 2008 by the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee (FOMC) and House and Senate banking committees. Her innovative account employs automated textual analysis software to study the verbatim transcripts of FOMC meetings and congressional hearings; these empirical data are supplemented and supported by in-depth interviews with participants in these deliberations. The automated textual analysis measures the characteristic words, phrases, and arguments of committee members; the interviews offer a way to gauge the extent to which the empirical findings accord with the participants’ personal experiences.
Here is one of several interesting bits:
Well the Brynjolfsson and McAffee book, “Race Against the Machine,” that’s a great book. It’s influenced my thinking. I just read their second forthcoming book, “The Second Machine Age.” They focus more on automation than I do and less on inequality and much less on social issues. But I think of myself as thinking along the same lines as they do. But they and I, we differ a lot about the past. So they don’t think the past has been a great stagnation. I agree with them a lot about the future, but disagree with them a lot about the past.
Gordon, I disagree with him about the future, but agree with him about the past. So Gordon, like me, sees a great stagnation. And he thinks it will never ever end. I think that’s crazy. Even if it were true, how would you know? But I see a lot of areas, not only artificial intelligence, but medicine and genomics, where the advances are not on the table now. But it’s hard to believe there’s not going to be a lot more coming. Science is very healthy. There’re new discoveries all the time. The lags are much longer than we’d like to think, but absolutely progress is not over, and we’re about to see a new wave of progress over the lifetimes of our children.
The full dialog is here.
It was with Joshua Rothman, here is one bit:
The whole narrative you unfold—intelligent software, human-computer cooperation, deferring to our smartphones—sounds very futuristic. Do you think we’re living through a historically unprecedented period?
I don’t accept the view that this new era is so different from every time in the past. Consider the industrial revolution, which starts in Great Britain in the seventeen-seventies or seventeen-eighties. For a long time, you had rising inequality, fairly stagnant living standards, a lot of problems adjusting. Of course, we did eventually get over it in the longer run, and it was much better for everyone. But it took, arguably, fifty or sixty years for us to make that transition. I think this future wave of inequality, which is already underway, will be a lot like that. It will take us decades to make the transition. Those decades will bring a lot of problems. But I think that in the much longer run—which is not what the book is about—it will be much more positive than it will seem during the transition era. I think this period fits quite nicely with historical precedent.
There is also this:
In the U.S., New York City is probably the most unequal place we’ve got. And I find it striking how many people believe, first, that inequality is terrible, and that this vision for the future is horrible, and, at the same time, think, “Oh, I love New York City!”
We already have places with extreme inequality, but life there goes on, and we don’t recoil in horror. The non-wealthy parts of New York are very vital, and have the best of humanity in them. We have intuitions [about equality and inequality] that are derived from American post-war history. I don’t want to dismiss those intuitions altogether, but I think we need to be more skeptical of them.
University of Minnesota economist David Levinson envisions a future in which per capita vehicle travels falls significantly, bringing traffic congestion down with it. The chief driver of this death of traffic is not the emergence of a new transportation technology, though technology certainly plays a role in Levinson’s scenario. Rather, it is the shrinking of the American workweek coupled with new business models which draw primarily on existing technologies. Though written in an understated style, it is quite entertaining. I recommend reading it in its entirety. A few aspects of his vision struck me as particularly notable:
1. Just as it was once standard for U.S. workers to work a six-day week, Levinson imagines that the workweek will continue to shrink. Every-other Friday off (the 5/4 schedule) becomes standard by 2015; by 2020, the standard schedule becomes a 9 hour day with four days a week in the office and 4 additional hours of checking in from home; by 2025, workers are taking every-other Monday off (the 4/3 schedule); and by 2030, the “flipped” office, like the “flipped” classroom, becomes the norm — i.e., workers do the bulk of their work at home, and they come to the office for “interactive collaboration days.”
2. But it’s not just the workweek that will change. The pattern of how we work over the life course will also change. Levinson envisions a world in which almost half the population doesn’t enter the paid workforce until age 30, as firms lose interest in financing training. Instead, most people go through an extended apprenticeship period that can last as long as a decade, combining unpaid internships and attending school online. And most people exit the workforce by age 60, as technological advances reduce the value of older workers.
3. The changing workweek causes the value of office buildings to plummet. As office buildings are converted to apartments, the least desirable of which become home to the 20-somethings toiling away at their unpaid internships (subsidized, presumably, by parents, or sustained by part-time work), residential constructions in the suburbs grinds to a halt, and suburban property values drift down, thus making suburban neighborhoods more attractive to low-income households. Large garages are transformed into stores, workshops, and accessory dwellings as families choose to maintain fewer automobiles. Car-sharing, meanwhile, grows more entrenched as a larger share of the population comes to reside in urban cores. (This has the effect of reducing per capita vehicle trips because while car-sharing eliminates many of the fixed costs associated with vehicle ownership, it increases the marginal cost per trip.)
4. Shopping, once a big contributor to vehicle trips, is transformed as people (and their autonomous agents) order online and have goods delivered; decentralized manufacturing and 3-D printing on-demand, in turn, shrink supply chains
There is more at the link…
That is the new book by Mark Lewisohn, and I was so keen to finish it that I neglected to see the Ender’s Game movie yesterday. 944 pp. and you only get up to 1962 and the beginnings of the first LP! Despite the length, it is gripping throughout. In addition to the obvious angles on The Beatles, it is a study of Liverpudlian history, the nature of poverty, why educating even really smart people can be problematic, why relative age matters so much for young people, how groups gel, the importance of practice, the importance of management, and the importance of origins, among a variety of other more general topics.
This work is one of my five favorite non-fiction books of the year. And if you are wondering, it is not just me: the book has received very positive reviews elsewhere.
The author is Alan Taylor and the subtitle is Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.
This is one of the best history books I have read, ever. Every sentence is excellent (is there higher praise?). And let me add: 1) I hate reading books about Virginia, and 2) I feel “I’ve read enough books about slavery.”
I learned a great deal about a variety of topics including The War of 1812, how the British used escaped slaves against the Americans, the tensions between western and Tidewater Virginia, the early Virginia debates about how to eventually deport the slaves. But that hardly gets at what makes this book special. More importantly than any of those specifics, it brings an entire period to life in a memorable manner.
I read this one because Jon Elster urged me too. Don’t forget, by the way:
In 1819 Virginia remained the preeminent slave state, home to nearly a third of the nation’s one and a half million slaves.
Very highly recommended, I hope it wins the National Book Award and it will be prominent on my forthcoming best books of 2013 list.
That is a new paper by Morgan Kelly, Joek Mokyr, and Cormac Ó Gráda, and the abstract is here:
Why was Britain the cradle of the Industrial Revolution? Answers vary: some focus on resource endowments, some on institutions, some on the role of empire. In this paper, we argue for the role of labour force quality or human capital. Instead of dwelling on mediocre schooling and literacy rates, we highlight instead the physical condition of the average British worker and his higher endowment of skills. These advantages meant that British workers were more productive and better paid than their Continental counterparts and better equipped to capitalize on the technological opportunities and challenges confronting them.
The British were fed better, they may have been smarter for nutritional reasons, and they also had a better system of apprenticeships.