The creative commons

Larry Lessig has followed his principles and put his new book, Free Culture, online for free with full rights to redistribute, copy, or otherwise reuse or remix so long as you do so for non-commercial purposes and credit Lessig. Some enterprising bloggers have already taken advantage of the license to record each chapter in MP3 format. Surprisingly, the Lessig book is being simultaneously published by Penguin, which seems like a big risk for them – and having told you where you can get the book for free, will you now buy it at Amazon earning us our vigorish?

I haven’t read Free Culture yet but Lessig’s earlier book, The Future of Ideas, was excellent. Believe it or not, the Future of Ideas, is an argument for the virtue of the commons based upon insights from Austrian economics. A strange but compelling combination.

Addendum: Read Russell Roberts interviewing Larry Lessig here.

Piece work

Violinists at a German orchestra are suing for a pay rise on the grounds that they play many more notes per concert than their musical colleagues – a litigation that the orchestra’s director yesterday called “absurd”.

The 16 violinists at the Beethoven Orchestra, in the former West German capital Bonn argue that they work more than their colleagues who play instruments including the flute, oboe and trombone.

The violinists also say that a collective bargaining agreement that gives bonuses to performers who play solos is unjust.

Here is the full story. Here is a useful site on the labor theory of value. How about paying composers by the number of notes as well?

Bastiat’s house is for sale

The Dufaur de Gavardie de Monclar family, who jointly own Bastiat’s property in Souprosse, inform us that they have reluctantly decided to put it up for sale, as no one member of the family is able to purchase it. It consists of a fine 17th century manor house, with early 20th century alterations, approached via a long tree-lined driveway, a barn and an outbuilding, all set in grounds of 28,000 m².

The main house has a surface area of 200m², on three levels, that is 600m² of living space. The barn, with a timber-frame roof of outstanding architectural interest, has a surface area of 400m² and consists of three levels. The outbuilding is a house on two levels, with a surface area of 100m².

The whole property is for sale for 426,900 euros.

Here is the link, thanks to the Mises blog for the pointer. Here is a short biography of Bastiat that also contains links to many of his works. Perhaps I will stop by the house to pay my respects.

Nothing Secedes Like Secession

I’m in Tucson for a conference. Haven’t been here for a while and it’s striking how different the world looks here in the Southwest compared to the East Coast and most everywhere else. Desert. Cacti. The architecture. Javelinas–little wild boars. Saw some on the 18th hole of the resort’s golf course, wandering around. Even the squirrels are different here.

We take it for granted that this is part of America. But this nation from sea to shining sea could easily be lots of different countries a la Europe. Jay Winik in April 1865: The Month That Saved America talks about how unlikely it appeared in say, 1790 or 1820 that the US would become what it is today. Before the Civil War, the Whiskey Rebellion threatened to split off the western part of the United States. New England almost signed a treaty with England and split rather than join in on the War of 1812. California and Oregon considered forming a Pacific Nation.

By the end of the 1820s and into the early 1830s…when many Americans spoke of the Union, however much they had come to love it, they spoke of “our confederacy,” or more simply of “the Republic.” The Constitution, however revered, was a “compact.” The United States was just as often “the states United,” or “the united States,” or even “a league of sovereign states,” and was invariably spoken of as a plural noun.

Would it make any difference if Arizona were another country? Besides the hassle of going through customs for this conference, it might make a lot of difference. It would depend on the institutions and culture. Without American culture, trust, legal system and so on, there might not be a resort here, there might not be a booming Tucson. And of course, it could be even better. And had Arizona or other states broken away, it would have changed how the rest of the country evolved along the way.

Here’s David Friedman’s theory of the size and shape of nations.

The ten most successful kleptocrats?

Directly below you will find a list of the most influential businessmen in history. For purposes of contrast, Ben Muse refers us to a list of the ten biggest political kleptocrats, here goes:

1. Mohamed Suharto President of Indonesia from 1967-98: US$15 to 35 billion
2. Ferdinand Marcos President of the Philippines from 1972-86 US$5 to 10 billion
3. Mobutu Sese Seko President of Zaire from 1965-97 US$5 billion
4. Sani Abacha President of Nigeria from 1993-98 US$2 to 5 billion
5. Slobodan Milosevic President of Serbia/Yugoslavia from 1989-2000 US$1 billion
6. Jean-Claude Duvalier President of Haiti from 1971-86 US$300 to 800 million
7. Alberto Fujimori President of Peru from 1990-2000 US$600 million
8. Pavlo Lazarenko Prime Minister of Ukraine from 1996-97 US$114 to 200 million
9. Arnoldo Alemán President of Nicaragua from 1997-2002 US$100 million
10. Joseph Estrada President of the Philippines from 1998-2001 US$78 to 80 million

It depends, of course, on what you count as stolen. Arguably some Saudis should make the list, though they claim to own the oil legitimately. Of course relative to gdp, Haiti’s Duvalier is a clear number one.

Addendum: Here is a good article on how Suharto did it.

Who are the most influential businessmen in history?

Joel Mokyr offers his list:

Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) †¢ Powered Industrial Revolution (Marginal Revolution’s first post was on Boulton and his friends.)

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) †¢ Carnegie’s Steel Built America

Walt Disney (1901-1966) †¢ Mega Media Blueprint

Henry Ford (1863-1947) †¢ Democratized Transportation

Edward H. Harriman (1848-1909) †¢ Proto-turn-around artist

Henry J. Kaiser (1882-1967) †¢ Fathered the HMO

Ray Kroc (1902-1984) †¢ Founding Father Of the Fast-Food Nation

William Lever (1851-1925) †¢ Invented “The Brand”

Henry Luce (1898-1967) †¢ Mass Media Pioneer

J. P. Morgan (1837-1913) †¢ Saved Wall Street

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) †¢ Invented Dynamite, Holding Company

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) †¢ Spawned Global Energy Industry

Meyer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) †¢ International Financier Pioneer

Alfred P. Sloan (1875-1966) †¢ The Perfect Organization Man

Gerard Swope (1872-1957) †¢ Wove Capitalism’s Safety Net

Sakichi Toyoda (1867-1930) †¢ Smarter Machines Sage

Sam Walton (1918-1992) †¢ Perfected Mass Retailing

Aaron Montgomery Ward (1843-1913) †¢ “No Store” Retailer

Thomas J. Watson Jr. (1914-1993) †¢ Wired Corporate America

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) †¢ Invented Celebrity Endorsements

A good list, but it fails to reflect just how much business has transformed our society. How about Zukor, Laemmle, Fox, or Cohn, some of the early founders of Hollywood? You could add the Medici, the unknown father of double-entry bookkeeping, or how about Gutenberg for that matter?

Here is the complete article. Thanks to Lynne Kiesling for the pointer.

My whereabouts

Tomorrow I will be back at UNESCO, attending another meeting on cultural diversity. Several countries, most notably France, would like UNESCO to have the power to overturn the free trade commitments made through the WTO and the EU for that matter. Did you know that Brussels has told France that it must allow books to be advertised on television, something previously forbidden?

France and others would like to cement the principle of the “cultural exception” through as many international organizations as possible, UNESCO included. Of course the exceptions would not stop at culture, nor would the rubric of culture remain modest. Along other lines, some of the African experts at the meeting have come out for “enforceable sanctions” against countries that do not do “everything possible” to protect their native and indigenous cultures. I think this means us. I wonder if all of these people also favored sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In addition to his better-known crimes, Saddam went to great efforts to destroy the culture of the so-called marsh Arabs, draining the marsh was only part of his nefarious agenda. In these meetings I am arguing for…well, if you don’t know…you haven’t been reading this blog for long enough.

The timing for this visit is less propitious than my last trip. Then the Parisians were talking up cultural diversity while banning headscarves in the schools. Now U.S. officials are squawking because the WTO is telling us we cannot ban on-line gambling. Here is Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, sounding like a Frenchman: “It’s appalling…It cannot be allowed to stand that another nation can impose its values on the U.S. and make it a trade issue.” The Bush administration is planning to appeal the ruling.

So I will be busy. My personal posts will continue, but at a lower level than usual. Alex and our excellent guest bloggers will be active, and I will be back in full force upon my return.

“Curing” Obesity

Researchers claim to have discovered one of the key causes of obese America. The AP reports:

Researchers say they’ve found more evidence of a link between a rapid rise in obesity and a corn product used to sweeten soft drinks and food since the 1970s.

The researchers examined consumption records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 1967-2000 and combined it with previous research and their own analyses.

The data showed an increase in the use of high-fructose corn sweeteners in the late 1970s and 1980s “coincidental with the epidemic of obesity,” said one of the researchers, Dr. George A. Bray, a longtime obesity scientist with Louisiana State University System’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. He noted the research didn’t prove a definitive link.

I like the hedging–the link isn’t “definitive.” No, I guess it wouldn’t be. Obesity is surely also “linked” to the Iran hostage crisis and the stagflation of the late ’70s and early 80s. Maybe I shouldn’t be so skeptical. The study may be a little more scientific than merely looking at correlation rather than causation. But if the research is right, it will be easy to make America thin again. Just ban those high fructose sweeteners. One problem with this will be explaining why the advent of low calories sweeteners didn’t stem the tide of fat that allegedly threatens to overwhelm us.

My theory is that we’re fat because we enjoy it. We like food. It gives us pleasure. We’re wealthy and food’s cheap so we’re taking on a few pounds. Alex points out that the entire increase in weight over the past several decades can be explained by an extra Three Oreo Cookies a day! Here is a paper by Glaeser, Cutler and Shapiro that takes the economists’ approach to weight gain.

Here’s my take on the claim that we should tax fatty foods because of the externalities.

You get what you pay for

Smart women who were shut out of the professions used to become teachers. That was bad for the women but good for their students.

The best female students – those whose test scores put them in the top 10 percent of their high school classes – are much less likely to become teachers today.

“Whereas close to 20 percent of females in the top decile in 1964 chose teaching as a profession,” making it their top choice, the economists write, “only 3.7 percent of top decile females were teaching in 1992,” making teachers about as common as lawyers in this group.

So the chances of getting a really smart teacher have gone down substantially. In 1964, more than one out of five young female teachers came from the top 10 percent of their high school classes. By 2000, that number had dropped to just over one in 10.

Women who do become teachers, however, are better educated today than in earlier years so rather than a total dumbing down there has been a trend towards mediocrity.

Merit pay would lead to better teachers but it is opposed by unions.

This is from the ever-wise Virginia Postrel, NYT password required. Here is a link to the original research. Caroline Hoxby argues that wage compression, often brought on by unionization, is responsible for three-quarters of the decline in the aptitude of female teachers.

The pledge of allegiance

Yesterday at the Supreme Court, Michael Newdow argued his own case against the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and apparently he did very well – managing to elicit a rare round of applause from the audience and ending gracefully on time and on point. Personally, although I am not religious, the phrase “under God” doesn’t raise my hackles. It’s the rest of the pledge that I hate.

Cato’s Gene Healy says it well:

From its inception, in 1892, the Pledge has been a slavish ritual of devotion to the state, wholly inappropriate for a free people. It was written by Francis Bellamy, a Christian Socialist pushed out of his post as a Baptist minister for delivering pulpit-pounding sermons on such topics as “Jesus the Socialist.” Bellamy was devoted to the ideas of his more-famous cousin Edward Bellamy, author of the 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward. Looking Backward describes the future United States as a regimented worker’s paradise where everyone has equal incomes, and men are drafted into the country’s “industrial army” at the age of 21, serving in the jobs assigned them by the state…Bellamy’s book inspired a movement of “Nationalist Clubs,” whose members campaigned for a government takeover of the economy. A few years before he wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy became a founding member of Boston’s first Nationalist Club….

Bellamy’s ritual for honoring the flag was right in step with those other National Socialists. Here’s a picture, dug up by Bob Wallace, illustrating the recommended salute (which later was to became politically incorrect).


The salute may be gone but the message remains.

Addendum: Hat tip to Walter in Denver who links to these even creepier photos of kids pledging allegiance.

Water on Mars

Maybe there was once water on Mars. Maybe not. Reuters reports:

“We think Opportunity is now parked on what was once the shoreline of a salty sea on Mars,” said Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the science payload on Opportunity and its twin Mars exploration Rover, Spirit.

On March 2, astronomers announced that the Red Planet was “drenched with water” at some point. But the rovers’ analysis of Mars rocks has now produced the first concrete evidence that liquid water might actually have flowed on planet’s surface.

“If you have an interest in searching for fossils on Mars, this is the first place to go,” said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for space science.

Love that alliteration–the shoreline of a salty sea. It conjures up images of beachcombers and cottages or at least seashells and seaweed with terns turning in the sunlight. Seems like a bit of a stretch. NASA thinks they’ve found not just moisture, not just a few molecules of H2O but a sea with rocks drenched with salty spray, rocks lovingly shaped by streaming water. Pardon my skepticism, but it seems that NASA has just a bit of interest in stretching the results. Notice that even Reuters uses the word “might.”

This hasn’t dampened any of the enthusiasm. Here’s one analysis headlined “Mars water discoveries loom huge” that compares the finding to Galileo’s discoveries.

…the sheer disclosure of the presence of water on a planet other than our own is monumental. It ranks with the moment, nearly 400 years ago, when Galileo Galilei peered through his telescope and discovered spots on the sun, mountains on the moon and four tiny bodies circling Jupiter.

Those revelations, which today are taken for granted, also were monumental in their day. Prior to their disclosure, people confidently — even fervently — believed Earth was the immovable center of the universe, surrounded by all the heavenly bodies, each of which was a perfect, featureless sphere. Galileo’s announcement was considered so shocking at the time he was charged with heresy by the Roman Catholic Church.

Opportunity’s findings have been treated more matter of factly, with NASA officials holding a news conference and bubbling over with enthusiasm at the images Opportunity has transmitted, and members of the media duly reporting the information and displaying the rover’s images.

Yet the importance of this finding cannot be overstated.

Until now, we have known for sure of only one planet on which liquid water has flowed — and water is absolutely essential for supporting life as we know it. There are no chemical processes that will permit the formation of the long, complex organic molecules composing living organisms other than in the presence of water.

It is an extremely simple rule: No water, no life. As long as Earth was the only planetary body containing liquid water — and, more particularly, seawater — then it was the only place in the universe where life was possible.

Now, suddenly, there are two.

Is this a huge discovery? Huge for NASA, certainly, eager to send people to Mars in search of fossils or at least an abandoned sailboat.

I’m in the middle of Simon Morris’s Life’s Solutions: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. I suspect Morris is unimpressed with the latest Martian chronicle. He argues that it is very likely that we’re alone in the universe. The first part of the book that makes this claim is fascinating with quirky writing and lots of good information. The rest of the book argues for the inevitability of humanity evolving. The writing and narrative of the second half is less spritely and slower going but the first part of the book is very much worth a look.

Can they read us in China? reports:

All and hosted sites are banned in China starting this morning, a week after China has agreed to amend its constitution to respect human rights. This is another move by the Central government to curb free speech and freedom of information on the Internet. This is the first time in two years that China has blocked access to foreign servers that host personal sites.

Please write me from China and tell me this is wrong.

By the way:

81% of all cyber dissidents in the world are held in China: 59 out of 72 logged by Reporters Without Borders compared to 38 out of 48 in November 2003.

The afore-mentioned news is tragic, but if true it is a measure of how influential the blogsophere has become. Thanks to Scott Cunningham for the pointer, check out his blog, which covers a good deal of economics.

Russ Roberts, Guest Blogger!

We are delighted to have our colleague, Russ Roberts, blogging with us over the next 10 days or so. Russ is the world’s only economist who has written a fable and a romance and a number of papers in top academic journals like the Journal of Political Economy.

What’s an economist doing writing a romance? Well, economics is a romantic science. Don’t believe me? Here is a description of Russ’s book The Invisible Heart.

Sam lives and breathes capitalism. He thinks that most government regulation is unnecessary or even harmful. He believes that success in business is a virtue. He believes that our humanity flourishes under economic freedom. Laura prefers Wordsworth to the Wall Street Journal. Where Sam sees victors, she sees victims. She wants the government to protect consumers and workers from the excesses of Sam’s beloved marketplace. While Sam and Laura argue about how to make the world a better place, a parallel story unfolds across town. Erica Baldwin, the crusading head of a government watchdog agency, tries to bring Charles Krauss, a ruthless CEO, to justice. How are these two dramas connected? Why is Sam under threat of dismissal? Will Erica Baldwin find the evidence she needs? Can Laura love a man with an Adam Smith poster on his wall?

Doesn’t it just make you want to tune in tomorrow?