Moral Rights: what are they good for?

I’m no fan of moral rights, but there you are. Artists are, so perhaps I should change my tune.

The Valuation of Moral Rights: A Field Experiment

By: Stefan Bechtold (ETH Zürich) ; Christoph Engel (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods)

U.S. intellectual property law is firmly rooted in utilitarian principles. Copyright law is viewed as a means to give proper monetary incentives to authors for their creative effort. Many European copyright systems pursue additional goals: Authors have the right to be named as author, to control alterations and to retract their work in case their artistic beliefs have changed. Protecting these “moral rights” might be justified by the preferences of typical authors. We present the first field experiment on moral rights revealing the true valuation of these rights by over 200 authors from 24 countries. A majority of authors are not willing to trade moral rights in the first place. They demand substantial prices in case they decide to trade. The differences between authors from the U.S. and Europe are small. These results call into question whether moral rights protection should differ across the Atlantic and whether a purely profit-based theory of copyright law is sufficient to capture the complex relationship between human behavior and creativity.

Posted in Intellectual Property | 1 Comment

Lessons from that United Airlines passenger-dragging incident

[Now with Louis CK bonus vid!]

On the assumption that everyone in the online universe has now viewed the video of a plain-clothes policeman dragging a United Airlines passenger off his flight (see below), a few brief observations about United’s deeply evil nature failure of problem-solving skills.

Sample blog and article comments:

“The whole situation is a revealing, sad picture of life in Trump’s America, where corporate Gestapo can steal what a man paid for and beat him up and it is still his fault.”

“United Airlines’ forcible removal of a passenger exposed the everyday violence that keeps capitalism running.”

Unlike some people, I don’t think this incident illustrates how commercial aviation or the moden world is turning into an uncaring demon-infested MBA-run fascist hellscape. I kind of think the opposite. It does tell you something about the modern world, but what it tells you is a little less pessimistic than you might think.

To start at the beginning: almost all airlines overbook, because a fairly predictable percentage of people don’t turn up for their flight, and airline margins are horribly low. The problems start on that unusual or just unlucky day when you find a much higher-than-normal percentage of passengers turning up.

At United, procedures in this situation seem to dictate that ticketing staff make a public announcement asking people to give up their seats, and offering flight vouchers. On the day, United offered first US$400 and then US$800 – but only got two takers. It needed four.

This is apparently the point in United’s playbook where it starts ordering people off planes. Bad idea – or more accurately, lack of ideas. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Will robots take all our jobs? The long-run economic view.

A persistent modern fear is that artificial intelligence and robot technology will advance so much that smart robots will soon be able to perform many of the tasks that we humans currently earn our crust with. Since they will come off the production line in a matter of minutes, they will be lots cheaper than us.

With the loss of our productive value, the fear is that our political value will soon follow: the value of a human life will sink to the cost of replacing us with a robot that does not need 20 years of feeding and education, but can be programmed in seconds. Why bother sustaining huge investments in unproductive humans? The usual historical answer has been that rulers do not bother with humans for whom they have no use.

Much has been written about this, but I here want to take the perspective of mainstream economics because I think it is particularly sobering and useful for this sort of question: mainstream economics already takes a very long-run view on markets and production, so now that we finally have a question that is truly long-run in nature, we can draw on standard economic thinking to illuminate the way.

Within mainstream production-function economic thinking, advancement of AI technology is like a drop in the price of a particular form of capital, sustained and followed by an increase in the use of that capital.

In the short-run, it is possible that this additional ‘IA’ capital will substitute for all kinds of current investments and for labourers. This is what new technology in the past has done, from the agricultural boom of the 19th century to the desktop age we live in today. So there will surely be losses to labour in the short-run.

But in the long-run, the glut of cheap new capital eventually raises the value of all other factors of production, including labour, unless and only unless labour can be fully substituted for the newer form of capital. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

Vale John Clark

John Clark died yesterday,   a very sad day, he will be greatly missed RIP.

This is my all time favorite piece of satire.  Am sure that  troppo can come up with more.

Posted in Economics and public policy, Films and TV, Life, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The free rider problem – and opportunity: you heard it first at Troppo

Well I’ve been going on and on about it, but here’s an academic paper contrasting the free rider problem and opportunity.

Knowledge Properties and Economic Policy: A New Look

By Antonelli, Cristiano (University of Turin)
This paper explores the full range of effects of knowledge properties and explains how knowledge properties such as transient appropriability, nonexhaustibility and indivisibility do not only have negative effects, but also positive ones. Knowledge externalities help reduce the cost of knowledge and imitation externalities reduce the revenue and profitability of innovations. Their effects need to be considered jointly in a single analytical framework. An analysis of their combined effects questions the scope of application of the “Arrovian postulate” according to which the limited appropriability of knowledge due to its uncontrolled dissemination reduces invention. This ignores spillovers of outside knowledge, which increase invention. These are the two opposing faces of the limited appropriability of knowledge. Policy implications suggest that along with public interventions designed to support the supply of knowledge and to compensate for missing incentives, much attention should be paid to all interventions that favour the dissemination of knowledge and the knowledge connectivity of the system.

Posted in Economics and public policy, Information, Intellectual Monopoly Privileges, Intellectual Property, IT and Internet | 1 Comment

Theming …

Lamb and beans presented beautifully on a black plate

Themed pre-performance dinner The chefs at Arts Centre Melbourne have created a three-course meal and carefully chosen matching wines themed around Carmen ($75pp). It’s easy to add a dinner when you book your opera tickets on our website.

Speak of the devil. Just after rehearsing my enthusiasm (not) for all things ‘themed’, I’m pleased to record things being taken to a new level on the Opera Australia website. The hazlenut-and-grain-fed Troppo bull Roger will be in attendance and will be ritually slaughtered at your table (behind a hygienically protective glass and perspex wall).1

  1. No creatures identifying as animals were laughed in the production of this blog post.
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The living and the dead – the arteries and the capillaries: Part One

Cross posted from the Mandarin.

Image result for human lung river delta

This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.

Adam Smith, 1759

Arteries and capillaries

In a book that’s very interesting and impressive, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the stellar opinion its authors have of it, Adrian Bejan and Peder Zane focus on ‘vascularisation’ or the ‘dendritic’ – tree-like – structures from which so much of our world is built. From trunks grow many branches on each of which grow twigs, then down to leaves whereapon the same structures grow within each leaf.1 This is very common. With this post already having adverted to four such systems – the two illustrated in the graphic above, trees and the circulatory system. 2

In this essay I outline the many respects in which human culture embodies a similar architecture and some of the implications thereof. The head quote above by the founder of modern social psychology and economics, Adam Smith, is intended to set the tone, with my argument being this: In thrall to the status rewards of social and economic importance the ‘arteries’ of human culture have come to dominate the capillaries in such a way that ultimately degrades the health of both – for they are organically interdependent – and the health of the larger organism of which they are a part.

Human culture at different scales

Political structures have an inevitable hierarchy to them if the object of politics is to solve the e pluribus unum problem – to fashion a singular policy for the community to pursue despite the diversity within it. 3 Something similar can be said of all organisations. An organisation is unitary – capable of pursuing some singular goal. In this sense it is governed as a state is.

But there are also hierarchies in our organisation of knowledge. First, there is the distinction between theory and practice. In science and social science, there’s theory and there’s empirical work. 4 In the professions like engineering, law or medicine, you learn a systematic body of knowledge at uni and ‘apply’ it in the workplace. In government we have policy and delivery and in organisations there’s policy-cum-strategy and there’s execution or delivery.

In the case of governments, whether they’re of nations or of organisations, the unitary nature of these entities’ ‘will’ is embodied at the top of the hierarchy (or, to change the metaphor, the organisation’s ‘centre’). The policy, the strategy is unitary – singular. However it may be executed in multiple sites, possibly in different ways. This hierarchy is similar within professional and scientific knowledge between theory and practice. Theory may not be unitary, but it ‘scales’ against practice – it is general whereas practice is particular.

This is also true of the status the activity enjoys. Just as those at the centre of organisations win the status rewards, so ‘theory’ is closer to the centre or the ‘commanding heights’ of a discipline than practical or empirical work. Nobel Prizes tend to be awarded for ‘theoretical’ advances, or for knowledge with ‘scales’. 5

Scale, power and prestige within the bureaucracy

Continue reading

  1. See Chapter 6 “Why hierarchy reigns”.
  2. The pattern also replicates itself in transport. We move up and down the hierarchy, driving a car to the airport (one level), walking to the terminal (another) and boarding the plane (another) after which we navigate within the hierarchy to attend a meeting and then get home.
  3. This is obviously true in a monarchy or tyranny, but even the most decentralised possible functioning government – a pure participatory democracy must nevertheless produce unitary government policy and in that sense is hierarchical. Some readers may consider this claim unproven, but if that’s you, I’m happy to restrict my observations to existing and practical constitutions of which we are aware all of which produce hierarchy in one form or another even if there are rich patterns of feedback between the various levels in the hierarchy.
  4. I think it’s fair to say that of all the sciences, social or otherwise, the distinction between theory and empirics is strongest in economics where ‘theory’ is a body of formalised knowledge which is then ‘applied’ in empirical work. Still the distinction is fairly strong in maths and quite a few natural sciences.
  5. In the professions the best practitioners typically earn more than the best theoreticians. But – though the great vortex of the market may be corroding these values – the greatest respect is still shown to the pioneers of scalable knowledge. Australians of the Year in the medical profession will mostly continue to be those who pioneered medical knowledge or knowhow – including philanthropic delivery a la Fred Hollows – rather than those who made the most money.
Posted in Cultural Critique, Economics and public policy | 15 Comments