Freedom and justice in the commons: A political economy of information

Introduction of the speaker, Professor Yochai Benkler

I would like to thank Prof. Steiner and Instituto de Estudos Avançados da USP for the invitation for this important conference.

As we know Prof. Yochai Benkler is Professor of Law, Yale Law School. The conference "Freedom and Justice in the commons: A political economy of information" presents an innovative approach to the economics of information. In 1978 I attended an extraordinary course on "The Economics of Inovation" at Yale University offered by professor Richard Nelson and since then I have been working on this theme.

As an economist I would like to say that the economics of information and knowledge starts with the classical economists. Since the 50's we have seen an increasing number of studies and the consolidation of the field.

Today I would like to mention two main visions: the first one is the marxist tradition. From this point of view, the evolution of the capitalism is a process of increasing dominance of capital to other areas of social life. The capital subsume the social activities, including the research made at universities.

The second vision emphasizes that the production, distribution and consumption of information are peculiar and crucial for the development of the system. Besides this commodity is characterized by the presence of indivisibilities (one information is one unit), externalities (the question of appropriability or public goods is relevant) and uncertainty (the output can never be predicted perfectly the inputs). As a result of these aspects, professor Arrow in 1962, proved that the competitive system underinvests in inventive activities.

Finally, I would like to read the prophetical words of professor Arrow: "There is really no need for the firm to be fundamental unit of organization in invention; there is plenty of reason to suppose that individual talents count for a good deal more than the firm as an organization. If provision is made for the rental of necessary equipment, a much wider variety of research contracts with individuals as well as firms and with varying modes of payment, including incentives, could be arranged. Still other forms of organization, such as research institute financed by industries, the government, and the private philantropy, could be made to play an even livelier role than they now do."

Reference: Economic Welfare and Allocation of Resources for Invention, K.J. Arrow, 1962