Wealth Without Markets?:
Lior Strahilevitz has just posted a really terrific review of Yochai Benkler's new book; Lior's review, Wealth Without Markets?, is forthcoming in the Yale Law Journal. The review is engaging and helpful for a few reasons, but one of them is that Benkler's work can be difficult to follow; a lot of readers have a hard time with it. Strahilevitz provides an accessible summary of Benkler's argument, and then offers a very interesting (and I think persuasive) critique of Benkler's claims.

  From the Introduction:
  In June of 2006, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced a $5 million plan to install night-vision equipped web cams along the state's border with Mexico and launch a web site that would allow virtual minutemen to monitor portions of the border from their homes and workplaces. The web site would provide a toll-free hotline allowing people around the country to notify law enforcement personnel if they spotted suspected illegal immigrants on their computer screens.
  Around the same time, something subtly related happened. Internet blog posters began bemoaning a frightening new phenomenon on Skype, the increasingly successful Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service that allows its users to make free long distance calls to other Skype members across the globe. The phenomenon was telemarketing, and blog commenters began discussing the obvious solution to the problem: setting one's Skype preferences so that the user would only receive calls from a pre-approved list of callers known to the Skype user.
  Both these stories emerged roughly contemporaneously with the appearance of Yochai Benkler's important and influential book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. That seems appropriate, because the two stories offer the beginnings of a rebuttal to Benkler's eloquent opening argument about the ways in which nonmarket production is transforming our economic and political systems. Benkler tells us that "social production" will make us freer, richer, and happier unless our pesky lawmakers get in its way. But some of the events that accompanied the publication of his book, along with events that preceded it, suggest that law may be the least of social production's worries.
  In this Book Review, I will scrutinize Benkler's claims that social production is transforming our world. Along the way, I will highlight the dangers that social production inevitably faces. Some of these dangers stem from legal rules and interventions, as Benkler anticipates. But basic economic forces and social trends pose far greater threats to the flourishing of communications technology-aided social production. Finally, I will challenge Benkler's most striking and ambitious claim, his conclusion that social production will lessen the gap between rich and poor.
Good stuff, I think. And don't miss footnote 42.
Still reading it, but can I ask why its not pointed out (right away at the start) that this shiny new idea "social production" and "wealth without markets" and " all forms of production that do not rely on rights-based exclusion," is not only not-new and not only reminiscent of something Aristotle once said ... but is the whole basis of the arguments of the socialists. We argued this same debate for the entire 20th century. Numerous varied experiments from communism to syndicalism to market socialism all relied on these ideas...???
11.28.2006 3:53pm
Yeah, my basic comment after skimming the article is that its a great article for an article that chooses to ignore all prior leagl scholarship in the field, with the exception of some recent rather anecdotal studies. Its nice but it avoids the heart of the matter. Whether or not Benkler was advocating a move toward a more socialist kind of state (and some of those policy ideas indicates that he was advocating some movement in that direction), his theories are pulled directly from socialist theory. In order to address these theories it makes little sense to debate minor examples (such as SETI@Home and PBS) when you can argue his underlying theories: his arguments on motivations, market transactions costs, and "that social production is often a better method for creating wealth than relying on old-fashioned incentives, such as monetary payments and exclusive private property rights."
11.28.2006 4:05pm

Just so I understand, what's the prior legal scholarship you have in mind?
11.28.2006 4:20pm
I'm glad to see Arrested Development cited in law journals, but your introduction begs a question. Since Benkler's book is so difficult to understand, how can we be sure this is an accurate reading? I find it at least a little hard to believe that Benkler thinks social networks will replace for-profit property-based enterprises when many of the networks he cites are for-profit.

Assuming Strahilevitz' interpretation is correct, I think his criticism is damning, but I can't imagine why Benkler would argue such a counterintuitive line. Should read the book, I guess...
11.28.2006 5:37pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"Just so I understand, what's the prior legal scholarship you have in mind?"

(I am "Guest")

I'm sorry, in my haste I think I stuck the word "legal" (or actually "leagl" I guess) in there. I simply meant "prior scholarship" and I am referring to the reams of socialist economics debate (from socialist calculation to Hayekian/Austrian to Sovietology etc) that address the underlying theories that Benkler appears to base his theses on. I don't see that his theses are legal, so that word just jumped into my sentence. I apologize for that.
11.28.2006 8:50pm