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:
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.Good stuff, I think. And don't miss footnote 42.
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.