Monday, June 24, 2013

Did Steve Jobs and...

...J. K. Rowling get fabulously rich with help, in part, from the government? Dean Baker makes a good argument for this in a recent blog post (my emphasis):

The choice of Jobs and Rowling is especially ironic in this context since the wealth of both individuals is so obviously dependent on the intervention of the government in the form of patent and copyright monopolies. These monopolies are a prize awarded by the government as a way to provide incentives for creative work. These are quintessential forms of government intervention, they are 180 degrees at odds with the free market.

Of course the government could have easily structured these monopolies in ways that did not allow Jobs and Rowling to get quite as rich. Suppose the length of these monopolies was cut in half or by 75 percent. (In the good old days copyrights lasted for 14 years, subject to an option for renewal. The duration is now 95 years.) Suppose the scope was drawn much more narrowly so that these monopolies did not apply to derivative works or were not enforced with the same vigor.

Even if we decide that these prizes of government monopolies are the best way to support innovative and creative work the fact that they are structured to allow for such enormous wealth is a decision by governments. It was not the market.

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