More on Ross’s Broken Windows

by on June 1, 2006 · 10 comments

I received an email from Patrick Ross charging that yesterday’s post about the broken window fallacy misrepresented his views:

Your “broken window” argument falls apart when you look at my full post. I was criticizing Benkler for using traditional dollars-exchange-hands analysis when it comes to the size of the content industry (with flawed numbers, as I pointed out) yet also saying that it doesn’t matter what dollars-exchange-hands amounts are when discussing Wikipedia and SETI@Home. In other words, I pointed out he was selectively choosing metrics based on what backed any given argument. If anyone ignored Bastiat it was Benkler.

I’ll quote the relevant portion of his post and let you judge for yourself:

With IP dismissed from software and IT, and with no inclusion of copyright industries other than movies or music, Benkler was able to argue that since IP represented a small part of the pie, we should feel no shame in seeing IP rights eroded so that artists could build on artists’ works without seeking licenses. (He showed two mash-up videos that he acknowledged were likely illegal, including one that opened with footage from Braveheart).

I think you’ve seen the questionable makeup of his pie charts. But let’s assume that both are accurate. Why should we we be assigning importance of various industries based on their revenues? After all, SETI@Home and Wikipedia don’t even form a tiny wedge by that measurement, yet we’ve been told that they are critically important and a sign of the future. I think the answer is that when Benkler’s interests are served by using a metric that doesn’t involve money, he does so, but when his argument is more easily made by adopting a revenue metric, he uses that one.

Now perhaps you can see why I have to keep putting down his book and taking a deep breath.

I don’t think any of this contradicts or qualifies his statement that Wikipedia doesn’t contribute to the economy, but I could be missing something.

  • http://www.jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    Tim, I don’t think Patrick ever said, as you now paraphrase him, “that Wikipedia doesn’t contribute to the economy”. He said it doesn’t “contribute in any meaningful way”. A better way of saying that might have been that it’s contribution isn’t as high as the extraordinary value that Benkler places on it.

    I’m curious, though, apart from that one sentence, do you agree with Patrick’s greater point that Benkler is (wrongly) using different valuation models depending of what’s convenient to him? What about Benkler’s social production ideas?

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    Tim, I don’t think Patrick ever said, as you now paraphrase him, “that Wikipedia doesn’t contribute to the economy”. He said it doesn’t “contribute in any meaningful way”. A better way of saying that might have been that it’s contribution isn’t as high as the extraordinary value that Benkler places on it.

    I’m curious, though, apart from that one sentence, do you agree with Patrick’s greater point that Benkler is (wrongly) using different valuation models depending of what’s convenient to him? What about Benkler’s social production ideas?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Jerry,

    I don’t think “in any meaningful way” is much of a qualifier. “Doesn’t contribute in any meaningful way” is certainly a much stronger statement than “doesn’t contribute as much as Benkler says it does.”

    And no, I don’t think I agree with Ross’s broader criticism, although I have to admit I found it a little bit confusing. He appears to be accusing Benkler of cherry-picking, by choosing the metric that best makes his case in each instance. But I don’t see any cherry picking going on: Benkler simply presents two different ways of measuring value and argues that both of them favor peer produced products. Now, I didn’t see the presentation, so I don’t know if Benkler’s evidence is compelling, but from Ross’s description, at least, that doesn’t sound like cherry picking to me.

    As for Benkler’s broader social production ideas, I have a copy of The Wealth of Networks and would rather hold off on commenting until I’ve read it.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Jerry,

    I don’t think “in any meaningful way” is much of a qualifier. “Doesn’t contribute in any meaningful way” is certainly a much stronger statement than “doesn’t contribute as much as Benkler says it does.”

    And no, I don’t think I agree with Ross’s broader criticism, although I have to admit I found it a little bit confusing. He appears to be accusing Benkler of cherry-picking, by choosing the metric that best makes his case in each instance. But I don’t see any cherry picking going on: Benkler simply presents two different ways of measuring value and argues that both of them favor peer produced products. Now, I didn’t see the presentation, so I don’t know if Benkler’s evidence is compelling, but from Ross’s description, at least, that doesn’t sound like cherry picking to me.

    As for Benkler’s broader social production ideas, I have a copy of The Wealth of Networks and would rather hold off on commenting until I’ve read it.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Yeah, you need to catch up on your reading, boy. Did you finish Against Intellectual Monopoly yet?

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Yeah, you need to catch up on your reading, boy. Did you finish Against Intellectual Monopoly yet?

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