Liberals Citing Libertarians in Tech Policy

by on January 14, 2007 · 6 comments

I’ve noted before that there’s been a trend recently of left-of-center academics citing great libertarian thinkers in their writings about copyright and patent law, peer production, industrial organization, and related topics. Tim Wu and Yochai Benkler cite Hayek and Coase, respectively, in their writings. The latest example is Cass Sunstein’s (relatively) new book, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge. I haven’t read it yet, Patti Waldmeir of the Financial Times says:

Sunstein, one of the biggest of America’s internet big thinkers, has written an intriguing new book in which he argues that Hayek’s insights about the genius of markets are equally true of the internet. Sunstein argues, for example, that sharing scientific information online would cure some of the worst problems of the US patent system and foster innovation much more efficiently than costly patent litigation. Sunstein recognizes all the potential flaws of such collaborative projects. Groupthink can be dangerous. But, says Sunstein, the wisdom of the many is a great thing, and sharing knowledge online can lead to remarkable advances for companies, for governments and for the rest of us

Now, obviously, many libertarians (and perhaps Hayek himself) would take exception to some of the details of Sunstein’s argument. But I still think it’s a positive development that the problems Hayek and Coase focused on–how do we organize our economy and society to optimize the dispersion and use of knowledge–are increasingly recognized as central to high-tech policy debates.

Are there other examples of non-libertarian academics citing applying the insights of Hayek, Coase, or other libertarian thinkers to tech policy issues?

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    A quote with which von Hayek himself prefaced the article ‘Why I am not a Conservative’ speaks directly to the issue of those with diverse backgrounds having an interest in freedom:

    “At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition.” – Lord Acton

    I would object to the categorization of von Hayek as a libertarian, but I understand that the Libertarians would much like to claim him as own of their own. He is not.

    An interesting aspect of von Hayek’s thought for me is how cross-disciplinary his insights were, being relevent to diverse subjects, such as cognitive theory. Also, would not the extent to which his contemporaries came to some of the same conclusions as he did. The work of John von Neumann, for example is directly relevant to some of von Hayek’s work on spontaneous order.

    In short, many non-Communists use the insights of Karl Marx, so I don’t understand why anyone should be surprised that many will use the insights of von Hayek. I would say that Amartya Sen, for example, doesn’t reject von Hayek’s work, although his extension of economic thinking has lead to some very different conclusions than von Hayek himself had in his lifetime. But such is the path of progress.

    it’s a positive development that the problems Hayek and Coase focused on–how do we organize our economy and society to optimize the dispersion and use of knowledge–are increasingly recognized as central to high-tech policy debates.

    …But they don’t seem to be especially relevant to current libertarian thinking do they? It would seem to me that current liberarian thinking is only focused on procedural freedoms, and has cut itself off from an information which would call into question the need to extend these procedural freedoms into substantive freedoms.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    A quote with which von Hayek himself prefaced the article ‘Why I am not a Conservative’ speaks directly to the issue of those with diverse backgrounds having an interest in freedom:

    “At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition.” – Lord Acton

    I would object to the categorization of von Hayek as a libertarian, but I understand that the Libertarians would much like to claim him as own of their own. He is not.

    An interesting aspect of von Hayek’s thought for me is how cross-disciplinary his insights were, being relevent to diverse subjects, such as cognitive theory. Also, would not the extent to which his contemporaries came to some of the same conclusions as he did. The work of John von Neumann, for example is directly relevant to some of von Hayek’s work on spontaneous order.

    In short, many non-Communists use the insights of Karl Marx, so I don’t understand why anyone should be surprised that many will use the insights of von Hayek. I would say that Amartya Sen, for example, doesn’t reject von Hayek’s work, although his extension of economic thinking has lead to some very different conclusions than von Hayek himself had in his lifetime. But such is the path of progress.

    it’s a positive development that the problems Hayek and Coase focused on–how do we organize our economy and society to optimize the dispersion and use of knowledge–are increasingly recognized as central to high-tech policy debates.

    …But they don’t seem to be especially relevant to current libertarian thinking do they? It would seem to me that current liberarian thinking is only focused on procedural freedoms, and has cut itself off from an information which would call into question the need to extend these procedural freedoms into substantive freedoms.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    A quote with which von Hayek himself prefaced the article ‘Why I am not a Conservative’ speaks directly to the issue of those with diverse backgrounds having an interest in freedom:

    “At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition.” – Lord Acton

    I would object to the categorization of von Hayek as a libertarian, but I understand that the Libertarians would much like to claim him as own of their own. He is not.

    An interesting aspect of von Hayek’s thought for me is how cross-disciplinary his insights were, being relevent to diverse subjects, such as cognitive theory. Also, would not the extent to which his contemporaries came to some of the same conclusions as he did. The work of John von Neumann, for example is directly relevant to some of von Hayek’s work on spontaneous order.

    In short, many non-Communists use the insights of Karl Marx, so I don’t understand why anyone should be surprised that many will use the insights of von Hayek. I would say that Amartya Sen, for example, doesn’t reject von Hayek’s work, although his extension of economic thinking has lead to some very different conclusions than von Hayek himself had in his lifetime. But such is the path of progress.

    it’s a positive development that the problems Hayek and Coase focused on–how do we organize our economy and society to optimize the dispersion and use of knowledge–are increasingly recognized as central to high-tech policy debates.

    …But they don’t seem to be especially relevant to current libertarian thinking do they? It would seem to me that current liberarian thinking is only focused on procedural freedoms, and has cut itself off from an information which would call into question the need to extend these procedural freedoms into substantive freedoms.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    A quote with which von Hayek himself prefaced the article ‘Why I am not a Conservative’ speaks directly to the issue of those with diverse backgrounds having an interest in freedom:

    “At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition.” – Lord Acton

    I would object to the categorization of von Hayek as a libertarian, but I understand that the Libertarians would much like to claim him as own of their own. He is not.

    An interesting aspect of von Hayek’s thought for me is how cross-disciplinary his insights were, being relevent to diverse subjects, such as cognitive theory. Also, would not the extent to which his contemporaries came to some of the same conclusions as he did. The work of John von Neumann, for example is directly relevant to some of von Hayek’s work on spontaneous order.

    In short, many non-Communists use the insights of Karl Marx, so I don’t understand why anyone should be surprised that many will use the insights of von Hayek. I would say that Amartya Sen, for example, doesn’t reject von Hayek’s work, although his extension of economic thinking has lead to some very different conclusions than von Hayek himself had in his lifetime. But such is the path of progress.

    it’s a positive development that the problems Hayek and Coase focused on–how do we organize our economy and society to optimize the dispersion and use of knowledge–are increasingly recognized as central to high-tech policy debates.

    …But they don’t seem to be especially relevant to current libertarian thinking do they? It would seem to me that current liberarian thinking is only focused on procedural freedoms, and has cut itself off from an information which would call into question the need to extend these procedural freedoms into substantive freedoms.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Sunstein is a very very respected scholar, but has done little in the IP/tech policy world. His book is more of a comment on how technology can benefit society than a normative policy argument. Works such as Sunstein’s are important, but I believe they should be taken in context.

    I’m not sure it would be valuable to see more application of Hayek and Coase in technology policy, given that the interpretations I’ve seen have been, well, not very informed. Look at the marginal cost debate: your pop-culture FOSS advocates see marginal costs as simply distributional costs, while IP critics/friends alike in academia state it must consider the cost to bring a product to market. The former don’t get Coase, while the latter might as well give up on communicating to general audiences what they don’t understand.

    Affiliating a tech policy/IP position with thinkers like Hayek and Coase may be interesting, and give more force to an argument; but don’t butcher their views in the process.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Sunstein is a very very respected scholar, but has done little in the IP/tech policy world. His book is more of a comment on how technology can benefit society than a normative policy argument. Works such as Sunstein’s are important, but I believe they should be taken in context.

    I’m not sure it would be valuable to see more application of Hayek and Coase in technology policy, given that the interpretations I’ve seen have been, well, not very informed. Look at the marginal cost debate: your pop-culture FOSS advocates see marginal costs as simply distributional costs, while IP critics/friends alike in academia state it must consider the cost to bring a product to market. The former don’t get Coase, while the latter might as well give up on communicating to general audiences what they don’t understand.

    Affiliating a tech policy/IP position with thinkers like Hayek and Coase may be interesting, and give more force to an argument; but don’t butcher their views in the process.

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