More on Ross’s Broken Windows

by on June 1, 2006

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.

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