In a controversially titled report “Opening Doors and Smashing Windows” , Mr. Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has laid down some ideas on how the U.S.
Government could save billions of dollars by getting rid of copyright and patents.
The report’s summary starts by attacking the system of IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) and leaves no doubt about what's on the mind of its author, who is nicknamed the Left's favourite economist by some?
Mr. Baker’s main proposal pivots around the creation of a Software Development Corps, "competing government funded software corporations", which would create open source software, which, in turn, would compete with existing, copyrighted software.
But that's not all. He also proposes the introduction of a mechanism called the "Artistic Freedom Voucher" which would be used to pay artists or creators directly.
Whether this makes sense to you depends on your vision of the world.
With all due respect to Mr. Baker's extensive contribution to the exploration of the economics behind IPR and open source, he may have missed a number of points outside economics:
1. Governments cannot and are not here to regulate everything. Sure, water, electricity, gas have to be regulated since lives depend on them, but come on, Windows or Internet Explorer? And in some countries, leaving such a delicate thing, as regulation in the hands of governments might prove catastrophic.
2. Costs or savings involved are, after all, opportunistic in nature, coming from a what-if scenario. One of the underlying rules of thumb in economics is "Ceteris Paribus", or all things being theoretically equal. Figures enunciated in whatever report are mere models or assumptions.
3. A significant percentage of stakeholders in the IPR business are funds rather than individuals, or pension funds to be more precise. IPR is a vital cog in the whole machinery, one that cannot be removed without causing the structure to crumble.
4. Like a living ecosystem, open source and copyrighted software have been getting cosy with each other, like prey and predator. Whilst governments have given thumbs up here and there, they have stopped short of banning completely either open source or copyrighted software. True, there are more and more government funded open source projects all around the world but none of them are even close to what Baker is envisaging. FOSS can strive without band-aids or crutches.
5. Lastly and perhaps most important, capitalism revolves around creation of wealth not reducing spending. After all, it is money spending that drives western economies not the other way round. Spending more money creates jobs, gives pay rises and makes everybody happy. The "loss" described by the report is actually someone else's "profit".
Like it or loathe it though, Dean Baker's proposals do give you points to ponder.