Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Experiment in Intellectual Property

One of the things the Mises Institute is big on is opposing intellectual property. In that spirit, I have decided to try something, which is to offer one of my plays, a satire called Hef's Bunnies for anyone who wants to produce it. The entire text is on my blog Interdisciplinary World. Producers may feel free to pay me a commission, or not, as I discuss there. Please, feel free to spread the word. Only if it gets produced will this experiment work, after all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Literature and the Economics of Liberty Reviewed in the Weekly Standard

James Seaton, a professor of English at Michigan State University, has reviewed Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox's Literature and the Economics of Liberty (Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2010) in the latest issue of The Weekly Standard. The review is quite favorable to Austrian economics. Isn't it interesting and exciting to speculate that Austrian economics could appeal to neoconservative readers when studied through the framework of imaginative literature? I would link to the review, but TWS requires a paid subscription to view online content.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Urban Economics and Literature

I'm starting to read books and papers for a paper on economic geography/spatial economics, meaning I am reading a lot of books on cities. That has me thinking about the growing literature in these areas in Austrian economics and how they might be able to be used to understand works of literature. The modern European novel in particular has a strong relationship to the city. The British romantics often reacted against urbanization. Understanding the nature of the city thus may contribute to a better understanding of certain themes in certain works of literature. Right now, I am only just beginning to think along these lines, so the ideas are ill-formed at best. Any thoughts along these lines? Anyone think this to be a potentially fruitful avenue to pursue?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Literary Thoughts Sprung From "The Limits of Market Efficiency"

In a recent article, James Buchanan says of law,

Suppose that a law, rule, or convention emerges and exists, one that is recognized, even if by all participants, to be less enhancing to their well-being than a readily imagined alternative. The opportunity cannot, however, be exploited by single entrepreneurs-artibrageurs because of the nonpartitionability of law, as such. There is nothing comparable to the profit-loss dynamic of the market that will insure any continuing thrust toward more desirable outcomes. The rule in question may survive while remaining destructive of potential value, at least in an opportunity cost sense.
I want to draw special attention to the last two sentences. It seems to me that this argument is equally valid for the production of art when considered within their own spontaneous orders. Genres of art and literature have their own rules, of course. And one could look at a work of art or literature as the author following a set of rules in his or her own particular way. Each individual following the rules will not necessarily result in uniformity of action, but could in fact result in a variety of actions. But this depends on if the rule in question is oppressive or generative. The evolution of art is thus an evolution in the rules of art, and the expression of particular individuals' following of those rules. The emergence of a new set or literary rules may not result in "more desirable outcomes" for the readers of literature. In fact, if enough people follow a rule that does not result in a desirable outcome, one may fidn that the rule in question results in the destruction "of potential value, at least in the opportunity cost sense," insofar as fewer people read contemporary literature. It would then behoove one to try to find out what rules are most compatible with human literary enjoyment. Perhaps the economics of literature point to the need for more Darwinian explanations?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?

Robert Blumen at The Ludwig von Mises Institute wonders Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?

He doesn't answer that, and you won't find the answer here, as there isn't an economic explanation for it. But you will find the answer here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Indirect Subsidies for the Arts

Tyler Cowan on State Support of the Arts. He argues against direct subsidies, and for "indirect subsidies," or tax breaks. We will leave aside for the moment any discussion of the justice of the kind of taxation where one could receive tax breaks and focus rather on this proposal, which is applicable to the situation as currently exists.

In short, I'm for it. I don't think there should be an upper limit on the tax deductions one gets on charitable donations. After all, one could argue that the more private donations to private charities, the less one "needs" government to do these things. Meaning, they don't need the money.

Along these lines, artists of all kinds need to become 501(c)3's and solicit donations to support their artistic production. This would result in decentralized patronage. In fact, it might be a profitable enterprise if one were to create a web site that allowed such artists to list themselves and show their art work so that people could then donate to their work. That's such a good idea, I should patent it (but don't tell Stephan Kinsella I said that! ;-) ).

Science Fiction and Libertarianism

Jeff Riggenbach on Libertarianism and Science Fiction: What's the Connection?

Indeed, there is a strong traditional tie between libertarian ideas and science fiction. One sees it in the great late novels of Heinlein, and in the only two science fiction epic poems ever written -- Genesis and The New World by Frederick Turner. If you really want to challenge your ideas regarding literary genres, read Turner's epics.

Happy Birthday Darwin

Today is Darwin's birthday. The great man had an enormous effect on our understanding of the world. We are still grappling with the implications of his ideas. Only now we are coming around to understanding how correct were his insights into morality. Only now are we beginning to truly understand the connection of his ideas to evolving spontaneous social order, economics in particular (not surprising, considering how indebted Darwin was to the ideas of many economists). Only now are we seeing the full fruition of his ideas in evolutionary psychology and literary Darwinism. My interest in all of these fields is thus perhaps no coincidence. My world view is so fundamentally formed by evolutionary theory that it demands expression in a variety of fields. We are on the cusp of realizing Darwin's true vision in the world, in our sciences, in our understanding. It is an exciting time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is Dallas Dumb, or Just Its Culture Critics?

Bringing things a little local (for me), there is an article in D Magazine by Richard Patterson, When It Comes to Culture, Texas Has Its Head in the Ground, who claims that so long as the government doesn't support the arts, the arts will continue to be bad in Texas.

The fact of the matter is that practically every claim in this article goes against all the empirical evidence available. As far back as the late 19th century, Nietzsche correctly observed that there was an inverse correlation between government strength and the strength of a nation’s culture. All a government ever does is support those that have already established themselves as not needing government’s help (this is true whether it is business subsidies or art subsidies). With government money inevitably comes government restrictions. Who wants their art controlled from Austin, let alone Washington? I don’t want my plays to have to conform to Republican or Democratic world views. Nor do I want my survival attached to my ability to donate to the campaigns of elected officials. Worse for this thesis (even worse than quoting Krugman, whose ignorance of economics outside his narrow specialty is truly bizarre for a Nobel prizewinner) is that the evidence is completely against it. There is no correlation between the having a strong arts scene and strong, intelligent economic growth (see Richard Florida’s work). More, the only things that attract people from outside the city are things like Broadway musicals. Which are fine, but surely not the idea of culture being promoted here. Government funded art comes in at the end, when the culture is dying, to try to prop it up.

I do wonder if the reason why Florida didn't find a correlation between strong economic growth and a strong arts scene is that the modern drivers of economic growth do not receive a good education in the arts and humanities. More, art patrons tend to be older, while the new ideas creators and entrepreneurs tend to be young. The real question is how to bridge the gap between the drivers of economic growth and arts appreciation. There is no government program that will do that.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

True Grit and True Commerce at LvMI

Douglas French reviews True Grit.

The scenes where Mattie is negotiating with Col. G. Stonehill are hilarious. More, she understands the volatile nature of prices when she comes back to buy one of the ponies she had sold back to him just that morning.

"I will take one of those ponies off your hands."

"What is your offer?"

"I will pay the market price. I believe you said the soap man offered you ten dollars a head."

"That is a lot price. You will recall that I paid you twenty dollars a head only this morning."

"That was the market price at that time."

Indeed, Stonehill has nothing to say to that. Prices are contingent to time and place. The time had changed, and the ponies had lost half their value. Having already accepted $10 a head, Stonehill was in no position to ask for the full $20 he had bought them from her for. We are also faced with an interesting situation: would those who would otherwise think of such negotiations made by Mattie as unethical (since she had sold them to him for $20 just hours before), think otherwise just because she was a teenage girl? If not, why not? When Mattie does it, it's funny; but if Stonehill had done it to Mattie, it's my guess that most people would have been outraged that he was "taking advantage" of her. But he would not have been taking advantage of her any more than she took advantage of him. The humor comes about because one does not expect a teenage girl to have a better understanding of commerce and price negotiation than a middle aged man.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Poetry, Metaphor, and Economics

James Geary at All Aphorisms, All the Time posts on Metaphor and Economics, which is a response to Stephen Ziliak's article at The Poetry Foundation, Haiku Economics. These discussions of course reverse things as we discuss them here a bit, as they are talking about how poetry could and should (and do) influence economics. Metaphor and poetry would seem a logical fit for Austrian economists.

It's easy money
That makes the bubble grow

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Scientist and the Poet

An article by Paul A. Cantor on The Scientist and the Poet. His statement that

To the poet, the scientist seems unimaginative and literal-minded—with his head buried in the ground of facts, incapable of comprehending the larger significance of what he does. To the scientist, the poet seems to have his head up in the clouds, indulging in fantastic visions of what might be and losing sight of the way things really are.
reminds me of what Nietzsche has Zarathustra say about how the tallest trees have the deepest roots, into evil. Yet, Nietzsche's a very complex writer. For Nietzsche, the "evil" are those who challenge the status quo (thus, for Nietzsche, this is not a bad thing). And who challenges the status quo more than scientists? And in their reductionism (to pick up a stereotype of scientists that is increasingly inaccurate with the advent of the complexity sciences), we have the image of "down" and, thus, "buried in the ground." If the poets are, on the other hand, stretching ever-upward, into the clouds, then there is an argument here for what Cantor is arguing -- that the division between the poets and the scientists makes no sense. More than that, the higher the poets stretch into the clouds, the deeper their roots need to be, if they are going to last. The greatest poets will have to become more rooted in the sciences under this argument. Indeed, the more disconnected the poets have become from the world of science -- and from the world itself -- the more disconnected poetry has become from any audience other than academics and fellow poets. Of course, I have argued in my paper on The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts that this may be an expected outcome of the arts becoming indepentent spontaneous orders. But is this a necessary outcome? If so, people like Frederick Turner and me may be on the wrong track. But isn't there room for interdisciplinary -- cross-spontaneous order -- works?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Writers' Good Will Hunting

Good will is the renown a business acquires on account of past achievements. It implies the expectation that the bearer of the good will in the future will live up to his earlier standards. Good will is not a phenomenon appearing only in business relations. It is present in all social relations. -- Mises, Human Action, 379
The artist has to foster good will with his or her audience as well. The writer's reader expects a certain quality of writing from that writer. Also, they expect a certain style (or, in the case of many of the Modernists, like Faulkner, experiments in style or structure), certain themes, etc. After all, as Howard Bloom once observes, there is only so much time in life, and one cannot waste it on reading bad literature. Best, then, to go with those one trusts -- and one can often trust the good will of others as a guide. Of course,

It does not matter whether the good will is based on real achievements and merits or whether it is only a product of imagination and fallacious ideas. What counts in human action is not truth as it may appear to an omniscient being, but the opinions of people liable to error. -- Human Action, 379
How true is this of not just literature, but of a wide range of ideas, world views, and philosophies! In the end, there is no accounting for taste.

Intellectual Property

Mises points out that copyright gives one a monopoly on one's creation, creating an opportunity for monopoly prices. But what does that mean in artistic production? Other than allowing for legal recourse against those who print and sell your works without your permission, it has little real effect on artistic production. But could it? The Mises Institute's position is against protecting intellectual property on the argument that ideas are not scarce. Ayn Rand's argument, to take up the complete opposite view, is that one should have intellectual property rights protection precisely because ideas are scarce. They are likely talking past each other a bit, since Rand is interested in the production of ideas, while MvI's position is that ideas, once produced, aren't scarce. They are also afraid that people will use IP to prevent people from being influenced. Are there any real examples of that? What are the arguments for and against?