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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press NYT Prints Nuttiest Idea Yet on Financing Creative Work

NYT Prints Nuttiest Idea Yet on Financing Creative Work

Sunday, 09 June 2013 12:45

Jaron Lanier must have won an award for most ridiculous idea on the digital economy with the grand prize being a lengthy column in the NYT. The great gift of the Internet is that it can costlessly deliver massive amounts of information and creative material almost anywhere in the world.

So what is Jaron Lanier's brilliant idea? He wants to set up a tollgate charging for every bit of information. What a great idea -- maybe if we give Mr. Laner more time to develop ideas he will come up with a new tax on the printing press.

There are simple ways to fund creative work that don't require an information tax on every item transferred (here's mine), but it requires that people think slightly creatively. I know that it is nearly impossible among an intellectual class that thought Reinhart-Rogoff's work on debt and growth was serious economics, but that is the world in which we live.


Note: typo fixed.

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by AlanInAz, June 09, 2013 1:08
I think costly should be costlessly (really almost costlessly).
Tom Friedman Redux
written by Last Mover, June 09, 2013 3:00
This fellow is Tom Friedman redux, sitting in a padded cell straining against the chains with brute force that create pressurized bubbles of economic thought seeping up through his forehead that pop open before his eyes with entrepreneurial ideas so powerful they would make a cab driver blush.

Look goddammit. America has enough pillagers and plunderers who have already used this kind of monetization madness to bring it down by doubling, tripling and quadrupling the price of anything necessary to maintain a decent standard of living.

And that includes the quality-speed crippling of a grossly overpriced internet served up to America by professional crooks who monopolized it with corporate fascism compared to the rest of the developed world, who get blazing fast internet service at true dirt cheap economic cost with highly efficient outcomes for everyone.

The crooks have no shame. Having extracted everything possible from obscenely high fixed charges based on exploitive willingness to pay, they're ready to go after the part that managed to survive the carnage, the costless increment at the margin already paid for with forced extortion bribes. (When it's not costless, that means incremental use at the margin hits maximum peak use at artificially low peaks designed by the crooks who refused to build out the internet while overselling it to create artificial shortages.)

But that's not enough. Jaron Lanier, like Tom Friedman, is here to tell us we must pay even more - double, three, even four times over in order to unleash all that economic power necessary for a recovery comeback, hidden away in the vast undiscovered canyons of ... wait for it ...the supply side.
written by kharris, June 10, 2013 7:37
Last Mover has identified exactly the thinking behind this scheme. Money is to be made by standing between people and the things they want. Providing goods and services that are better, less expensive or new is not the most likely road to business riches these days.

We could have single-payer health insurance, but then who'd collect to toll for allowing people access to health care? Banks have added fees to everything they could get away with, essentially charging account holders for access to their own money. It is hardly a surprise to find that, with individual firms scrambling to find a way to make money from their websites, this guy thinks we should take away some of the competition and incentive for innovation by simply standing between users and the internet while extending a greedy electronic palm.
lack of competition
written by squeezed turnip, June 10, 2013 8:01
a grossly overpriced internet served up to America by professional crooks who monopolized it with corporate fascism

Brilliantly observed, Last Mover. The government divvied up the internet, sold the bands to the bidders in a way to prevent monopolization, and then allowed conglomeration so as to provide fascism on the backside of a supposedly democratic 'free market' process. Now the corporate "benevolent" dictatorships have their hands wrapped around the gonads of the consumer, they squeeze every last drop of money that they can.
Lanier gets points for trying
written by Andrew Burday, June 10, 2013 11:23
Seriously. I'm no expert in these issues but I pay attention to them, and I'm aware of exactly two people who have even tried to address the question of how to pay creatives in the Internet age: Dean and Lanier. Everybody else falls into two camps: creatives clinging desperately to the wreckage of copyright as the waters close over it, and tech fanboys who think that creatives don't need to be paid because, um, they are disembodied spirits who live in the aether and don't need to eat, or something. A lot of the snark in the previous comments would be better directed at the techies, who are advocating a world in which whoever controls the machines controls the content (whether or not that's what they consciously had in mind).

Dean, I like your idea; but it amounts to socializing all creative work. Do you really think that's politically feasible today? Talk about inviting sarcastic responses. Anyhow, I'm not endorsing Lanier's solution, but he deserves credit for thinking seriously about this (as does Dean).
What about other artists?
written by SheilaM, June 10, 2013 12:27
Dean Baker has an interesting idea in the voucher system, but I don't think it would pay very many people $40,000 a year. Nor does it take into account all the artists who do not lecture or perform, but who make physical objects or designs.
It will make artwork function like fashion does now - copies are knocked off cheaply and sold by large companies at great profit. Who can afford to promote an artwork brand with an income of $40,000 a year? Are artists going to have to compete with 3-D printers and laser carvers and water-bath films that print onto 3-dimensional objects?
Or should all artwork be sold the way graphic design is now often sold? - you go to a contest site or and produce customized work for someone who promises a fixed fee for the winner. If you don't win, you don't get paid for your work. And your work is often taken by others without acknowledgement or payment. Remind you of the blogosphere and what is happening to journalism?
Not micropayments...
written by Nick, June 10, 2013 3:51
The fundamental idea, namely, that Google and Facebook and Twitter capture all of the benefits of the network effect (i.e., the more people that are involved, the more valuable the network becomes), while the contributors receive no monetary remuneration, is a real problem that we should be looking for ways to fix. But micropayments are a bad idea because it is quite likely that instead of having micropayments going to the original authors; the payments will go to some middleman (or series of middlemen), while the contributor gets nothing.

A better solution is an old idea - the mutual aid society. The collective benefits of several individuals getting together to pool the risk of, say, fire, have been well known for some time. Similarly, in the modern age, people could mutually own a network, run by professional managers, and the excess benefits (profits) are distributed evenly to the "policyholders" (contributors). Only real people, who actually contribute, would be owners, and would capture the network benefits that they themselves are creating.
written by liberal, June 10, 2013 7:55
kharris wrote,
Money is to be made by standing between people and the things they want. Providing goods and services that are better, less expensive or new is not the most likely road to business riches these days.

Yes, but it's always been true, in the form of land ownership. Where do you think the word "rent" comes from?

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.