• Is music a public good? Private? Rival? Non-rival? Excludable? Enough, you academaniacs!

As I surf from music blog to music blog, one of the (few) things that really, truly, deeply get my goat (what does that mean, anyway????) is when music folk make arguments for and against free music by trotting out economics esoterica. I mean, economics is as much art as science, so using it to draw supposedly irrefutable conclusions is a fool’s game. Regardless, time and time again, in debates about music piracy on blogs such as Hypebot you will see the expression that music is a “public good”. Let’s look at what this phrase means.

(From Wikipedia) “In economics, a public good is a good that is nonrival and non-excludable. Non-rivalry means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others (MP3s!); and non-excludability means that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good. In the real world, there may be no such thing as an absolutely non-rivaled and non-excludable good; but economists think that some goods approximate the concept closely enough for the analysis to be economically useful.”

Overall, I would agree that music is non-rival but I’m not so sure it qualifies as non-excludable (in other words, I do think copyright law could be enforced to the point where music would be more protected than not). More important, I COMPLETELY agree with this sentence from a book I’m reading called called “Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations”, by David Warsh: “Rival goods are objects and non-rival goods are ideas...”

To me, Warsh’s sentance brings it all home and the question we as a society should ask ourselves is whether ideas should be allowed to be owned by individuals and companies and whether the owners should have a say in who else can benefit from the ideas. To me, the answer is absofuckinglutely. To do otherwise would be to remove all personal incentive to create ideas and this would be catastrophic. Don’t believe me? Look at the former U.S.S.R. and name ten killer, world-beating-holy-cow ideas that came out of that place. Now try the same exercise with the U.S.

Bottom line: songs are ideas and if we as a society choose not to let individuals profit from their ideas, it will be our loss as a society. Now, if individuals want to give their ideas away, fine, I am not for a moment saying that no one should be allowed to give away his music, but I am saying that no one should be forced to. And the onus is on our society to figure how to protect ideas no matter how easy they are to copy.

Stepping off me pedestal...