Tue, 30 Aug 2005

Economics Education

A fellow brought to my attention an article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics. He was shocked and horrified that Stiglitz would say:

The growth of the 'Open Source' movement on the Internet shows that not just the most basic ideas, but even products of enormous immediate commercial value can be produced without intellectual property protection.

I asked why he was so upset, and he explained that he was afraid that naive people would think that "Open Source = Public Domain". He suggested that this statement is false. He's right, the statement is false (not completely true). It's false in that only a vanishingly small amount of open source is actually in the public domain (without copyright). The statement is mostly true, though: Open Source is a success because it gives up most intellectual property protection. In context, it's true enough and for the audience Stiglitz was writing for, it wasn't worth explaining the difference.

http://russnelson.com/kif_3127.jpg(Brian Ruth carved an eagle's head out of a log)
It's very easy when writing about economics to get so detailed that you completely lose your audience. I present as evidence the fact that so many people have no clue about economics. Bad economics education. Explaining economics is like carving an eagle out of a log with a chainsaw. I saw Brian Ruth do this last week at the New York State Fair. First he roughs out the shape, when he goes back and adds more and more details. You can't present every last detail to people and expect them to comprehend it all. You have to start with the big ideas and help people understand them first.

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