Short article on the transition from club good to public good


Just happened across this little blog article that starts from Conway’s Law and talks about how it could apply to “disruption.” The author posits that science and scientific publishing is ready for the transition to public good, but nobody has come along and made it happen yet. But he’s also a little off the mark when he implies that what has happened to the music and taxi industries has anything to do with creating public goods. Those industries have just moved from one oligarchic club good to another, I’d say.

1 Like

Taxi industries can’t quite be full public goods since they are rivalrous services. They can have public-goods resources (like software to help manage services) and could be (and have been at times) co-op run otherwise.

Science and research are distinct from the club/public goods issue overall because journal subscriptions were never the source of research funding in the first place. At most, they funded a part of the publishing work to go from research to accessible article. That part does need a replacement, but the reason we want a better public funding of the research is more because the standard models of philanthropy, government, academic, and corporate funding all have various problems. But that’s distinct from the club/public issue.

Music is different (tangential essay)

Music is hard to compare to anything else. Most of it remains restricted club-goods, but in addition to the real and complex economic shifts the fact is: if from today, no new music were ever composed or recorded, we would still have music to fill multiple lifetimes with enormous diversity.

There’s a place for the human experience of being with another person making music. There’s room for music that specifically goes along with something like a documentary film about a new topic or songs with lyrics about contemporary life that no older music achieves. But the vast majority of new music is just more stuff added the enormous bulk, like additional variations of cookie recipes or yet more photos of beautiful landscapes. It’s not worthless, but it’s also not really in need of substantial funding on a public level.

We need people to have lives with enough stability and free time to make music with one another, just as people should have conversations with friends and not only spectate to podcasts or famous speeches. Participatory music remains important. But that’s unrelated to public goods… well, except that remix is relevant — if all (or at least more) music were public domain, people could be doing more creative stuff with our cultural resources even if its just for the hell of it as part of living culture. Also, we need more FLO software for people to engage with electronic and recorded music in dynamic ways that go beyond passive listening.

I’m not opposed to anyone making just beautiful or intriguing new music (or new photos of just nice scenes), but maybe what needs funding is for people to do more to wade through the bulk so that we all get more access to more obscure and diverse quality music that already exists.

I struggle to think of the musical equivalent of photos that show the effects of climate change.

Core point: outside of the club-goods problem (which remains huge in music), the need for new recorded music naturally goes down over time in a way that scientific research does not.

We can keep having live music, but that is naturally a private rivalrous good, so the public goods economic issue doesn’t apply there.