Monday, January 01, 2007

Scratch a free-marketeer...

...and find an enemy of private property.

Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics recently blogged about an interesting study of the used-book market.

Or rather, Dubner thinks it might be interesting, but since it costs US$695 he hasn't actually read the report.

That sounds interesting, doesn’t it? We’ve touched on related subjects here and here; Judy Chevalier and Austan Goolsbee wrote a paper about the market for used textbooks. Even closer to home, as far as the trade publishing industry is concerned, is this paper by Anindya Ghose, Michael Smith, and Rahul Telang, which argues that — despite the publishers’ fears — the sale of used books does not cannibalize new book sales, and in fact a robust used market may help the new book market since a book, once read, retains more of its value.

But what I want to comment on is not Dubner's post itself, but one of the comments left by a reader. "GamblingEconomist" starts off with the free market party line, defending the price of the report:

Why does it seem strange that industry research would be expensive? How are those in the industry supposed to make their decisions without market research? Peer reviewed economics publications don’t always fit the bill.

but then rapidly shows his(?) true colours:

I hope that nobody sells it on ebay because the report is likely licensed to the purchaser for his/her own use and is not meant to be duplicated and/or resold.

Let's get this straight: he's not talking about copyright infringement. From context, he's talking about re-selling a physical copy of the report. He's hoping that nobody can re-sell the report -- or to put it another way, he hopes that the report is not the property of those who buy it.

He's talking about one of the most fundamental attributes of the free market, without which the concept of "private property" is meaningless: once you buy something, it is yours, to do with as you wish, including selling it.

You would think I'd be immune to this by now, but I never cease to be angered at the double-standards of so many of the supposed "free-market" proponents who are happy to gut the principle of private property by messing with the first-sale doctrine. To these people, there are two classes of individuals in the world: those who own property, and those who merely licence it.

And you can bet that in their minds, they intend to be in the first class.

No comments: