I finally figured out why we can’t have a better press corps

Robin Hanson expresses skepticism about IP laws:

Similarly, the kinds of innovation activities and intellectual property rights that make sense depend on available institutions and technologies. I’m happy to admit that today intellectual property (IP) is not obviously a good idea. Such property can create large “anti-commons” transaction and enforcement costs that greatly raise the cost of combining old ideas into valuable new ideas. Such costs often outweigh the social benefits of the incentives to create IP, in order to sell it. Today, it is often better to rely on other social incentives to innovate, incentives that don’t require such expensive support.

Brad DeLong read Robin’s post, and summarized the argument as follows:

Robin Hanson appears to think that people have the right to send killer robots off to hunt down people who use their ideas without paying.

Me? I think this is an example of how thinking too much about property rights can madden the mind.

That’s basically it (plus some quotations.)  Then it hit me.  That’s why we can’t have a better press corps!  Too many reporters are sloppy, biased, prone to mischaracterize one’s argument.

PS.  I originally left a much nicer version of this comment at DeLong’s blog, but he deleted it.  Big mistake Brad.  I have my own blog, which is much more widely read than your comment section.



34 Responses to “I finally figured out why we can’t have a better press corps”

  1. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    29. July 2011 at 04:55

    DeLong advocates a better press corps, but how can we have a better press corps without free press?

  2. Gravatar of Hyena Hyena
    29. July 2011 at 04:57

    Though, having read Hanson on and off for years, how is that not a fair characterization? I think the only major mistake in it is that Hanson thinks too much about external incentives, not property rights per se.

  3. Gravatar of Left Outside Left Outside
    29. July 2011 at 05:09


    *Gets Popcorn*

  4. Gravatar of Gordon Gordon
    29. July 2011 at 05:29

    Apparently, DeLong should think *more* about property rights, e.g., how he exercises property rights over his comments section.

  5. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    29. July 2011 at 05:32

    1. Loser pays. To show cause in IP here in the states, you must be able to prove you can pay the legal costs if you lose.

    2. The IP court system and patent office need to be tied together with a specific mandate of judicial expediency – like the the Fed should focus on NGDP.

    Theft should carry consequences that are a provable deterrent. Meaning if we are seeing more and more suits brought, the penalties for winners and losers should be increased until there are less and less cases.

    This way both sides have good reason to settles quickly.

    And when someone has written a patent and it has mothballed, they are very likely going to have to eat it.

    Our goal with IP is to worry about people copying ongoing growing concerns.

    Think of it like a race, if someone isn’t IN the race, their IP rights should be weak.

  6. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    29. July 2011 at 05:37

    I really don’t know why DeLong manages his comment section like that. It’s one thing to remove inflammatory/long winded comments, but he often goes beyond that. It only hurts his readership in the long run.

  7. Gravatar of Ben Ben
    29. July 2011 at 05:40

    He also gratuitously decides not to link to Hanson, making it more difficult for individuals to read and come to their own conclusion.

    Are there popular right-wing economists who act even one tenth as childish as he does?

  8. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    29. July 2011 at 05:51

    Hyena, Yeah, what could be fairer?

    Thanks Left Outside.

    Gordon, Good point.

    Morgan, All I know is that we have way too much IP.

    Statsguy. I know why.

  9. Gravatar of Stephan Stephan
    29. July 2011 at 06:36

    I agree. The DeLong comment policy or shall I say terror is annoying. Anyway I think that eventually must happen to someone who’s doing too much Second World War Live Blogging.

  10. Gravatar of PrometheeFeu PrometheeFeu
    29. July 2011 at 06:43

    I’ve basically stopped reading De Long. (and Krugman) I originally started reading them to expand my political horizon and learn more about their economic perspective. After months of trying really hard, all I learned was: “If you disagree with me you’re an idiot and probably evil too.” Even on topics where I fundamentally agree (such as IP) I cannot stomach the way they dismiss any criticism and pile on ad hominem attacks. I’m now in search of a Keynesian who tries to engage his audience in an intelligent way and perhaps has a bend on educating them.

    It seems to me IP was a mistake. It creates gridlock. It is way too easy to abuse and it by its very nature reduces competition and therefore innovation. Overall, a very bad idea even if it sounds like a good one at first blush.

  11. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    29. July 2011 at 06:51

    Ben and Stephan, I’ll let readers look at the evidence and make up their own minds.

    Prometheefue, IP is certainly way overdone. I have an open mind on whether things like new drugs should be encouraged with prizes or temporary patents. But certainly much of what we patent and copyright is absurd.

  12. Gravatar of Adam Adam
    29. July 2011 at 07:07

    I don’t know which is more widely read, but could you dad beat up his dad?

  13. Gravatar of Overcoming Bias : Rah Efficient IP Overcoming Bias : Rah Efficient IP
    29. July 2011 at 07:20

    […] Sumner says this “mischaracterizes” me; I […]

  14. Gravatar of Brad DeLong Brad DeLong
    29. July 2011 at 07:48

    Scott, I never deleted your comment. Furthermore, your comment was wrong and I couldn’t expose my readers to it. Furthermore, I don’t even have a blog. Furthermore, you are now banned from even reading my blog.

    [Note: I could not verify this was actually sent by Brad DeLong. The email address was slightly different from the email address which was used for a comment a few months back. Many commenters suspect it is fake, and I’m inclined to agree.]

  15. Gravatar of Eric Morey Eric Morey
    29. July 2011 at 07:56

    PrometheeFeu – Check out Noah Smith at http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/

  16. Gravatar of Silas Barta Silas Barta
    29. July 2011 at 07:59

    Wow, Sumner mischaracterizes Hanson, then DeLong mischaracterizes Sumner!

    Hanson was saying that the particulars of our present situation may make IP infeasible as a means to get the optimal amount of innovation, not that it’s generally flawed. He was very specific about saying that the analysis he provides does not generalize to other times and places, and might not even apply today.

    Also, DeLong is taking a rather bizarre approach to criticizing IP, since the exact same problem he cites (possible ultimate reliance on killer robots to enforce) applies just the same to physical property.

    Seriously, half the anti-IP arguments can be refuted by saying, “that applies to physical property too” or “that generalizes into an argument for socialism or other non-profit based economic systems”.

  17. Gravatar of Mike C Mike C
    29. July 2011 at 08:20

    PrometheeFeu, I don’t think that all intellectual property is bad. Property rights were one of the requirements for innovation to happen. It has been overdone to a major extent (like many have said above), but it still has a place as long as the incentive structure can be designed efficiently (and I see no reason why it couldn’t be).

    I think the real issue is that IP is now somewhat incompatabile with many of today’s “goods”. It’s dealing in the realm of things that while once they were mostly excludeable and rivalrous, are now non-excludeable, as well as non-rivalrous (music, film, games, books, etc), and can be copied with 100% accuracy.

  18. Gravatar of AC AC
    29. July 2011 at 08:37

    Is there a more insecure blogger out there who is relatively well-known? He deletes comments even when all they’re doing is giving the other side of the issue in a polite way. And to not even link to Hanson? It’s kind of pathetic.

  19. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    29. July 2011 at 08:50

    ‘PS. I originally left a much nicer version of this comment at DeLong’s blog, but he deleted it. Big mistake Brad. I have my own blog, which is much more widely read than your comment section.’

    Ha, ha, because the reason for that is that DeLong killed what was once the best econblog going by being unable to tolerate competing ideas. People who had their comment surreptiously deleted stopped reading it.

    Stats Guy; it was because DeLong was getting pressured by his acolytes who’d lost too many arguments. They wanted to be free to rant unmolested by logicians.

  20. Gravatar of Hyena Hyena
    29. July 2011 at 08:52


    Sure, it’s snarky, but his commenters have been round-and-round with him on this before, particularly when it comes to post-scarcity economics. I don’t want to get mean, but his beliefs about far future or ideal-world property rights strike a lot of his readers as unimaginative or under informed about the creative process.

  21. Gravatar of Tom Dougherty Tom Dougherty
    29. July 2011 at 08:58

    Brad is a joke. He says he didn’t delete it. Then he says, “I couldn’t expose my readers to it.” What does that mean if not that he deleted it? Brad is about as credible as that guy who wrote “If I Did It”. Next, I’m sure he will ban Scott from breathing the air.

  22. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    29. July 2011 at 09:10

    Everyone, The whole post was a joke, as is my newest. You guys don’t seriously expect me to discuss IP, do you?

  23. Gravatar of Jason Odegaard Jason Odegaard
    29. July 2011 at 12:40

    So did you leave a comment at Brad Delong’s blog or not?

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. July 2011 at 18:11

    Jason, Yes, but it was deleted.

  25. Gravatar of PrometheeFeu PrometheeFeu
    30. July 2011 at 05:32

    @Mike C:
    Well defined physical property rights are most definitely necessary. But intellectual property rights seem to be saddled with too many inherent problems to be a positive. First there is the fact that they prohibit innovating on top of what someone else has IP over. Then there is the part where it allows someone to prevent competition by refusing to license their IP to a competitor. And then there is the fact that since IP violations can be carried out all alone in the intimacy of your own home, IP is in tension with privacy rights. For similar reasons, IP is in tension with free speech rights. In return for all of these assured ills, we get the “benefit” of money being redirected into IP producing investments. Hardly seems like a good bargain to make.

    @Scott Sumner:
    I’m not sure I can support those prize systems. It seems too hard for anyone in government to correctly select the right amount for the prize. But if that allowed us to get rid of IP, well, it would definitely be an improvement.

  26. Gravatar of Artturi Björk Artturi Björk
    30. July 2011 at 08:21

    Scott: you should probably delete that fake Brad DeLong comment…

  27. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    30. July 2011 at 10:29

    PrometheeFeu, I’m inclined to agree on prizes, i just threw that out as an option.

    Arttui, Thanks, I just added a disclaimer to his comment.

    I don’t want to be accused of deleting a DeLong comment. 🙂

  28. Gravatar of JBB JBB
    30. July 2011 at 15:52

    If there is one reason to delete a comment, it would be that the handle is intentionally deceptive. While, I don’t have a blog, and hesitate to add to the administrative overhead, but this is perhaps a case, where a phone, or private email exchange, might come in handy.

    I figure at least 20%, of your readers, are probably unable to comprehend all the intricacy of the “straight” arguments/theories presented (I’m in this group), double that unable to comprehend the subtle irony, jabs, or sarcastic comments, and perhaps only 2 (or 1) of your readers are able to comprehend, the flow jabs, if handles are being juggled, or worse, imposters are tolerated.

  29. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    30. July 2011 at 17:00

    I’m a little surprised that anyone would think that the Delong comment above could be real. Delong has written a voluminous amount of stuff on his blog, include a lot of things which are pointers to his sense of humor. I defy anyone to find one tiny bit of Delong’s writing containing bald, self-deprecating jokes of the kind in that comment. You can’t. It wasn’t him, unless he was trying very hard not to write like himself.

    Delong never uses emoticons – perhaps because he never needs them.

    I like Delong’s blog a lot, and I think people should be more appreciative of his comment policy. Yes, his official comment policy is “no drive-bys” and in practice his comment policy is “drive-bys that are on-message are fine, drive-bys and/or substantive comments that are off-message will be deleted.”

    Here’s the type of comment that doesn’t get deleted (by “DrDick” from the same thread): “DrDick said… All libertarians hate all government regulation, except when it benefits them. They also mostly seem blissfully unaware of all the government regulations they actually benefit from, like contract and tort law, laws against fraud, etc..”

    This is the prototypical Delong-approved comment: zero (or less, really) information content, aimed at the right target, short. But so what? It’s his blog, let him do it how he wants. I think we really want the Full Delong Experience, with all the idiosyncracies, not some watered-down version where Delong plays by some imagined rules. I think Delong views his comments section as having some sort of vague instrumental purpose….

    TMI readers who are interested should read the recent Crooked Timber thread “This cyber-stalking is getting beyond a joke,” a response by Chris Bertram to a Delong drive-by. Like Sumner, Bertram wrote the post because his comments at Delong get deleted (see comment 31). The best (i.e. unintentionally funny) part of the thread is the discussion by commenters as to why Delong can be so apposite and rational when attacking right-wingers they don’t like (John Yoo, Mickey Kaus) but so irrational and perplexing when attacking left-wingers they do (Bertram, Castro, Chomsky).

    Anyway, it’s hard to defend Delong’s nutty “drive-by” posts. The really strange thing about Delong’s post on Hanson is that the way he invokes the “killer robots” idea *clearly* implies, to the reader, that the idea devolves somehow from Hanson, not from Delong himself. It was a shock to discover, here, otherwise – I hadn’t read the Hanson post. I think you just have to ignore the “drive-bys” and focus on the good stuff, of which there is plenty. He reads and processes a lot of interesting things. I can’t believe the time he (and other bloggers) put into it – it’s incredible.

    And unlike some bloggers, he doesn’t get us hooked and then leave us hanging for months and months, eh? (I don’t use emoticons either, btw, but probably should).

  30. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    31. July 2011 at 06:40

    JBB, Good point, I added a disclaimer.

    Anon/Portly, My experience is that if I leave a comment that is polite, on topic, and critical of DeLong, he’ll delete it. So I don’t follow your defense of his comment policy.

    If course my post was a joke, as he often mocks the press for its errors, but he makes just as many. And I agree, he is a great blogger, one of the best in the blogosphere. It’s just that his blog is not quite as great as he thinks it is.

  31. Gravatar of Mark Thomson Mark Thomson
    31. July 2011 at 18:55

    “if I leave a comment that is polite, on topic, and critical of DeLong, he’ll delete it”

    My experience also. And the same applies if the comment is polite, on topic and critical of Paul Krugman.

  32. Gravatar of SHocking SHocking
    1. August 2011 at 03:44

    Prof Sumner,

    I don’t really get the point of this post. Yes, Delong is arrogant and often overbearing in his criticism of the press, but he conveys a message that’s entirely necessary to get across.

    He mostly rages against false equivocation in journalism–the same type of claims that give equal weight to conservative fantasies such as “regulatory uncertainty” constraining economic growth rather than a shortfall in AD. Overall, he’s fighting the good fight.

    Does he have a totalitarian comment policy? Maybe. Do I care? Hardly at all.

    Also, I’m not sure if you took the time to read the Yglesias post on the same issues, but rhetorically and stylistically, that was the basis for DeLong’s hyperbolic criticisms of Robin Hanson. I’d argue that he’s not looking to perform character assassination so much as just draw attention to something that he thinks deserves real scrutiny and consideration, rather than just rubber-stamp acceptance. And if that’s his objective, then maybe sarcasm-laced sensationalism isn’t the worst method.

  33. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    1. August 2011 at 08:04

    “My experience is that if I leave a comment that is polite, on topic, and critical of DeLong, he’ll delete it. So I don’t follow your defense of his comment policy.”

    Well, my comment (typically) wasn’t very clear, but you can’t explain Delong. It makes no real sense that he deletes your comments, or Chris Bertram’s, and the comments of any notable blogger. Why aren’t those comments obviously valuable? Why wouldn’t his readers want to see those comments?

    In fact I think Delong’s official comment policy is actually very near the opposite of his true comment policy. Which again is inexplicable. He says “provide information and humor, no drive-bys” but in fact humorless, information-free drive-bys of the “DrDick” sort are not deleted, while on-point responses from notable bloggers are.

    And his comment policy fits with many of his posts. Look at the comment by “SHocking” just above. “Yes, Delong is arrogant and often overbearing in his criticism of the press, but he conveys a message that’s entirely necessary to get across.” Obvious baloney. Delong’s press criticism is mostly slapdash and drive-byish, picking on specific targets toward whom Delong clearly bears animus. It’s nowhere near as good as his economic analysis – very little true effort. There’s nothing “entirely necessary” about occasionally throwing some red meat into your reader’s cages.

    So anyway, my defense of Delong is that, hey, he’s eccentric. I like the wacky element. Delong is almost like a fictional character. For all his faults, if faults they are, Delong is very interesting and entertaining. In the Crooked Timber thread I mentioned above the commenters were bandying about various theories as to why Delong becomes unhinged (in their view) when criticizing left-wingers, but none mentioned my theory, which is that to really rise to the top of the Harvard PHD class you need to have a sort of intimidating or unreasonable or abrasive facet to your personality or persona. You know, like the Larry Summers stories….

  34. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    1. August 2011 at 08:59

    Mark, I don’t find Krugman to be as bad regarding comments.

    Shocking; You said;

    “I don’t really get the point of this post.”

    I don’t get the point of your comment. You don’t deny that DeLong is just as sloppy as the press. That was my point. It was meant to be amusing, not a fair and balanced overall appraisal of DeLong’s blog (which is excellent.)

    You said;

    “And if that’s his objective, then maybe sarcasm-laced sensationalism isn’t the worst method.”

    OK, and tell me again why you objected to my post, if sarcasm-laced sensationalism is fine?

    I constantly see DeLong and Krugman defenders say “Don’t be mean to them, for there’s no reason to object to them being mean.” Isn’t that self-contradicting?

    anon/portly, That’s exactly my view of DeLong, a much better summary than my reply to Shocking.

Leave a Reply