Commons Sense

Earlier this week, I attended a presentation by Brett Frischmann, who (among other things) teaches intellectual property law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.   Frischmann’s talk concerned a related(?) topic:  society’s management of its infrastructure, and the appropriate role of government and ‘the commons’ therein.  Frischmann conceives of ‘infrastructure’ in very broad (almost abstract) terms that extend beyond customary top-of-the-mind things like roads, bridges, sewers, water mains and electrical power lines.   As a result, issues surrounding management of these shared social resources are more complex than those generally covered in the usual range of policy debate.   For full details on Frischmann’s thesis, you can either wait for Yale University Press to publish his forthcoming book on the topic, or you can email him to request some sample chapters for review.  I won’t waste your time and mine attempting to recapitulate an argument he can articulate far more cogently than I.

I’ll confine myself to making two brief observations about his talk:

  • Frischmann deserves a higher-caliber, more knowledgeable audience than (by and large) was actually in attendance when I heard him speak.
  • Even if it was only a quotation whose originator I’ve not previously encountered, ya just gotta love the pithy concision of a statement like “pursuit of profit is a feature of the system, not a bug.”   That’s a mashup of Econ and CompSci domains that may have legs well into the 21st century, regardless of whether or not you agree with the underlying sentiment.
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