Re: Coase's Theorem and Intellectual Property

Max More (
Tue, 22 Dec 1998 10:39:00 -0800

At 09:50 AM 12/22/98 -0800, Hal wrote:
>(I should mention that my understanding of Coase's theorem comes from
>secondhand sources; I have not read his original work.)

Hal, I'm glad you mentioned Coase's work in this context. Reading Coase helps provide an antidote to the absolutist views of property rights apparently held by many libertarians (including myself in earlier years, being weaned on Nozick and Rothbard).

Coase's original work is quite readable--much more so than the average economist, and I strongly recommend it even if, like Hal, you've obviously understood it from secondhand sources, but *especially* to those who are not familiar with his work. His classic essays on "The Nature of the Firm", and "The Problem of Social Cost", and "The Lighthouse in Economics" (the latter being an excellent study in how economists had assumed that a "public good" could only be provided by government despite historical evidence to the contrary), are all available in a paperback volume, The Firm, The Market, and the Law.

If we're to experiment with improved economic systems, we need to recognize that rights are a human, social construct, not absolute rules based in some nonempirical realm. I haven't had time to participate in the discussion of Nozick's minimalism (a fascinating issue that helps reveal that the sharp distinction made between free market/polycentric systems and state systems is not so sharp), but thinking like that of Coase as well as those who approach rights using decision theory and sciences such as evolutionary psychology, help in keeping economic/political discussions productive -- instead of merely being "that's not libertarian" responses.


Max More, Ph.D.
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Consulting services on the impact of advanced technologies President, Extropy Institute:,