Class warfare in the information age

Michael Perelman michael at
Sat Aug 26 21:39:06 PDT 2000

Chuck Grimes wrote:

> So, if I
> had not agreed in advance, I would have been screaming on every
> page. If I didn't agree, would this book have convinced me? No,
> possibly not. Why? What did it need to defeat scepticism?

Interesting question. I suspect that the ability to convince is very limited. I have never known anybody to be convinced by some academic argument or "proof." We have an increcible ability to rationalize plus a tendency to be easily bamboozeld.

> The
> antidotes, and references were mostly illustrative of points in line
> with the argument. In others they clarified concepts or points in the
> overall narrative.

I suspect that good stories are the best teaching technique.

> So, I reasoned in order to beat scepticism and criticism into a sullen
> silence, what is needed is demonstration. The book was essentially an
> argument rather than a demonstration.

Again, I don't think that demonstration works very well -- especially in academic circles.

> Why? I suspect because what I mean by a demonstration is a series of
> tables and statistical or other empirical measures that demonstrate a
> relationship that is critical to a line of argument. It occurred to me
> that the reason there were no tables and graphs is because there were
> no measures. The most likely reason was simply that acceptable
> measures and perhaps even a crude consensus on how to form them didn't
> exist. And, therefore in order write about the subject, it was
> necessary to proceed as an argument rather than an empirical
> demonstration. I realized later that the long sections on Hayek where
> probably put there to kill off his use of price as information, as a
> potential model for an information economy.


> If this is an accurate impression, then it seems to me, one big order
> of business for left economists is to get busy and start inventing
> some of those measures so their arguments can be formed as
> demonstrations.

I don't know anyone with a better with data than Doug Henwood. I once asked Brad DeLong if he knew anyone better. He gave me the name of a labor economist, but I told him that I thought that that person's expertise was rather narrow. Maybe Doug has been able to convince people.

I think Paul Samuelson was the one who said, "It takes a theory to beat a theory."

> If that can be done on something like the information
> economy (or new economy as it were), then the capital/government
> establishment will be put in a corner and have to defend themselves
> and will fail to do so. The reason is that mere argument usually can
> not defeat a well formed demonstration. Only an another well formed
> demonstration can do that.
> This is not directed at convincing the masses or the press. It would
> be much more useful in academia obviously, but also in law and policy
> contexts were rational empiricism is supposed to still have some sway
> (shut up, I can hear the laughing from here).
> By the way, impressing academia, moving it out of cyberhype is not a
> trivial exercise. Last week, UCB fired up for fall semester, and I
> worked on two law student's power wheelchairs who were headed back for
> their second year at Boalt. Both were going into intellectual property
> law! I needed one of those empirical arguments to hit them with, but
> all I could muster was something like, `hegemonic pig capital triumphs
> with virtual products of zero material value, spun out of thin air by
> government fiat.' Or words to that effect. They laughed, but were only
> convinced that I was completely insane. One of them, the more liberal
> of the two gave me something along the lines of Matt Cramer's
> liberatarian spiel last week over freedom, creativity, empowerment,
> etc. In other words another argument.
> So how about some of those empirical measures to beat up the
> competition?
> Chuck Grimes
> PS. Here I just opened Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, to a random
> section on intellectual property (141p):
> ``Choices
> I've argued that cyberspace will open up at least two important
> choices in the context of intellectual property: whether to allow
> intellectual property in effect to become completely propertized (for
> that is what a perfect code regime for protecting intellectual
> property would do), and whether to allow this regime to erase the
> anonymity latent in less efficient architectures of control. These
> choices were not made by our framers. They are for us to make now.
> I have a view, in this context as in the following three, about how we
> should exercise that choice. But I am a lawyer, trained to be shy
> about saying, `how things ought to be.' Lawyers are taught to point
> elsewhere---to the framers, to the United Nations charter, to an act
> of Congress---when arguing about how things ought to be.''
> So you can see how a well constructed demonstration as part of an
> argument will be evidentually used in legal and policy formats. Of
> course I say fuck intellectual property law entirely since all it is
> devoted to is making some jerk like Gates rich, and keeping me broke
> and stupid.

-- Michael Perelman Economics Department California State University Chico, CA 95929

Tel. 530-898-5321 E-Mail michael at

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