I am pretty sure that, had I taken economics in school, I would never have developed an interest in it.
One of my hobbies is collecting economics textbooks. They are not uniformly bad — I have gained insights from those by Alchian and Allen, David D. Friedman, Gwartney and Stroup, and a few others — but they are not as good as the old “Principles”-style texts from days of yore. You know, general theory books covering a lot of ground for a wide audience including amateurs, written (in the best cases) in readable English (or other common tongue) and not littered with Q&As and “work problems” and “call-out” boxes of biographies of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and the ever-present Keynes. The best of the old-fashioned treatises, such as by F.W. Taussig, and especially the “anachronistic” efforts by Ludwig von Mises (Human Action) and Murray Rothbard (Man, Economy and State), outshine all econ texts used in colleges today.
Part of the problem is that the textbook industry is a mostly corrupt adjunct to the university system, the main idea being to milk as much money as possible from students. The often-annual revisions in textbooks are usually trivial . . . but quite necessary for the planned obsolescence of the media, allowing universities to renege on buy-backs, thus keeping multi-hundred dollar purchases coming into their revenue streams. Change a few pictures, charge $300+.
This perverse industry has arisen, in part, in response to the near-unlimited demand stemming from subsidized tuitions and student loans. [Keep reading…]
Laissez-Faire Books was founded in 1972 when issues of intellectual property hadn’t been worked out in detail in the libertarian world. There was of course the Randian view, which took IP to the most absurd extremes. Then there was the Rothbardian view, which had a very strict view of what is and what is not property and because IP doesn’t pass this test, the Rothbardian perspective tended toward the open model.
LFB itself never questioned the statist conventions on this topic. In fact, it even went through a period in which its owner worked to send take down notices to sites for posting old books to which it claimed the rights. How well I recall my own disgust! LFB uses the state to stop the spread of libertarian ideas! That’s just incredible.
Well, Agora Financial took over the institution this year and it immediately became obvious that they were Kinsellaites on this question. While working at the Mises Institute, I had worked with the new LFB to do some co-publishing in the commons. So when I accepted the position as publisher and executive editor, I made it a condition that, wherever possible, we always publish into the commons.
Management readily agreed, and even wondered why I was making such a big deal out of this. After all, this is a gigantically successful company and they have learned that the most important way to sell a product is to market it as widely and broadly as possible. If by putting something in the commons, you stand to reach more people, isn’t this a great thing? Isn’t this what commerce is all about? And from a mission point of view, isn’t this what libertarian education is all about?
Indeed it is! I immediately felt that we would soon be running an important experiment: a large scale publisher in the world of commerce would soon be publishing with Creative Commons and eschewing copyright in every way. This is a massive step for the libertarian world and even for the world of publishing in general.