Crooked Timber has posted a short online seminar reviewing Yochai Benkler’s new Wealth of Nations. My sympathies among the commenters lie mostly with Siva Vaidhyanathan, who points out that the book doesn’t devote enough space to the material conditions that underlie the debates that Yochai chronicles. I’m also sympathetic to Yochai’s response, which is largely to confirm that a Grand Unified Theory of Information can really only capture so much, and he thought it best to evaluate conditions as we find them, and to move forward from there.
Since I have an acute interest in this stuff, the in-between, as it were, lies in Jack Balkin’s comment. The virtues of social production are obvious, once we start looking for them. The hard part is figuring out when and how to rely on creativity, production, and governance produced in and via social structures in addition to, or as an alternative to, creativity, production, and governance produced in and via hierarchies and markets. It’s important, as Yochai says, to celebrate the fact that social production gives us stuff that we like as much as or even better than the stuff we get from hierarchies, but that’s not enough. Because that doesn’t tell anyone anything (or at least it doesn’t tell anyone enough) about when, where, or how to stimulate social production, or to stimulate markets, or to depress or suppress either. Can a Grand Unified Theory of Information give us that answer? Eventually, I think that it can. But I don’t think that we have it yet.