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Lessig on the Economics of Culture

Larry Lessig has posted a terrific, brief account of the complementarity of commercial and non-commercial economies of culture:

This second economy (however you name it, I’m just going to call it the “second economy”) is the economy of Wikipedia, most FLOSS development, the work of amateur astronomers, etc. It has a different, more complicated logic too it than the commercial economy. If you tried to translate all interactions in this second economy into the frame of the commercial economy, you’d kill it.

Having now seen the extraordinary value of this second economy, I think most would agree we need to think lots about how best to encourage it — what techniques are needed to call it into life, how is it sustained, what makes it flourish. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how to do it well. Those living in real second economy communities (such as Wikipedia) have a good intuition about it.

But a second and also extremely difficult problem is how, or whether, the economies can be linked. Is there a way to cross over from the commercial to second economy? Is there a way to manage a hybrid economy — one that tries to manage this link.

The challenge of the hybrid economy is what Mozilla, RedHat, Second Life, MySpace are struggling with all the time. How can you continue to inspire the creative work of the second economy, while also expanding the value of the commercial economy? This is, in my view, a different challenge from the challenge of how you call this second economy into being, but obviously, they are related. But this challenge too is one I don’t think anyone yet understands fully.

The paper that Brett and I and Joe Miller are working on is aimed at precisely this (second economy) issue.