Chapter 9, section 7
Chapter 9 Justice and Development. section 7: Commons-Based Strategies for Development: Conclusion
Liberal Theories of Justice and the Networked Information Economy
Commons-Based Strategies for Human Welfare and Development
Information-Embedded Goods and Tools, Information, and Knowledge
Industrial Organization of HDI-Related Information Industries
Toward Adopting Commons-Based Strategies for Development
Commons-Based Research for Food and Medicines
Commons-Based Strategies for Development: Conclusion
Welfare, development, and growth outside of the core economies heavily depend on the transfer of information-embedded goods and tools, information, and knowledge from the technologically advanced economies to the developing and less-developed economies and societies around the globe. These are important partly as finished usable components of welfare. Perhaps more important, however, they are necessary as tools and platforms on which innovation, research, and development can be pursued by local actors in the developing world itself - from the free software developers of Brazil to the agricultural scientists and farmers of Southeast Asia. The primary obstacles to diffusion of these desiderata in the required direction are the institutional framework of intellectual property and trade and the political power of the patent-dependent business models in the information-exporting economies. This is not because the proprietors of information goods and tools are evil. It is because their fiduciary duty is to maximize shareholder value, and the less-developed and developing economies have little money. As rational maximizers with a legal monopoly, the patent holders restrict output and sell at higher rates. This is not a bug in the institutional system we call "intellectual property." It is a known feature that has known undesirable side effects of inefficiently restricting access to the products of innovation. In the context of vast disparities in wealth across the globe, however, this known feature does not merely lead to less than theoretically optimal use of the information. It leads to predictable increase of morbidity and mortality and to higher barriers to development.
The rise of the networked information economy provides a new framework for thinking about how to work around the barriers that the international intellectual property regime places on development. Public-sector and other nonprofit institutions that have traditionally played an important role in development can do so with a greater degree of efficacy. Moreover, the emergence of peer production provides a model for new solutions to some of the problems of access to information and knowledge. In software and communications, these are directly available. In scientific information and some educational materials, we are beginning to see adaptations of these models to support core elements of development and learning. In food security and health, the translation process may be more difficult. In agriculture, we are seeing more immediate progress in the development of a woven fabric of public-sector, academic, nonprofit, and individual innovation and learning to pursue biological innovation outside of the markets based on patents and breeders' rights. In medicine, we are still at a very early stage of organizational experiments and institutional proposals. The barriers to implementation are significant. However, there is growing awareness of the human cost of relying solely on the patent-based production system, and of the potential of commons-based strategies to alleviate these failures.
Ideally, perhaps, the most direct way to arrive at a better system for harnessing innovation to development would pass through a new international politics of development, which would result in a better-designed international system of trade and innovation policy. There is in fact a global movement of NGOs and developing nations pursuing this goal. It is possible, however, that the politics of international trade are sufficiently bent to the purposes of incumbent industrial information economy proprietors and the governments that support them as a matter of industrial policy that the political path of formal institutional reform will fail. Certainly, the history of the TRIPS agreement and, more recently, efforts to pass new expansive treaties through the WIPO suggest this. However, one of the lessons we learn as we look at the networked information economy is that the work of governments through international treaties is not the final word on innovation and its diffusion across boundaries of wealth. The emergence of social sharing as a substantial mode of production in the networked environment offers an alternative route for individuals and nonprofit entities to take a much more substantial role in delivering actual desired outcomes independent of the formal system. Commons-based and peer production efforts may not be a cure-all. However, as we have seen in the software world, these strategies can make a big contribution to quite fundamental aspects of human welfare and development. And this is where freedom and justice coincide.
The practical freedom of individuals to act and associate freely - free from the constraints of proprietary endowment, free from the constraints of formal relations of contract or stable organizations - allows individual action in ad hoc, informal association to emerge as a new global mover. It frees the ability of people to act in response to all their motivations. In doing so, it offers a new path, alongside those of the market and formal governmental investment in public welfare, for achieving definable and significant improvements in human development throughout the world.