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The Wealth of Networks

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom

Yochai Benkler
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    The Wealth of Networks
    Book Description:

    With the radical changes in information production that the Internet has introduced, we stand at an important moment of transition, says Yochai Benkler in this thought-provoking book. The phenomenon he describes as social production is reshaping markets, while at the same time offering new opportunities to enhance individual freedom, cultural diversity, political discourse, and justice. But these results are by no means inevitable: a systematic campaign to protect the entrenched industrial information economy of the last century threatens the promise of today's emerging networked information environment.

    In this comprehensive social theory of the Internet and the networked information economy, Benkler describes how patterns of information, knowledge, and cultural production are changing-and shows that the way information and knowledge are made available can either limit or enlarge the ways people can create and express themselves. He describes the range of legal and policy choices that confront us and maintains that there is much to be gained-or lost-by the decisions we make today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12723-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction: A Moment of Opportunity and Challenge
    (pp. 1-28)

    Information, knowledge, and culture are central to human freedom and human development. How they are produced and exchanged in our society critically affects the way we see the state of the world as it is and might be; who decides these questions; and how we, as societies and polities, come to understand what can and ought to be done. For more than 150 years, modern complex democracies have depended in large measure on an industrial information economy for these basic functions. In the past decade and a half, we have begun to see a radical change in the organization of...

  5. Part One. The Nerworked Information Economy

    • [Part One Introduction]
      (pp. 29-34)

      For more than 150 years, new communications technologies have tended to concentrate and commercialize the production and exchange of information, while extending the geographic and social reach of information distribution networks. High-volume mechanical presses and the telegraph combined with new business practices to change newspapers from small-circulation local efforts into mass media. Newspapers became means of communications intended to reach ever-larger and more dispersed audiences, and their management required substantial capital investment. As the size of the audience and its geographic and social dispersion increased, public discourse developed an increasingly one-way model. Information and opinion that was widely known and...

    • Chapter 2 Some Basic Economics of Information Production and Innovation
      (pp. 35-58)

      There are no noncommercial automobile manufacturers. There are no volunteer steel foundries. You would never choose to have your primary source of bread depend on voluntary contributions from others. Nevertheless, scientists working at noncommercial research institutes funded by nonprofit educational institutions and government grants produce most of our basic science. Widespread cooperative networks of volunteers write the software and standards that run most of the Internet and enable what we do with it. Many people turn to National Public Radio or the BBC as a reliable source of news. What is it about information that explains this difference? Why do...

    • Chapter 3 Peer Production and Sharing
      (pp. 59-90)

      At the heart of the economic engine, of the world’s most advanced economies, we are beginning to notice a persistent and quite amazing phenomenon. A new model of production has taken root; one that should not be there, at least according to our most widely held beliefs about economic behavior. It should not, the intuitions of the late-twentieth-century American would say, be the case that thousands of volunteers will come together to collaborate on a complex economic project. It certainly should not be that these volunteers will beat the largest and best-financed business enterprises in the world at their own...

    • Chapter 4 The Economics of Social Production
      (pp. 91-128)

      The increasing salience of nonmarket production in general, and peer production in particular, raises three puzzles from an economics perspective. First, why do people participate? What is their motivation when they work for or contribute resources to a project for which they are not paid or directly rewarded? Second, why now, why here? What, if anything, is special about the digitally networked environment that would lead us to believe that peer production is here to stay as an important economic phenomenon, as opposed to a fad that will pass as the medium matures and patterns of behavior settle toward those...

  6. Part Two. The Political Economy of Property and Commons

    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 129-132)

      How a society produces its information environment goes to the very core of freedom. Who gets to say what, to whom? What is the state of the world? What counts as credible information? How will different forms of action affect the way the world can become? These questions go to the foundations of effective human action. They determine what individuals understand to be the range of options open to them, and the range of consequences to their actions. They determine what is understood to be open for debate in a society, and what is considered impossible as a collective goal...

    • Chapter 5 Individual Freedom: Autonomy, Information, and Law
      (pp. 133-175)

      The emergence of the networked information economy has the potential to increase individual autonomy. First, it increases the range and diversity of things that individuals can do for and by themselves. It does this by lifting, for one important domain of life, some of the central material constraints on what individuals can do that typified the industrial information economy. The majority of materials, tools, and platforms necessary for effective action in the information environment are in the hands of most individuals in advanced economies. Second, the networked information economy provides nonproprietary alternative sources of communications capacity and information, alongside the...

    • Chapter 6 Political Freedom Part 1: The Trouble with Mass Media
      (pp. 176-211)

      Modern democracies and mass media have coevolved throughout the twentieth century. The first modern national republics—the early American Republic, the French Republic from the Revolution to the Terror, the Dutch Republic, and the early British parliamentary monarchy—preexisted mass media. They provide us with some model of the shape of the public sphere in a republic without mass media, what Jurgen Habermas called the bourgeois public sphere. However, the expansion of democracies in complex modern societies has largely been a phenomenon of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries—in particular, the post–World War II years. During this period,...

    • Chapter 7 Political Freedom Part 2: Emergence of the Networked Public Sphere
      (pp. 212-272)

      The fundamental elements of the difference between the networked information economy and the mass media are network architecture and the cost of becoming a speaker. The first element is the shift from a hub-and-spoke architecture with unidirectional links to the end points in the mass media, to distributed architecture with multidirectional connections among all nodes in the networked information environment. The second is the practical elimination of communications costs as a barrier to speaking across associational boundaries. Together, these characteristics have fundamentally altered the capacity of individuals, acting alone or with others, to be active participants in the public sphere...

    • Chapter 8 Cultural Freedom: A Culture Both Plastic and Critical
      (pp. 273-300)

      In 1939,Gone with the Windreaped seven Oscars, while Billie Holiday’s song reached number 16 on the charts, even though Columbia Records refused to release it: Holiday had to record it with a small company that was run out of a storefront in midtown Manhattan. On the eve of the second reconstruction era, which was to overhaul the legal framework of race relations over the two decades beginning with the desegregation of the armed forces in the late 1940s and culminating with the civil rights acts passed between 1964–1968, the two sides of the debate over desegregation and...

    • Chapter 9 Justice and Development
      (pp. 301-355)

      How will the emergence of a substantial sector of nonmarket, commons-based production in the information economy affect questions of distribution and human well-being? The pessimistic answer is, very little. Hunger, disease, and deeply rooted racial, ethnic, or class stratification will not be solved by a more decentralized, nonproprietary information production system. Without clean water, basic literacy, moderately well-functioning governments, and universal practical adoption of the commitment to treat all human beings as fundamentally deserving of equal regard, the fancy Internet-based society will have little effect on the billions living in poverty or deprivation, either in the rich world, or, more...

    • Chapter 10 Social Ties: Networking Together
      (pp. 356-378)

      Increased practical individual autonomy has been central to my claims throughout this book. It underlies the efficiency and sustainability of nonproprietary production in the networked information economy. It underlies the improvements I describe in both freedom and justice. Many have raised concerns that this new freedom will fray social ties and fragment social relations. On this view, the new freedom is one of detached monads, a freedom to live arid, lonely lives free of the many constraining attachments that make us grounded, well-adjusted human beings. Bolstered by early sociological studies, this perspective was one of two diametrically opposed views that...

  7. Part Three. Policies of Freedom at a Moment of Transformation

    • [Part Three Introduction]
      (pp. 379-382)

      Part I of this book offers a descriptive, progressive account of emerging patterns of nonmarket individual and cooperative social behavior, and an analysis of why these patterns are internally sustainable and increase information economy productivity. Part II combines descriptive and normative analysis to claim that these emerging practices offer defined improvements in autonomy, democratic discourse, cultural creation, and justice. I have noted periodically, however, that the descriptions of emerging social practices and the analysis of their potential by no means imply that these changes will necessarily become stable or provide the benefits I ascribe them. They are not a deterministic...

    • Chapter 11 The Battle Over the Institutional Ecology of the Digital Environment
      (pp. 383-459)

      The decade straddling the turn of the twenty-first century has seen high levels of legislative and policy activity in the domains of information and communications. Between 1995 and 1998, the United States completely overhauled its telecommunications law for the first time in sixty years, departed drastically from decades of practice on wireless regulation, revolutionized the scope and focus of trademark law, lengthened the term of copyright, criminalized individual user infringement, and created new paracopyright powers for rights holders that were so complex that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that enacted them was longer than the entire Copyright Act....

    • Chapter 12 Conclusion: The Stakes of Information Law and Policy
      (pp. 460-474)

      Complex modern societies have developed in the context of mass media and industrial information economy. Our theories of growth and innovation assume that industrial models of innovation are dominant. Our theories about how effective communications in complex societies are achieved center on market-based, proprietary models, with a professional commercial core and a dispersed, relatively passive periphery. Our conceptions of human agency, collective deliberation, and common culture in these societies are embedded in the experience and practice of capital-intensive information and cultural production practices that emphasize proprietary, market-based models and starkly separate production from consumption. Our institutional frameworks reflect these conceptual...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 475-490)
  9. Index
    (pp. 491-515)