The “Artistic Freedom Voucher” [sic]

by Stephan Kinsella on January 13, 2011

Dean Baker, in “The Market and Inequality: Progressives Lose When They Accept the Right’s Framing,” writes:

Patent and copyright monopolies are another way in which the government redistributes income upward. The income from these government granted monopolies flows overwhelmingly to people in the top 10 percent of the income distribution. These interventions in the market serve a purpose, but there are other ways to support research and creative activity that are more efficient and lead to less inequality.

Now, don’t think Baker is opposed to IP. As noted by Roderick Long here, “Timothy Lee writes:  ‘I can’t agree with Baker that all copyright and patent monopolies are illegitimate.’ I’m actually not sure that’s Baker’s view (in his original response Baker remarks in passing, ‘there may be areas in which patents are an effective policy for promoting innovation’).” In that exchange, Long rightly criticizes Baker’s proposal for “a system in which the government allocates a pot of money (@$30 billion a year – approximately equal to private R&D in the pharmaceutical sector) that would be awarded in long-term contracts to a relatively small number of master contractors”. (I criticize this and related proposals in $30 Billion Taxfunded Innovation Contracts: The “Progressive-Libertarian” Solution.) Here we have someone pretending to criticize patent and copyright (but not really), and in the name of “equality” and “efficiency” proposing to take taxpayer money and give it to supplicants a state appointed panel of experts deems “worthy.” I’m sure this would do wonders for technological and scientific research.

In the first Baker comment quoted above, he links to his 2004 paper, “Financing Drug Research: What Are the Issues?“, which “examines four alternatives to the patent system,” to-wit:

1) A proposal by Tim Hubbard and James Love for a mandatory employer-based research fee to be distributed through intermediaries to researchers (Love 2003);
2) A proposal by Aidan Hollis for zero-cost compulsory licensing patents, in which the patent holder is compensated based on the rated quality of life improvement generated by the drug, and the extent of its use (Hollis 2004);
3) A proposal by Michael Kremer for an auction system in which the government purchases most drug patents and places them in the public domain (Kremer 1998); and
4) A proposal by Representative Dennis Kucinich to finance pharmaceutical research through a set of competing publicly supported research centers (Kucinich 2004).

All horrible, socialistic-interventionistic ideas.

It’s no surprise that someone who wants to have the state subsidize science also wants to subsidize the arts. His second reference is to his 2003 paper, “The Artistic Freedom Voucher: Internet Age Alternative to Copyrights.” This paper argues for the following:

The Artistic Freedom Voucher (AFV) would allot about $20 billion of taxpayer money to be paid to individual musicians or groups and allow the public to exchange, download, reproduce and enjoy creative work legally, efficiently and inexpensively.

Every adult could voluntarily give their $100 voucher to a musician or group of musicians; this is enough to support 500,000 artists with a salary of $40,000 per year. Musicians would still be able to receive income from concerts and other live performances, where musicians usually make most of their money, anyway. The AFV is an alternative to the copyright system. The AFV would work with technology and the internet to make music free and downloadable for the public, while at the same time ensure that musicians can make a living as artists rather than living as “starving artists.”

Yet another horrible idea–no better than educational vouchers. (And I see now that it has previously been criticized in J. Mark Stanley, “The False Freedom of Art Vouchers,” Mises Daily (April 29, 2010).)

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