Author Archives: Richard Posner

A Few Closing Thoughts

What particularly strikes me in reading over the comments (not that I’ve been able to read carefully all of them) is the challenge of managing uncertainty. It is uncertainty that pervades the topics that I’ve touched on in my postings and that have provoked many of the comments. I started with IP, where the underlying uncertainty is that we just don’t know the social value of creating enforceable legal rights in intellectual property. In the case of physical property, we know or think we know that something like the present definition of rights, including such limited exceptions to private property… Continue reading

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Tu Quoque ("You Too") (II)

Interesting comments, as usual; and since this is my last day as Larry’s guest blogger, I think I’ll limit myself to responding to comments. (Unfortunately, I can’t respond to all–and of course some comments are responded to very well by other commenters. I am impressed by the quality and interactive character of many of the comments.) One commenter corrected my statement that the Copenhagen Consensus had ranked global warming last on the list of the world’s ills. For one thing, the list is very incomplete (more on that below). For another, what the conferees were asked to rank were solutions,… Continue reading

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Tu Quoque

My posting on the Copenhagen conference, and its downgrading of global warming, provoked a neat hostile comment: you (Posner) criticize these economists for opining outside their fields, but isn’t that what you do all the time? Well, yes, but here’s my defense: you don’t have to be an expert in a field to criticize the experts, provided you know enough about the field to understand what the experts are saying and writing, to be able to spot internal contradictions and other logical lapses, sources of bias, arguments obviously not based on knowledge, carelessness in the use of evidence, lack of… Continue reading

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Break Up the CIA (V)? No, the FBI!

I thank commenter Craig for discovering that my review of the 9/11 Commission’s report, to be published tomorrow in the New York Times Book Review section, is now online. The review was written before Senator Roberts’ proposal to break up the CIA, but offers several reasons for thinking that the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, if it was indeed a culpable failure rather than an inevitable one, was primarily a managerial rather than a structural failure. Issues of government organization are baffling. Where you have a boundary, you have a turf war; and if you erase the boundary, you… Continue reading

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Global Warming (III): The Public Intellectuals Weigh in

The following description of a recent conference on the world’s worst ills, featuring several economists who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, enables me to sink global-warming skeptics and academic public intellectuals with only one salvo. “An international panel of economists brought together to rank the world’s worst ills ended a weeklong conference in Copenhagen Saturday by listing HIV/AIDS, hunger, trade barriers and malaria as the world’s most pressing problems while relegating global warming to the near-bottom of the list. The eight economists at the Copenhagen Consensus � among them Nobel laureates Robert Fogel, Douglass North and Vernon… Continue reading

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In an article in WIRED called Insanely Destructive Devices, Larry Lessig discusses one of the greatest of possible techno-disasters, a terrorist-engendered smallpox epidemic. What gives it a technological dimension is that experiments have shown that genetic alteration of the smallpox virus, utilizing biotechnological techniques and equipment that are inexpensive and widely available, including in Third World countries, could make the “juiced up” virus not only more lethal than “ordinary smallpox” (which kills a “mere” 30 percent of its victims) but also, and more important, impervious to smallpox vaccines (and there is no cure for smallpox). Smallpox is highly contagious and… Continue reading

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Break Up the CIA (IV)?

Interesting discussion of this question in Slate…. Continue reading

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Global Warming (II)

Good comments, and mostly supportive though some skeptical along the lines of climate models are complex, climate science is uncertain, the experts may be wrong. All true; but reading the skeptical literature, I am reminded of the debates in the 1960s over the effects of cigarette smoking on human health. The evidence for serious ill effects was already very strong, but there were skeptics, some financed by the tobacco industry, who said such things as: the evidence is statistical, the mechanism by which nicotine and tars cause changes in lung tissue, etc. is not well understood, and in short we… Continue reading

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In the Wake of Grokster…

…the Justice Department is conducting criminal investigations of file-sharing networks. This development illustrates a point I made in a previous posting (a Lessig point) about the relationship of substitution between law and technology. The Grokster decision last week, if it holds up, will facilitate circumvention of copyright law by file sharing, by placing the sellers of the software for such sharing beyond reach of the copyright law. The liability of the sharers themselves is not affected; and already as we know hundreds of them have been sued by the recording industry. But copyright law also authorizes criminal sanctions. The Justice… Continue reading

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Back to "The Matrix" (II)

Good comments, e.g., by “yozhik” and by Prof. Castronova, the economist of the virtual world phenomenon; and for a rich discussion of the laws that govern or should govern virtual worlds, see Balkin. Also a paper by Lastowka and Hunter…. Continue reading

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