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Monthly Archives: May 2009
There’s an interesting resistance (see the comments) to my resistance to Kevin Kelly’s description of (what others call) Web 2.0 as “socialism.” That resistance (to my resistance) convinces me my point hasn’t been made.
Confidence about my “ignorance” about political philosophy notwithstanding (and don’t tell my political philosophy tutor from Cambridge where I spent three years studying the stuff), my point is not that it is impossible to understand “socialism” as Kelly describes it. (Obviously, if a missile can be a “peacekeeper,” anything can be anything). It is not even that never in the history of “socialism” have people so understood it (there have of course been plenty of voluntary communities that have called themselves “socialist”). Instead, my argument against Kelly was about responsibility in language: How would the words, or label, he used be understood. Not after, as I said, reading “a 3,500 word essay that redefines the term.” Rather, how would it be understood by a culture that increasingly has the attention span of 140 characters?
In my view, the answer to that question is absolutely clear: “Socialist” would be associated with the dominant, modern vision of “socialism” which has, at its core, coercion. And as the Internet that Kelly and I celebrate doesn’t have “coercion” at its core, I maintain, it is not “socialist.”
In reading the reactions to my argument, however, I realize that in using the term “coercion” I was committing the same error that I was accusing Kelly of making. People associate the word “coercion” with Abu Ghraib or Stalin. And certainly, the “coercion” of socialism isn’t necessarily (or even often) that.
That’s fair. By “coercion” I meant simply law — that “socialism” is a system enforced by law, and enforced contrary to the way individuals would freely choose autonomously to associate. Again, I’m for that kind of coercion in lots of contexts. I’m for income redistribution (to some degree); I want better public schools, I want to force you to vaccinate your childeren, etc. So I didn’t mean anything necessarily negative by the term “coercion.” I meant something analytical: That Wikipedia, if it coerces, coerces differently from how 95% (of Americans) at least understand the term “socialism.”
Again, if you doubt that, think about American critics of “socialism”: None of them are complaining about people voluntarily choosing to associate however they choose to associate (except of course if they are gay). They are complaining about people being forced to associate in ways they don’t choose to associate. There’s nothing inconsistent with someone being a Right Wing (and anti-socialist) Republican yet working at a church soup kitchen every other Saturday. Those spheres are separate in the American mind. Because they are separate, one can choose to be a Wikipedian and see no inconsistency in voting for Ronald Reagan.
(But aren’t the “freely chosen obligations” often enforced (i.e., in my terms, “coerced”) by the state? Of course they are — as the Legal Realists and most recently Critical Legal Studies Movement worked very hard to remind us. But they had to work so hard because they were working against a very solid assumption about the sense of the term “coercion.” They wanted to change it. But they at least acknowledged there was something there to change.)
So my argument against Kelly is that it is wrong to use a term (in the context of a Wired essay at least; a philosophy seminar would invoke a completely different set of ethics) that would be so completely misunderstood. We choose our words. We don’t choose our meaning.
But if you’re still not convinced, then here’s a hypothetical that makes the same point. (And note, I’m being REALLY careful here — this is ONLY a hypothetical):
Imagine someone said Barack Obama’s economic policies were “fascist.” But by that the person didn’t mean the Fascism of the later German Nazi Party. He didn’t mean, that is, the racism that came to define the term. Instead, he meant the Fascism of the early National Socialist Party, or of their equivalent in Italy, or England, or the earliest of FDR’s administration.
My point is that however accurate it would be to describe the current “Czar” filled administrations with the centralizing and corporatist politics of the early 1930s, it would be unethical to call it “fascist.” The term has been marked, just as the name “Adolf” has been marked, and in mixed, attention deprived contexts, it is wrong to ignore that marking.
Secondly, and finally: Even if it weren’t, Kelly’s description would be wrong. Even if there were a useable concept (as opposed to a possible concept) of “voluntary socialism,” it would be wrong to describe what most think of as Web 2.0 as “socialist.” That again because of the part Kelly ignores. Sure, there’s a “sharing economy” as I describe in REMIX. That economy fits well with the Kibbutz or Wikipedia. And if you want to call that “socialist,” fine. But the “hybrid” economy is not that economy. The Facebooks and Twitters and Flickrs and Yelps! are not entities engaged in a global urge to hug. They are companies that promise investors a huge return from their very risky investment. To do that, of course, they need to behave differently from the dominant mode of, say, Hollywood lawyers. But if they behave like Gandhi, they’re not going to succeed at their mission — which is (however much “change the world” or “don’t be evil” is in the plan) to make money. Those people are not “socialists” (except in the corrupted sense that defines the term in many places today). Those people are members of a hybrid economy. What Tim calls “Web 2.0.” And while I can well understand that someone would feel “torture,” as Kelly puts it, using that term (I don’t feel it, but who am I dictate to Kelly), the fear of that torture doesn’t justify this violation of the ethics of language. The freedom of Wikipedia et al., is threatened enough. We don’t need to throw the baggage of “socialism” into the bargain. Continue reading
As I wrote last week, I threw away a week I didn’t have penning an “insanely long” review (as I described it), of Mark Helprin’s insanely sloppy “Digital Barbarism.”
The part of that book that really got me going was the incessant Red-baiting — the suggestion that the movement of which I am a part is a kind of warmed over Marxism from the 1960s.
That part always gets me going because it betrays a kind of mushiness in thinking that I should have thought a decade of writing by scores of advocates would have driven away. As I wrote about Helprin:
It is in this extreme of Red-baiting that one can see the mushiness of Helprin’s brain: Let’s say he were attacking a bunch of scholars who believed copyright should be as robust as the Framers of our Constitution had it. That was a regime that secured copyrights only to those who registered their work. And not just any work, but only “maps, charts, book or books” (music, for example, was excluded). Imagine the term of the protection was again just as the Framers made it — 14 years, renewable by the author, if living, for another 14 years (but again, only if he registered the renewal). And imagine finally that the rights granted were forfeit if the author failed to deposit the copyrighted work with the government, or if he failed to mark the work with the appropriate sign. Such a reform would certainly be radical. It is wildly more radical than anything any of the scholars Helprin attacks would recommend.
But here’s the question: would one who so recommended be a “collectivist”? Were our Framers “collectivists”? Obviously not. Because the consequence of a limited copyright is not that the collective gets to control who does what. The consequence of a limited copyright is that the work is in the public domain, and anyone has the liberty to do anything he or she wants with the work. The state or the “collective” is not privileged over the individual. The individual is privileged over the state or “collective.” And so strong is that privilege in America that a Court of Appeals in Colorado recently held that the government can’t remove work from the public domain unless it satisfies a strict First Amendment test first.
The kind words of some in response to the review made me think perhaps the week wasn’t completely wasted. But then as I got settled into a 13 hour flight to Australia, I read this piece by Kevin Kelly, “The New Socialism.”
Words have meaning. We don’t get to choose their meaning. If you call something “X” people will hear the equation. They won’t read the fine-print which says (“By X, I mean really not-X).
When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it’s not unreasonable to call that socialism.
That statement is flatly wrong. It is completely unreasonable to call that “socialism” — at least when the behavior described is purely voluntary. It’s like saying “Because Stalin set up a competition between different collective farms, it’s not unreasonable to call that free market capitalism.” Both statements are wrong because they point to a feature that is common, and ignore the feature that is distinctive. At the core of socialism is coercion (justified or not is a separate question). At the core of the behavior Kelly celebrates is freedom.
Kelly’s argument is like so many today that has implicitly embraced the view that free market, libertarian sorts believe that the only thing in the world is competition, or people working to non-common goals. It is the idea that we are free only if we are antagonistic, and that free market theorists have been working to create a world where individuals struggle against, not with. A world that aspires to dog-eat-dog as its central value.
But that conception of capitalism/free-market/libertarianism has no basis in fact. And so as I ranted in my head about Kelly’s confusion, I was enormously happy to have the chance to hear an economist at the conference I was attending at Canberra present a paper that (unintentionally) completely destroys Kelly’s thesis.
Nicholas Gruen is an economist with the consulting group, Lateral Economics. His paper (PDF) (blog entry) was titled “Adam Smith 2.0: Emergent Public Goods, Intellectual Property and the Rhetoric of Remix.” And he introduced the paper by remarking a fact that I had missed — this year is the 250th anniversary of Adam Smith’s first (and last) published book, A Theory of Moral Sentiments (alas, the second edition). (Last because he finished his 6th edition of the book responding to the terrors of the French revolution just before he died in 1790).
What the modern misunderstanding of markets forgets about Smith is that his aim was as much to understand the provision of public goods as it was to understand the role of the market. Indeed, you could only understand the role of the market against a background of public goods (including civil society), and one critically important question is how a society produces those public goods.
Unlike statists of later years, Smith was fascinated by emergent public goods — goods that were public goods (since nonrival and nonexcludable, as economists later would formalize the concept), but that were created not by any central actor like the state, but by the mutual and voluntary actions of individuals. Language is the simplest example — language is a quintessentially public good, but no central coordinator is necessary to produce language. But Smith was eager to describe a wide range of emergent public goods that set the preconditions to a well functioning market.
Obviously, in this focus on civil society, Smith is not alone — even among the heros to libertarian/capitalist/free marketeers. In this respect, Hayek continues the tradition Smith began. He too was deeply sensitive to the health of civil society, and recognized how civil society was produced by “masses of people who own the means of production [and] work toward a common goal and share their products in common, [people who] contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge.” But Hayek too was not “socialist.”
The thing that Smith was pointing to (and Hayek too), is not “socialism.” It is not reasonably called socialism. Because “socialism” is the thing Smith was attacking in the 6th edition of his Theory of Moral Sentiments. Socialism is using the power of the state to force a result that otherwise would not have been chosen voluntarily by the people. As Gruen quotes Smith:
The man of system. . . is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. . . . He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.
Coercive government action is — IMHO — a necessary condition of something being “socialism.” It isn’t sufficient — there is plenty of coercive governmental action that doesn’t qualify as socialism, like raising taxes to fund national defense, or to pay the police. But if you’re calling something “socialist,” then a requirement for using that term correctly — meaning in the way it is understood at least by people who don’t take the time to read a 3,500 word essay that redefines the term — is to be able to point to the coercive state action that produces the thing you’re talking about.
I’m not an opponent to all things plausibly called “socialist” (though as I’ll argue in a moment, our political culture could do well to avoid the most prominent examples of socialism that Washington has produced over the past 8 years). A graduated income tax could properly be called “socialist,” because it is coerced, though I’m in favor of it. Forcing polluters to internalize the cost of their pollution (carbon as well as others) is not, in my view, properly called “socialist,” even though it is the product of coercive state action. There are many examples in the middle of course — schools, parks, public highways. But all of the examples of proper “socialism” begin with pointing to coercion by the state. A conservative Baptist church is not “socialist” when it voluntarily collects money to give to the poor, even though the result is similar to the result of a “socialist” plan to redistribute money from the rich to the poor.
On this account, none of the things that Kelly (and I) celebrate about the Internet are “socialist.” No one forces Wikipedia editors to build a free encyclopedia. No one sends to the Gulag (Helprin’s book notwithstanding) photographers who don’t use CC licenses to share their photographs in Flickr. Scientists who share their research freely within the Public Library of Science are not necessarily friends of Che. They may be. But their freely sharing their knowledge is not a certain signal of leftist leanings.
All this would have been obvious to Kelly if he had included in his list of purportedly “socialist” organizations the Christian Right. Say what you want about the politics of the Christian Right (and don’t get me started), one can’t say they are “socialists.” But likewise, whatever you think about organized religion (and again, don’t get me started), one can’t deny that it represents “masses of people who own the means of production work[ing] toward a common goal and share[ing] their products in common,  contribut[ing] labor without wages and enjoy[ing] the fruits free of charge.” Yet it would be patently “unreasonable” to call the Baptist Church “socialism.”
Likewise might this have been obvious if Kelly had focused on other writing about the stuff he and I celebrates, that emphasizes more than Benkler, for example, the commercial or business dimension to this phenomenon. Half of REMIX is about what Kelly calls the “hybrid,” but my point is about the hybrid as a business strategy. So too with the fantastic book, Wikinomics. Again, the focus of that book is on how a sharing economy gets leveraged by a commercial economy to benefit both. In no instance is that leveraging coercion. In no way, therefore, is it “socialism.”
Now of course Kelly works hard in his essay to disassociate the term “socialism” from lots of “cultural baggage” (as he puts it; victims of the Gulag may have a different way of describing that): As he writes:
The type of communism with which Gates hoped to tar the creators of Linux was born in an era of enforced borders, centralized communications, and top-heavy industrial processes. Those constraints gave rise to a type of collective ownership that replaced the brilliant chaos of a free market with scientific five-year plans devised by an all-powerful politburo. This political operating system failed, to put it mildly. However, unlike those older strains of red-flag socialism, the new socialism runs over a borderless Internet, through a tightly integrated global economy. It is designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization. It is decentralization extreme.
Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective worlds. Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to virtual co-ops. Instead of sharing drill bits, picks, and shovels, we share apps, scripts, and APIs. Instead of faceless politburos, we have faceless meritocracies, where the only thing that matters is getting things done. Instead of national production, we have peer production. Instead of government rations and subsidies, we have a bounty of free goods.
And of course, these distinctions are right and true. But what is not true is that something is “socialism” because “technically it is the best word to indicate a range of technologies that rely for their power on social interactions.” Tim O’Reilly gave us a good enough word for such technologies — Web 2.0. And if that term is too geeky, then how about “civil society”? Or the extraordinary words of Smith from 250 years ago.
I launch this rant against a friend not to betray a Stallman-like-tic. I think think some fuzzy language is productive. I don’t insist on precision at every linguistic turn.
But sloppiness here has serious political consequences. When a founder of the movement which we all now celebrate calls this movement “socialist,” that plays right in the hand of those would attack everything this movement has built. Again, see Helprin. Or Andrew Keen.
It is a fact that in America the term “socialism” is a smear. I’m not defending that fact. I wouldn’t give up defending programs merely because they could be so smeared.
But I do think that now is not the time to engage in a playful redefinition of a term that has such a distinctive and clear sense. Whatever “socialism” could have become, had it not been hijacked by revolutions in the east, what it is in the minds of 95% of America is not what Wikipedia is.
And indeed, when I look around at the real socialism of the past decade, I am almost Declan-esque in my revulsion towards it: America has plenty of “socialism.” The most recent versions we should all be very skeptical of. This is the general practice of socializing risk, and privatizing benefits. I’d be happy to join the “anti-socialist” movement if we could agree to end that perversion first.
But that deal notwithstanding, I will never agree to call what millions have voluntarily created on the Net “socialism.” That term insults the creators, and confuses the rest. Continue reading
Change Congress launched its second “good souls corruption” attack today, this time against Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson. (Two Dems in a row; we’ll be more balanced next time.) The attack has excited an hysterical response from the Senator’s office. Read about the charge (here) and the response (below), and then please sign our petition to Senator Nelson.
At the beginning of May, Senator Nelson was reported to have said that including a “public option” (giving Americans a choice to opt into a public system) in a national health care proposal was a “deal breaker,” and that he would “form a coalition of like-minded centrists opposed to the creation of a public plan, as a counterweight to Democrats pushing for it.”
On May 7, our friends at Public Campaign produced a report that showed that Senator Nelson has received more than “$2 million from insurance and health care interests in his three campaigns for federal office.”
These two facts together expose Senator Nelson to the charge of “Good Souls corruption” — legal, even ethical acts that reasonably lead the public to wonder whether it is the merits or the money that is driving this Senator’s decision.
Senator Nelson responded immediately to the attack by issuing the following press release. [Bracketed annotations are courtesy of me, not the Senator’s staff.]
NELSON: NEBRASKANS BEWARE OF MISLEADING FUNDRAISING GIMMICK
May 28, 2009 – The office of Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson today warned Nebraskans not to fall for a misleading fundraising gimmick by a special interest group called Change Congress. The group has issued a press release concerning Senator Nelson and said it was sending mailers to Nebraskans.
Senator Nelson’s spokesman Jake Thompson issued this statement:
“There’s no doubt Senator Nelson understands the insurance industry’s important role providing health care for millions of Americans. After all, he’s been an insurance executive [The ever effective, “I’m a former insurance exec!” defense], an insurance industry regulator, a governor who created a children’s health insurance program, and today he represents Nebraska, arguably the insurance capital of the world. [And no doubt the insurance industry fundraising capital of the world.]
But let’s look at this group closely. They claim, ‘Ben Nelson said he may not support Obama’s plan.’ Can they send us a copy of the plan? [Maybe not, but we can certainly send you again to the report indicating he opposed a key element of the President’s plan] No, because President Obama hasn’t offered a specific plan yet. Next, they ask if people are ready to change Congress and ‘take on special interests’ and ‘only donate to politicians who prove they are willing to do that.’ Then, they promote an election law proposal they’re lobbying for.
So, let’s get this straight: These people are endorsing something they haven’t seen [No idea what this means: We’re endorsing a bill introduced by Senators Durbin and Specter. We’ve seen this bill.], criticizing Senator Nelson for something he hasn’t done [Interesting. Where is the press release denying the reports from the beginning of May?] and using health care as a fundraising gimmick [A “fundraising gimmick”? If he means we’re fundraising around this issue, that’s false. If he means our strike is a “gimmick,” then what’s he so upset about?] –to lobby for unrelated special interest legislation. [“UNRELATED”!?!! Are you kidding me? One can define corruption as unrelated to the objects corrupted, but that doesn’t make it so.] These people have a political agenda that has nothing remotely [We have an agenda. It is to create a Congress where legislation is on the merits — not, as it is today, guided by the implicit threat of large campaign contributors.] to do with helping Nebraskans get and keep affordable, high quality health care. Their effort is silly, sad and sophomoric. [Unlike this sort of name calling.]
Nebraskans are far too smart to fall for just another special interest group grabbing a hot issue and misrepresenting both the president [Um, where did we misrepresent the President?] and Senator Nelson [And where was Senator Nelson’s letter to Ryan Grimm complaining he had misrepresented him — before we raised this issue?] to raise money to lobby Congress [And where is our effort to raise money to lobby Congress — we’ve asked people to STOP giving money to Congress.]“
Here are some facts about Senator Nelson and health care:
- During his presidential campaign and recently President Obama has said Americans who like their private insurance will get to keep it, or have the option to join another plan.
- Ben Nelson agrees and he’s eager to see more details from the president, and he wants to make sure that the 85 percent of Nebraskans who have insurance today will continue to have the option of staying with their existing plans.
- Senator Nelson believes that all Americans should receive health insurance and agrees with President Obama that those who currently have health insurance should be assured that it won’t be taken away from them.
- Senator Nelson is spending much of the congressional break in Nebraska this week meeting with Nebraskans, listening to them discuss health care and reform ideas. He’s listening to patients, providers, employers and others. He looks forward to hearing from many more Nebraskans on ways to strengthen, broaden and provide stability in America’s health care system.”
- [But please notice, Senator Nelson has not indicated that he supports a central idea in Obama’s plan — that Nebraskans will also have the freedom to choose a public option if (and imagine this) the private options are too costly.]
As I said, this is only the second in a series. (The first was Representative Conyers.) We will continue to call out members of both parties — and again, I promise, a Republican is coming soon — who make it too easy for Americans to believe (as 88% in my district believe) that money buys results in Congress.
Congress could change this problem tomorrow — by enacting the Trustworthy Government Now Act (aka, the “Fair Elections Now Act”). And of course Members can avoid the charge of “good souls corruption” by co-sponsoring that bill now.
But meanwhile, we’ll be working hard to make more enemies, by making the status quo very uncomfortable. Nice was for the 90s. CHANGE was the promise for today.
Tell Ben Nelson to (be)come clean.
Join our Donor Strike — promising not to support any candidate who doesn’t co-sponsor the Trustworthy Government Now Act.
And finally, celebrate this good news just in: Senator Nelson now indicates that he has changed his view, and is now “open” to the public option.
Bravo, Senator. Now about the system of funding that makes people wonder? Continue reading
From the latest RIP!: A Remix Manifesto screening:
Sound Unseen in Minneapolis screens RIP!
Date May 28, 2009
Time 8:00 PM
Venue The TRYLON screening room
Location 2820 E 33rd St, Minneapolis, MN, 55406
Event Type Open to the Public
Ticket Price $5
Venue Capacity 60 (Small venue, buying tix in advance recommended!)
Event Website http://soundunseen.com
In RiP: A Remix Manifesto, web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.
The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk, a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy?
“About as edgy and fascinating a glimpse you’ll get of one of the more pressing issues of our Internet Age.” …..Montreal Gazette.
Exactly two years ago today, the New York Times published an op-ed about copyright by a novelist. The piece caused something of a digital riot. As we learn now from his book, Digital Barbarism (HarperCollins 2009) (note: if you buy from that link, Creative Commons gets the referral fee), Mark Helprin was at the time completely ignorant about the hornet’s nest he was about to kick. For him, the op-ed was a professional rapprochement with the New York Times, a chance to make things right once again (though why they were then wrong is a story left mysteriously (and thankfully)… Continue reading
So I buy a Kindle book for my Kindle 2. It downloads to my machine. I open up the book — it has no relation (except the relation of “not”) to the book I ordered. Three emails, 4 days later, Amazon has still not responded to the problem. I wonder how they begin to discover/fix such a problem. Continue reading
The great folks at American University have a great video about “fair use” and remix. Continue reading
The world of American copyright scholars is very familiar with the poetic passage of Jefferson’s, written in a letter:
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.
Thomas Jefferson letter to Isaac Mcpherson, August 13, 1813, reprinted in H. A. Washington, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson 1790-1826, vol. 6 (Washington, D. C: Taylor & Maury, 1854), 180-81; quoted in Graham v. John Deere Company of Kansas, 383 U. S. 1, 8-9n.2 (1966).
David Ellerman writes to point to an earlier version of the same point, this one penned by Augustine. As Augustine wrote:
The words I am uttering penetrate your senses, so that every hearer holds them, yet withholds them from no other. Not held, the words could not inform. Withheld, no other could share them. Though my talk is, admittedly, broken up into words and syllables, yet you do not take in this portion or that, as when picking at your food. All of you hear all of it, though each takes all individually. I have no worry that, by giving all to one, the others are deprived. I hope, instead, that everyone will consume everything; so that, denying no other ear or mind, you take all to yourselves, yet leave all to all others. But for individual failures of memory, everyone who came to hear what I say can take it all off, each on one’s separate way.
Augustine Sermon; quoted in Scan Globally, Reinvent Locally: Knowledge Infrastructure and the Localization of Knowledge.” In: Joseph Stiglitz and the World Bank: The Rebel Within. Chang, Ha-Joon (Ed.),London: Anthem, 2001, pp. 194-219, quoting Wills, Garry 1999. Saint Augustine. New York: Viking, p. 145.
Ellerman is a researcher who had worked for Stiglitz at the World Bank. Thanks to him, Augustine is the new Jefferson. Continue reading
To get into law school, most require you take the LSAT. That test is administered by LSAC, a nonprofit corporation established to administer the tests.
But to get copies of the old tests to prepare for the exam, a student has got to purchase the tests through a test prep company — a company that sells test preparation courses.
According to Steve Schwartz of the LSAT Blog, LSAC receives $194 for each student who receives a full set of the exams. As Schwartz puts it, “[w]hen LSAC has prep companies do the printing, that $194 is pure profit, baby.” LSAC simply provides the PDFs.
This isn’t an ordinary topic in this space. But then again, teaching law students is my profession. And it would seem a nonprofit would be keen to find a better way to make access easier. As Schwartz suggests, the exams should be free, or at least, following iTunes, $.99. Read about it here. Continue reading