Why Law and Economics Became the Dominant Intellectual Framework For Thinking About the Internet
(or, why Yochai Benkler and Lawrence Lessig still rule our world.)
- They got there first: the material conditions for publishing and rewarding legal scholarship are totally different than those in other fields. It moves faster, for one thing. For another thing, it rewards a-empirical claims.
- Mainstream sociology and history have a bias towards thinking that nothing is new, ever, and thus ignored the internet. Plus, slow journals — see point 1.)
- The rational-choice discourse of the law & economics school has strong affinities with the economistic neo-liberal discourse that ruled the U.S. in the late 90s (and rules the Valley, still.)
- At the same time, though, L&E thinkers can justifiably claim to embrace a certain critical edge in their focus on a certain kind of freedom (see Benkler on Wikileaks and Lessig on Aaron Swartz, for example. See also Indymedia.) They this are taken seriously by radicals as well.
- Lawyers talk about “policy” and are this Serious and Relevant to Serious People in a way that critical sociologists, for instance, are not.
- So in Latourian terms: they make themselves an obligatory passage point for multiple intellectual domains, including mainstream journal based scholarship, the Valley, policy makers, and a certain kind of radical.
One of the most interesting things Yochai Benkler ever wrote was this:
“Equally central from around that time, but at an angle, were a paper under Terry Fisher’s guidance on nineteenth-century homesteading and the radical republicans, and a series of classes and papers with Frank Michelman, Duncan Kennedy, Mort Horwitz, Roberto Unger, and the late David Charny, which led me to think quite fundamentally about the role of property and economic organization in the construction of human freedom. It was Frank Michelman who taught me that the hard trick was to do so as a liberal.”
Or finally: see this paper by @kreissdaniel et. al for the full story.