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A Bright Outlook for the Muni Wi-Fi Commons

November 30, 2007 | By David Bollier

In recent months, after major vendors like EarthLink pulled back from their once-ambitious plans to offer wireless broadband in many major American cities, the future of municipal wireless services was seen as dismal. It was disappointing to learn that a promising new local commons might not, in fact, be economically viable. The good news is, wi-fi is alive and well.

Piracy Creates a Hit Film in Brazil

November 26, 2007 | By David Bollier

Hollywood studios have always insisted that piracy hurts the financial returns for a film – and likes to count every unauthorized viewing as lost revenue. Critics generally respond that pirated DVDs do not necessarily represent lost revenue, especially in countries where ticket prices are high and average wages are low. Piracy in those circumstances is symptomatic of an out-of-whack market that refuses to meet actual consumer demand.

Insurgents Fight the Christmas Shopping Frenzy

November 23, 2007 | By David Bollier

The day after Thanksgiving is purportedly the busiest shopping day of the year, so naturally Adbusters, the culture-jamming magazine based in Vancouver, B.C., has proclaimed today “ Buy Nothing Day.” It’s an inspired idea to raise people’s consciousness about the excesses of consumerism, which increasingly has a more apocalyptic implication, global warming.

The Brave Struggles of a Scholar/Activist

November 21, 2007 | By David Bollier

Bob McChesney is that rare bird, a scholar’s scholar who is not afraid to plunge into the real world with both feet. Five years ago, at a time when the media reform movement desperately needed some fresh ideas and energy, Bob and Josh Silver co-founded Free Press, a new grassroots, activist organization that has led the charge against media concentration.

Jamendo, a Global Commons for Music

November 19, 2007 | By David Bollier

There is a growing category of Internet-based companies known as “open businesses” that deserve far more attention than they are getting. These companies incorporate the spirit and mechanisms of the commons into for-profit business operations. To the either/or mind, which insists that everything must be public or private, profit-making or nonprofit, the idea of open business sounds like an oxymoron.

Post-Autistic Economics

November 16, 2007 | By David Bollier

It is something of an open secret that neoclassical economics has serious limitations as a way of understanding the world. But because the intellectual mindset has become so pervasive – despite its remoteness from empirical realities – it is weirdly functional. “Everyone” believes it, so it must be true. It reminds me of the closing joke in Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall about a guy with a crazy brother who thought he was a chicken: The doctor says, “Why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”

The Coming Market in Body Parts?

November 13, 2007 | By David Bollier

The current supply of donated hearts, kidneys and livers for transplants is far too little to meet demand. So economists have a simple solution: create a market. Let people sell their organs and let donors buy them. It’s a case of balancing supply and demand. Today’s Wall Street Journal gives fresh attention to the perennial idea of establishing an organ market as a way to decrease the growing waiting list for kidneys. Organ sales have been banned in the U.S. since 1984 under a bill introduced by then-Rep. Al Gore.

How the Wealthy Deal with Wildfires

November 12, 2007 | By David Bollier

A ship capsizes and everyone is in the water, waiting for the Coast Guard to arrive. But wait! Suddenly a helicopter arrives and drops a ladder down to you, and only you, because you have paid in advance for such service. That’s more or less what is happening in fire protection in certain high-end neighborhoods these days – it’s going private.

Opting Out of Junk Mail

November 7, 2007 | By David Bollier

As the holiday season approaches and we brace ourselves for a blizzard of unsolicited catalogs, it’s perhaps worth asking: Is the U.S. Postal Service really serving our long-term interests in promoting junk mail? It is a little-known fact that the post office actively encourages junk mailers to send us 19 billion unsolicited catalogs a year. Second- and third-class mailing constitutes a huge segment of its revenues.

Outsourcing Libraries

November 6, 2007 | By David Bollier

There may be no more eloquent statement about the erosion of our civic connectedness than the news that public libraries around the country are starting to outsource their daily operations. Yes, public libraries are being privatized. This should not be entirely surprising, given how jails, highways and even military operations are being privatized these days. Yet it does raise the distressing question – If libraries are vulnerable, where will this momentum for dismantling our civic institutions end?

A New Social Contract?

November 3, 2007

Friday, November 2, at the University of Michigan, game-theorist Brian Skyrms gave the Tanner Lecture on Human Values, and his topic was “The Evolution of the Social Contract.”

Saturday, November 3, there was a symposium to respond to and discuss his lecture. Invited speakers were Elinor Ostrom, Michael Smith, and Peyton Young.

People's Capitalism and Venture Capitalism

October 25, 2007

I have been reading a lot on cap and trade systems lately. One especially fine paper by James Boyce, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, shows how a cap, trade and rebate system could actually improve the economic well-being of the majority of Americans by putting extra money in the pockets of the working majority.

Want to Buy the Golden Gate Bridge?

October 20, 2007

The history of transportation in the U.S. has been less about meeting needs than about creating them. From the “internal improvements” of the early republic, to the railroads, urban trolleys, and interstate highways that came later, development has been the object, more than serving the needs of people already in a place. Urban trolley systems were built out to farmland. The railroads recruited settlers from Germany and Scandinavia for the lands they opened up. (They described the Dakotas as a New Eden.)

The Harsh Economics of “Green Collar Jobs”

October 18, 2007

I was first surprised, then pleased, then depressed by Thomas Freidman’s column in The New York Times yesterday. The “Green Collar Solution” began with such promise, in part because it featured Van Jones of Oakland – whose optimism in black-and-green is so sorely needed in our time – but also because Tom Friedman actually wrote a column suggesting that poor black Americans were in his field of vision.

Climate Change and People's Capitalism

October 14, 2007

I wrote this piece at the end of February of this year, right after Al Gore won an academy award for An Inconvenient Truth. It was to appear in the Nation, but did not for some reason. Now that Gore has added a Nobel Prize to his list of honors, why not let these words see the light of day?

Climate Change and People’s Capitalism

How Credit Cards Cut the Invisible Thread

October 9, 2007

It is not common to associate commercial credit with such things as community and trust, but that is a symptom of how credit cards have sucked this function into the abstracted realm of corporate finance. The criticism of these cards usually goes another route – namely to the way they have lowered the resistance to buying and led to the massive build-up of shopper debt.

On Being Black and Green

October 4, 2007

I am a peripatetic economist, scholar and teacher whose career has included long stretches at elite places like Wellesley and Barnard as well as to sites of opportunity and crisis – the City University of New York. Somewhere along the way, I became a bit green in my views on economic life and policy, though my “greenness” has a distinctly black undertone.

Jobs' iPhone:  Vernacular Innovation vs Terminator Tech

Jobs' iPhone: Vernacular Innovation vs Terminator Tech

October 1, 2007

I don’t own a cell phone for pretty much the same reason I didn’t become a lawyer after I graduated from law school – namely, the brooding sense that one more would just make the problem worse. Besides, one thing I do not need these days is another thing to think I need. So when it comes to Steve Jobs and his vaunted iPhone, this is a hunt I have no dog in.

Clothesline Contention and the Tragedy of the Private

September 26, 2007

It is a weird alchemy of a commodity culture that it turns the normal and sensible into the eccentric and suspect. Natural food becomes a cultish attachment rather than a redundancy. Walking instead of driving becomes a sign of questionable political inclination. A desire to conserve rather than waste becomes “political correctness.” Then there’s clotheslines, which have emerged as sources of contention in suburbs throughout the nation.

Commonizing Tax Incentives

September 25, 2007 | By David Morris

The cost of tax breaks – or, as economists now more accurately describe them, “tax expenditures” – is $500 billion to $800 billion a year, about 5 percent of the gross domestic product.

Most of these tax deductions and tax credits are inherently unfair. A $1,000 tax deduction might be worth $300 to a wealthy household, $150 to a middle-income household, and not a penny to a poor family. Indeed, 37 percent of all households – home to almost half of all children – have no tax liability.