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Knowledge as a Public Good?!
By definition a “pure public good” is non-excludable and non-rival; now, for the non-economists among us, what does that mean?
- Non-excludable means quite literally that no one can be excluded from consuming the public good; it is accessible to everyone.
- Non-rival means that me consuming the public good does not lower the utility you derive from the consumption of the same good; there is no first-come-first-serve experience.
A very relevant and topical example: climate change and the overfishing of our seas.
Wikipedia lists knowledge as an example for a public good, do we agree?
Let us investigate the “purity” of knowledge as a public good.
First of all, we need to ask whether knowledge is a rival good.
Does me knowing something makes knowing the same thing less useful to you?
As Griffin points out, “the function of copyright legislation clearly has shifted from stimulating innovative works to protecting the income generating power of intellectual property”. I like to call this the crux of copyright; we need to find a way of protecting someone’s intellectual property without shutting others out, without “depriving them of something they have a right to. Knowledge is a basic human right. Equal access [...] is a basic human right.” (b)
Does knowledge fit the criteria for a public good?
It does not.
Knowledge may be a non-rival good but it is not a non-excludable good. Referring back to our goods definition matrix, one might even argue that knowledge is like pay TV or a fancy club - if you are privileged enough, you have access to it.