Is Stiglitz the official economist of open source?

This is the clearest economic case yet for patent and copyright reform. Economic growth, and economic efficiency, demand it.

Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia economist and Nobel laureate
If anyone may be deemed the official economist of open source, it's probably Joseph Stiglitz (right).

Stiglitz, 65, was a co-winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics for work he did on the impact of asymmetric information.

His paper said markets can be distorted if one side has more information than the other, implying intervention may be needed to restore fairness.

Think of the Internet as a non-government form of intervention. Think of open source as another form.

More recently Stiglitz made headlines by putting the cost of the Iraq War at $3 trillion. But a far more important work may be his 2006 book Making Globalization Work.

Why is he the official economist of open source? Because his main point supports the open source thesis, which is that breaking monopolies on information is essential for free trade and economic growth .

Stiglitz illustrated this with an example of how patent protection kills Africans suffering from AIDS:

 The Uruguay Round TRIPs Agreement, which is Trade-Related Intellectual Property, has nothing to do with trade....

 They put in provisions that were explicitly designed to reduce access to generic medicines. Just to highlight why that's important, a generic AIDS medicine, for instance, costs under $300 for a year's treatment. The brand name is $10,000. If your income is $500 a year or $300 a year, or even $5,000 a year, you can't afford $10,000 a year for the brand name. So when they were signing that agreement in Marrakesh, they were signing the death warrants for thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Patents are one form of monopoly, copyrights are another.

Academics believe in the importance of spreading ideas. Thomas Jefferson talked about it much more poetically than I can. It's in the Jefferson Memorial. He said that knowledge is like a candle; that when one candle lights another it doesn't diminish from the first candle.

 What does that mean? That means that efficiency requires that you not restrict the use, you disseminate it, you let everybody use it.

This is the clearest economic case yet for patent and copyright reform. Economic growth, and economic efficiency, demand it.

Hedy Lamarr, actress and inventor
A decade ago, John Dvorak launched a campaign to honor the actress Hedy Lamarr (left), because a frequency hopping system she developed during WWII to keep transmissions secret became the basis for what we know as WiFi.

The importance of her invention wasn't revealed until decades after the patent ran out. It was a military secret.

I wonder if there's a way to similarly honor Joe Stiglitz.

Maybe it's time we launched an Open Source Hall of Fame. You may nominate Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens.

I'll nominate Stiglitz and Lamarr.