31 December 2011

Book Review


Tabarrok focuses on four policy areas in which changes could yield very positive results.  He kicks off the short eBook by focusing first on patent reform, noting that many areas of patent coverage (software, technical processes e.g.) have low innovation costs and, as such, are not worthy of patent protection.  In fact, his recommended patent reform is basically total abolition of all patents, save for medicine and a handful of other fields.  This seems rather viable given that most inventions and innovations are generally cheap and likely inevitable.  He also has a few short steps that would help as well, like requiring a functioning prototype and capping terms to seven or fourteen years depending on category.

He next turns his sights on to a prize system for innovation.  His proposed policies are well-intentioned but na├»ve.  He proposes that the government fund sizeable prizes (to the tune of millions or billions of dollars per prize) with specific goals—not methods—in mind.  This should work in theory, but the fundamental problem with this method is that it fails to discern how the government would go about setting the most economic goals and prizes.  This process could become highly politicized, as anything involving billions of federal dollars tends to.  However, venture capitalists and innovation firms should take note of this recommendation and implement it.

Tabarrok closes his short book by looking briefly at education—both public and post-secondary.  Regarding the former, he recommends reform.  Why this is preferable to privatization is unstated, but perhaps that is beyond the scope of the book.  One curious thing about is argument is how he claims that there is a correlation between high school graduation rates and GDP growth.  While statistical analysis bears this out, it is worth noting that there is no proven causal relationship between the two.  It could be that GDP growth causes increases in the rate of High School graduation as families become wealthier, and better able to secure leisure time for their children, thus reducing teenagers’ need to work.

It is worth pointing out, though, that public education in the US is crap, and is entirely too test-driven, thanks in large part to No Child Left Behind.  Tabarrok doesn’t dwell much on this, which seems to be a bit of an oversight.

Finally, Tabarrok turns his sights on to college education, noting that there is undoubtedly a college bubble and that there should thus be fewer college students.  Government reform is recommended, since that is a source of the current malinvestment.  Better education as to the benefits of a post-secondary education is also recommended, though this seems largely fruitless.

In all, this short book is a rather thought-provoking read.  Readers are not likely to agree with all the answers, but the questions are worth mulling over.  In fact, the questions the book asks make it worth the purchase.  There is a lot to consider and debate, thanks to this book, and the answers Tabarrok provides are considerably less hackneyed than what has been heretofore seen.  As such, the book is a recommended read.

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