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This is surely an obscure topic, which pretty much only engineers care about, but here goes:

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, a government agency) develops the Reference Fluid Thermodynamic and Transport Properties Database (REFPROP) which calculates fluid properties for many industrial chemicals. Calculating such properties is critical for all sorts of engineering calculations. NIST charges $200 for this program, which seems very strange to me. If NIST came to the conclusion that such a product has significant enough positive externalities that the government should develop it (which seems relatively plausible to me), why do they charge money for it? Since software has a marginal production cost of zero, shouldn’t NIST’s goal be for people to use it as much as possible? If it were free, students could use it and other developers could use it in their own programs, making it a lot more useful.

NIST also seems to charge for a lot of other software it creates.


I would like to see someone give a relatively in depth but popular treatment of the experimental research on bubbles (which I am sure there is a lot of). I don’t know much about this subject myself, but I have read a lot of people postulate bubbles and causes of bubbles in explaining the current crisis, but none of it sounds like it has been informed by research on how bubbles form.


As I have pointed out before, intellectual property does not exist for the same reasons that other property rights exist. Normal property rights exist because many resources (land, labor, computers, oil etc.) are scarce; using them reduces their usability for other people (burning gasoline in your car prevents others from doing the same). Property rights over such resources forces people to consider the opportunity cost of using them which gives property right holders incentives to use their resources economic-efficiently.

However, information (ideas, writings etc.) is not scarce; ideas have no opportunity cost. If I use the idea of an internal combustion engine to make a car, that does not reduce other people’s ability to use the idea of an internal combustion engine. The reason that intellectual property rights are useful is that they encourage the production of such information, but at the cost of causing information resources to be used inefficiently.

However, granting temporary monopolies (patents and copyrights) to information producers, is not necessarily the optimal solution; better institutations may exist. Finding ways to encourage useful information production at lower costs to information use efficiency, would be good for everyone.

Tregol Publishing is a service that makes a limited attempt to do just that.

Tregol is a service for authors to sell their works (as ebooks) but release them to the public domain (so that more people use the work) after they have received reasonable compensation. Authors who publish using Tregol specify a sale price and a World Price and/or a selling duration for their work. When the total income from book sales reaches the World Price or the selling duration elapses, the work becomes public domain.

This allows publicly minded authors to easily create a lot of public good while being compensated for the significant resources (mainly their time) they used to create their works. More discussion in Tregol’s FAQ.