| Capitalism reinvented? Not yet. Free Association: The Pirate’s Dilemma Gets Dissected
September 29, 2008
UK music journalist Matt Mason’s book, The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism (2008, Free Press), argues that a culture of rule-breakers can change the shape of our economy. Mason describes how great developments, like Web 2.0, came from people breaking the rules (and laws) in order to create something new. The dilemma: Should those who wrote the rules punish rule-breakers or learn from them and imitate them? Mason suggests learning and imitating… most of the time.
The book overflows with fascinating and hilarious stories of exuberant creativity, including how a nun who ran a foster care home may be the inventor of disco and how graffiti artist Marc Ecko made himself into a clothing mogul. The book’s middle chapters outline media pirates’ many contributions, and describe how rule-breakers became rule-makers. In the gaming industry, for example, businesses hire game hackers to add features. This is in contrast to the tendency for music and film industries to sue its creative consumers.
Although Mason criticizes the music and film industry’s harsh and archaic RIAA and MPAA actions he doesn’t show how the much larger, older music industry could be transformed and the imitate smaller, leaner video game outfits.
In The Pirate’s Dilemma, people who disobey rules make things that are sometimes good and often profitable, even though rule-breaking makes them “pirates.” But there’s little attention to rule-breaking’s darker side. While Mason praises the Indian government’s decision to ignore patents and make affordable pharmaceutical drugs, we don’t hear about how some of these companies also distributed diluted or contaminated medicines. Mason doesn’t explain what circumstances make it acceptable for rules to be broken.