Sunday, August 22, 2010

Copyright Laws and Industrialization

Over at Der Speigel, Frank Thadeusz wonders if the absence of copyright law is what was key to Germany's industrial expansion, and contrasts it with England's.

[Not having copyright laws] created a book market very different from the one found in England. Bestsellers and academic works were introduced to the German public in large numbers and at extremely low prices. "So many thousands of people in the most hidden corners of Germany, who could not have thought of buying books due to the expensive prices, have put together, little by little, a small library of reprints," the historian Heinrich Bensen wrote enthusiastically at the time.

The prospect of a wide readership motivated scientists in particular to publish the results of their research. In Höffner's analysis, "a completely new form of imparting knowledge established itself."

Essentially the only method for disseminating new knowledge that people of that period had known was verbal instruction from a master or scholar at a university. Now, suddenly, a multitude of high-level treatises circulated throughout the country.

The "Literature Newspaper" reported in 1826 that "the majority of works concern natural objects of all types and especially the practical application of nature studies in medicine, industry, agriculture, etc." Scholars in Germany churned out tracts and handbooks on topics such as chemistry, mechanics, engineering, optics and the production of steel.

In England during the same period, an elite circle indulged in a classical educational canon centered more on literature, philosophy, theology, languages and historiography. Practical instruction manuals of the type being mass-produced in Germany, on topics from constructing dikes to planting grain, were for the most part lacking in England. "In Great Britain, people were dependent on the medieval method of hearsay for the dissemination of this useful, modern knowledge," Höffner explains.

Read all of it.

This got me thinking a lot about the issues with development today. Taking the world as a whole, the educational epicenters of our world are in the West. When the UN, World Bank, AGOA, et al say they're trying to help and shaft huge amount of funds into aid projects et al, they center on money-making, not knowledge-making. How does one ensure long-term economic growth without ensuring long-term availability of knowledge by, say, issuing grants to African universities for R&D? Oh, that's right - shoddy economic conditions mean that after all that work in university you probably won't find a job when you graduate, so it's best to focus on primary and secondary education and leave the tertiary be. But if you neglect the tertiary institutions, you're neglecting the future thought-leaders, the pool from which African countries can choose educated leaders and professionals that will create more jobs in the future. Development-wise, their thinking is more like England. We need to get more like Germany.

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