Monday, March 29, 2010

Should the government produce information on, say, climate, employment rates, or drug safety? If so, should it make that information freely available? Or, should it charge for access or perhaps allow access only for certain uses? Indeed, should the government bar private individuals who gather data from making those data freely available? Or, should they be taxed when they make data freely available? For most people the gut reaction is: yes, the government should gather data and, decidedly no, the government should not charge for access to that data or bar private individuals from freely sharing data. After all, we live in a free society. And free flowing data is akin to free speech. In this talk, Prof. Malani explores a very basic idea from statistics – statistical confidence – that calls this belief into question. It suggests that information may be a common pool resource that should be protected by property rights or Pigouvian taxes. The challenge that remains is how to solve a tragedy of information commons yet retain a free society.