Valuing Writing and Music

Claire Cain Miller writes an interesting article in the New York Times titled, As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up.

Yes, I know, we have been through what, three or four “computers are going to kill jobs” moments in the last half-century.  Economists think those prior scares didn’t kill jobs.  Miller’s article is worth reading, and it raises the issue of intellectual property.

Intellectual property?

Sure.  The general thinking has been that computers/automation/artificial intelligence is stripping the repetitive, lower-skill jobs, so we all ought to go to college and get jobs that require more brain and less brawn, right?  Create intellectual property, right?

Okay.  Great idea.  But consider the reality that intellectual property — songs, music performance, writing — is highly undervalued.  And that seems to be a trend, one which seems to be exacerbated by — guess what? — the same forces of technology that are supposedly driving us up the intellectual content curve.  Whether we are discussing musicians or writers or sports or (in the future) college professors, the new electronic media tend to make the few, the very top-notch (in public opinion), available to all.  So the great jazzman that’s not famous struggles to make a living.  Smashwords says that the average self-published author makes a pittance.  The wonderful university professor’s lecture is trumped by the famous guy on TED talks.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but we’d better find one.  Intellectual property really shouldn’t be free.