Bryan Caplan points to a fascinating paper on the economics of extreme religious groups which explains the relationship of public goods produced by such groups and sacrifice demanded by the same. Caplan writes:
I think Caplan probably has the upshot of this particular paper wrong (I haven’t read the whole paper carefully yet, more later perhaps) but I suspect he’s correct about a bias to overestimate public goods problems and underestimate rent seeking. I wonder if anyone has attempted to detect such a bias either experimentally (in an economics lab) or through painful survey of various popular and academic literatures?
I’m pleased that Ernest Miller made the connection to copyright, though he riffs off the weaker part of Caplan’s post.
Copyright is (should be) the textbook case of wildly overestimating the public goods problem while ignoring rent seeking problems (NB “how can an artist make a full time living doing only art” is not a public goods problem). Witness massive production of art where expected profit from sales of copies and licensing is nil, both outside the content industry and where restrictions on copying are not enforced. Consider who benefits from perpetual copyright — not the public.