Socially useless, Privately Valuable…
Sometimes, it’s bad to make information readily available….
How about the service offered by LegalMetric LLC, a start-up founded by patent lawyer Greg Upchurch? Contemplating a patent-infringement case in Delaware? For $795, Mr. Upchurch will tell you which judges rule most swiftly and which tend to favor patent holders. Making a motion for summary judgment? Mr. Upchurch can tell you how the judge has ruled on similar motions versus his peers.
…For lawyer and client, this knowledge can be very valuable. But does it increase the chances that the judge will come to a just decision?
…It is the sort of information that Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow labeled “socially useless but privately valuable.” It doesn’t help the economy produce more goods or services. It creates nothing of beauty or pleasure. It simply helps someone get a bigger slice of the pie. Sure, if the product helps win cases, then both sides will buy it — just as both sides in high-stakes product-liability cases invest in jury-selection experts and software — and neither will have an unfair advantage. But does that make the society better off?
The same question arises in the sophisticated software used to draw the boundaries of U.S. congressional districts so precisely that Republicans and Democrats know which party is almost certain to win. This has enhanced the power of incumbency: In 2004, 401 of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sought re-election; all but seven won. It also has polarized the U.S. Congress, and made compromises scarce, because with safe districts, legislators have little reason to court the voters in the center. The advantage to individual lawmakers is clear; the value to society is not.
I wonder if an excess of blogs falls in this category! Or maybe that’s socially useless, and privately useless. 😉