Yochai Benkler, “Productivity and Power: The Role of Technology in Political Economy”

Harvard Law School Professor Yochai Benkler ’94, the Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, delivered a keynote address titled “Productivity and Power: The Role of Technology in Political Economy.” In his talk, Benkler noted that much of what we assume about the relation between productivity and power is wrong. Common wisdom, he said, holds that steady population growth evinces a rise in overall welfare accompanying that of technology. Yet he said a number of factors prove otherwise—including slowed productivity growth since 1973, a decrease of employment by young firms since then, and a rise in the mortality rate of non-Hispanic whites, the only population in the civilized world that has seen longevity fall (largely due to suicide, alcoholism and addiction) since 1993.

Benkler’s talk was part of the “Innovation, Justice and Globalization” conference, held at Harvard Law School on September 26 and 27. The conference focused on six themes: the economics of innovation and development; whether antitrust and competition law trust intellectual property law too much; the “puzzles” of overlapping and hybrid intellectual property rights; the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the role of intellectual property rights in developing countries; challenges facing the digital commons; non-voluntary licensing of pharmaceutical patents; and property rights versus liability rules — theories and practical implications. Panelists included experts from government and international/inter-governmental organizations, as well as faculty from the Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

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