Infrastructure can change how you think
posted by Tim Wu
Better late than never! Plenty of kind words about Brett’s book already. Let me add just a few thoughts on the achievement that Infrastructure is.
I think sometimes the books that end up being the most useful and enduring are the ones that lay out the basics. Richard Posner’s “Economic Analysis of Law” is the classic in this genre. In that book Professor Posner simply applied micro-economic analysis to every area of law and in doing so laid a foundation that changed almost everything.
Brett’s book is similarly, deceptively basic and foundational. But the fact is that if you take Infrastructure analysis seriously it can infect the way you think about almost anything. In fact, I would definitely count myself as an infected by Brett’s work in exactly this way. Once you become convinced that certain economic functions have a fundamental public component there is no going back.
Full disclosure: I’d already been infected by Brett’s work before reading his new book. But Infrastructure puts it all together in one place, in an easy-to-assign book. And Brett is arguably meant to be a book writer, it seems to suit him.
There are two areas where I wish the book had gone further. The first was in the Section on current debates. I feel I had a good sense of what Brett’s analysis means for Net Neutrality and intellectual property. But what about the treatment of apps by platforms, a raging debate in contemporary antitrust? What about search engine economics? What about something completely different, like healthcare? The book ends by saying readers by this point should have their own thoughts, but to be honest I wanted more of Brett’s.
Second, I wish I had a better sense of how exactly Brett’s work intersects with the debates surrounding scale economics, which have had a recent resurgence of importance in Antitrust enforcement. Infrastructure-providing firms are by nature going to be large. Sometimes very large, and sometimes monopolistic. Should we give up on competition in these areas? When to take seriously arguments of necessary scale? When to discount them? Does Brett envision a less competitive infrastructure layer, justified by the public benefits he describes?
Of course its unfair to speak of what’s not in a book, for no book can cover everything. So let me close by saying: read Infrastructure and you will never see the world quite the same again.