Friday, April 18, 2008

My TV Apperance Talking About The Voodoo Economics of Free

Last week I was interviewed on a local TV show called Brian Lehrer Live. The subject of the interview was some of my views on the free economy. I haven't done any TV in quite a while, and while I wasn't that nervous, I was worried about how I was going to come off. Would I be any good at it.

Hank Williams on the Economics of 'Free' from Brian Lehrer on Vimeo.

I have done a fair bit of television as compared to the average person. That's not to say I have done a lot, but enough that I have done a bit of media training and such. That said, I have not done it in quite some time, and so, while not being particularly nervous, before my appearance I was concerned. Will I look nervous -- or just goofy? Will I be able to get my points out? Will I forget something important? (This happens a lot.)

Before I went to the studio, I had mapped out what I wanted to say. What are the key messages. This is standard media training. Its why listening to politicians can be so frustrating. When they are not smooth, every answer is a message point, regardless of whether it does answer the question. Of course I never want to do that, but trying hard to stay on message without going too far is a good thing.

So I am sitting in the green room and Marty, the producer, comes out to chat with me. We talk about some of the issues, and his concern is that the conversation stay at a level where regular folks can understand it. Examples are critical.

Uh oh. Regular folks. I hadnt considered them. Game change!

So there I am sitting in the green room like the quarterback has called an audible and I didn't read the playbook. What are my examples!

I reformulated my plan. I thought of some examples. I would try to stick to some concrete concepts. I was as ready as I was going to be.

Then I did the interview.

The problem with interviews is that there is this other person in the room getting in the way of what you want to say. You actually have to talk to them! Brian was actually great, but for me, responding to questions in a manner that is both responsive and on message is *hard*. I need more practice. Perhaps I had too much of an agenda to fit into one TV segment. But coming out of the studio I did feel a bit like I didn't say everything I wanted to say.

That said, it still felt pretty good. When the interview was done, I felt comfortable. But I was still not sure how I did. How you feel in your own skin is very different from how you may look to others watching you.

So since the show is live, I had recorded it and was able to watch it when I went home. My first concern was not anything about content. I was really worried I would just look like a goof. TV and photographs can either be kind, or not so kind. Thankfully, in that regard, things were, by my standards OK. And while I didnt say everything I wanted to say, it didnt seem like I wasted too much time. So all-in-all I was satisfied. Of course practice makes perfect and I hope to do more. But having not been on TV in seven or so years, not too bad.

Grade: B-.


  1. Hey Hank, it was cool to meet you last weekend at BarCampMoneyNYC. I just wanted to say, in situations like this, there will ALWAYS be things that you wanted to say, but didn't get a chance to, so don't ever sweat that. Besides... that will leave them wanting more and pave the way for your return appearance! Congrats on the TV spot, and it sure was a fun session at BCMNYC!

    Take care,

  2. TED just posted a new video by Yochai Benkler on Open Source Economics. Yochai is definitely in the camp that Free is Good.

  3. C-

    That's from the point of view of someone who just sees the video without any background.

    If we give you a handicap for not having known about the 'examples' requirement, your score goes up substantially - to a B-, maybe? In either case, it's essentially irrelevant - as long as you bring it strong from here on out.

    I definitely want to hear some disagreement out there, and there aren't too many people doing it - so props to you for daring to disagree.

    Need to not say 'uhhhh....' during pauses. Wouldn't mind seeing more direct eye contact, and a few hand gestures.

    Need to tighten up the arguments - need to find those 'best examples' and hammer them home. Would be good to continue to stick to the most well-known companies - Microsoft, Google, etc. Nobody knows about Twitter or any of that. A few people now know about Salesforce.

    In terms of 'tightening up' - the 'revenue streams' stuff sounds very abstract. You started to get closer when you started talking about 'parts of the economy' going away, but you never drove the point home - that is, if some part of the economy 'goes away', people lose their jobs, their cars, their houses, their spouses, etc. There are real consequences to stuff going away. If that is, in fact, your point.

    I'm not sure I'm buying the "everyone is a thief, so big corporations are suffering!" line. Whether it's genuine or not, I am definitely not buying it. I don't feel sorry for corporations. But also, I'm not convinced I want anyone telling me that they're better than me - that they're a better person than me - that I'm evil. If RIAA wants to tell me that, and go out and sue mothers, let them - they're a bunch of criminals, anyways - with their class action suits on CD jewel cases and such. I don't feel sorry for them or big corporations, period.

    So, the overall impression I got from the interview was, 'Who is this Hank Williams guy that wants me to pay for stuff so that big corporations can get richer off my back? Who is paying him?'

    Not sure if you wanted an honest opinion, but there it is.


  4. Peter,

    Thanks for the review.

    I used to uhhh a lot more so its interesting that I didnt even hear any uhhs. I am going to watch it again.

    My eye contact was with brian, as opposed to the camera if thats what you mean.

    But the most important thing is about the thief thing. This is not about "big corporations". The economy is a big interconnected thing. You or your family probably has a 401k or a retirement plan full of stocks from big corporations. Or they work for big corporations. Or they work for someone that services a big corporation. If we as a culture decide that IP has no value then we are shooting ourselves, as a country, in the foot since it is such a big part of our Gross National Product. As we lose big chunks of our econonmy (and entertainment is a *big* part of that) then I promise you **personally** will feel that in some way.

    As for who I am. I am not paid for my views. I am actually concerned about the economy and our country. If we cant sell our products, but China which has no IP based products can, then we are in big trouble. Free is great except when you cant afford bread.

  5. Hank,

    I'm glad you are voicing an opposing position to some of the other voices out there. Not that I agree with all of what you say, but we need to hear both sides.

    I think your comments about job loss due to free IP are conceptually correct, but I don't see that playing out in real life and I don't think that 10 - 20% of our economy is just going to disappear overnight. And I don't see this as an either-or scenario. Both open source and commercial development can co-exist. Here's how...

    Open-source thrives when a project can be broken down into micro-tasks that can be distributed for execution and then merged together. It also thrives when the project benefits from many different viewpoints. Wikipedia is the best example I can think of. Every page is a unique object that can be updated by a single individual and then merged back into the whole. And there is no way any small group of people could have amassed that depth and breadth of information.

    On the other hand, I could not design a car like that or a microchip (ASIC) or most complex engineering tasks. The parts are too inter-related and someone needs to make sure they all work together to meet the design goals. These will remain commercial enterprises.

    I work in the high-tech world, designing complex Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), and this is still dominated by commercial companies. There are a few open source players, e.g. OpenCores, but their impact is negligible. This may change, but I think we'll survive as an industry.

  6. Harry,

    I am not at all against open source. what I was talking about in the last comment was theft of music and other IP.

  7. i should say that i understood where you were coming from - my 'analysis' of your interview was really more from the point of view from someone who does not know your blog - or, what I imagine that point of view would be.

    i figured, what i or other readers think of your tv interviews is largely irrelevant b/c your written words are much more meaningful to us - or should be - for a whole bunch of reasons.

    so, on 'revenue streams' and 'corporations' and 'ip', i think there is something to be said there, but it's going to take more than just facts or grand-sounding, 'the gift economy will destroy us'-like platitudes to make a convincing case. Heritage/Cato/AEI can get away with that only because they have Scaife's billion$ backing them up.

    As a parallel, i think the 'climate change' crowd has finally started to do a better job of connecting the abstract (CO2 emissions - oh no!) with the real (dead bodies floating in New Orleans). i would suggest that you need to do the same - make 'theft' and 'corporations' and 'ip' and 'revenue streams' concrete by saying whatever - e.g. "if you and your friends steal 10 new albums, then Sting won't be able to afford those kangaroo-skin slippers" - or whatever your argument is going to be.

    Van Jones talks about this a lot wrt the enviro movement - he says, 'you cannot go into the ghettos talking about saving polar bears - those people are trying to stay alive and ideally move up out of the ghetto - that is their first priority, as much as they would like to see the Coca-Cola mascot not drown'.

    If you can connect free web products/services with illegal dumping (as i think you mentioned on this blog) and demonstrate and illustrate actual harm to actual people - e.g. "Johnny lost his job at Elektra Records b/c of lost sales, and therefore lost his health insurance, then got hit by a car, and now is living on the street" - then that's going to actually carry weight with people who are otherwise more worried about _their_ real problems - like how they're going to make their house payment next month - not whether or not Universal meets expectations for its projected quarterly earnings.

    i never thought you were paid or whatever by anyone - but someone who doesn't read your blog might have been wondering - based on the tv interview.

    enough of the review of the interview.

    my actual thoughts on IP are that it's generally a very bad concept and we need to do away with it as quickly as possible before it does any more harm.

    i don't know the history, but I wouldn't doubt if it was created by vested interests (prob corporations) to prevent others from getting into the market (creating barriers to entry) - b/c what capitalist wants competition?

    i haven't studied it a lot, but lots of folks have, so I'm sure I could make a case for the damage that IP does to our society and the world - it just seems too obvious. i want an egalitarian society, not one based on concentrations of power (capital).

    so, take pharma firms - there is the easy stuff that makes you go 'hmmmm' - like that they spend twice as much on marketing as they do on R&D - some ridiculous figure like that. the argument from them, of course, goes that we have to leave them alone to pillage and plunder, otherwise they will stop 'innovating' and everyone will die. Then there are the steady stream of facts that trickle out - like the Frontline show the other night which suggested that controlling drug pricing doesn't run pharma companies out of business.

    people have, do, and will continue to invent new things, new drugs, tools, and technologies for a whole host of reasons - a lot having to do with natural human curiosity and the desire to reach new goals, heights, etc. We don't need to add 'profit motive' to the mix - it's unnecessary, and obviously destructive when we look at worldwide numbers for preventable disease and death because Al Gore and his IP buddies prevent drugs from getting to Africa - protecting IP is more important than protecting human beings, apparently.

    So, yes, as with lots of things in (state) capitalist society - there are always people that benefit greatly from restricted trade and creativity and the rest - it's usually a very small fraction of the general population - let's say one half of one percent.

    Intellectual property (IP) definitely needs to go the way of the dodo. Whether it does or not is largely up to us.

  8. i decided to read up a bit on the IP thing, and stumbled on an article which I've probably read at some point in the past, though don't have a specific recollection of reading it.

    It has two instances of the 'article' on there - not sure why.

    The original was part of some talk.

    i have read a lot about TRIPS and the WTO and whatnot before - from liberals like Greg Palast and libertarians like James Bovard - so this Chomsky answer seems to be very consistent with what other smart and honest folks think about intellectual property.

    I've read the wiki pages and can't say I'm swayed as to the usefulness of IP. there are small, individual cases like, how should we treat individual artists/authors/etc., but the big questions are easy - no protectionist measures. no stomping out innovation. no allowing people to suffer and die just for corporate profits.

    there _are_ difficult decisions in this world - getting rid of ip is not one of them.

    it took me about 3 minutes of googling before i started seeing articles that showed the definitive absurdity of patents and ip. 70% of U.S. corporate assets? awesome. talk about a house of cards. maybe we can devote our entire economy to trying to enforce patents? sign me up for that job - sounds like fun.

  9. Cory Doctorow seems to have made some sense recently:

    "Intellectual property" is a silly euphemism

    "Intellectual property" is one of those ideologically loaded terms that can cause an argument just by being uttered. The term wasn't in widespread use until the 1960s, when it was adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization, a trade body that later attained exalted status as a UN agency. ...


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