Free Law School Casebooks For Everyone?: John Mayer, the Executive Director of CALI, has a post suggesting a way to generate free law school casebooks for every law student. Under the current system, professors who want to write casebooks can write the books on their own and can then make a deal with publishers to bring the books to market in exchange for royalties. Mayer has a very different proposal…. [E]ach law school community will put forth a worker who will participate in a collective. Members of the collective will share the workload and collaborate on the making of products. They will then be required to share their products to allow use by anyone else according to their needs.
Interesting idea. If only we had some experience in the 20th century to know if it might work: Why Socialism Failed | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty.
The most interesting thing from my economist's perspective is that dollars will get you doughnuts that at some point in his life Orin Kerr took a microeconomics course. One of the things that microeconomics course did was give Orin Kerr the tools to reach the conclusion that the market for legal textbooks fails:
Price is far in excess of marginal cost, so a great deal of what in a well-functioning market ought to be consumer surplus is transferred to producers with market power.
But it is not as though producers are enriched by the market either: the incentives create a situation in which the social surplus is dissipated by the writing of far too many textbooks.
The right thing for Orin Kerr to say would be: "Meyer's proposal looks unworkable to me. The right thing to do would be to have, as a condition of accreditation, law professors hand out the textbooks for free on the first day of class; then law schools would give professors an extra $50 per student to buy textbooks and tell the professors to keep the change. That would eliminate the market failure."
But it doesn't occur to Orin Kerr to suggest that--or, indeed, to make any suggestion to align incentives in such a way as to push prices to marginal costs and eliminate the incentive to overproduce textbooks. The economics he took simply did not take.