It is economically illogical to pay for digital content.
Debate Rounds (3)
Greetings. For my first debate, I have a pet economic hypothesis that I would like to test. Since I will be using some basic-level economic theories and concepts, it would be to my opponent's advantage to have some background in the field; though a lack thereof should not preclude potential challengers.
I propose the following structure:--
Round 1: Acceptance and initial arguments. No rebuttals.
Round 2: Rebuttals and additional arguments, if desired.
Round 3: Final rebuttals and closing statements; no new arguments.
Also, the debate and its resolution should not be understood as necessarily advocating some concrete policy measure or action, but rather as an exercise in economic and logical reasoning. As such, sources shall only be needed for substantiating specific empirical examples.
To win, Pro must be able to convincingly demonstrate that paying money for digital files is in contradiction with one or more of the basic principles of Economics. The moral rectitude of the practice is not part of the debate.
To win, Con must demonstrate a clear flaw in Pro's argument which renders it invalid, and/or provide an equally compelling argument why the practice of paying for digital files is consistent with economic theory.
To begin, I shall attempt to construct the argument in favor of the resolution, namely, to logically prove that paying money for digital content makes no economic sense.
Let us first define digital content as any kind of file (text, graphical, audio, video, &c.) that can be accessed and stored on a computer or appropriate storage media (DVDs, USB drives, &c.). Two characteristics of such content will be important to the argument further on:
(a) Digital files exist indefinitely as long as the hardware on which they are stored is in working order;
(b) Digital files can be copied an indefinite number of times without a deterioration of its integrity or the quality of its content.
II. The Axiom of Scarcity
Next, we proceed to what is the most basic of the assumptions of the economic science: for something to be affected by the forces of Supply and Demand, it must be scarce; that is to say, there should be some limitation that precludes its distribution to all who want it, necessitating that social choices be made as to its allocation. (In fact, this pretty much sums up Economics.) The price mechanism is such an allocation method: it allows a scarce good to be distributed according to the equilibrium between its limited supply and the utility gained from its consumption (demand).
Thus, for instance, air cannot be priced, because there is no limit to its supply; one can freely breathe without depleting the supply of others, and there is no way (short of murder by suffocation) that one can be barred from accessing air. Likewise, 'viewing sunsets' cannot exist as a service, because the sun is freely and plainly visible to all.
III. The Non-scarcity of Digital Content
My contention is that digital content, as defined above, is likewise not scarce in of itself.
(1) As a consequence of (b) above, there is no utility loss if the owner of a digital file copies it and gives the copy to another person. Doing so does not degrade the quality of the original (as copying some analog media might), and does not cause a loss of any real value or utility as the file remains in its owner's possession.
(2) The only limitation that precludes every single human being from owning a copy is the supply of hardware and storage media needed to hold and access the file. If, in theory, every single human owned a computer with the necessary storage space, there is no reason they should all not be able to have a copy of said file.
(3) In consequence of (a) above, digital files last forever, providing the integrity of the hardware holds, thus disqualifying time limitations as a source of scarcity.
The inevitable conclusion of the three points is that if digital content is not scarce, it is not economically logical to price it. Since its supply is essentially infinite, it cannot equilibrate with demand at a non-zero price.
What am I talking about, specifically?
The numerous websites and services, ubiquitous on the Internet nowadays, that offer e-books, music, videos or movies for a fee. My claim is that this fee has no basis in the tenets of economics it is entirely arbitrary and fictitious, and is only able to exist due to artificially imposed market distortions. Here I am referring to the body of laws which punish the download and distribution of said digital content without payment. If not for this legal fiction, a price on a digital file would make no sense whatsoever.
IV. Some Clarifications
To refine my argument, I wish to address two points which may be raised as objections.
(1)I realize that hardware (the computers, smartphones, &c.), storage media (HDDs, DVDs, USBs, &c.), network connections, and electrical power, all of which are needed to access digital content are in fact scarce and the laws of Supply and Demand fully apply. I am not questioning the fact that these goods and services should have a price. But this does not necessarily mean that digital files are scarce, only the means to view them. Consider this: there are countless stars in the night sky, but the telescopes needed to see all but the brightest are scarce (and expensive!).
(2)Regarding the question of the monetary compensation of the creators of digital content, the labor of writers, artists and musicians is indeed scarce, and hence a price for it must exist. In terms of economic analysis, the creation of books, films or songs can be treated as a service with an equilibrium price depending on market supply and demand. I also do not question the logic of such creators deriving compensation from the sale of (scarce) physical media, or from the public presentation of their content (e.g. concerts). However, due to the unique nature of the digital medium, I nevertheless assert that despite any 'moral right' they may claim, it is economically illogical to demand payment for any but the first copy released. (This is the point where scarcity 'ends.')
Price is an allocative mechanism for goods of which there is not enough for all people to consume as much as they want. Such goods are called scarce, and obey the laws of supply and demand. It makes no economic or logical sense to price a non-scarce good. Due to the nature of the digital medium, digital files are not scarce. It is therefore economically irrational to expect payment for their distribution. The laws which prohibit the free downloading and sharing of copywrited material are not economically logical and are based on moral or other extraneous considerations.
I look forward to seeing some counterarguments. Best of luck to my opponent!
I must admit that I am dissappointed by my opponent's Laconic response. I shall nonetheless proceed with the debate, in the hope that Con may yet make a case, or, failing that, provide a compelling rebuttal.
Before I can rebut my opponent's argument, I fear I must first decode it. Let us begin with the claim that "Some rich people pay good [sic] for those stuff." I must assume that the stuff in question is the digital content, and since my opponent did not dispute my definition, or providan alternate, he agrees with it. So far so good.
My opponent's claim seems to be that consumers with sufficiently high incomes are willing to overlook the logical contadiction which I claimed is found in the sale of digital content and still pay money, even though they could theoretically not do so. Ideally, evidence should have been provided for this behavior, but since I said in the conditions that this is a theoretical debate, I am willing to let that slide. The other sentence of my opponent's argument essentially repeats this point about the willingness of wealthy consumers to pay for digital content. (More astute observers may take the use of the word "pricey" in that context as a tacit admission that the price is higher that what it should logically be, but that's nitpicking.)
Even if we were to grant that my opponent's claim is true despite the lack of evidence (which I have done already), his argument still does him no good. What my opponent describes is the Demand for digital content. Demand alone does not a price make.
To put it more mathematically, economists use a simple diagram with price on the Y-axis and quantity on the X-axis. There are usually two curves -- one sloped downward, describing Demand, and one upward-sloping, describing Supply. (The resons for their shapes are not relevant to this debate.) The point where the two intersect gives us the equilibrium quantity and price determined by the market. However, what happens in the special case that I described in the previous round (i.e. when a good is not scarce), is that the two curves are unable to intersect above the X-axis in order to form a non-zero price. This is entirely a consquence of the Supply curve being too far away. The demand for the good does not play a part here.
So far, Con has not discussed the supply side of digital content. Unless he is able to show that the supply of digital media is able to interact with the demand (i.e. that it is finite), his discussion of demand serves no purpose.
More importantly, I would like to draw everyone's attenttion to the fact that Con has not made any argument with regards to resource allocation or efficiency. That is to say, he offers no argument why paid digital content makes economic sense. The whole purpose of Economics is to answer the question: Given limited resources, what, how, how much, and for whom must be produced so that society as a whole derives the most benefit? Con lacks any argument in this area, which leads me to believe he has a very sketchy understanding of what Economics actually is.
I feel this is as much as I am able to go on given such a limited response. Were my opponent to actually furnish an argument in this round, I would gladly rebut it. I extent all my initial arguments. I will refrain addind new ones, eventhough this is my last opportunity to do so, as I think they would serve me no purpose by this point.
ayden13 forfeited this round.
I have thus far addressed my opponent's sole argument; he has offered no counterargument, nor has he addressed any of my own arguments. In consequence, I have nothing left to add. I would summarise my arguments, but the final part of round 1 is as good a summary as I can make given the lack of progress in the debate.
Finally, despite my opponent's failure to actually debate me, I encourage voters to consider my arguments on their own merits and consequently vote Pro.
Thank you for your attention.
ayden13 forfeited this round.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by jackh4mm3r 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: FF, not to mention a practical non-response on the part of Con.
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