Re: dual nerds and illegal math


While Phil’s inner nerds are smiling, my inner Bolshevik is going nuts about Phil’s post. Here we are

  1. Damning the man because the books are pirated and Harper Collins sees no revenue
  2. Empowering the people with education instead of the typical crap

The stars are aligned.

On a more serious note, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by Phil’s subway story. Santi, long-time friend of The Hand, points out:

There is clearly a market for these things… textbooks are uncommon in lower-middle-income schools, and, thus, there is a strong incentive to have a market for cheap textbooks.

Those of you who’ve never been to Mexico City should understand the subway demographic: middle and working class (no rich Mexicans). So how did pirated books come to be sold on Phil’s car? (Warning: nerdy econ analysis to follow)

There are three types of countries with respect to intellectual property (IP):

  1. Countries with no IP protection
  2. Countries with formal IP protection but also strong black markets
  3. Countries with full IP Protection

An example of the first category is Cambodia, where Susan notes that all books she saw were photocopied, even in bookstores. However most countries fall into the second category, with some protection but also black markets with no protection. Susan provides insight:

In Thailand I bought all my textbooks at a legit store… However there were also stalls selling the same titles for a whole lot less, except the books were photocopied and very low quality.

Countries like Thailand and Mexico are net consumers of IP, which suggests they should have no incentive to to respect it. But they respect IP nonetheless because of international pressure (WTO). However most of their populous can’t afford IP. So they allow a two tiered system:

  • Formal stores respecting IP for the upper middle class
  • Black markets with no IP for middle and working classes

Real stores are prohibited from pirating. However no one bothers if places like the subway are rife with pirated CDs, DVDs, apparel, and even books. Tepito, the infamous Mexico City neighborhood, is buzzing with this activity, although if you go there on a Saturday, don’t go at night, and don’t expect to see Vicente Fox’s family out buying the latest Usher album or a book on American race relations. Fox does not belong in this part of Mexico.

Hurray for illegal math on the subway. Nerds and Bolsheviks smile together.


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