Words & Numbers

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Insightful weekly commentary on news & current events from economist Antony Davies and political scientist James R. Harrigan.

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December 4, 2019

One of the few enumerated powers that the Founders granted to the federal government was the power to issue patents.

Patents are a compromise between two conflicting goals. On the one hand, we want to avoid the creation of government-protected monopolies because monopolies stifle innovation. On the other, we want entrepreneurs to have an incentive to innovate. And one way to incentivize entrepreneurs is to grant monopoly protection for their inventions.

Patent law is an attempt to balance these two conflicting goals, but the balance presents trade offs. Weaker patent laws mean cheaper goods today but a lesser variety of goods tomorrow; stronger patent laws mean more expensive goods today but a greater variety of goods tomorrow.

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