Economics and Law

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Economics and Law
Economics and Law
CST part 1b
Ross Anderson, Richard Clayton
Why teach you this course?
• Modern systems involve many competing principals!
• Systems: Internet now so big it’s often more like a market
than a deterministic system! Economics used for protocol
design, congestion control, and much else
• Theory: the combinatorial auction is now seen as the
archetypal complexity-theory problem
• Professional: about half of you will eventually go into
consultancy, management, …
• Law: what can make you liable online?
• Ethics: how to navigate the many grey areas
• Policy: arguments about copyright, surveillance, privacy…
Aims and Objectives
• Aims: introduce you to some basic concepts in
economics and law
• Objectives: at the end, you should have a basic
appreciation of economic and legal terminology
and arguments; understand some of the
applications of economic models to systems
engineering and their interest to theoretical
computer science; and understand the main
constraints that markets and legislation place on
firms dealing in information goods and services
• Game theory: prisoners’ dilemma, iterated games
• Classical economics with competitive markets
• Market failures – monopoly, asymmetric
information, network effects, lock-in
• How information markets are different
• Auction theory and mechanism design
• Principles of law – contract, tort and other ways
you can become liable for things you do online
• Law and the Internet
• Policy and ethics
• Shapiro and Varian “Information Rules”
• Varian “Intermediate Microeconomics”
• Course website, plus as further reading:
Adam Smith, “The Wealth of Nations”
JK Galbraith, “A History of Economics”
Len Fisher, “Rock, Paper, Scissors”
William Poundstone, “Prisoners’ Dilemma”
Paul Seabright, “The Company of Strangers: A Natural
History of Economic Life”
– Paul Krugman, “The Return of Depression Economics”
– Glanville Williams, ATH Smith, “Learning the Law”
Studying a humanities subject
• It’s not like learning to prove theorems or
program in Java, which gives a testable skill
• Wide reading is important – ideas become clearer
when approached from several perspectives
• College libraries are a good place to start
• Dig into some subproblem that interests you
• Work out opposing viewpoints: how would a
socialist / libertarian / Keynsian / monetarist
approach this problem? What decides if people
cooperate or compete, what resolves conflict?
• Write proper essays!
• Economics as a subject is traditionally made up of
macroeconomics, microeconomics and specialised
• ‘Macro’ is about the performance and structure of
the global economy or a nation or region. It’s
about models of employment, inflation, growth,
investment, savings, credit, tax, GNP…
• We will touch on this only briefly
Roadmap (2)
• Microeconomics or ‘micro’ is about how
individuals and firms react to incentives, how
market mechanisms establish prices, and the
circumstances in which markets can fail
• Many topics of interest to computer scientists &
engineers include game theory, the economics of
information, the economics of dependability, and
behavioural economics (economics + psychology)
• Our tools range from mathematical models to
empirical social science
Cooperation or conflict
• One way of getting what you want is to make it,
or make something else of value and trade for it –
• Another way is to just take it, whether by force or
via the ballot box – ‘Politics’
• Choices between cooperation and conflict are
made at all sorts of levels all the time
• They can evolve in complex combinations
• The tool we use to tease them out and analyse
them is game theory
Game theory
• The study of problems of cooperation and conflict
among independent decision-makers
• We focus on games of strategy, rather than chance
• We abstract to players, choices, payoffs, strategies
• There are
– games of perfect information (such as chess)
– games of imperfect information (which are often more
interesting to analyse)
Strategic form
• Example: matching pennies. Alice and Bob throw
H or T. If they’re different, Alice gets Bob’s
penny; else he gets hers. The strategic form is
-1, 1
1, -1
1, -1
-1, 1
• This is an example of a zero-sum game: Alice’s
gain = Bob’s loss
Dominant strategy equlibrium
• In the following game, Bob’s better off playing left;
similarly Alice is always better off playing bottom
1, 2
0, 1
2, 1
1, 0
• A strategy is an algorithm: input state, output play
• Here, each player’s optimal play is a constant
• The is called a ‘dominant strategy equilibrium’
Nash equlibrium
• Consider this game:
2, 1
• Each player’s optimal strategy depends on what they think the
other will do
• Two strategies are in Nash equilibrium when A’s choice is
optimal given B’s, and vice versa
• Here there are two: top left and bottom right
• This game is sometimes called ‘Battle of the sexes’
Pure v mixed strategies
• If we allow only deterministic algorithms, some games have no Nash
equilibrium. E.g.
-1, 1
1, -1
1, -1
-1, 1
-1, 1
1, -1
• Alice plays scissors  Bob wants to play stone  Alice wants to play
paper …
• Fix: randomised algorithm. This is called a ‘mixed’ strategy;
deterministic algorithms are called ‘pure’
Prisoners’ dilemma
• Two prisoners are arrested on suspicion of planning a robbery.
The police tell them separately: if neither confesses, one year
each for gun possession; if one confesses he goes free and the
other gets 6 years; if both confess then each will get 3 years
-3, -3
-6, 0
0, -6
-1, -1
• (confess, confess) is the dominant strategy equilibrium
• It’s obviously not optimal for the villains!
• Is this a problem? If so, what’s the solution?
Prisoners’ dilemma (2)
• You might answer ‘serves them right’!
• But this can’t apply to all instances of the dilemma
Defence spending
Fishing quotas
Free riders in file-sharing systems
Reducing carbon emissions
• Tough but inescapable conclusion: if the game is
truly as described, there is no escape. Both will
cheat rather than cooperate, with bad outcome
• To fix it, you need to change the game somehow!
The evolution of cooperation
• If PD played repeatedly, there’s a fix!
• ‘Tit-for tat’: cooperate at round 1, then at round n
do what the other guy did at n-1
• Large simulation competitions run by Bob
Axelrod played off many iterated-game strategies;
tit-for-tat did consistently well
• In the presence of noise, tit-for-tat gets locked
into (defect, defect). So: forgive the other guy
• People have realised in the last 20 years or so that
strategy evolution explains a lot of behaviour
• If it costs $250 to fly someone LHR-JFK
and back, do airlines compete and charge
$255 or collude and charge $500?
• Competition laws forbid price-fixing
cartels, but the same behaviour can arise
• Try charging $500 and see what other
airlines do. If they ‘defect’ by competing,
play tit-for-tat
• If you’re the regulator, how do you cope?
Stag hunt
• People can hunt rabbits on their own, but have to work together
to hunt a stag. If your buddy runs off after a rabbit, the stag will
chase hare
hunt stag
chase hare
hunt stag
2, 2
0, 5
5, 0
10, 10
• Difference from PD: (stag, stag) is now a Nash equilibrium
• You’ll only chase a rabbit if you believe your buddy will defect
• Thus while PD is payoff-dominant, stag hunt is risk-dominant
• In ‘Rebel without a cause’, Jim (James Dean) and Buzz (Corey
Allan) drive stolen cars at a canyon and try to jump out last to
prove their manhood
drive on
2, 2
1, 3
drive on
3, 1
0, 0
• Here, (1,3) and (3,1) are Nash equilibria
• Bertrand Russell suggested this as a model of nuclear
confrontation in the Cold War
• Biologists call the iterated version hawk-dove (more later)
Volunteer’s dilemma
• Multi-player chicken: if one person volunteers, everyone else
benefits, but if no-one volunteers then everyone suffers a big
Everyone else
someone acts
no-one acts
benefit - cost
benefit - cost
Don’t act
big loss
• The Arab Spring is harder still: “If everyone goes on the street
and says ‘the government is finished’, it’s finished. If you go on
the street and say ‘the government is finished’, you’re finished”
• Evolution of leadership: first move = fitness signal
• Differs from PD in that (defect, defect) is preferable to mutual
1, 1
0, 3
3, 0
2, 2
• That is, I’m going to defect anyway but it would be nice if you
were a sucker and cooperated
• Is mutual defection a dominant strategy equilibrium, or a Nash
Asymmetric games
• In the game of ‘Bully’, the first player plays chicken while the
second plays deadlock
Deadlock player
Chicken player
2, 1
1, 3
3, 0
0, 2
• Example: the ‘Wisdom of Solomon’
• The baby’s real mother plays chicken (rather see the baby live)
while the thief plays deadlock (rather not lose)
• (Depressing) model of military aggression
Game theory and evolution
• John Maynard Smith proposed the ‘Hawk-dove’ game as a
simple model of animal behaviour. Consider a mixed population
of aggressive and docile individuals:
(v-c)/2, (v-c)/2
v, 0
0, v
v/2, v/2
• Food v at each round; doves share; hawks take food from doves;
hawks fight (with risk of death c)
• If v > c, whole population becomes hawk (dominant strategy)
• What happens if c > v?
Game theory and evolution (2)
• If c > v, a small number of hawks will prosper as most
interactions will be with doves. Equilibrium reached at hawk
probability p setting hawk payoff = dove payoff
(v-c)/2, (v-c)/2
v, 0
0, v
v/2, v/2
• I.e. p(v-c)/2 + (1-p)v = (1-p)v/2
 pv - pc+ 2v -2pv = v - pv
 -pc = -v
 p = v/c
Broader implications
• Anthropology – 10,000 years ago we were ‘the shy
murderous ape’. If you saw a man you didn’t
recognise, you’d better kill him first
• Now we collaborate globally and live in largely
peaceful societies (Seabright, “Company of
• Cooperation supported by many institutions from
religions (“do unto others as you’d have them do
unto you”) to markets and legal codes
• Social constructs such as ‘honour’ and ‘trust’
• Much research into the psychology & economics…
Broader implications (2)
• The formalisation by Nash, Axelrod, Maynard
Smith and others opened up many applications
• Politics: models of conflict, of civil war, of when
religions are dominated by fundamentalists
• Criminologists: model everything from duelling to
the Mafia as alternative contract enforcement, and
tattoos, self-harm etc as in-game signalling
• Computer science: how do you get people in peerto-peer systems to do their share rather than free
riding? How do you get AS operators on the
Internet to tell the truth about routing? …
Prices and markets
• As an introduction to theories of prices, consumers
and markets, consider an idealised market for flats
in Cambridge
• Assume only two types – one-bed flats in town, or
house-shares in Chesterton. People who can afford
flats will rent them, and those who can’t will get
house-shares instead
• Assume that there are 1000 flats to rent, and that
people vary in their ability / willingness to pay
Accommodation market
• So there might be 1 person prepared to pay £2000, 300 prepared to pay
£1000, 1000 prepared to pay £500…
• With 1000 flats to let, the market equilibrium price p* is where the
supply and demand curves cross, i.e. £500
• If the market is rigged, the cartel might restrict supply –
800 flats at £700 pm can earn more than 1000 at £500 pm
• This is inefficient! (there are empty flats which people
would pay to rent)
• How can we formalise this?
• A monopolist might leave some flats empty despite people
being prepared to pay for them
• Definitions
– A Pareto improvement is a way to make some people better off
without making anyone worse off
– A Pareto efficient allocation is such that no Pareto improvement is
• This is weak: pure monarchy and pure communism are
both Pareto efficient!
• Anyway, is there any way for the monopolist to find a
Pareto efficient allocation?
Discriminating monopolist
• If you know what everyone can pay, charge them just that!
• This arrangement is Pareto efficient!
• The monopolist captures all the consumer surplus …
Consumer surplus
• Consumer surplus is the total amount people saved on
their reservation price
• Ordinary monopoly: green area left to consumers
• The monopolist diminished surplus by A and B
• The discriminating monopolist gets the lot!
Monopoly and technology
• Monopolies are common in the information goods
and services industries
• We’ll study why in some detail later
• For now, monopolists have an incentive to price
discriminate, to mop up all the available surplus
• Hence the many prices of Windows!
• But it’s not just tech. Think airline tickets, cars, and
even food.
• So what factors determine the structure of markets?
Basic consumer theory
• Examines mechanisms of choice
• Consumers choose ‘best’ bundle of goods they can afford
• Most of the time, two goods are enough – say books versus
everything else
• Assuming a budget constraint m, p1x1 + p2x2 ≤ m
• This gives a line on which choices must lie
• We draw ‘indifference curves’ or ‘isoquants’ joining
mutually indifferent points – that is, where the consumer
prefers bundle (x1, x2) equally to (y1, y2)
• We assume they’re well behaved – the curves don’t cross.
I.e. if (x1, x2) is preferred when (y1, y2) is affordable, then
when (y1, y2) is preferred, (x1, x2) is not affordable (the
‘weak axiom of revealed preference’)
• Sometimes I just don’t care at all whether I have
good 1 or good 2
• E.g.: Tesco’s sugar or Sainsbury’s sugar
• Such goods are called substitutes
• Sometimes I want exactly the same quantity of
good 1 and good 2
• E.g. left shoes and right shoes
• Such goods are called complements
• There are some goods I’d rather avoid!
• But sometimes I have to consume some of a bad
in order to enjoy some of a good
Marginal rate of substitution
• The tangent to an isoquant gives the marginal rate of
substitution (MRS)
• This is the exchange rate at which the consumer will trade
the two: MRS = x1/x2
• Comvex curves: you’re more likely to trade the good if you
have more of it
Diminishing MRS
• The more you have of x1 relative to x2, the more
likely you are to trade x1 for x2, in the strictly
convex case
• I.e. you become less willing to pay for ‘one more’
Often indifference curves can be parametrised
Marginal utility MU1 = dU/dx1
Then MRS = -MU1/MU2
Utility functions can be useful for describing consumer
• They can often be inferred from shopping behaviour, and
answer questions about the value of better / faster / …
Cobb-Douglas utility
• Commonly used: U(x1, x2) = x1cx2d
• If the utility is believed to depend on a number of
observed factors, take logarithms and look for a fit
The marginalist revolution
• Until 1871, no-one had a good theory of supply
and demand. Why are essentials like water cheap,
while diamonds are expensive?
• Solution: the value of the last and least wanted
addition to your consumption of a good sets its
value to you (Karl Menger, Stanley Jevons, 1871)
• Shifted thinking from costs of production to
demand, and led to ‘classical synthesis’ of
Marshall and others – interlocking models of
consumption, production, labour, finance etc in a
world of free competition
Concrete example
• Suppose a local coal market in 1840 had three typical
suppliers / customers
Sea coal gathering 8s
Small deep mine
Open-cast mine
• The market price determines who produces and who
• It’s determined by the marginal transaction
• It fluctuates with demand (weather) and can evolve in the
long term with tech, investment…
• Assuming functions are well-behaved, we can get a
consumer’s demand from their utility or vice versa
• Market demand is the sum of demand over consumers
• In general a price change will have a substitution effect (if
beer goes up, drink more wine) and an income effect (if
rent goes up, you’re poorer)
• Economists talk of Marshallian demand and Hicksian
demand; the latter has constant utility (consumers
compensated for changes in income)
• Given a market demand curve, elasticity measures the
effect on demand of a small change in price
• Formally, (p) = (q/q)/(p/p) = pq/qp
• Elasticity = 1 means there are substitutes
• Revenue R = pq, so
R/p = q + p p/q
= q (1 + (p) ) = q (1 - |(p)| )
• Key fact: price increases boost revenue iff |(p)| < 1
• Firms typically have fixed costs and variable costs, so the
average cost of goods initially falls with output
• The variable costs typically rise at some point (overtime
etc) and eventually rise sharply due to capacity constraints
• Thus the supply curve typically takes the above convex
shape, at least in the short run (static analysis)
Cost evolution
• In the long run, firms can fix capacity constraints by
building more factories
• This gives nearly constant fixed costs and thus constant
returns to scale as the firm / industry expands
Effects of technology
• In a traditional industry, technology can improve the
process; larger / newer factories may be better
• Some industries have natural limits (not everyone wants to
drive a Ford)
• In information goods and services industries, marginal
costs may never rise – so firms like Microsoft enjoy everincreasing returns to scale
Firm supply
• In a competitive market, firms are price takers
• The demand curve faced by each firm is in black – at any
price above p*, demand is zero, while at any price below
p*, the firm would face all the demand
• The firm’s profit is maximised when it sets output so that
its marginal cost equals the price p*
Putting it all together
• In the classical synthesis, prices are set where supply and
demand curves intersect in competitive markets
• Key: p* will be the marginal cost of the marginal supplier
• Similar models apply in markets for labour etc
• Intrinsic advantages of non-marginal suppliers (e.g. easily
mined coal, good farmland) get built into rental values
• By 100 years ago, people thought they understood the
‘invisible hand’ and just had to guard against monopoly
• Studying supply and demand for one good is
‘partial equilibrium analysis’. ‘General equilibrium
analysis’ adds in labour, capital etc
• First theorem of welfare economics: market
equilibrium is Pareto optimal
• Second theorem: any Pareto optimal allocation can
be achieved by market forces provided preferences
are convex
• Technical conditions include rational actors,
property rights, complete information, no
transaction costs … (more later)
Efficiency, welfare and justice
• These are different concepts! Giving the king all
the money is Pareto efficient
• Different theories of justice are consistent with
different welfare functions
– W = ∑Ui is classical utilitarian welfare
– W = min Ui is Rawlsian welfare – that of the most
miserable citizen
• Pigou: diminishing marginal utility of money
means that transferring £1 from a rich man to a
poor one will generally increase welfare
• But – there’s a methodological problem!
Efficiency, welfare and justice (2)
• Composing utilities into welfare is hard!
• Arrow’s impossibility theorem says there is no
perfect way to aggregate personal choices into
social welfare that’s consistent with democracy
Income distribution
• The Gini coefficient is used to measure inequality
• Gini = A/(A+B) in the above graph where B is the
cumulative income distribution
• Gini = 0: communism; Gini = 1: the king has the lot
Income distribution (2)
• Generally speaking, Gini falls with development
• Ranges from 0.247 in Denmark to .707 in Namibia
• Conflict theory explanation: over time, the poor fight
harder for welfare than the rich resist them
• Democracy cuts both ways though: e.g. a farm policy that
brings each farmer £20000 but costs each nonfarmer £200
The business cycle
• The business cycle was a puzzle for classical economists.
Why the pattern of boom and bust?
• Falling wages should clear the labour market, and the
money firms spend on wages, raw materials etc should be
exactly enough to buy their output (Say’s law: supply and
demand in the economy should be equal)
The business cycle (2)
• Mill and Ricardo argued that demand for goods +
savings = supply of goods + investment, and
savings = investment, so demand = supply
• Malthus and Sismondi argued that savings and
investment could differ in the short term; falling
confidence  people hoard cash
• 1930s: Keynes elaborated this with ‘liquidity
preference’. People want a certain level of savings –
maybe 3 months’ salary. In a recession, liquidity
preference rises
• Many other dynamic effects, different timescales…
The business cycle (3)
• In the 1930s, the world stuck in recession for years
• Keynes’ ‘General Theory’ set out in 1936 to explain why.
A summary is in Hicks’ IS-LM diagram
• i: interest rate Y: national income IS: investment / savings
LM: liquidity preference / money supply
• Idea: when savings, investment and money supply are
modelled in enough detail, the equilibrium isn’t necessarily
one with full employment. Need to get money supply right
The business cycle (4)
• Credit introduces instability at many levels.
• In a boom, people and firms borrow assets that appreciate
faster than the interest costs
• A bank that takes in £100 in deposits might lend out £94; so
£6 of capital underwrites £94 of lending – a multiplier of 94/6
= 15.7
• In a recession many things happen at once:
Some loans go bad, eating into capital
The bank’s share price falls, further eating capital
The regulator raises capital requirements from 6% to 8%
The government competes for the available loans
• So the money supply contracts sharply
The current recession
• Kicked off by US subprime mortgage crisis of
2007 which led to collapse of money markets – no
bank knew which other banks were still sound
• A common pattern – see Reinhart & Rogoff
• The question was whether the recession would be
– Small (2y, asset price fall 30%)
– Medium (4y, asset price fall 50%)
– Large (8y, asset price fall 80%)
• History tells of two biggies (US 1930s, Japan
1990s); dozens of medium; very many small
• UK: questions over budget deficit, house prices
Recession and tech
• Recessions may be fed by bubbles and triggered by
financial markets but are often tied up with
technology change
• Railways 1840s, cars 1920s, tech 1990s – boom
creates capacity, bust drives down prices
• Schumpeter: ‘creative destruction’
• Tech doing much better now than 2001-2: some
suffer (Sun, Motorola) but most firms thriving
• Profits up for Google, Apple, IBM …
• IT now a global industry: if the USA does better
than Europe, or people buy consumer electronics
instead of cars, we still get our share
Recession and tech (2)
• Known patterns: capital goods hit first in recession
(e.g. new car sales down 30-50% in 2009)
• Services stable thanks to many long-term facilities
management contracts
• Outsourcing booming as firms cut costs
• Financial sector IT is struggling (like 1991)
• Government systems folks confident (though
Conservatives said they’d cut waste)
• Hardware is always cyclical – fab capex down a bit
but firms know they must keep investing
• When will Moore’s law run out?
• Adam Smith “Wealth of Nations” (1776):
‘If a foreign country can supply us with a
commodity cheaper than we ourselves can
make it, better buy it of them with some part of
the produce of our own industry, employed in a
way in which we have some advantage’
• Ricardo, 1817: it’s comparative advantage
that matters
Trade (2)
• Ricardo considered the following costs:
• Portugal has an absolute advantage at producing both.
• But England has a comparative advantage in wheat – each
unit costs 1/2 unit of wine versus Portugal’s cost of 2/3 a
unit of wine
Trade (3)
• Suppose England has 270 units of labour, Portugal 180
• Mill: welfare gains from trade come from cheap imports
• Heckscher-Olin looks at capital v labour (outsourcing)
• Under perfect competition, free trade optimal; and almost
all economists agree it’s also a pragmatic optimum
• Adam Smith: output = f(land, labour, capital); so
growth means land improvement / colonisation,
education / specialisation, capital accumulation
• Keynes: it’s all about capital formation
• Neoclassical school (Solow, Swann…) technology
and population growth
• Leading view (Becker, Romer): mostly know-how
• Charles Jones: US growth 1950–93 due 50% to
worldwide R&D, 30% better education, 20% to
population growth in idea-producing countries
• Prescription: spend four times as much on R&D!
Tragedy of the commons
• 100 peasants each graze a sheep on the common
• What if one peasant adds one more?
• He gets 100% more, the others get 1% less, and he
common ends up overgrazed
• Modern examples: overfishing …
• Welfare theorems assume complete property
rights, atomistic principals and full information
• Where this fails, private cost  social cost
• Observed forever, documented by 1830s, used to
justify enclosure movement, inspired Malthus
Club goods
• Many traditional communities deal with the
commons by limiting scale
• Elinor Ostrum studied many examples to work
out the conditions under which this is sustainable
• E.g. fishermen in Turkey: 40 fishermen gather in
tea-house, arrange rota, signed by mayor
• Self-enforcing: if you find another boat in a good
spot when it’s your turn, chase them
• But what happens when you can’t set limits?
• Externalities are goods / bads people care about,
but not traded: typically side-effects
• Consumption externalities include smoking in
restaurants, domestic heating emitting CO2
• Production externalities include a steelworks
polluting a fishery downstream, or emitting CO2
• Positive externalities include education (1 more
year = 2% crime reduction), file formats,…
• In the presence of externalities, competitive
equilibria are unlikely to be Pareto efficient
• Can in theory fix with property rights (Coase) but
this is hard where there are many players, or delays
Public goods
• A public good is non-rivalrous and non-excludable
• Example: scientific knowledge. The producer can
appropriate a small part of the benefit (e.g. PhD
thesis); the rest spills over to all
• Example of a public bad: CO2 emissions. Again,
everyone gets to ‘consume’ the same amount
• Strong temptation for people to free-ride!
• If production is decided communally, there are
potential ‘impossibility theorem’ issues
• Alternatives? Prizes / taxes? Cap-and-trade? …
Enter politics …
• Buchanan: ‘Politics is a structure of
complex exchange among individuals, a
structure within which persons seek to
secure collectively their own privately
defined objectives that cannot be efficiently
secured through simple market exchanges.’
• But politics has costs too!
Monopoly rents
• Absent barriers to entry, firms will enter a market
until excess profits competed away
• What if we regulate prices?
– In 1986, New York taxi licenses cost $100,000 yet
drivers earned $8 an hour
– License owner makes $17k pa net – 17% ROI
– Politicians put up fares, to help drivers
– Extra $10,000 per annum just added $60K to the value
of a license
• Monopoly / entry barriers in effect create a rent
• ‘Rent-seeking’ drives much of politics
Competition and information
• The marginal cost of producing information is
zero, so that’s the market clearing price!
• Example – machine-readable phone books
– 1986 – Nynex charge $10,000 per disk
– ProCD had the phone book retyped in Peking and
started selling for $300
– ABI joined in
• Now it’s a few bucks for a CD, or free online
• Hence Free Software Foundation slogan:
‘information wants to be free’
• So how can you make money out of selling
information – software, books, music, …?
• Often, buying a product commits you to buying
more of it, or spending money on one or more of:
– durable complementary assets, such as apps for a
computer or phone, tunes for your iPod
– skills, e.g. fluency with Win/Mac/Linux of Office
– services, e.g. network service for a PC or mobile phone,
directory service for a PVR
• Same applies to services – facilities management
firms make it hard to switch to their competitors
• Not entirely new (fewer people change their
bankers than their spouses) but has some
pronounced effects in information goods markets
Lock-in (2)
• ‘Fundamental theorem’ (Shapiro, Varian); the net
present value of your customer base is the total
cost of switching
– Suppose you’re an ISP and it costs £25 to set up a new
– Suppose it costs a customer £50 of hassle to switch
– If you can find a business model that makes the
customer worth £100, offer them £60 cashback to
– They’re £10 ahead, you’re £15 ahead
• So the value of Microsoft is what it would cost
people to switch to OpenOffice and Linux …
Lock-in (3)
• The incumbent will strive to maximise switching
costs, competitors to minimise them
– file format wars
– loyalty programs
– phone number portability
• Incumbents promote complementary goods and
services that increase lockin – from tied printer
cartridges to Gmail and Facebook Connect
• Asymmetric switching costs add complexity – a
mobile phone network has to supply a phone to
win a customer, but to keep a customer can offer
extra minutes whose marginal cost is zero
Network externalities
• Many networks become more valuable to each
user the more people use them
• Metcalfe’s law: the value of a network is
proportional to the square of the number of users
• It’s actually more complex than this – local effects
are stronger
• Overall effect: past some threshold, network use
takes off rapidly
– Telephone – late 19th century
– Fax – 1985–88
– Email – 1995–99
Network externalities (2)
• As well as ‘real networks’ like fax and email there
are ‘virtual networks’ such as PCs and software
– Most people buy PCs (rather than Macs or Linux
boxes) because of software
– Back in 1985 companies started to write software for
PCs first and Macs second, as they thought the PC was
– So it won – people bought PCs for the software
• It works for bads as well as for goods: malware
writers target windows although Mac and Linux
are also vulnerable
Network externalities (3)
• So markets with network effects can ‘tip’
• It’s particularly common with two-sided markets
• Other examples:
Rail gauges in the 19th century
Colour TV standards in the 1950s
VHS v Betamax, Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD, …
Paypal v First Virtual etc
Facebook v Myspace, Bebo, Friendster, …
Strategic issues
• Each of these factors – high fixed costs plus low marginal
costs, significant switching costs due to technical lock-in,
and network externalities – tends to lead to a dominant-firm
market model
• With all three together, monopoly is even more likely
• Hence the race for market share whenever a new
information market opens up
• Hence the 1990s Microsoft philosophy ‘ship it Tuesday and
get it right by version 3’
• Policy: do you hope that tech change will make incumbents
obsolete, or do you regulate?
• “Competition in the market versus competition for the
Price discrimination
Recall: an efficient monopolist sells to each customer at
her reservation price – ‘selling to value’
Pigou’s three degrees of price discrimination:
Personalised pricing (e.g. haggling, loyalty cards …)
Versioning (e.g. first / business / economy class)
Group pricing (e.g. student and OAP discounts)
Around for generations – but getting more powerful, more
Tech simultaneously increases the motive and the means
Cruel, mean or lavish …
It is not because of the few thousand francs which would
have to be spent to put a roof over the third-class seats that
some company or other has open carriages with wooden
benches. What that company is trying to do is prevent the
passengers who can pay the second class fare from
travelling third class; it hits the poor, not because it wants
to hurt them, but to frighten the rich. And it is again for the
same reason that the companies, having proved almost
cruel to the third-class passengers and mean to the secondclass ones, become lavish in dealing with first-class
passengers. Having refused the poor what is necessary,
they give the rich what is superfluous. (Jules Dupuit, 1849)
Price discrimination (2)
• Versioning can include ‘pricing for sharing’, e.g.
scientific journals charge libraries more than
private readers
• Disney DVDs are cheaper than titles people rent
• Versioning can include marketing incentives – e.g.
Wall St Journal online sub free for academics,
cheap for students and expensive for business
• Much of the promised efficiency gain from ecommerce was based on hope of more effective
price discrimination
• To what extent did this actually happen?
Price discrimination (3)
• Price discrimination is in general efficient
• Suppose we can analyse a new bank security
product for £10k, and find that Bank A will pay
£8k and Bank £4k. Uniform pricing means no
deal! But if I can set pA = £7500 and pB = $3500
we all win (i.e. Pareto improvement)
• But public reaction against discrimination can be
strong, especially when the strategy is ‘damaged
goods’ and especially when discrimination overt
• Even economists are surprised at depth and
persistence of discrimination in some markets, e.g.
air fares
• One way to conceal discrimination in ‘bundling’: selling a
number of products together, as with Microsoft Office
• Suppose Alice and Bob have the following reservation
prices for Word and Excel
• With separate pricing, MS would charge £100 per product
and get £200 per customer, or £150 and get £150
• By selling them together, it gets £250
• Can also sell different bundles
Asymmetric information
• Akerlof won the Nobel for the ‘market for lemons’
– 100 used cars for sale – 50 good cars worth $2000, 50
lemons worth $1000
– Buyers can’t tell difference – so price $1000
• One fix is for sellers to offer a warranty – this is
cheaper for owners of good cars, so can act as a
‘signal’ for the hidden information
• The value of a Cambridge degree? It’s hard for
employers to tell smart diligent employees from
interview, so use education as a signal
• Signalling theory is also important for
recommender systems – Google, eBay, Grameen
Asymmetric information (2)
• Do Volvo drivers have more accidents because:
– Bad drivers buy a Volvo to survive accidents better
– Volvo drivers compensate for safety by driving faster?
• The first effect is ‘adverse selection’ and the
second ‘moral hazard’: examples of ‘hidden
information’ versus ‘hidden action’
• Lemons market: trashed by adverse selection
• Insurance markets can also be trashed by moral
hazard; hence excess, no-claims bonus, …
• Moral hazard can lead to surveillance, rationing
Transaction costs
• Trades are not free! Time & effort; commissions;
search; bargaining; policing and enforcement
• Ronald Coase (1930s): why do some sectors have
large companies, and others small ones? External
transaction costs higher than internal ones
• Oliver Williamson (1980s-90s): determinants are
frequency, specificity, uncertainty, limited
rationality, and opportunistic behavior
• Again, a big promise of the dotcom boom was to
cut transaction costs via efficient B2B markets
• So should tech make firms smaller on average?
Bounded rationality
• People offered £10 or a 50% chance of £20 usually prefer
the former; if offered a loss of £10 or a 50% chance of a
loss of £20 they usually prefer the latter!
• Kahneman and Tversky’s “prospect theory” seeks to explain
this via mental heuristics and biases
• That’s why marketers talk ‘discount’ or ‘saving’ – framing
actions to make them more attractive
• The misperception of risk is a big deal (terrorism)
• ‘Behavioural economics’ studies all this stuff
Bounded rationality (2)
• Herb Simon coined ‘bounded rationality’ in the
1950s along with ‘satisfice’
• People try to make just-good-enough decisions
• A satisficer will work hard until his lifestyle goals
are met, then slack off. Most of us are satisficers,
and VCs don’t like us!
• Another common rationality bound is ‘hyperbolic
discounting’: where people disregard far-future
events (most people have inadequate pensions)
• The endowment effect: people generally demand a
higher price for something they already own. Innate
conservatism, plus sensitivity to change
Bounded rationality (3)
• Decisions are heavily influenced by framing. E.g. the
‘Asian disease problem’ where the subject is making
decisions on vaccination. Two options put to subjects. First:
A: “200 lives will be saved”
B: “with p=1/3, 600 saved; with p=2/3, none saved”
• Here 72% choose A over B!
• Second option is
C: “400 will die”
D: “with p =1/3, no-one will die, p=2/3, 600 will die”
• Here 78% prefer D over C!
• Defaults also matter. Most people won’t opt in, or opt out.
‘Libertarian paternalism’ is about setting socially optimal
defaults (e.g. you now have to opt out of pension schemes)
Agency effects
• Classical economics sees institutions as rational
• But decisions are made by individual managers,
who optimise their own utility too
• New institutional economics: look at how
managers behave. Should you give managers
stock options to align interests with shareholders?
• Public-choice economics: apply this incentive
analysis to civil servants and elected politicians
(“Yes, Minister”). What’s the cost of democracy?
• Why do public-sector IT projects fail more often?
• Around for millennia; standard way of selling
livestock, fine art, mineral rights, bonds…
• Many other sales from corporate takeovers to
house sales are also really auctions
• Auctions are a big success of the Internet, from
eBay to Google
• Spectrum auctions a big deal for tech biz
• Rapidly growing interest in theoretical computer
science: auction resources in distributed systems
• Many issues of asymmetric info, signalling,
strategic play… – plus some solid theory!
Types of auction
• English, or ascending-bid: start at reserve price and
raise till a winner is left (art, antiques)
• Dutch, or descending-bid: start high and cut till
somebody bids (flowers)
• First-price sealed-bid auction: one bid per bidder
(government contracts)
• Second-price sealed-bid auction, or Vickrey
auction: highest bidder wins and pays secondhighest bid (postage stamps)
• All-pay auction: everyone pays at every round
until one remaining bidder gets the goods (war,
litigation, winner-takes-all market race)
Strategic equivalence
• A Dutch auction and a first-price sealed-bid
auction give the same result: the highest bidder
gets the goods at his reservation price
• They are ‘strategically equivalent’
• Ditto the English auction and the second-price
sealed-bid auction (modulo the bid increment)
• But the two pairs are not strategically equivalent!
– in a second-price auction it’s best to bid truthfully
– in a Dutch / first-price auction, you should bid low if
you think your valuation is much higher than
everybody else’s
Revenue equivalence
• This is weaker – not ‘who will win’ but ‘how much
money on average’
• According to the revenue equivalence theorem,
you get the same revenue from any well-behaved
auction under ideal conditions
• These include risk-neutral bidders, no collusion,
Pareto efficiency (highest value bidder gets
goods), reserve price, independent valuations, …
• Then the English, Dutch and all-pay auction yield
the same, as bidders adjust their strategies
• So auction design must focus on departures from
the ideal conditions
What goes wrong (1)
• In a ‘private-value auction’, each bidder’s value vi
is exogenous (think: sculpture). In a second-price
auction, everything you buy is a bargain
• In a ‘public-value auction’, each item has a true
price which bidders estimate at v + I (think
mineral leases; spectrum auctions). The buyer is
the sucker who overestimated the most!
• This is called ‘the winner’s curse’
• Many real auctions somewhere between these two
What goes wrong (2)
• Bidding rings – bidders collude to buy low, have a
private auction later, split the proceeds
• First-price auctions are harder to rig; with secondprice, New Zealand bids of $7m and $5000
• Entry detection / deterrence: in 1991, ITV
franchise auction required bidders to draw up a
detailed programming plan. In Midlands & Central
Scotland, no competition; bids under 1p per head
(vs £9–16 elsewhere)
• Predation: ‘we’ll top any other bid’ in takeovers
• Sniping and other boundary effects
What goes wrong (3)
• Risk aversion: if you prefer a certain profit of £1 to
a 50% chance of £2, you’ll bid higher at a firstprice auction
• Signalling games: show aggression by a large price
• Simultaneous auctions, as in USA “we want SF,
LA, SD and if you compete with us there we’ll
push prices up in your patch”)
• Budget constraints: if bidders are cash-limited, allpay auctions are more profitable
• Externalities between bidders – e.g. arms sales
Combinatorial auctions
• Externalities lead to preferences for particular
bundles of goods: landing slots at airports,
spectrum, mineral rights…
• Bid ($x for A+B+C) or ($y for A+D+E) or…
• Critical app for CS: routing in presence of
congestion (bid for AB and BC, or AD and DC…)
• The allocation problem is NP-complete; practical
algorithms work up to a few thousand objects
• Also: how can we make the auction strategy-proof
(i.e. truth-telling is the best strategy)?
• New field of ‘algorithmic mechanism design’
Introduction to Law
• Two lectures
• This lecture:
– how can you end up being liable for things you
do online (contract vs tort)
– how do you make the agreements you want to,
and enforce them
– when you need advice, and the context in which
to understand it
• Next (Richard Clayton): IT-specific laws
What is law?
• We can’t get all we want by private action
because of externalities etc
• Politics: “a structure within which persons
seek to secure collectively their own
privately defined objectives that cannot be
efficiently secured through simple market
exchanges” (Buchanan)
• The main mechanism is law
What is law (2)?
• Many origins and flavours (state vs religion,
common vs Roman vs Napoleon … ) but
two main divisions: criminal and civil
• Criminal: Alice harms Bob seriously, so the
state prosecutes Alice
• Civil: Alice harms Bob, or breaks a contract
with Bob, so Bob sues Alice
• Significant overlap
Criminal law
• In general a crime requires
– A guilty act (actus reus)
– A guilty mind (mens rea) – so legal advice or
going to the ethics committee may shield you!
But some offences are ‘strict liability’
• Prosecution must prove the case beyond
reasonable doubt
• CPS guidelines may also matter (e.g.
‘hacking tools’)
Civil law
• Contract – making the agreements you want
• Tort – avoiding infringement of the rights of
others, and giving adequate notice to others
of your rights that you may want to enforce
• Regulation – specific things you need to do
to enforce your rights or avoid penalties
• International – choice of law and venue
• Arbitration, costs etc
• A contract consists of offer and acceptance
by competent persons for a lawful purpose
involving consideration
• Can be made in writing, orally, by conduct
• We make dozens of informal contracts
every day; but an online business will
usually want to formalise its standard terms
and conditions (you may want advice here!)
Contract (2)
• When a shop offers goods in the window
this isn’t the offer but an ‘invitation to
treat’. The customer makes the offer for the
good and the shopkeeper accepts
• When offering goods online it’s wise to
make this clear, in case you run out of stock
• Linking clearly to terms and conditions is in
general enough (as with a railway ticket)
Contract (3)
• Many national laws require some contracts
to be in writing (real estate; insurance;
guarantees; in the USA, goods over $500)
• Many jurisdictions have electronic signature
laws; in general electronic writing is fine as
the essence of signature is intent
• The US ESIGN Act of 2000 made
clickwrap licenses explicitly enforceable
• Sale of Goods Act 1979 implies terms that
the goods are satisfactory and fit for
purpose, and you have title, if you sell to
consumers in the course of a business
• If goods unsatisfactory you have to repair or
replace them within a reasonable time
• Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982:
must also provide services to a proper
standard of workmanship
• Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 – subjects
liability disclaimers to reasonableness test
• Like it or not, the manufacturer guarantees
all goods “of a type ordinarily supplied for
private use or consumption”
• Also can’t exclude liability for negligence
causing death or injury
• Applies where one party uses standard
terms or the other is a consumer
Limits (2)
• The EU Product Liability Directive (1985)
stops you excluding liability for defects that
cause death or injury, or loss to consumers
• UK implementation: Consumer Protection
Act 1987. Software not explicitly included
but embedded software goes to overall
product safety
• Also: privity of contract (more later)
• It can be tiresome for a firm in England to
be sued by a customer in Australia
• Make clear whose law is to apply, and
separately where cases should be heard
• Enforcement of foreign judgments is not
straightforward (the USA is almost rogue)
• One fix is to specify arbitration of disputes
• A contract can specify binding dispute
resolution by an arbitrator
• It can also specify applicable law and set
other parameters such as limits on costs
• The Convention on the Recognition and
Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards
makes awards enforceable everywhere,
even in the USA
• US system – each side pays its own costs.
Can be expensive for some firms
• UK system – loser generally pays the
winner’s costs. May make it uneconomic
for most customers to sue you, but a dispute
with a rich one can be ruinous
• UK system also bad for consumer
protection, and for free speech (later)
• Tort is the second main way you can
become liable online, after contract
• A tort (in Scotland a delict) is a wrong
which unfairly causes someone else to
suffer loss or harm
• Examples are negligence (whether in
product liability or in giving advice),
defamation and copyright infringement
• Arises if you break the duty of care owed by
a reasonable person and cause harm directly
• Usual yardstick is the standard of the
industry. Some exceptions
• Liability very tied up with insurance rules;
e.g. car crashes, medical malpractice
• NB: if your software harms a non-customer,
you didn’t disclaim liability to her as she
didn’t sign a contract with you
• Libel (if spoken, slander) is a tort, and the
UK is a popular venue for forum shoppers
• Direct defamation; innuendo; linking
• Burden of proof on defendant in UK
• Also the UK system of costs shifting – loser
pays winner’s costs
• Current attempts at reform led by Simon
Singh, which seem to be in trouble
• Mechanism to tackle the underprovision of R&D
from externality in research
• Protects an invention which must be
– Novel (“prior art” disallows)
– Useful (no perpetual motion machines)
– Non-obvious (to “someone skilled in the art”)
• Typical duration – 20 years
• Traditionally only physical inventions; can’t
protect ‘the theories above, or the facts beneath’
• However USPTO in particular has really stretched
the boundaries, to business methods, genes, …
Patent overstretch
• E.g. long fight by ACLU to overturn patents by
Myriad on human genome
• US 5,747,282 (1998) includes any 15-nucleotide
sequence appearing in BRCA1 breast cancer gene
– that’s 1.6m sequences of 1.06bn possible.
• Every human gene contains on average 15 such
• Most lab directors had decided not to develop a
test / perform a service because of a patent
• See “I patent your ass. And your leg. And your
nostril”, Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’ blog, April
2 2010
• Marks capable of distinguishing your goods or
services from others (e.g. ‘IBM’)
• May be registered () or not (™) – registering can
make litigation easier
• Registered trademark owners usually win domain
name disputes
• Can sue infringers, but have to show a
misrepresentation that damages your business
• Pitfalls – some companies are very aggressive
about registration and enforcement (McDonalds)
• Since Statute of Anne (1709–10), copyright has
protected literary works – extending from novels
and drama to art, music, and software
• No need to register – but asserting copyright (“
RJ Anderson 2013”) can make litigation easier
• Duration – has steadily increased over recent
years and is now author’s lifetime + 70 years
(only 50 years for sound recording rights)
• Protects against copying, adaptation etc; “fair use”
and “fair dealing” get-outs for criticism, parody…
• Moral rights remain with author even if copyright
Other ‘IPRs’
• Specialist rights
Database rights (EU only)
US Semiconductor Chip Protection Act
Plant breeder’s rights
Design rights
• Rights based on contract
– Materials transfer agreements
– Confidential information
• Limits – e.g. an employer can’t restrict knowledge
that’s become part of the ‘tools of your trade’
• Primary protection is copyright
• Software patents in theory not allowed in Europe:
EPC Art 52 “The following shall not be regarded
as inventions … rules and methods for performing
mental acts, playing games or doing business, and
programs for computers”
• Don’t you believe it! (See Richard Stallman’s talks
here on Mar 25 2002, Apr 30 2008)
• So far only four CS patents earned serious money
• In general, innovation in CS is highly incremental:
a large program can use thousands of ideas, while a
blockbuster drug is a single patentable molecule
• Copyright owners panicked at printing,
audiocassette, videocassette … and now the
• Huge push to introduce DRM over last ten years
• Not clear that file sharing harms sales
• DRM seems to benefit platform vendors more
• Yet the legal bandwagon continues from DMCA to
ACTA to Digital Economy Bill…
• Lexmark v SCC, compared with IPRED
• ‘Trusted Computing’ and lock-in
• Further reading: Richard Stallman, Pam
Samuelson, Suzanne Scotchmer, ORG, EDRI…
• ‘IPR’ often a combination (biochip h/w patent +
software copyright + MTA on reagents …)
• IT industry strategy: patent portfolios mostly
defensive, used to get access by cross-licensing
• Compound models, e.g. GPL the linux version, sell
the Windows version, charge for support…
• Startups: VCs like to see some IP (mantra is
‘global sustainable competitive advantage’)
• The real game is how you lock customers in
• Biggest winnings historically went to those who
control platforms and interfaces
Internet and social policy
• Example: Todd Kendall, “Pornography, rape and
the Internet” (2007)
– Internet uptake went at different speeds in different US
– What crimes were correlated?
– Rape and prostitution went down, while ‘runaways’
went up
– The first two had significance concentrated among 1524yo males
• For more examples of this, see “Freakonomics”
• In our field, laws are often ten years behind, and
even then often don’t fit reality very well
• Practical ethics: in what circumstances should we
restrain our actions more than the law requires?
• Analogy: medical ethics (used to) require doctors
to observe stricter confidentiality than either the
law of confidence or data protection law required
• The philosophy of ethics asks “What are true
moral values?” and “Why?”
Philosophies of ethics
• Authority theories mostly derive from religion.
But God usually talks via scriptures or a
priesthood; so how do you resolve disputes?
• Intuitionist theories say we can tell what’s good
and bad, like we can tell something is green. But
again, our intuitions can differ, and how do you
resolve disputes?
• Egoist theories say we act rationally in our own
self-interest. Same problem with disputes though
Philosophies of ethics (2)
• Deontological theories (theories of duty):
• Natural-rights: we mustn’t interfere with basic rights of
others such as assembly and free speech, or we won’t
reach social accord
• Kantian: act only on maxims that you’d like to be
universal (i.e. treat others as you’d have them treat you)
• Consequentialist theories include utilitarian
(maximise W = ∑Ui) and Rawlsian (maximise W
= min Ui ). Problems: bounded rationality; social
Current debates include:
• Evolutionary psychology (monkeys do tit-for-tat;
Machiavellian brain hypothesis …)
• Neuroethics (from moral development of children
to consciousness as an epiphenomenon …)
• Many policy aspects of socio-technical systems
(privacy, IP, surveillance, censorship …)
• Technology is making many subtle changes to
status, money and power. What concepts do we
need to navigate?
Live policy debates
• Privacy
– Economic analysis alone is insufficient as
privacy is very context dependent. Data
protection regulation currently being debated
• Freedom of Information
– Like privacy laws, FOI laws push back on the
‘natural’ flow of data from the weak to the
Live policy debates
• Censorship
– All countries have some (e.g. child porn). But
then along come Hollywood, libel lawyers…
• Surveillance
– See the Queen’s speech …
• Export control
– Is it ethical for GCHQ to allow DPI equipment
exports to Iran / Syria? Should we complain?
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