Here’s a test of basic economic literacy: What is the socially optimal price of online access to economics journal articles?
If my students learn only one thing, it’s this: Price equals marginal cost. And the marginal cost of accessing a journal article is pretty much zero. The research has been written, the type has been set, and the salaries have already been paid — usually thanks to a university, think tank, or government grant. So the socially optimal price is: free. Every time we charge a price higher than this, we risk pricing out someone who might benefit from the insights of an academic scribbler.
The Brookings Papers on Economic Activity – the journal that David Romer and I edit — has decided to take this piece of economic wisdom seriously. The Brookings Papers are now entirely open access. Yep, we’re charging zero; nada; nothing; zip.
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