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Posts Tagged ‘law and technology’

Access to Science

Posted by Lea on July 6, 2009

I’m currently working on an article on the right to science and culture, which seeks to shine light on an almost-forgotten provision of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. To shed light on what framers of the 1948 document were thinking, I’m reading up on the history of access to technology in the 1930s and 40s. It’s fascinating stuff.

One of the stories I’m intrigued by is the democratization of electricity during the New Deal. All of the scientific discoveries necessary to make home lighting work were in place by the 1880s. Yet almost half a century later, very few American households had it.

Diego Rivera, "Man at the Crossroads" (1934)

Diego Rivera, "Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future" (1934)

It was just too expensive. And the story of why it was expensive has everything to do with monopolies. Edison’s patents were aggressively litigated, so there was no competition in the lightbulb market. And since there was generally only one (private) utility company per city, there was no incentive to bring down costs.

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