The Edge published an interview with Tim O’Reilly where he explains:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a piece I read in Stuart Brand’s, CoEvolution Quarterly back in 1975. It’s called the “Clothesline Paradox.” The author, Steve Baer, was talking about alternative energy. The thesis is simple: You put your clothes in the dryer, and the energy you use gets measured and counted. You hang your clothes on the clothesline, and it “disappears” from the economy. It struck me that there are a lot of things that we’re dealing with on the Internet that are subject to the Clothesline Paradox. Value is created, but it’s not measured and counted. It’s captured somewhere else in the economy.[…] Our economics tends to measure value capture. If we’re going to get 21st century economic policy right, or even just correctly model what’s working and why, we have to start moving to a model that measures value creation rather than value capture.
O’Reilly explains this as it relates to Open Source software, YouTube, and PubMed. It seems particularly relevant, useful, and productive to think about in connection with so much of academic work, which has major and positive effects for all aspects of life, culture, and science, and which is so often made invisible and not counted or not accounted for despite the incredible value it creates. The clothesline paradox is very useful in thinking about how to better represent and account for the value of academic work.