What do paper, printing with movable type, gunpowder and the compass have in common? The answer is that they were Chinese inventions. Without them, the European advances from the 15th century onwards would have been far harder, if not impossible.

This story illustrates why we should want productive knowledge to flow across the world. Knowledge also “wants to be free” because unlike a commodity, my use of your idea does not prevent you, or anybody else, from using it. In the jargon, knowledge is “non-rival” in consumption, which gives it the character of a “public good”...

BL Premium

This article is reserved for our subscribers.

A subscription helps you enjoy the best of our business content every day along with benefits such as exclusive Financial Times articles, ProfileData financial data, and digital access to the Sunday Times and Sunday Times Daily.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@businesslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00. Got a subscription voucher? Redeem it now