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The spam solution

You want to get inside my e-mail inbox? Then pay me

By Jonathan Rauch   September 2003

Like many people, I have passed a threshold in the last year or so. Spam has gone from one of life’s little nuisances to a threat to the usefulness of e-mail. Technologically, no quick fix is in sight. But it is helpful to think about what sort of fix we should be hunting for. The answer, I think, is this: I should have property rights to my e-mail inbox, and I should be able to charge you for admission.

The spam problem is a new instance of a very old dilemma: what economists call the tragedy of the commons. When…

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