Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Patent Trolling: Just Another Form of Capitalism

The dawn of the information age has ushered in a new form of value in intellectual property. Patents are based upon the innovative character of new kinds of tools, business models and processes with economic value. And like all economic functions, the patent occurs in, and helps to propagate, a specific social relationship of value.

Enter the "patent troll:" an irreverent term referring to those who deal in the purchase and defense of patent rights. Patent trolls purchase troves of patents, then litigate to turn a profit on their purchase. Sometimes, the patent merchants get a cut of the proceeds from litigation executed by their customers. All this is justified as defense of intellectual property and encouragement of innovation. But this is actually a simple form of capitalism.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Profit or Society?

I want to talk about the profit motive, because despite being the cornerstone of capitalism it is highly misunderstood. All sorts of proclamations about the profit motive's success as a social and economic model are published in the media daily. Other causes for social and economic conditions are often avoided, and where profit has a clear negative bias, it is generally de-emphasized.

The profit motive is a simple form of the incentive model. Incentives are conditions in a system which reward or punish different kinds of behavior. Profits refer to one subset of incentives: those which resolve in positive or negative changes to net worth. Needless to say, human incentives are more complicated than this, and strictly for-profit business models still need to account for more different changes which may not be clearly linked to positive or negative account balances. But the capitalist system tends toward this model of profit, and incentives processes are typically explained in this way as well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Job Creator's Tragedy

It's tough being a job creator these days. High taxes make it virtually impossible to hire more workers and an atmosphere of uncertainty is discouraging more investment in capital. Nobody would propose raising taxes on job creators under these conditions, right?

George Washington oversees the "car in the ditch" economy on Wall St / September 16th, 1920
That's the setting for the latest tragedy, that is. The job creator, ever heroic and noble, is accosted at all sides in his attempt to get the economy back on track. He confronts the Hydra of government and the armies of ignorance in his uncompromising quest to get the economy back on track. And this truly is a tragedy - our hero could perhaps be known as Supervacuo, and his tragic weakness - the fact that the job creator has absolutely no interest in creating jobs.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Alex Tabarrok Doesn't Get It: Why Civil Society is a Victim of Capitalism and Statism

Why don't Americans think that they use government services?

In citing Yglesias, Bartlett and Rampell, Alex Tabarrok attempts a moralization about coercion - without seeing that his attack on the government is no different than an attack on capitalism. See the following:
"What Rampell et al. implicitly imagine is that the natural state is slavery and any departure from that state a government benefit. Thus, if the government taxes your saving for a college education less than your other savings, you should be grateful for how government has benefited you and your children.
And if the government doesn’t jail you today, you should be grateful for how government has granted you the benefit of liberty.
This is the attitude of a serf not an American."
Some of these are forgivable - I enjoy the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, for instance, but I don't think of it as a social program, or rather, I wouldn't have thought to include that if I were asked the question. But by the time you get to Social Security, Unemployment and Medicare, it is shocking that people don't consider them government programs. At face value, one can only speculate that the preeminent narrative - that Tabarrok reinforces here - is successful in claiming that the market can solve problems where the state has been the only actor - since its usually unprofitable to provide services to those who cannot pay out of pocket for them. Implicitly, Tabarrok is creating a distinction between government and market forces - the latter as civil society - in an attempt to make the ignorance of government-mediation (and I use this term purely for his own benefit) of economic functions a "virtue" of our "lack of deference" to the government. But capitalism is just as prevalent in these structures, perhaps just as misrepresented, and certainly worse for civil society in creating disproportionate power relations.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Measuring Marxism: The Democratic Ideal

This post is part of a series attempting to quantify Marx's theory of socialism.

The preeminent question in Marxism is the creation of socialism: this is roughly reflected in the democratization of the means of production. Democracy and productive, Marxist-style socialism are not the same, though.

What distinguishes Marxian socialism is its ability to birth a new society founded on different relations of production. These relations center on the "socially aware" human being, which is forced into existence by the extreme economies of capital accumulation which are decreasingly able to hide the underlying relations of production from the exploited populations.

Indeed, this kind of society is predicated on a rather basic understanding of democratic principles. It stems from the recognition of accumulated economic power, the treatment of those powers as utilities (see Yves Smith: Why Do We Keep Indulging the Fiction that Banks are Private Enterprises?) and the application of the democratic ideal of equal representation in that model.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Thoughts on Positive and Negative Liberty (Pt 1)

The positive/negative liberty dichotomy always bothered me. Not so much because it is necessarily wrong (though it is, as I'll explain), but because Isaiah Berlin and the propertarian (free-market) conceptualization has been the primary narrative on the subject. This is not to say that I dislike Berlin per se, or that he is undeserving of his acclaim. But this does speak to the imminent need for the ruling narrative to fit into the vision of the ruling class.

Indeed, Berlin starts his essay, Two Concepts of Liberty, by blasting so called "fanatically held social and political doctrines" reflected in the works of Marx/Engels as "dangerous ideas." To Berlin, this speaks to the supreme importance of ideas in shaping our world. Yet for all of his inquiry, the materialist conception of history is lost on Berlin. He claims without irony that "political theory is a branch of moral philosophy," perhaps ignoring just how many transfers of wealth and power occur as a result of the material conditions of society rather than abstractions like "morality" - abstractions that have their own place, but not as the foundation of rational inquiry into the movements of society. With Marx, the moral foundation is absolutely critical - but only in guidance.