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Bipartisan bill has most of what reformers want — and a real chance of passing.
This 2013 excerpt of ArsTechnica of Oct is by Joe Mullin.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), has introduced a bill [PDF] that directly attacks the business model of “patent trolls.” The bill has a real chance at passing, with wide backing from leadership in both parties.
The proposal integrates most of the ideas from earlier patent reform bills introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John Cornyn (R-TX), as well as the SHIELD Act introduced by Reps. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). DeFazio and Chaffetz are co-sponsors, along with several other House members.
Lawyers from three groups that are deeply concerned about patent trolling had universal praise for the bill in a press call earlier today. (Those groups are the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Public Knowledge.) It’s not perfect, but if passed, it’s a giant step forward that couldn’t have been foreseen even a year ago.
The bill would require patent holders to lay out details about their infringement case early in a lawsuit, and would require the loser of a patent suit to pay legal fees unless they could show that the case was “substantially justified.” It would expand a program to allow for the review of “business method” patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office, a key request by CCIA that has not been without controversy. And the bill would also allow customers or end users of a technology to stay a lawsuit while the patent holder and the manufacturer battle it out. That would prevent patent trolls from pulling moves like one last month, where a judge let Lodsys dodge Apple’s lawyers — while it continues to threaten iOS developers.
Still, it’s not a panacea. One thing reformers would like to see is some kind of defense against trolls that avoid filing actual lawsuits, instead sending out hundreds of demand letters to small or medium-sized businesses. But there’s a lot to work with.
This bill wouldn’t end patent trolling, but it could greatly increase the risks and costs to trolls. One type of troll that won’t easily be killed off is the kind that goes after dozens of smaller businesses. It will remain prohibitively expensive for many businesses to spend the $1 million or more it can cost to see out a patent lawsuit. Taking a case through trial often costs more than $2 million.
But opposition to some portions of the bill is already materializing. The Innovation Alliance, a group that includes heavy patent licensers like Dolby Labs, Qualcomm, Tessera, and InterDigital, has put out a statement opposing the bill, although it’s not opposed to every part.
This 2013 excerpt from Simulacrum of July 10 is by Lui
A Basic Income is when every single adult member receives a weekly payment from the state, which is enough to live comfortably on. You get it income whether or not you’re employed, any wages you earn are additional. No means testing, no signing on, no bullying young people into stacking shelves for free, no separate state pension.
People work for jobs that are available in order to increase their disposable income.
This may sound off-the-charts radical, but here’s why you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it:
1 – The Middle Classes Are In Freefall
2 – Demand For Human Labour Is In Long Term Decline
3 – Cultural Production Is Detaching From The Market
When people are locked out of the jobs market, some may sit at home all day on the couch, but many will go out into the world and produce cultural goods that they then give them away for free.
Employment doesn’t just give people an income, it also gives them an identity, status, confidence, a sense of mission, and a network of peers.
How would we pay for it? Tax people or businesses with money. Or just print money.
I previously wrote about justice for the native American Indian (www.progress.org/fold161.htm), and now I will examine sovereignty more specifically.
As stated in the Wikipedia article “Johnson v. M’Intosh,” Chief Justice John Marshall affirmed in this 1823 case the “discovery doctrine,” by which a European power gains radical title, i.e. sovereignty, to the land it “discovers”. This “discovering” power includes the legal right to extinguish the “right of occupancy” of the indigenous occupants. When the States declared independence from Great Britain, the United States government inherited the British legal right of preemption over Native American lands. Hence, the U.S. government had the sole legal right of negotiations and land transfers with the Native American nations.
As stated by Eric Kades in his article “History and Interpretation of the Great Case of Johnson v. M’Intosh” (2001, Law and History Review), “At the root of most land titles in America outside the original thirteen colonies sits a federal patent. The validity of government title, in turn, rests on … Johnson v. M’lntosh.” As stated by Kades, the Marshall ruling did not cite the U.S. Constitution, but rather appealed to custom. By prohibiting private sales by Indians, the case enabled the U.S. government, as the single buyer, to purchase Indian land at minimum financial cost. Kades cites president James Monroe as an example of the rationale use to take Indian lands: “[T]he hunter or savage state requires a greater extent of territory to sustain it, than is compatible with the progress and just claims of civilized life, and must yield to it … ”
U.S. Public Law 83-280, enacted in 1953, empowers the U.S. States to impose their jurisdictions onto reservation Indians, although the States do not have the full power they possess on their non-Indian territory, as declared by the case of McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Commission (1973), whereby the U.S. Supreme Court held that Arizona may not impose an income tax on Navaho Indians who live in their reservation and whose income is derived from reservation sources.
However, Public Law 280 authorized a transfer of federal law enforcement authority within some tribal nations to the state governments of California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, Wisconsin and Alaska. Other states may adopt jurisdictions over crimes in tribal lands if the Indian nations provide their consent. The 1978 Supreme Court case of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe ruled that tribal courts do not have jurisdiction over non-Indians.
There are thus multiple law-enforcement jurisdictions in some of the Indian reservations and pueblos, a mix of local, state, tribal, and federal authorities. Where Public Law 280 is not applied, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police respond to major crimes. But in practice, as described in the novel The Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich, many crimes such as rape are left unpunished due to a lack of jurisdiction over non-Indians by the tribal governments on tribal land, and due to the absence of prosecutions by the state and federal governments.
As stated by the Wikipedia article on “Tribal sovereignty in the United States,” the native American Indian nations have an inherent authority for self-governance as “domestic dependent nations.” However, this is only a partial sovereignty, as Congress has great authority for the Indian nations. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 stated that no Indian nation shall be recognized as an independent nation. As semi-sovereign nations under the U.S. Constitution and under Congress, the Indian nations do not owe allegiance to the U.S. States.
In 1887, the “Dawes Act” seized the lands of the Indian nations, including much of Oklahoma, and sold much of the territory to non-Indians. In 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act allowed the Indian nations to select constitutional documents that authorized the powers of tribal governance. Most Indian land is held in trust by the United States, and federal law and the Bureau of Indian Affairs limit the jurisdictions of tribal governments. As U.S. citizens, the native American tribal citizens are subject to U.S. laws, including taxation.
As described by the Wikipedia article “Indian termination policy,” the U.S. war on the native American Indians continued during the 1940s, as the U.S. government sought “Indian termination” to eradicate Indian culture and the remains of sovereignty. Congress passed termination acts on over 100 specific tribes. The federal land grabs were extended, as 2,500,000 acres of Indian trust land were taken off of protected status, and much of the land was transferred to non-Indians. Many Indian children were sent to boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their native Indian languages and forced to convert to Christianity. There was a high mortality rates in these boarding schools. Termination continued through the Kennedy administration, but was phased out under Johnson and Nixon. President Reagan repudiated the termination policy.
The legislation and court rulings that took both land and self-governance from the Native American Indians violate their natural rights as equal human beings. These also violate the U.S. Constitution as it recognizes these natural rights in its 9th Amendment. Justice requires the restoration of sovereignty for the native American Indians and their nations. Congress should repudiate and reverse the 1823 Johnson v. M’Intosh case, the 1953 Public Law 280, the Act of 1871, the Dawes act of 1887, the 1978 case, and the Indian termination policy, and declare that the Indian nations have sovereignty parallel to that of the U.S. states and the federal government, with no authority for foreign policy, but otherwise with full jurisdiction over domestic policy, including criminal law.
As author Frank Pommersheim has proposed in his article “Is There a (Little or Not So Little) Constitutional Crisis Developing in Indian Law?: a Brief Essay” (5 University of Pennsylvania Constitutional Law Review 271, 2002), the courts have ignored the U.S. Constitution in their rulings on American Indians, and so sovereignty for the American Indian nations requires a Constitutional amendment to cement their liberty and equality in place.
Tax breaks add up to about $1.3 trillion in backdoor spending every year.
This 2013 excerpt is from the Editorial Board, USAToday, July 22.
For the first time since 1986, key members of Congress are making a coordinated push to overhaul the nation’s disgracefully complex tax code.
As anyone who dreads April 15 knows, the code is a farce that wastes taxpayers’ time and money, caters to the influential lobbies, and corrupts Congress. In the quarter-century since the last reform, it has grown so complicated that it costs individuals and companies $160 billion each year to comply. That’s nearly double what the federal government spends annually on highways, bridges, airports and other transportation projects.
The Senate finance panel has opted for what it calls a “blank slate” approach. Senators Baucus and Hatch will introduce a bill that strips the tax code of many of the numerous breaks that make it so difficult to navigate and add up to about $1.3 trillion in backdoor spending every year. Supporters of breaks would have to pass amendments to add them back.
The special interests that benefit from tax breaks will, of course, fight like mad to preserve them. These include the big deductions that benefit real estate, medical care, and stock brokerage. They also include the narrower breaks for such things as ethanol, coal, and energy-efficient appliances.
By scaling back deductions for mortgage interest, health care premiums and other expenditures, the top federal rate could be reduced from 39.6% to 28%, and the deficit could be reduced by $80 billion over nine years.
The U.S. government has attacked an entrepreneur and his new product, as another episode of the federal government’s war on enterprise. In this case, the entrepreneur CEO is Craig Zucker, the company was Maxfield & Oberton, and the product was Buckyballs.
Buckyballs were small magnetic spheres made of neodymium, a rare-earth element that is a powerful magnet. As they stick together, the balls can be assembled into shapes such as pyramids. They were named “Buckyballs” after Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, inventor of the geodesic dome, and futurist visionary. His friends called him “Bucky,” and the neodymium spheres were somewhat like Bucky’s domes.
The company imported the balls from China and started selling them in 2009. They became a popular office toy. But the Buckyballs were banned in July 2012 by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is now seeking to prosecute Zucker for having sold the balls.
In 2012 the Commission also sent letter to retailers warning of the risks to consumers of using Buckyballs and asking them to stop selling them. That was effective in stopping the sales. The Commission stated that the balls were a hazard for young children who swallowed them.
The company had developed the Buckyballs in collaboration with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and after the action by the Commission, the firm provided it with a corrective-action plan. Buckyballs were sold with a warning against access by children, and they were not sold in toy stores. But the Commission pursued a lawsuit against the firm even before examining the corrective plan. As pointed out by the Wall Street Journal article (cited below) on that case, there are many potentially dangerous products being sold, such as cleaning chemicals, knives, and balloons. Buckyballs were intended and marketed for adults, and, according to the WSJ article, no deaths have been associated with the Buckyballs.
The Commission declared, as a justification for the ban, that Buckyballs have “low utility” and are unnecessary, despite purchases by 2.5 million adults who spent $30 each. The principle established by the Commission is that government determines which products are desirable, not consumers. Any product could be banned by the standards of the Commission.
The company then engaged in a publicity campaign regarding the actions by the Commission. In the end, the government was too powerful to resist, and the company was terminated in December 2012. However, in February 2013, the Commission charged Zucker as being personally liable for the costs of a recall costing $57 million if the Buckyballs are judged to be defective.
The federal government has by this action abolished limited personal liability under U.S. law for corporations as well as partnerships. From now on, the executives of a firm will be vulnerable for the liabilities of the firms. Any entrepreneur will now risk losing all that he owns if he engages in the production or distribution of any product. The effect of this government action is to strangle American entrepreneurship.
In the case of United States v. Park in 1975, the Supreme Court ruled that the CEO of a food company was criminally liable for a rodent infestation. This ruling was based on the federal Food and Drug Act. But another case, Meyer v. Holley in 2003 ruled that ordinary liability applies unless there is a clear Congressional intent to hold corporate officers personally liable. The relevant law in the Buckyballs case is Section 15 of the Consumer Product Safety Act, which regulates corporate persons, not individual persons.
The WSJ article says that since Zucker did not commit any criminal violation, the Commission’s continuing prosecution of Zucker “raises the question of retaliation for his public campaign against the commission.” If the Commission achieves its goal, personal-injury lawyers will take advantage of personal liability to go after CEOs and other company personae.
This action by Congress, the Courts, and the Commission has to be seen in the perspective of a broad war by government on private enterprise and consumer choice, using taxes, restrictions, mandates, and prosecutions, ultimately resulting in an economy that is nominally private but substantially controlled by governmental chiefs. The name for that system is “fascism.”
Reference: Sohrab Ahmari, “What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds,” Wall Street Journal, August 31-September 1, 2013, p. A11.
This 2013 excerpt is from Forbes of July 20 by Tim Worstall, Contributor and global expert on the metal scandium, one of the rare earths. He also ghosted pieces for several UK politicians.
Art Laffer proposed that the US should be collecting sales tax on online sales properly and then using that cash income to reduce personal income tax rates.
A lot of conservatives seem to love this idea and why not. Sales taxes tend to be regressive while income taxes tend to be progressive.
Yet different taxes have different deadweight costs. That is, the way we tax can increase or reduce the amount of economic activity we lose as a result of raising the same amount of revenue. There’s actually a spectrum there, from lowest loss to highest. That lowest loss is actually positive, repeated taxation upon real property. Or as we generally call the idea, land value taxation. This improves the efficiency with which we use land and thus increases overall wealth.
Given these variable deadweight costs we’d really rather like, on efficiency grounds, to raise as much money as we can from those with the lowest costs and the least that we have to from those with higher costs. We should make the tax system more efficient, less costly, by moving from taxation with higher deadweight costs to taxation with lower. Move from a taxation system with high deadweight costs to one with low and there will indeed be more economic activity for the same revenue raised.
Where I would criticise Laffer is that he’s being too timid. Given the analysis above I would say that we should eliminate all capital and corporate taxation entirely and move to getting as much of our taxation from land values as possible.
There is a new economics documentary film that stars Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and now a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. The film, Inequality for All, directed by Jacob Kornbluth, won a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award and has been shown nation-wide.
Unfortunately, Robert Reich has not explained why the US has had an increasing inequality of income. Neither in the film nor in his writings and interviews does he examine the cause. Without the elimination of the cause, there can be no remedy. As usual in documentaries of social problems, most of the film just describes and tells stories about the inequality.
Inequality for All is typical of welfare-state presentations in jumping to governmental responses that only treat the symptoms and effects. Reich advocates a higher minimum wage without any analysis what determines wages in a market economy.
Most basically, in a free market, ordinary workers are paid what economists call the “marginal product,” or what an extra worker contributes to output. If a worker adds $10 each hour to total output, then that is what he is paid, and that is what he is worth to the company. If the company pays him any less, say $8, that provides an opportunity for a similar company to offer $9 and get the $10 worth of output, so competition will drive the wage up to the worker’s contribution, his marginal product.
A minimum wage forces the firm to pay more than the worker’s marginal product. The firm will not hire a worker who costs more than he is worth. The reason that workers are not all dismissed is the law of diminishing returns. In a farm or factory, if there are only a few workers, each worker’s marginal product is high, because there is a lot of land and machines, and few workers. As workers are added, each extra worker contributes less extra output. Workers are hired up to the quantity for which the wage equals the marginal product.
The minimum wage acts like a tax on labor that forces the firm to reduce the number of workers employed to that level where the higher marginal product equals the required wage. In some cases, the firm will also respond by reducing benefits such as medical insurance or by hiring part-time instead of full-time labor.
Many firms in competitive industries respond to the higher minimum wage as they would to a higher tax. They pass on some of the costs to the customers. The higher price reduces sales, production, employment, and income.
The minimum wage is lethal to the economy as it acts as an extra tax on employment on top of payroll taxes, unemployment taxes, workers insurance taxes, and the income tax on the profits of the firm. All these taxes reduce employment and reduce the take-home pay of the worker.
Henry George stated in his 1883 book Social Problems that “There is in nature no reason for poverty.” Poverty is caused not by any lack of natural resources but by human institutions that deprive workers of the ability to buy what they produce. The institution with the power to impose this intervention is government. The totality of restrictions, mandates, taxes, and subsidies reduces enterprise and takes away much of the product of labor. Then impoverished workers need the welfare state to provide the necessities of life.
The ideology of welfare statists makes them only think of governmental aid and reject the idea that governmental intervention is the source of the problem. They sneer at “free market fundamentalism.” They don’t understand the fact that taxes on labor redistribute wealth from workers to landowners as government taxes wages to pay for public goods that generate higher rent and land value. They don’t understand that the worker-tenant pays twice for the public goods of government, once by having half his wage taxed away, and a second time in the higher housing rental he pays because greater governmental services increase locational rents.
The effective remedy for poverty is to remove all punitive taxes and land-value subsidies. We can remove subsidies to the landed interests by having them pay back the rent generated by useful public goods such as roads, schools, and security. Without taxes on labor and enterprise, the cost of labor is lower to employers, while the worker’s take-home pay is higher. The replacement of wage taxes with land value taxes would reduce economic inequality while also increasing the productivity of the economy.
Of course the elimination of poverty also has to include better education, and that can be accomplished with vouchers, payments not to schools but to parents. A voucher is a ticket that a parent could use to send his children to the best schools. It provides an incentive for educators to produce better schools. It is not a panacea, because the home and neighborhood environment are also important, but it would shift the incentives towards better schooling.
It is not only unfortunate but astonishing that a leading professor of public policy who cares about the poor would not make the prosperity tax shift, replacing wage taxes with land value taxes, the core of his policy proposal. I suspect his response would be that while this is a good idea, it is politically unfeasible, while raising the minimum wage has political support. But the reason it is politically unfeasible today is precisely that leading reformers such as Robert Reich refuse to bring the effective remedy to public attention in the ultimately futile effort to advocate policies with the least current political resistance.
Much of the gains from economic growth and welfare get captured by higher rent and land value. Raising the minimum wage is futile because if all workers get a substantially higher minimum wage, their landlords will be able to raise their housing rentals by the amount of their greater ability to pay, and the landed interests will end up with the gains. Why do you think that housing costs have been escalating while wages stagnate?
This 2013 excerpt of August 28 is by Luke Hiken, an attorney who has engaged in the practice of criminal, military, immigration, and appellate law.
In 1935, Sinclair Lewis wrote a satirical novel entitled “It Can’t Happen Here.” In the book, a democratically elected President transforms the country into a totalitarian, ruthless regime, relying upon patriotic rhetoric and fear to dominate and control a docile populace.
Just as Lewis predicted it would, it has happened here:
1) Those who identify and expose government misconduct are labeled as traitors and criminals.
2) The bankers and corporations who gambled with the money entrusted to them get off Scot free for the theft of untold trillions of dollars, while the world’s people are forced into conditions of austerity and economic survival. The poor are prosecuted for trying to survive, while the rich are immunized from any negative consequences for their crimes.
3) The U.S. government spies on its entire population, and arrogantly insists upon the right to do so.
4) The U.S., and its overseas puppet, NATO, wage war upon every nation that opposes U.S. economic hegemony over the world. The presence of hundreds of U.S. military bases on every continent bolsters U.S. control over the world’s people.
5) Result-oriented judges, appointed by obedient politicians, immunize transnational corporations and military aggressors for every abuse inflicted upon the working and poor people of the world.
6) Health care, education, and retirement security are reserved solely for the rich, while the poor, minorities, and elderly are left to die and suffer in poverty.
7) The so-called “political parties” are merely servants and handmaidens to transnational corporations, serving their economic masters at the expense of everyone else.
8) The mass media mouths the corporate propaganda of the moment obediently and without question.
9) Prisons, violence and war are the primary vehicles used by the State to control an ever more rebellious and dissatisfied population.
10) Civil rights, voting rights, and personal freedoms are viewed as privileges reserved for the rich.
11) Dissent equals treason, and those who oppose authoritarian rule are labeled enemies of the state.
Saluting the flag, honoring our mercenaries, and glorifying the rich, are nothing short of collective suicide. The corporate military coup has already happened here, and the true patriotic response is to recognize it and overthrow it.
In spite of the reality facing us every day, Americans still believe that the problem lies not with our form of government, but with the people we “elect.” That level of naiveté deserves the beating it is taking.
The American people themselves would honor and applaud the Bradley Mannings and Eric Snowdens of the world, if this government did not manipulate and monitor the propaganda campaigns against them.
There are no forms of government that cannot be twisted to serve the interests of the few against the needs of the many.
Sinclair’s predictions parallel those of all great writers from Socrates to Marx, to the effect that totalitarian regimes sow the seeds of their own destruction.
Totally disparate circumstances have produced some of the most democratic struggles in history: the student movements of the 60’s; the civil rights movement; the anti-apartheid struggles throughout Africa; and, Chinese peasant movements, both before and after Mao Tse-Tung. The list of how and why democracy prevails is as long as the history of social uprisings, themselves.
Making the economy serve us is a solution that we can no longer delay.
This 2013 excerpt is for September 13 by Peter Smith.
Computer programmes are getting better and better at carrying out tasks traditionally performed by white collar workers, including within schools and universities, law firms, media outlets and hospitals. This trend is set to continue with automation ultimately leading to the destruction of countless previously secure jobs throughout the economy.
Some pundit’s advice is to develop the high tech skills needed to ensure one stays on the right side of the dividing line between benefactors and victims of technological progress. Singapore’s prosperous innovative economy is built on a foundation of high quality education in mathematics, science and technology.
Realistically though, how many of us will be able to retrain in the way advocated and earn a decent living in this new economy? Surely we won’t all be able to be employed building robots for each other. At best this remedy only offers safety to a relatively small proportion of the workforce.
Are people supposed to serve the economy, or is the economy supposed to serve the people?
Buckminster Fuller once quipped, “It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
“Jobs” divert our attention from our true economic problems: unused land, wasted capital, huge fat gobs of monopoly privilege, and tax burdens that hinder enterprise. When the resources that workers need to make a living are kept from them by monopolists, then “a job” becomes the best they can hope for. The extent to which we focus on “jobs” is a good barometer of how unjust and wasteful our economy truly is.
Let’s value all people and ensure everyone benefits from the wealth we have all had a hand in delivering – an economy centred on the principle of Earth Sharing.
This 2013 excerpt is for February 22 by Luke Hiken, an attorney who has engaged in the practice of criminal, military, immigration, and appellate law.
Obama needed a billion dollars to win re-election. Who would believe that he got it from poor people? He has supported virtually every war; every policy that Wall Street demands; and every repressive piece of legislation that the Republicans want. He would allow fracking directly underneath the White House, if an oil company magnate instructed him to do so.
Neither party proposes tax reforms that would shift wealth from the 1% to the masses. Neither party proposes to end our imperialist assaults throughout the world. Neither seeks meaningful change to our imprisonment of ¼ of the convicts on the face of the planet. Neither seeks to prevent the complete destruction of the environment, which is progressing at breakneck speed.
We all belong to groups that espouse the issues of our choice: immigration reform; labor unions, environmental protection, abortion rights, gun control, affordable health care, educational opportunities, gay marriage, co-ops, etc. The lists seem endless. Nonetheless, until the advocates of these various issues/struggles unite around a politics that support ALL of them, they are kidding themselves.
Winning the struggle for same-sex marriage is a hollow victory if the earth around us has become unsustainable and toxic.
I certainly don’t want to throw water on other people’s pleasures: some like sports, some like co-ops, some like unions, or immigration struggles, or anti-prison work, etc. When people work on those issues, it’s great that they are enjoying themselves, and seeking change.
To the extent that people see anti-capitalist work as supporting authoritarian, un-democratic bureaucracies, we’ve lost the fight.
Active opposition to rapacious capitalism requires an alternative vehicle for democratic control. Douglas Lummis, in his book “Radical Democracy” described the broad spectrum of contexts in which democratic principles prevailed under the most astonishing circumstances. The creativity and substance of his vision need to be adopted by Americans to control our lives.
This 2013 excerpt is from the New York Times of July 14 by Joseph E. Stiglitz.
In the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, the US Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that human genes cannot be patented, though synthetic DNA, created in the laboratory, can be.
Gene tests can actually be administered at low cost -— a person can in fact have all 20,000 of her genes sequenced for about $1,000, to say nothing of much cheaper tests for a variety of specific pathologies. Myriad, however, charged about $4,000 for comprehensive testing on just two genes.
After recovering somewhat from a 30 percent drop in the wake of the court ruling, Myriad’s share price is still nearly 20 percent below what it was beforehand.
The drug industry, as always, claimed that without patent protection, there would be no incentives for research and all would suffer. Yet this and similar patents prevented the development of better tests. And the two genes would likely have been isolated (“discovered,” in Myriad’s terminology) soon anyway, as part of the global Human Genome Project.
All knowledge is based on prior knowledge, and by making prior knowledge less available, innovation is impeded. Myriad’s own discovery — like any in science — used technologies and ideas that were developed by others. Had that prior knowledge not been publicly available, Myriad could not have done what it did.
Most of the key innovations — from the basic ideas underlying the computer, to transistors, to lasers, to the discovery of DNA — were not motivated by pecuniary gain. They were motivated by the quest for knowledge.
Improved health and technology accounts for a good part of the explosive economic growth since the 19th century. Rulings that impede access to health both create inequality and hamper growth more generally.
No matter what else he has done, what conservative radio host and author Mark Levin does in his new book The Liberty Amendments has made him a hero for me. For many years I have been writing articles on using something in the US Constitution that offers a path to urgently needed reforms of the political system. I also co-founded the national nonpartisan group Friends of the Article V Convention. Mark Levin has become the most notable, highly visible person to also come out loudly, advocating the first time use of the Article V convention option.
He forcefully makes the case for a convention of state delegates that would have the same constitutional authority as Congress has for proposing constitutional amendments. And just like all the amendments that now exist and which originated with Congress, those coming from a convention would still have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. Levin recognizes that this high hurdle pretty much rules out truly nutty amendments, from either a conservative or liberal perspective, from ever becoming a reality. Nor can a convention totally rewrite our Constitution.
Levin has come to the same conclusion that rather than fear a convention Americans should more fear sticking with the current corrupt, dysfunctional system. Levin sees no hope for Republicans or Democrats, both ruled by rich corporate elites. More than 40 percent of political campaign contributions now come from the top 0.01 percent, the super-rich.
There have been many years when one of the two major parties controlled both the presidency and both houses of Congress, including two years under President Obama, four years under President George W. Bush, two years under President Clinton, and four years under President Carter, for example. Even with such dominance, neither party truly reformed the system. Nor did Supreme Court decisions.
Levin argues for a large number of specific constitutional amendments. Yet earlier attempts to use the convention option that were based on advocacy for specific amendments all failed. No matter how sensible any specific amendment may appear to most people, there will always be many people and groups willing to fight against it and using the convention option.
Already a sufficient number of state have applied to Congress for a convention (two-thirds of states), but Congress has intentionally violated the Constitution by not calling for the first convention, as Article V requires. Someone with so much celebrity as Levin needs to forcefully inform the public and his many supporters that Congress has long stood in the way.
There has been an incredible amount of brain washing from the right and left against using the convention option. Look at what we have now: a truly delusional democracy with each branch of the federal government failing, robbing citizens of their money, liberty, and hope.
As a former professor who had to publish or perish, I took note that President (aka Barry) Obama lacked any record of academic publications. As Ed Lasky summed up: “Notwithstanding an apparent eleven-year teaching career in constitutional law at a top-flight law school, not one single article, published talk, book review, or comment of any kind, appears anywhere in the professional legal literature, under Barack Obama’s name.”
To me, someone who held high level positions inside the Washington, DC political system for some twenty years, it seems Obama merely took advantage of his color, personality, unusual political opportunities, and an innate talent for sometimes being able to give a great (but not necessarily honest) speech.
Just over 50 percent of eligible voters vote and the presidential winner obtains just over 50 percent of voter support, so not much more than 25 percent of Americans actually support this or any other President. Factor in that nearly all incumbent members of Congress get reelected despite dismal overall public support, most recently just 10 percent for Congress.
Obama did not swiftly end the incredibly costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His Department of Justice indicted of the criminal people and companies in the banking, mortgage, and financial sectors.
Seems pretty hopeless, don’t you think? Unless millions of Americans join together and demand that Congress obey the Constitution, honor the many hundreds of state requests for a convention and convene the first one.
This 2013 excerpt is from TruthOut on July 8 by Ellen Brown
EU finance ministers agreed on a plan that shifts the responsibility for bank losses from governments to bank investors, creditors, and uninsured depositors. Insured deposits (those under €100,000, or about $130,000) will allegedly be “fully protected.” But protected by whom? The national insurance funds designed to protect them are inadequate to cover another system-wide banking crisis, and the court of the European Free Trade Association ruled in the case of Iceland that the insurance funds were not intended to cover that sort of systemic collapse.
In Cyprus, the confiscation of depositor funds was not only approved but mandated by the EU, along with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF. They told the Cypriots that deposits below €100,000 in two major bankrupt banks would be subject to a 6.75 percent levy or “haircut,” while those over €100,000 would be hit with a 9.99 percent “fine.” When the Cyprus national legislature overwhelming rejected the levy, the insured deposits under €100,000 were spared; but it was at the expense of the uninsured deposits, which took a much larger hit, estimated at about 60 percent of the deposited funds.
While the insured depositors escaped in Cyprus, they might not fare so well in a bank collapse of the sort seen in 2008-09. Even though it wasn’t adopted, the extraordinary proposal that small depositors should lose a part of their savings — a proposal that had the approval of the Eurogroup, ECB, and IMF policymakers — raises the question: Is there any credible protection for small-bank depositors in Europe?
[T]he precedents set in Cyprus and Iceland show that deposit insurance is only a legal commitment for small bank failures. In systemic crises, these are more political than legal commitments, so the solvency of the insuring government matters.
If funding is inadequate to cover a systemic collapse, taxpayers will again be on the hook; and if they are unwilling or unable to cover the losses (as occurred in Cyprus and Iceland), we’re back to the unprotected deposits and routine bank failures and bank runs of the 19th century.
In the US, as of June 30, 2011, every $10,000 in deposits was protected by only $6 in reserves. Derivatives claims have “super-priority” in bankruptcy, meaning they take before all other claims. In the event of a major derivatives bust at JPMorgan Chase or Bank of America, both of which hold derivatives with notional values exceeding $70 trillion, the collateral is liable to be gone before either the FDIC or the other “secured” depositors (including state and local governments) get to the front of the line.
Nationalization of bankrupt, systemically-important banks is not a new idea. It was done very successfully, for example, in Norway and Sweden in the 1990s. Real nationalization occurs when governments act in the public interest. The Treasury would become the source of new money, replacing commercial bank credit.
When it comes to decision-making, researchers find that money matters.
This 2013 excerpt is from the Los Angeles Times, October 18, by Robert M. Sapolsky.
Many factors favor the rich getting richer while the poor stagnate. The wealthy benefit from economies of scale, as the best prices and lowest interest rates are more readily available to those who least need them. The poor are perpetually in reactive mode, lurching from one crisis to another. The wealthy, on the other hand, can act proactively, spending smaller sums in advance to prevent costly crises later. And, of course, the U.S. taxation system makes it possible, as Warren Buffett has decried, for America’s wealthiest investors to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.
But there has always been an additional factor in the mix. Study after study has suggested that poor people are more likely than wealthy people to behave in ways that are imprudent and counterproductive. An extensive literature search shows that lower socioeconomic status is associated with a range of self-defeating behaviors, including more risk-taking (not using seat belts, for example), worse adherence to protocols (such as failing to complete a full course of a medicine) and poorer financial management (impulse buying, for example, or buying on credit, which adds considerably to an item’s cost).
Why is this? One obvious explanation might be that those cognitive traits are what gave rise to poverty in the first place. But a recent paper in the prestigious journal Science suggests a novel contributor to this phenomenon.
The brain’s frontal cortex has a finite capacity. Extensive research shows that “frontal function” is impaired in people who increase their cognitive load with things such as distracting tasks, stress, sleep deprivation, pain or even resisting temptation (for example, if you make someone’s frontal cortex work hard in order for them to resist eating chocolate, they are less capable immediately afterward of performing frontal cognitive tasks). Poor people, in general, have a greater cognitive load than rich people. Having to reflect on tight finances increased cognitive load for poor people.
a scientific look at how we divvy up the work and the wealth, how some of us end up with too much or too little effort or reward. That’s partly due to Ricardo’s Law of Rent, showing how wasteful use of Earth cuts wages. And it’s partly due to how a society’s elite runs government around like water boys, dishing out subsidies and tax breaks. While geonomists look political reality right in the eye, without blinking, conventional economists flinch. When Paul Volcker, ex-chief of the Federal Reserve, moved on to a cushy professorship at Princeton cum book contract, the crush of deadlines bore down. So Volcker asked a junior associate to help with the book. The guy refused, explaining that giving serious consideration to policy would ruin his academic career. The ex-Fed chief couldn’t believe it and asked the department chair if truly that were the case. That head honcho pondered the question then replied no, not if he only does it once. And economics was AKA political economy!
a way to have everybody pulling on the same end of the rope. Last summer’s expansive forest fires shed light on growing class resentment in the West. Old loggers and ranchers rankled at the new urgency to stamp out the blazes that threatened the recent Aspenesque settlers. The newcomers expected working class firemen to make protecting their expensive homes top priority. (Chr Sci Mntr, Spt 7) The tinder for this envy? Rich people moving in bid up the price of land, making it hard to afford by people on the margin. The fault really lies with our system of privatizing land value. If this rising value were collected by land dues and shared by rent dividends – the essence of geonomic policy – who’d complain? The more people move in, the higher the land value, and the fatter the dividend paid to residents. Then people on the margin might go out of their way to invite rich outsiders in.
suitable for framing by Green Parties. When Greens began in Germany two decades ago, they defined themselves as neither left nor right but in front. Geonomics fits that description. The Green Parties have their Four Pillars; geonomists have four ways to apply them:
Ecological Wisdom. Want people to use the eco-system wisely? Charge them Rent and, to end corporate license, add surcharges. To minimize these costs, people will use less Earth.
Nonviolence. Want people to settle disputes nonviolently? Set a good example; don’t levy taxes, which rely on the threat of incarceration, to take people’s money. Try quid pro quo fees and dues.
Social Responsibility. Want people to be responsible for their actions? Don’t make basic choices for them by subsidizing services, addicting them to a caretaker state. Let people spend shares of social surplus.
Grassroots Democracy. Better have grassroots prosperity. Remember, political power follows economic. Pay people a Citizens Dividend; to keep it, they’ll show up at the polls, public hearings, and conventions.
a discipline that, compared to economics, is as obscure as Warren Buffett’s investment strategy, compared to conventional investment theory, about which Buffett said, “You couldn’t advance in a finance department in this country unless you taught that the world was flat.” (The New York Times, Oct 29). The writer wondered, “But why? If it works, why don’t more investors use it?”
Good question. Geonomics works, too. Every place that has used it has prospered while conserving resources. Yet it remains off the radar of many wanna-be reformers. Gradually, tho’, that’s changing. More are becoming aware of what geonomics studies – all the money we spend on the nature we use. Geonomics (1) as an alternative worldview to the anthropocentric, sees human economies as part of the embracing ecosystem with natural feedback loops seeking balance in both systems. (2) As an alternative to worker vs. investor, it sees our need for sites and resources making those who own land into landlords. (3)As an alternative to economics, it tracks the trillions of “rent” as it drives the “housing” bubble and all other indicators. And (4) as an alternative to left or right, it suggests we not tax ourselves then subsidize our favorites but recover and share society’s surplus, paying in land dues and getting back “rent” dividends, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. Letting rent go to the wrong pockets wreaks havoc, while redirecting it to everyone would solve our economic ills and the ills downstream from them.
People must learn to stop whining so much and feel enough self-esteem to demand a fair share of rent, society’s surplus, the commonwealth.
one of many words I coined over 20 years ago: geoism, geonomics, geonomy, geocracy, etc – neologisms that later others came up with, too. CNBC once had a Geonomics Show, and Middlebury College has a Geonomics Institute. If “economy” is literally “management of the household”, then geonomy is “management of the planet”. The kind of management I had in mind is not what CNBC was thinking – top-down. My geonomics is not hands-on, interfering, but hands-off, organic. It’d strive to align policy with natural processes, similar to what holistic healing does in medicine, what organic farming does in agriculture. Geonomics attends to two key components: One, the crucial stuff to track is fat — or profit, especially profits without production, such as rent, or all the money we spend on the nature we use. Society’s surplus is the sine qua non for growth, needed to counter death – not merely more, but sustainable development, more from less. Two, the basic process to respect is the feedback loop. These let nature maintain balance automatically and could do the same for markets, if we let them. Letting them would turn our economies, now our masters, into a geonomy, our servant, providing us with prosperity, eco-librium (to coin a term) and leisure, time off — a hostile environment for economan but a cradle for a loving and creative humanity.
what you do when you see economies as part of the ecosystem, following feedback loops and storing up energy. Surplus energy – fat or profit – enables us to produce and reproduce. To recycle society’s surplus, the commonwealth, geonomics would replace taxes with land dues (charged to users of sites and resources, in-cluding the EM spectrum, and extra to polluters), and replace subsidies with rent dividends to citizens (a la Alaska’s oil dividend). Without taxes and subsidies to distort them, prices become precise, reflect accurately our costs and values; then, motivated by no more than the bottom line, both producers and consumers make sustainable choices. While no place uses geonomics in its entirety, some places use parts of it, most notably a shift of the property tax off buildings, onto locations. Shifting the property tax drives efficient use of land, in-fills cities, improves the housing stock, makes homes affordable, engenders jobs and investment opportunities, lowers crime, raises civic participation, etc – overall it makes cities more livable. Geonomics – a way to share the bounty of nature and society – is something we can work for locally, globally, and in between.
about the money we spend on the nature we use. It flows torrentially yet invisibly, often submerged in the price of housing, food, fuel, and everything else. Flowing from the many to the few, natural rent distorts prices and rewards unjust and unsustainable choices. Redirected via dues and dividends to flow from each to all, “rent” payments would level the playing field and empower neighbors to shrink their workweek and expand their horizons. Modeled on nature’s feedback loops, earlier proposals to redirect rent found favor with Paine, Tolstoy, and Einstein. Wherever tried, to the degree tried, redirecting rent worked. One of today’s versions, the green tax shift, spreads out of Europe. Another, the Property Tax Shift, activists can win at the local level, building a world that works right for everyone.
of interest to Dave Lakhani, President Bold Approach (Mar 8) and Matt Ozga (Jan 29): “I write for the Washington Square News, the student run newspaper out of New York University. Geonomics seems like it has great significance, especially in this area. When was geonomics developed, and by whom?”
About 1982 I began. Two years later, Chilean Dr Manfred Max-Neef offered the term geonomics for Earth-friendly economics. In the mid-80s, a millionaire founded a Geonomics Institute on Middlebury College campus in Vermont re global trade. In the 1990s, CNBC cablecast a show, Geonomics, on world trade as it benefits world traders. My version of geonomics draws heavily from the American Henry George who wrote Progress & Poverty (1879) and won the mayoralty of New York but was denied his victory by Tammany Hall (1886). He in turn got lots from Brits David Ricardo, Adam Smith, and the French physiocrats of the 1700s. My version differs by focusing not on taxation but on the flow of rents for sites, resources, sinks, and government-granted privileges. Forgoing these trillions, we instead tax and subsidize, making waste cheap and sustainability expensive. To quit distorting price, replace taxes with “land dues” and replace subsidies with a Citizens Dividend.
Matt: “This idea of sharing rents sounds, if not explicitly socialist, at least at odds with some capitalist values (only the strong survive & prosper, etc). Is it fair to say that geonomics has some basis in socialist theory?”
A closer descriptor would be Christian. Beyond ethics into praxis, Alaska shares oil rent with residents, and they’re more libertarian than socialist. While individuals provide labor and capital, no one provides land while society generates its value. Rent is not private property but public property. Sharing Rent is predistribution, sharing it before an elite or state has a chance to get and misspend it, like a public REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) paying dividends to its stakeholders – a perfectly capitalist model. What we should leave untaxed are our sales, salaries, and structures, things we do produce.
the study of the money we spend on the nature we use. When we pay that money to private owners, we reward both speculation and over-extraction. Robert Kiyosaki’s bestseller, Rich Dad’s Prophecy, says, “One of the reasons McDonald’s is such a rich company is not because it sells a lot of burgers but because it owns the land at some of the best intersections in the world. The main reason Kim and I invest in such properties is to own the land at the corner of the intersection. (p 200) My real estate advisor states that the rich either made their money in real estate or hold their money in real estate.” (p 141, via Greg Young) When government recovers the rents for natural advantages for everyone, it can save citizens millions. Ben Sevack, Montreal steel manufacturer, tells us (August 12) that Alberta, by leasing oil & gas fields, recovers enough revenue to be the only province in Canada to get by without a sales tax and to levy a flat provincial income tax. While running for re-election, provincial Premier Ralph Klein proposes to abolish their income tax and promises to eliminate medical insurance premiums and use resource revenue to pay for all medical expense for seniors. After all this planned tax-cutting and greater expense, they still expect a large budget surplus. Even places without oil and gas have high site values in their downtowns, and high values in their utility franchises. Recover the values of locations and privileges, displace the harmful taxes on sales, salaries, and structures, then use the revenue to fund basic government and pay residents a dividend, and you have geonomics in action.
close to the policy of the Garden Cities in England. Founded by Ebenezer Howard over a century ago, residents own the land in common and run the town as a business. Letchworth, the oldest of the model towns, serves residents grandly from bucketfuls of collected land rent (as does the Canadian Province of Alberta from oil royalty). A geonomic town would pay the rent to residents, letting them freely choose personalized services, and also ax taxes. Both geonomics and Howard were inspired by American proto-geonomist Henry George. The movement launched by Howard today in the UK advances the shift of taxes from buildings to locations. A recent report from the Town and Country Planning Association proposes this Property Tax Shift and their journal published research in the potential of land value taxation by Tony Vickers (Vol. 69, Part 5, 2000). (Thanks to James Robertson)