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The Extension of Property into Ideas
Published on January 11, 2014 By Phil Osborn In Economics

This is the beginning of my long-awaited* extension of my popular earlier blog, which focussed on the concept of property as associated with physical things.  That blog was not intended to promote a particular version of property, although it has probably been taken that way by many readers.  I will try to maintain some degree of neutrality here, as well.  I certainly have my own opinions, positions and implicit agenda, but the standard to which I try to adhere is what supports life and intelligence (that should be broad enough).  As opposed to what?  As opposed to standards based on supporting some particular class or ideology.

*There are people pressuring me to do this piece.  Ironically, the main reason that I haven't gotten any farther with it is that I got hit with claims of intellectual property violation, when I included a 2-page piece for reference on one of my blogs, on the assumption that there was nothing in it that the author would want otherwise than to be spread far and wide.  When the author objected, I immediately took out the offending material and did a search to verify that it wasn't being stored somewhere else.  

It was then that I discovered the concept of copyright trolls.  Not a happy experience.  It seems that under current U.S. Copyright law, if you stupidly copy someone and post it verbatim, even if there is no monetary value involved, you can be hit with huge punitive damages, something I believe the recording companies pushed through.  So, lawyers know that.  And thus, however innocent your intent or innocuous the result, they can approach you with a "settlement" offer to the tune of whatever they figure you have in assets - or you can go to trial and be hit with the enormous punitive damages specified by statute.

There were other people waiting for me to get things done.  I was supposed to be preparing for an important conference, where I was a panelist on 8 panels.  Several of the panels and other programming that I participated in had to do with education and robotics, and I had some important information that I hoped to employ to help the process of shifting to a more modern and effective approach.  Some of the other panelists were major players in these fields, but lacked some of the experiences I had with the early days of educational computing when I worked with home-schoolers and instigated the Watts Computer Gang Project. 

I had to skip most of my preparation for the panels when I got hit with the demands and instead spent the time talking to attorneys, based on the tone of the emails I received.  The results of course are unknown in detail, but since I didn't get to make my contribution, I'm guessing that the impact will be negative.  Children will be harmed by the lack, any networking opportunities with the major players were lost, and the opportunities will never come again.  I.e., we are dealing with an intellectual property system that engenders and supports evil, and I just got burned. Good to know, though...

On a directly related note, I was listening to NPR, Kai Ryssdal, Marketplace, I think - in the last couple days - discussing the situation in the Ukraine.  Only a few days before I had gotten in an argument with one of my fellow regular bus-mates, discussing how easily situations spiral out of control, as in the start of WWI, the seemingly trivial trigger event of the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_of_Austria - which lead to declarations of war that spiralled quickly into a world-wide catastrophe, all based on secret treaties of support among the various involved nations. 

(04.26.14 Last Sunday, Ian Masters made some similar references in his "Background Briefing" on KPFK 90.7FM.)

Economic resolutions require that people be able to act within rational limits and to expect that others will do the same in that market.  Someone siezing or making a credible threat to sieze some asset and holding it for ransom may work once for that actor, but the price in terms of risk costs for the future that are incorporated into business decisions can be catastrophic.  Obama seems to be heading down that road. 

Russia is not Iran.  Sanctions whose general market impact could be adsorbed and ignored in an isolated area such as Iran or S. Africa do not work in a highly and critically interconnected world market.  And, there is an old economic maxim - "When goods don't cross borders, armies do."  The Crimea is not worth a regional or certainly not a world war by itself, but the market impacts will suck in countless other players and offer the potential of a deadly spiral.

Of course, to be cynical for a moment, forcing a shutdown of Russian gas exports would cause a HUGE bump in energy costs everywhere, and the U.S. is in the cat-bird seat with all the new gas and oil from fracking.  All the other energy producers would share in a similar windfall, although the world and U.S. economies as a whole would suffer significantly, very likely triggering a new and perhaps even worse world recession. 

Thanks for nothing, Mr. Obama, because nothing is what we're going to get out of this.  Sanctions are a form of collective punishment that I suspect violates the Geneva Convention, and each side in this stupid contest is poised to cause much more damage than they expect to receive, much like the line-ups of jingoist nationalists that Stefan Zweig described just prior to WWI, nations champing at the bit to show the world how great they were on the battlefield, marching off with hurrahs and brass bands and bright flags.  But, we don't care too much about that, it seems.  We will care when the consequences hit us at home.

So, how does this tie into the issues surrounding intellectual property?  WWI gives us the example of what can happen when we don't have Manning or Snowden, when ruling bodies make secret agreements that turn local problems into world-wide disasters.  In general, the tie in is when the truth becomes the enemy.  The Crimean crisis more generally - from both Putin and Obama - shows what happens when property rights are ignored or violated on the specious grounds that somehow the state has more rights than the individuals it exists to protect. 

It also shows that actual initiation of physical force is not even necessary if threats of violations are allowed.  If someone suggests that they might kill you if you don't do what they want, then that is a form of force.  You don't have to wait for them to pull the trigger to respond.  When a body of lawmakers does the equivalent in even discussing sanctions as a real option, then it can easily invoke the same kind of perfectly legitimate response.  Ready for the new cold war? (If we're lucky... 

Perhaps Obama could shorten our anxious uncertainty by telling Putin, "We will bury you."  Note what a salutary impact that statement had when Kruzchev made it.

Coming full circle: There are two main approaches to property in general.   One takes the position that property is something created by force.  If so, then the theft of damage of property is a response to force and can only be met with more counterforce.  This is what has been happening to our legal system in the U.S., especially with intellectual property, but also with physical property.  Property based on justice, however, says that we receive and keep what we legitimately earn through our work.  Injustice is when we don't get it, or it is taken from us via force or fraud.

The counter to theft of property based on justice is restitution - putting everything right as far as feasible, so that ideally you shouldn't care one way or another that your property was violated.  The limits on restorative justice are set by the nature of reality and an objective assessment of the actual damages.  Clearly, we can't revive a murder victim, but we can and do set rational prices for lessor damages, including assault and bodily injuries.

The counter to theft of property based on force is terrorism, the business of our appropriately-named "criminal law" system.  Like the escalation of threats in the Crimean situation, our criminal law system, the protection of property by force, has no natural resolution based on objective facts.  The same crime in one state might be a $50 fine, while in a neighboring state it might get you five years in jail. 

There is no way to objectively measure "appropriate punishment," certainly not in terms of justice and the rate of recidivism demonstrates that the return on that basis is clearly negative.  Prisons cause crime.  What defaults, then, is an ever-increasing severity.  Five years didn't seem to slow down the crime rate, so let's make it ten.  This is how the U.S. became the country with the highest total AND highest percentage of its population in prison in the entire world. 

(People's lives are destroyed for a pizza and then we expect them to be so grateful to be returned to our society, to accept what has happened to them and humbly carry on with what is left to them...  Good luck with that.)

This isn't to say that there aren't people who we should definitely and permanently keep locked away.  There are real psychopaths out there.  But the reasons for our move toward punitive justice, which is what our intellectual property system has become about, are not about protecting us against really evil people.  Rather, that drift has engendered a set of tools enabling an implicit conspiracy to sieze the world, including virtually ALL the real wealth, physical and intellectual, not out of any justice or even real need, but simply because there is no opposition and if you don't join the contest, you will lose for sure.  The money is all going to the bad actors and those who behave that way because they see no choice.

There are certainly plenty of bad actors, such as the patent and copyright trolls, and major corporations who fight titanic wars in court over key patents, when the real problem is the way the patent system is set up - but who understands that the world is being sucked right out from under them and also has the concentrated interest to significantly oppose the move?  A few valiant actors, such as Google and Yahoo have taken public positions that they will NOT enforce their patents to prevent use by others, but rather are taking them out purely for self-defense.  I.e., now you are required to patent your ideas or risk seeing them turned into a lawsuit against you, the originator, based on the new "first to file" rule. 

Thank you, Google and Yahoo.  Now if we could just get together a concensus long enough to change the law.

Unfortunately, mitigating against that possibility is what appears to be a more and more punitive social concensus in the U.S.  NPR last night ran a segment which consisted of the interviewer and three other women discussing the recent news on the successful appeal by the up-skirt photographer.  I don't recall hearing a single statement of rational causation and responsibility from any of them.  

Rather, instead of restorative justice, what their concensus seemed to be about was the need to punish men for intent.  I.e., criminal law is there to promote socially accepted norms by terrifying people into hiding what they believe and feel - but, really, not even that degree of rationality.  I don't even recall hearing anything about deterence.  It seemed to be purely about punishment for its own sake.  

I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, the "Spotless Mind," when we use our new neuro-psychology capabilities to detect whether someone is actually changing their opinions with complete sincerity.  Then we can ask for "volunteers" from the prison population - or maybe plea-bargains to that effect for those who have not been convicted of any crime, but who cannot afford to face possible enormous punishment.  And what about a form of Google's Glass that blocks out in real-time anything in the visual field that could be interpreted as inducive of bad thoughts?  DARPA, are you listening?  (What a silly question.)

More to come...

To solve for X with just one equation - let's use the Ist example - yields a infinite number of possible values, all of which can be graphed to an X/Y straight line.  All we know at that point is that our solution lies on that line.  But if our solution also has to correspond to the 2nd equation, then we find that only one solitary point works.

"Where's my car?"  "How do I find it?"  These are issues that trouble many of us on a frequent basis, for reasons often related to consumption of alcohol or other drugs or failure to hold back the ravages of time on the brain.  We always think that we will be able to store all the vital data of our existence in our brain as percepts, when, in fact, this assumption is itself an indication of the mind's inability to focus on more than a small set of variables at one time.  We think that we are looking down at ourselves performing a mental task, and so we can grasp that task and its component memories as percepts, easy to recall without tedious procedures.  Except that there is no separate "us" looking down.  There are levels of focus, giving that illusion of a separate observing self.  See "The Invisable Gorilla."  So, having done it so many times that one memory cannot be teased from another, we forget where we left the blasted car.  What to do?

You could write down or memorize your license plate number and then search the likely area - parking lot, city, state - for a car with that number.  That could take a while.  Instead, I suggest that one try to remember the color, make, model, size, year and state of dirtyness, as well as any general hints as to the likely location of the solution space.  Color does not convert into make or model - except in the relatively trivial space occupied by Ford Model T or A.  If you know the year of your car's manufacture, then you can probably rule that out immediately. 

I.e., having that sort of set of independent descriptors usually returns a solution space in a fraction of the time necessary to complete a purely numeric or lineal accounting - eg., looking for a matching plate.  There will very possibly be independent solution spaces as well, related to such concepts as "towing" or "gone in 60 seconds."  However, isolating the easilly accessable immediate solution space and then getting a null result still allows one to at least rule out the assumed main chance - that you should have paid more attention.

In the real world, we generally are faced with fuzzy variables that are only semi-independent.  That is, the dimension of economics bleeds into the dimensions of political science, sociology, epistemology, ethics and morality.  Thus, any solution spaces for questions in those realms will inherently have fuzzy boundaries, and we may find several of these spaces that are themselves more like the attractors of chaos theory. 

What is important about this line of thought is that it enables one to attain a very high level grasp of the material under analysis.  Having more independent equations or descriptors means we can quickly and efficiently rule out many possible solution spaces.  A solution must be moral and practical, possible and effective, competitive and timely.  Each of these sorts of descriptors creates potentially a clearer focus on what can actually work in the real world.

To be continued...



on Jan 11, 2014

Uhmmmmmm, errrrrrrrrrr, whaaaaaa, huh?  Is that even English?  Way beyond me that's for sure.

on Jan 21, 2014

I grok...

on Jan 21, 2014

Is this another attempt to get us to pay you to read our responses to your economic ramblings?  

I'm not falling for that trick again.  Nothing to see here.  

on Jan 21, 2014

ummm..  yeah property.   algebra is property man.   drive down to the property van.  I think I got it.


on Jan 21, 2014

To be continued...

Now that is some sad news.