When someone invents or discovers something, should they be able to keep
forever all the rights to that, or might a reasonable assumption be made
would have eventually discovered or invented it too, and that therefore,
at some point the rights to that invention or discovery should become part
of the commons?
Henry George: Concentrations
of Wealth Harm America
(excerpt from Social Problems)
Or take the fortunes made out
of successful patents. Like that
element in so many fortunes that comes from the increased value of
land, these result from monopoly, pure and simple. And though I am
not now discussing the expediency of patent laws, it may be observed,
in passing, that in the vast majority of cases the men who make
fortunes out of patents are not the men who make the inventions.
... Read the entire article
Nic Tideman: The
Structure of an Inquiry into the Attractiveness of A Social Order
Inspired by the Ideas of Henry George
A. People own
themselves and therefore own what
B. People have obligations to share equally the opportunities that
are provided by nature.
C. People are free to interact with other competent adults on
whatever terms are mutually agreed.
D. People have obligations to pay the costs that their intrusive
behaviors impose on others.
A. What is
the relationship between justice (as
embodied in the ethical principles) and community (or peace or
B. How are the weak to be provided for?
C. How should natural opportunities be shared?
D. Who should be included in the group among whom rent should be
E. Is there an obligation to compensate those whose presently
recognized titles to land and other exclusive natural opportunities
will lose value when rent is shared equally?
F. Can a person who is occupying a per capita share of land
reasonably ask to be left undisturbed indefinitely on that land?
G. What is the moral status of "intellectual
H. What standards of environmental respect can people reasonably
require of others?
I. What forms of land use control are consistent with the philosophy
of Henry George?
A. Would public
collection of the rent of land
provide enough revenue for an appropriate public sector?
B. How much revenue could public collection of rent raise?
C. Is it possible to assess land with sufficient accuracy?
D. How much growth can a community expect if it shifts taxes from
improvements to land?
E. To what extent does the benefit that one community receives from
shifting taxes from buildings to land come at the expense of other
F. What is the impact of land taxes on land speculation?
G. How, if at all, does the impact of shifting the source of public
revenue to land change if it is a whole nation rather than just a
community that makes the shift?
H. Is there a danger that the application of Henry George's ideas
would lead to a world of over-development?
I. How would natural resources be managed appropriately if
regarded as the common heritage of humanity?
Read the whole article
Jeff Smith: What the Left Must
Do: Share the Surplus
Making land public does not
that the public end up with the rent. The public’s steward, the state,
often lets public resources at “fire-sale” prices, unduly enriching
Chevron, Arco, Kerr-McGee, Weyerhauser, etc. The state gifts enormously
valuable licenses for TV, radio, and cell phones to GE, Disney, Time
Warner, and Clear Channel. The
metaphor, “field of knowledge,”lets us see patents and copyrights as flags; by excluding innovative
outsiders, they not only skew techno-progress (thus addicting
civilization to oil) but also enrich those few who can afford to corral
them: GM, DuPont, and Microsoft. Similarly, a utility franchise
AT&T pay investors, and Enron insiders, handsomely. Read the whole article
Jeff Smith: Subsidies at Their
Money is the mother's milk of
politics. Yet the milk invested by
lobbyists and those they represent is a drop in the bucket compared
to the flow they get back from the public tit, thanks to the milkmaid
state. Politicians grant well-connected big businesses:
a. direct cash
outlays, such as cash to corporations for advertising overseas,
b. lucrative contracts, such as with
weaponeers et al campaign contributors, and
c. tax breaks that burden would-be competitors,
such as tariffs that protect GM and Ford but not autoworkers. Even if
we were to abolish subsidies (a) and taxes, eliminating the advantage
of tax breaks (c), and negotiate responsible contracts (b), that'd
still leave in place
d. seven subtle privileges, mere pieces of
paper that government grants its customers at nowhere near market
value, positioning the privileged to claim all the surplus value of
1. The corporate charter's salient feature is to
limit the liability of those choosing to profit by putting others at
2. Pollution permits, performance waivers, land use
exemptions -- whether granted by bureaucracies, legislatures, or courts
- are worth much more than however much government charges and business
3. Patents protect the basement inventor, right? Wrong.
4. Utility franchises create monopolies in exchange for
some public service, such as providing electricity, phone
communication, etc. ...
5. Communication licenses for TV, radio, cell phones, and
the like are given away for free or for far less than market value,
turning recipients into "instant billionaires" (the business press
gleefully notes). ...
6. Resource leases for public oil, minerals, forests, and
grazing land, are often let at "fire-sale" prices. ...
7. Land titles do protect the average homeowners but
because they cost virtually nothing (a paltry filing fee often about
$2.00), they also protect enormously wealthy absentee landlords.
Land titles are the granddaddy of
all privileges. Historically,
titles preceded all others and created a class of elite owners with
the power to win the six other indirect subsidies, along with the
more direct ones – grants, contracts, and tax favors. To undo
and reverse this history, it's necessary to collect and share the
natural rents from all seven inconspicuous privileges.
For these pieces of paper,
government should charge full market
a Citizens Dividend would not
only eliminate poverty, it'd also erase any rationale for subsidies -
direct or indirect - to the poor or to the privileged. Repealing
free ride of privileges would be like repealing capitalism. Without
those subtle detours imposed upon public revenue, owners would have
to work to amass a fortune, and work is one of the worst ways known
to strike it rich.
What you can do: Dry up the
milkmaid state. Dispense with the
notion that the state must meddle in enterprise. Dispense the notion
from others, too. Focus government on its lone raison d'etre - defend
rights. Demand your right to a fair share of natural revenue. ...
Read the whole article
Fred Foldvary: Underprivileged
Poor folk are often labeled
"underprivileged" and richer folk are called "privileged." For example,
there is a book titled "One Nation,
Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All."
But "privileged" and "underprivileged" are confused and misleading
expressions. If you think the poor are "underprivileged," then you
don't really understand poverty.
What is a "privilege?" The term originally meant "private law." A
privilege is a special advantage or prerogative or immunity or benefit
given only to some people only because they have power or are favored
by those with power. If everyone is entitled to something, like freedom
of expression, or if everyone may obtain an item such as a passport
with the same rules applying to all, then it is not a privilege but a
So if a person is poor, it is not because he is
lacking in special
protections, subsidies, and other privileges. A person is usually poor
because he has been deprived of the natural right to work. Governments
world-wide impose barriers between labor and productive resources,
keeping some workers deprived of labor and others who do work deprived
of their earnings from labor. ...
Taxes on wages create a wedge between the cost of labor to employers
and the take-home pay of the worker. More costly labor results in less
employment. Taxes on the income from capital goods and on the sale of
goods has the same effect. There are unemployment taxes, disability
taxes, and payroll taxes that increase the tax wedge. On top of that,
there are minimum-wage laws that prevent the least productive workers
from getting hired. There are permits, zoning, and other rules and
costs that also prevent some workers from becoming self-employed.
Deprived of the full natural right to peaceful enterprise and labor,
and the natural right to fully keep one's earnings, the poor have
little or no income, and depend on charity and governmental assistance.
To call them "underprivileged" is a lie. The rights-deprived poor do
not need privileges. They just need government to stop interfering with
their right to work and save! ...
There has been confusion about what is a right and what is a privilege.
Some consider a patent a privilege, but it too is a right. ...
Some also consider a corporation to be a privilege, since the firm has
a charter from a government. ...
Real privileges are favors arbitrarily given to some groups and not
The really underprivileged folks are all consumers, taxpayers and those
who are restricted from peaceful and honest practices or have to pay
extra to the government while others are unrestricted and non-taxed.
These people lack privileges which others have. The proper remedy is
not to expand privileges, but to eliminate all governmental privileges.
That is why libertarians and geoists alike have the motto: "Equal
rights for all; privileges for none!" Read
Peter Barnes: Capitalism
3.0 — Chapter 7: Universal Birthrights (pages 101-116)
Dividends from Common Assets
A cushion of reliable income is a wonderful thing. It can be saved for rainy
days or used to pursue happiness on sunny days. It can encourage people to
take risks, care for friends and relatives, or volunteer for community service.
For low-income families, it can pay for basic necessities.
Conversely, the absence of reliable income is a terrible thing. It heightens
anxiety and fear. It diminishes our ability to cope with crises and transitions.
It traps many families on the knife’s edge of poverty, and makes it
harder for the poor to rise.
So why don’t we, as Monopoly does, pay everyone some regular
income — not through redistribution of income, but through predistribution
of common property? One state — Alaska — already does this. As
noted earlier, the Alaska Permanent Fund uses revenue from state oil leases
to invest in stocks, bonds, and similar assets, and from those investments
pays yearly dividends to every resident. Alaska’s model can be extended
to any state or nation, whether or not they have oil. We could, for instance,
have an American Permanent Fund that pays equal dividends to long-term residents
of all 50 states. The reason is, we jointly own many valuable assets.
Recall our discussion about common property trusts. These trusts could crank
down pollution and earn money from selling ever-scarcer pollution permits.
The scarcer the permits get, the higher their prices would go. Less pollution
would equal more revenue. Over time, trillions of dollars could flow into
an American Permanent Fund.
What could we do with that common income? In Alaska the deal with oil revenue
is 75 percent to government and 25 percent to citizens. For an American Permanent
Fund, I’d favor a 50/50 split, because paying dividends to citizens
is so important. Also, when scarce ecosystems are priced above zero, the
cost of living will go up and people will need compensation; this wasn’t,
and isn’t, the case in Alaska. I’d also favor earmarking the
government’s dollars for specific public goods, rather than tossing
them into the general treasury. This not only ensures identifiable public
benefits; it also creates constituencies who’ll defend the revenue
Waste absorption isn’t the only common resource an American Permanent
Fund could tap. Consider also, the substantial contribution society makes
to stock market values. As noted earlier, private corporations can inflate
their value dramatically by selling shares on a regulated stock exchange.
The extra value derives from the enlarged market of investors who can now
buy the corporation’s shares. Given a total stock market valuation
of about $15 trillion, this socially created liquidity premium is worth roughly
At the moment, this $5 trillion gift flows mostly to the 5 percent
of the population that own more than half the private wealth. But if we
we could spread it around. We could do that by charging corporations for
using the public trading system, just as investment bankers do. (For those
of you who haven’t been involved in a public stock offering, investment
bankers are like fancy doormen to a free palace. While the public charges
almost nothing to use the capital markets, investment bankers exact hefty
The public’s fee could be in cash or stock. Let’s say we required
publicly traded companies to deposit 1 percent of their shares each year
in the American Permanent Fund for ten years — reaching a total of
10 percent of their shares. This would be our price not just for using a
regulated stock exchange, but also for all the other privileges (limited
liability, perpetual life, copyrights and patents, and so on) that we currently
bestow on private corporations for free.
In due time, the American Permanent Fund would have a diversified portfolio
worth several trillion dollars. Like its Alaskan counterpart, it would pay
equal yearly dividends to everyone. As the stock market rose and fell, so
would everyone’s dividend checks. A rising tide would lift all boats.
America would truly be an “ownership society.” ... read
the whole chapter
Peter Barnes: Capitalism
3.0 — Chapter 8: Sharing Culture (pages 117-134)
So far I’ve focused on the commons of nature and community. In
this chapter I explore the third fork of the commons river, culture.
By this I mean the gifts of language, art, and science we inherit, plus
the contributions we make as we live.
Culture is a joint undertaking — a co-production — of individuals
and society. The symphonies of Mozart, like the songs of Lennon and McCartney,
are works of genius. But they also arise from the culture in which that
genius lives. The instrumentation, the notation system, and the prevalent
musical forms are the dough from which composers bake their cakes. So
too with ideas. All thinkers and writers draw on stories and discoveries
that have been developed by countless men and women before them. To paraphrase
Isaac Newton, each generation sees a little farther because it stands
on the shoulders of its predecessors. In this way, all new work draws
from the commons and then enriches it. To keep art and science flourishing,
we have to make sure the cultural commons is cared for.
In addition, unlike most natural commons, the cultural commons is inexhaustible.
Shakespeare’s plays can be “used” again and again without
diminishing them. The same is true of Newton’s theories, Beethoven’s
string quartets, and the information on the World Wide Web. Indeed, the
more we use these assets, the more value they bestow. And thanks to technology — from
Gutenberg’s press to Marconi’s radio to the globe-spanning
Internet — sharing this wealth has become increasingly easy.
Today, unfortunately, this cultural commons, like the commons of nature
and community, is being enclosed by private corporations. The danger
is that corporations will deplete the soil in which culture grows. The
remedy is to reinvigorate the cultural commons. ...
Enclosure of the commons has also been occurring in the world of science.
Here, too, the Founders’ intentions were clear. Ben Franklin, no
slouch when it came to the dollar, never sought a patent on his most
famous invention, the Franklin stove. “As we enjoy great advantages
from the inventions of others,” he wrote, “we should be glad
to serve others by any invention of ours.” Thomas Jefferson, who
served as first head of the U.S. Patent Office, believed the purpose
of the office was to promulgate inventions, not protect them. He rejected
nearly half the applications submitted during his term. (Eli Whitney’s
cotton gin made it through.)
As with copyrights, this stringent approach to patents worked well for
a long time. America didn’t lack inventiveness in the nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries (and let it be remembered that we stole
much of our early technology from the British). But from midcentury to
the present, patenting has become a national pastime. The Bayh-Dole Act
of 1980, which let universities get patents on taxpayer-funded research
and license those patents to corporations, opened the floodgates. Corporate
money rushed into academic labs, and with it came a corporate mindset.
Where scientists once shared their discoveries openly, many now fear
to discuss them, lest someone beat them to the patent office. Today,
some say, the secrecy is so intense and the thicket of property rights
so dense that the advancement of research has noticeably slowed.
The U.S. Patent Office has gone along with this, issuing patents for
everything from one-click shopping on the Internet to genes that are
99 percent nature-made. Often, companies get patents not with the intention
of developing them, but rather with the intention of suing someone else
who might (a practice known as patent trolling). Figure 8.1 shows the
dramatic rise in number of patents issued over the past few decades.
Consumers and taxpayers are burdened as well. Thanks to patents, pharmaceutical
companies can charge monopoly prices for up to twenty years after introducing
a new drug. This is said to benefit society by providing incentives for
research, but according to the Center for Economic Policy Research, the
benefit is greatly exceeded by the cost. Pharmaceutical companies spend
about $25 billion a year on research, of which about 70 percent is for
copycat drugs that mimic competitors’ brands and add no significant
The federal government could fund 100 percent of noncopycat research — and
place the resulting drugs in the public domain — entirely from
cost savings to Medicare and Medicaid. On top of that, the savings to
consumers from lower drug costs would amount to hundreds of billions
of dollars each year.
To release science from corporate control, we need to take a twofold
approach: apply more stringent standards for issuing patents, and provide
more public funds for research (with the proviso that publicly funded
discoveries stay in the public domain). The track record for publicly
funded research has, in fact, been phenomenal. The entire computer industry
was spawned by the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, which produced the first
digital computer in 1945. Similarly, the Internet emerged from the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation
in the 1980s. It’s hard to imagine the modern world without either
of these breakthroughs, or with the Internet being owned, say, by Verizon
or TimeWarner. ... read
the whole chapter