The idea that ideas can be property is patently ridiculous

May 18, 2017 § 54 Comments

One of the interesting things about patents (unless the law has changed since I filed mine a couple decades ago) is that the invention must be “reduced to practice” before you can even apply for one: you have to have a concrete working implementation before the patent office will even accept your application. And once a patent is granted, what the patent holder actually receives – the patent itself – is a security entitling the holder of the patent to enforceable commercial exclusivity within the jurisdiction of the patent authority.

Similar things can be said about other forms of intellectual property.

So IP doesn’t count in favor of the contention that ideas can be property. It counts against that contention.

As usual liberal modernity requires you to studiously avert your gaze once actual reality starts to come into view.

Cloud products, usury, and the death of property

February 20, 2017 § 45 Comments

Human beings used to be reasonably capable of distinguishing reality from imagination, at least in the boots-on-the-ground world of day to day life.  Property at one time referred to something real, something which exists in its own right. Thus property could be possessed, repossessed, bought, sold, stolen, consumed, or destroyed independent of the property’s owner or of any other particular persons.

Human beings and possessions were understood to be different things, with the notable – but at least clearly delineated – exception of economic chattel slavery, not to be confused with prison.

Then along came widespread acceptance of usury. Liberal modernity counts, as one of its crowning achievements, the destruction of chattel slavery.  As with all of liberalism’s putative emancipatory achievements, this is illusory.  Rather than freeing humanity from the objectification inherent in chattel slavery, liberalism has merely driven this objectification into the subcutaneous socioeconomic metalayer, implanted it under the skin, making it that much more difficult to see and resist.  As always liberalism does not actually “free” us from authority as it pretends to do: it simply makes authority sociopathic.

The old tyrannies could at least be seen out in the open. A man knew where he stood. Now the tyranny comes cloaked as the seductress “freedom”. Liberal tyranny boils up from under layers of flesh, lurks inside clinging to the bones as it gnaws away at internal organs and releases its offal into the body. If paganism, Mohammedism, and Rabbinic Judaism are packs of hyenas harrowing Christendom, liberalism is a cancer that eats away at it from within, an alien embryo feeding on its host as it releases a thousand horrors.

But I digress.

Property is objective[1], that is, it consists of objects independent of any particular human subject or subjects.  Owners are human subjects, human beings independent of any particular property. Take away a man’s property and you still have a man.

You can tell who truly owns what by asking what happens when the music stops: by asking what, at the end of the day, secures each person’s claims. In a recourse mortgage the borrower “owns” the house and the lender owns the borrower, because the lender is contractually entitled to collect deficiencies from the borrower if selling the house does not fully discharge the borrower’s contractual obligations.  The situation is even worse than that though, because in the case of taxable real estate the sovereign really owns the property and leases it back to the tenant (whom we deceptively label the “owner”).  Real estate “owners”, then, don’t really own the actual property. The sovereign owns the property and what the “owners” really own is exclusive leasing rights: a kind of financial security.  That isn’t nothing, but there is much less there than meets the eye. Real estate “ownership” where there are property taxes is a form of lie: what is owned is not land and buildings, but a perpetual[2] and exclusive lease on land and buildings.

Products dependent upon cloud software represent a new, technologically enabled phase in non-ownership “ownership”.  Cloud software or “Internet of things” products require a “mother ship” somewhere on the Internet in order to work. Without the mother ship they become literally useless; “bricked” in the vernacular. For example you can spend years of your life producing work with a cloud based – or even just cloud licensed – CAD program, under the illusion that you own at least your own actual work product. You don’t own the software, it is merely ‘licensed’ to you, sure.  But in fact you don’t even really own your own work product which you produced with the software using your own hands and mind, because you cannot even continue to access your own work without regularly checking in with the mother ship to ensure that license terms are met . If the terms and conditions change, or the company goes out of business or the mother ship crashes for some other reason, you can’t even access the features of your own “property”; not even your own accumulated work.

Cloud products represent a kind of legalized ransomware.  As with usury there is a superficial resemblance to legitimate transactions; in this case a resemblance to having sold or leased you some tools with which you can produce your own  work; work which you then own. The work you produce with cloud-based ransomware looks like it belongs to you.

But when the music stops your hammer no longer works, there are no other hammers which will work, and all that you have built with the hammer is hostage to the true owner’s terms and conditions.  You were never the owner of your own work product in the first place: you rent your own work at the pleasure of the private party who really owns it.

When philosophical anti-realism invades the domain of property, the distinction between persons and property disappears.  This erodes the distinction between persons and objects in spheres beyond property and ownership.

If you would like to see the great dehumanization reversed, I can’t really offer much hope. But I’d be happy to hand you a shovel.

[1] Nota bene: not physical or merely physical, since physicalism is false.

[2] At least for as long as the tenant continues to make payments, which can be increased at any time without his agreement.

The Mickey Mouse world of intellectual property

April 24, 2016 § 33 Comments

I don’t have strong views about intellectual property. Modern understandings of property and commerce are perverse, immoral, and unreal. It seems likely that at least some of what IP law sanctions, asserts, and prohibits goes against the natural law. But I haven’t personally done the due diligence required to credibly advance particular arguments about particular laws or practices.

Generally speaking intellectual property has similarities to cash — once we have an adequate grasp of what cash actually is and is not.

The sovereign is, qua sovereign, the ‘owner’ of certain marketplaces: that is, he sets the terms upon which transactions are permitted and carried out in the marketplaces over which he is sovereign.

Cash – or more specifically, sovereign-issued currency[1] – entitles the bearer to engage in certain kinds of taxable transactions in the sovereign’s marketplaces. (People often use it for non-taxable transactions too, and in other marketplaces owned by different sovereigns: insulin is valuable for barter in trade by non-diabetics).

Fiat currency does not authorize all conceivable transactions, of course: various transactions such as selling yourself outright into slavery are not “allowed” (that is, enforced); and usurious contracts are allowed/enforced but should not be.

Intellectual property, then, is like a lease or easement in the sovereign’s markets. Leases and easements are a kind of financial security, that is, claims against property.  A patent permits the patent holder to sell the patented invention in the sovereign’s marketplaces, while forbidding other parties to sell the patented invention.  A patent, then, is a financial security; the property against which it entitles a specific claim is the sovereign’s marketplaces.

It is similar to Disney allowing only Starbucks to sell coffee in Disneyland.  When you are in Disneyland, you must commercially transact within the rules of Disneyland.

[1] Modern economists use the label “money” to refer to many essentially different kinds of security: actual paper currency, individual currency-denominated claims against the balance sheets of banks, bank claims agains the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve, etc etc.  All mainstream modern economic theories — Austrian, Keynesian, Chicago, MMT, Labor Theory of Value, etc — are metaphysically anti-realist, that is, are disconnected from reality and therefore insane and incoherent. In fact I am not personally aware of any metaphysically realist economic theory (an economic theory which competently distinguishes between imaginary reality and actual reality) at all, mainstream or fringe.

Different ontologies of property in action

October 4, 2015 § 10 Comments

When you buy something from Amazon, they treat you like the thing you bought now belongs to you.

When you buy something from Apple, they treat you like the thing you bought still belongs to them.

Google and Facebook own you.

Property taxes: sovereign usury?

June 11, 2015 § 52 Comments

Lots of folks have suggested that fiat currencies and fractional reserve banking create fake economic value out of nothing and are therefore, if not usury strictly speaking, somewhere in the moral vicinity of usury.  So far when this has come up in discussion it has turned out that critics of both don’t really understand either.  The former are options issued by the government which allow the bearer to settle tax liabilities; the ‘created money’ in the latter are options against the balance sheets of banks, denominated in the former.  There is nothing usurious going on and no creation of fake wealth except to the extent that the balance sheets of banks carry usurious (as opposed to nonrecourse) loans.  This should be at least mildly familiar territory to anyone who has read and understood the Usury FAQ.

But there is one kind of government activity that does bear close resemblance to usury: the levying of property taxes.

Here is a (slightly modified) comment I left on Kristor’s Orthosphere post (which itself is less about property tax than it is a preamble to another subject, the beginning of what I hope will be a series of posts well worth following):

Another prudential reason to oppose property taxes is that they encourage treating all property as liquid and fungible, discouraging ownership of anything illiquid and making ownership of illiquid things into something less than real ownership.

Property taxes are like the sovereign’s version of usury: the sovereign demands a fixed percentage repeatedly every tax period until the owner is destitute, independent of the owner’s actual fortunes during the period. The sovereign qua publican doesn’t care about the owner’s fortunes a bit: he just demands his pound of flesh every year.

Transaction taxes (sales, income, VAT, etc) on the other hand are one-time levies directly tied to the activities and fortunes of the person taxed — including property owners, because property owners who work, invest, and buy goods and services in the inevitable struggle against entropy pay transaction taxes when they do those things.

Property tax in contrast is not merely a form of economic double-jeopardy: it is a form of economic infinite-jeopardy.   If property were a bucket of water, transaction taxes represent taking a scoop of water every time the bucket changes hands in public commerce.  Property taxes represent a hole in the bottom of the bucket, a limitless demand against property owners, in effect making the sovereign into the property owner and the notional “owners” into rent-paying tenants.  (Some folks might like it that way — but they ought to be forthright about the fact that their preferred social arrangement involves de-facto abolishment of private property).

More generally, taxes on nonexistent transactions in illiquid property are inherently unjust.  Property taxes are a particularly egregious species of this tax genus, because they repeat ad infinitum.

None of this excuses the property owner from his duty to steward his property well for the sake of the common good and those more directly in his care, of course — just as the sovereign’s authority does not excuse him from his duty to rule over his subjects well for the sake of the common good and those directly subject to him.

But it seems to me that deposing kings and stripping owners of all of their property (even when you rent it back to them) are serious matters requiring serious reasons, not to be undertaken in the ordinary course of things. The sovereign’s title to already-owned private property (as distinct from taking a share in public transactions) is like the poor man’s title to bread. I don’t think it is surprising that folks who are fond of democracy often tend to be fond of property taxes: they both reflect inherently brittle and cavalier modern attitudes about authority, where kingship and ownership are both forms of authority.

Another argument that property taxes are intrinsically unjust

September 25, 2013 § 12 Comments

A while back I made an argument that property taxes are intrinsically unjust.  Based on my understanding of usury as taking profits from what does not exist, I argued that property taxes are levied against transactions which haven’t happened.  (That’s why an assessment is needed: the assessment is an imaginary transaction wherein the property is valued without actually being sold).

In this post I will make an independent argument that property taxes are intrinsically unjust.  This argument will not depend on any particular understanding of currencies, usury, etc.

Assume that income taxes are not always unjust, but that a 100% income tax – an income tax which confiscates literally all of a man’s income – is unjust.

Then observe that a property tax confiscates 100% of the property against which it is levied.  A 2.5% annual property tax will confiscate the entire property over the course of 40 years.

The fact that it happens in slow motion does not make it less than a 100% levy.

So in order to believe that property taxes are just, we must accept the premise that a tax which confiscates 100% of a man’s property is just.  It follows, since income is property, that a 100% income tax is just.  This contradicts our original premise that a 100% income tax is unjust.

Property’s properties

August 27, 2013 § 7 Comments

Property is an authority that we, as proprietors, hold over other human beings.  Authority, in turn, is a capacity to create specific moral obligations that others are morally required to carry out.  As with all legitimate forms of authority, compliance with a proprietor’s authority is both mandatory and voluntary.

The authority we call “property” is frequently defined and thought of in relation to non-human things (houses, cars, land, stock certificates, contracts); but in its fundamental essence property represents legitimate moral obligations on the part of other human beings which we, as proprietors, can impose through our choices.

There are two general kinds of persons over whom a proprietor can impose obligations.  Firstly and most obviously he can impose obligations over other persons generally: e.g. the land owner can impose obligations not to trespass.  Secondly, the proprietor can impose obligations over the sovereign: one of the responsibilities of government is to prevent theft and trespass[1], and to carry out justice when theft or trespass has occurred.  So a proprietor imposes an obligation on the sovereign to enforce his choices in particular cases, when the choices the proprietor makes are morally good choices.

One thing a proprietor can never do, though (it is literally impossible for him to do this), is impose an obligation to do evil on another human being. That includes the sovereign.


[1] Theft (distinguished from trespass) I understand to be an unjust violation of a proprietor’s authority in a way which permanently (until restoration of the property, if restoration is possible) alienates the proprietor’s authority.

An argument that property taxes are intrinsically unjust

December 18, 2012 § 14 Comments

A comment by reader tz2026 got me thinking about taxation in the context of our discussions about usury.  I’ve long had an intuition that there was something not quite right about property taxes.  I’ve on occasion been known to suggest a “mandatory sale” rule: if the property tax assessor values a house at X the property owner should be able to say “OK, you now own it for X” and walk away with the money.

As a provisional exploratory matter, I now think I may be developing an argument that property taxes are intrinsically unjust.

In a profitable loan broadly and colloquially construed, the lender charges the borrower rent for the use of something.  In a case of usury the rent is charged for something which does not actually exist.  Thus usury is unjust: it is a scam, a theft, a something-for-nothing taking from the borrower.

Now the sovereign’s currency has credibility as a medium of exchange precisely because it is the currency that he will accept as payment for taxes.  We engage in all sorts of transactions in the sovereign’s currency.  (Contrary to the popular view, the sovereign’s currency is not mandatory for transactions: non-cash transactions are actually quite commonplace.  But that is something of an aside from the present subject, I think).  Usually – though not always – when a house is sold, it is sold for sovereign currency.

Anyway, the argument goes something like this:

Property taxes are denominated in the sovereign’s currency.  However, the value imputed for the property tax rests on the mere potentiality of selling the property for its assessed value.  There isn’t any actual sale transacted in actual dollars; there is merely a potential sale which does not in fact occur.

If it is intrinsically unjust to charge rent for something which doesn’t actually exist, it is also intrinsically unjust to tax what does not actually exist.


Just an alternative expression of property rights

November 1, 2008 § 1 Comment

(HT: Romish Internet Graffiti)

Property, Slavery, and Godliness

January 18, 2008 § 3 Comments

I posted the following in a combox earlier today:

Another thing about slavery: slavery is just a particular and highly institutionalized instance of treating human beings as property. Human beings can be and often are treated as property without a formal institution of slavery, which doesn’t stop being evil simply in the jettisoning of its institutional character. And of course treating human beings as property is itself a species of treating human beings as things rather than persons. The servant-slave distinction as we understand it today hinges on exactly this: that the servant is treated as a person subject to a contingent earthly authority, while the slave is treated as nothing but an object the sole purpose of which is to provide utility.

I’ve argued (or at least asserted) in the past that even property shouldn’t be treated as property: that is, that our concept of property has become damaged by modern philosophy, which treats property as things subject to arbitrary will as opposed to things falling under legitimate jurisdiction in carrying out a mandate of stewardship. Modern people detest this idea, because modern people detest the idea that they cannot be God, and they especially detest the idea that they cannot be God even in little circumscribed “personal” domains.

Another thing that strikes me here is that to attempt to be a little tinpot God is to attempt to become the opposite of Christ. Because Christ is perfectly loving, perfectly giving, perfectly humble, incapable in virtue of His perfect goodness of treating a person as a thing. So in attempting to be like God in terms of the dominance of our will over some domain, we make ourselves the opposite of God.

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