Blogs > Cliopatria > Reading the Tea Leaves

Mar 27, 2004 7:29 am

Reading the Tea Leaves

I do social and economic history, and I've been pondering this since picking up my newspaper today: Is it a good sign or a bad sign for the economy, when the bill collection call center closes? Hilo just lost it's fourth-largest employer, which is bad, and this island's unemployment rate was already higher than the state average. But does this tell us anything about the larger economy? I mean, if people are paying their bills closer to on time, then that's good for the economy; if people just aren't paying them at all, so calling them isn't helping, then that's very bad. I figured bill collection agencies were kind of like pawnshops: nearly fool-proof, if you do your job at all right. But, as my father says, you can make something foolproof, but not damn-fool proof; those damn-fools are so darned clever....

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Grant W Jones - 3/31/2004

The issue is how property rights are originally created. Are there ways other than legislative fiat?

Jonathan Dresner - 3/29/2004

Mr. Jones,

No, privatization does not require government ownership as a precondition, but either non-ownership or collective ownership (which may include government ownership or, as you allow, regulation). This is the problem of Commons all over again: individual corporations are claiming portions of it and profiting from it without sharing those benefits with the other stakeholders.

You're going to have to work on the distinction between real property and intellectual property. Your hair may be your property, but if someone patents the genes which result in your particular hair, you may find yourself a renter.

Grant W Jones - 3/29/2004

I now see that the problem with your statement "the privatization of nature" is that you are using "nature" here as a floating absraction.

According to my Random House dictionary: "Nature,"5; natural scenery, 6; the universe, with all its phenomena, 7; the sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe."

In order for nature to be privatized, it must be first owned by the government. Does this include the air we breathe? Maybe it's a vast common that is regulated by the government, but that is not the same thing as ownership. I hope not or our forward thinking Hawaiian Democrats may place a tax on that too.

As a libertarian, I'm in favor of self-ownership. The purpose of the state is to protect private property. My hair is my property. It does not follow from there that all non-human DNA belongs to der staat.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/29/2004

Courts have also upheld damages against those who use patented DNA without paying for it, even if the use was involuntary, so if someone patents a genetic therapy that happens to use part of my genetic code, I could be liable for royalties on something that was mine to begin with. Satire? Not by much.

David Lion Salmanson - 3/29/2004

I've patented your DNA using samples of hair collected after you last haircut. You can start sending me royalty checks or face court action. (Satire) Except that courts have upheld the patenting of human and biological genomes taken without consent. (Not satire). Look, the boundary has to be drawn somewhere between private and public. A vast majority of Americans support national parks, think the government doesn't get a big enough cut on resources taken by private companies off public land, etc. If an animal or plant is wild, it is by definition not owned, hence not private. To take something not private and make it private is called privatization.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/29/2004

I think our views differ on things other than simply private property (I'm not as hostile to the idea as you think, but I certainly draw the line sooner). For example, you assume that "profit" is a simple, straightforward motive, but there are a lot of ways to seek profit, and corporations are much more opaque in their operation than governments, as things stand now.

I'd also point out that a huge portion of the Research done in this country is funded by government and non-profit agencies which you so fear.

Grant W Jones - 3/29/2004

The source of bio-tech wealth is human intelligence, knowledge, ability, and the willingness to take risks.

"Privatization of nature?" I'm not hostile to private property so this type of hysteria doesn't bother me. The type of knowledge we are talking about requires enormous investment to create. I'd much rather have bio-tech controlled by private companies operating for profit, than government's engaging in non-profit ventures for unknown motives. Our differences on this stem from our different views on private property.

Perhaps there is also a movement against governments nationalizing vast tracts of land, particularly west of the Mississippi. This notion of the "Kings Land and all that Dwells upon it" is Medieval.

In any event, it's just another tax. Which will no doubt be a shot in the arm for Hawaii's economy.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/28/2004

The recent moves by the State to consider taking a cut of any biotechnology based on native species makes great sense to me and it is part of a worldwide movement against the privatization of nature. GM seeds are just the most blatant example, but the ability to patent genetic code for private gain is deeply troubling.

Grant W Jones - 3/28/2004

The creation of employment is the by-product of business/commerce. Too bad the county council can't think of something other than raising the gas tax and putting more relatives on the government payroll. The state of Hawaii is also going to nationalize all the bugs, weeds and other critters in the state forests. We wouldn't want to encourage bio-tech now would we?

The collection company is not in business to employ Hiloians, but to pay their investors a return. They must have reached the threshold where costs were larger than benefit for in doing business in Hilo. Hawaii is the most business unfriendly state in the nation. The economy will not get better until that changes.

Maybe you could open a Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts. Without competition you should clean up.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/28/2004

We're probably already getting calls from Bangalore (and Tom Friedman thinks that's a good thing). I think the call center's location here was supposed to make it easier for them to call during evening hours on the mainland.

Robert L. Campbell - 3/28/2004

Is it possible that Hawaiians with overdue bills will now be getting calls from Bangalore?

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