Monday, September 19, 2005

Theft is Theft is Theft

At a recent family gathering of which I partook, I was successfully dubbed the "know-it-all" social pariah for my preaching; the topic of course being of rent control and rent stabilization issues. This issue is such a simple and blatant form of theft that one needs not to think hard nor long about it.

What we were discussing was how "fortunate" my sister's landlord was due to the recent passing of an ninety year-old rent-controlled tenant who lived upstairs from my sibling and brother-in-law. One of the points I made during the discussion was how R/C and R/S are in fact the impetus for bitter animosity usually present between landlords and tenants; and it's because of these unethical, WWII-era "emergency" laws that sometimes results in a landlord callously celebrating a human death!

That was the essence of my argument to emotional appeal. After all, it's difficult to win one's septuagenarian grandparents with ethical or economic fact, when all they can picture is what vote-pandering politicians like to paint -- senior citizens being kicked out of their homes and roaming the frozen streets homeless.

In defense of R/S and R/C, my dad and my broker-in-law repeated one another with the ole' canard "You knowingly bought it with the pre-existing R/C or R/S tenants" as if this could repeal the laws of private property and condone property theft.

Feeling like a kindergarten teacher I told them, "Suppose Dennis buys an apple tree from Adam, knowing that everyday a group of gangsters will pass by and take a couple of apples from the tree, does this mean that Dennis is willing to allow for the future apple theft?" Everyone immediately grasped the parallel, but then fell into the mindtrap of legal positivism -- "But its the government that doing rent S/C, not gangsters!" to which I responded "What's the significant difference between those two?".

It's also economic fact that price ceilings results in shortages; which means that even well-intending rent-control laws will benefit the lucky few to the detriment of the many others who will suffer a smaller housing stock consisting of higher rents and house prices.

And finally back to the emotional appeal, I explained to them that only in areas with R/C or R/S (such as NYC and San Francisco) do you find widespread cases of landlords who fight to rid themselves of tenants(!), as opposed to landlords who make it their business to house people; which hopefully made them realize that R/C and R/S are the leading cause of landlords-tenant squabbles and makes the situation worse, not better.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Lest I ever be accused of being a vulgar libertarian anarcho-capitalist, I hereby submit before my fancied readership evidence that I oppose coercion and/or violence for the purpose of securing monopolies on so-called intellectual property, emphasis of course on the property aspect.

All disclaimers aside, a recent dispatch found on reads:
Stephen Pinkos, U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, took time this week to visit an elementary school to inform kids that "downloading others’ property without their permission is a crime and that such theft has real consequences on our economy."
If it weren't for the cornucopia of "Broken Window Fallacy" posts which flooded the economic literate memepool pre- and post-Katrina, I probably would have skipped right over that last bit and not given it second thought. But alas, such was not the case.

As usual, I would like to make the case that conventional wisdom has things backwards. As Kevin Carson explains here:
Property in tangibles and land is rooted in the fact of physical reality that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. My wallet cannot be in my pocket and yours at the same time...

"Intellectual property" [sic], on the other hand, is a state-granted monopoly on something that is not finite by nature, and can be used by an unlimited number of people at the same time. And unlike tangible property, I cannot defend intellectual "property" rights by the mere fact of possession. In fact, I have to call on the state to invade someone else's space and coercively prevent him from arranging his own tangible property in a configuration, or using it to organize information in a configuration, over which the state has granted me a monopoly.
This first point being that I.P. is the unethical bastard child of corporate statism and has no justification or basis in natural law. So the contention that one who engages in I.P. infringement is stealing or performing an act of theft is most blatantly untrue, and the only party which can be said to violating rights are those who are proactively and coercively stemming the activities of the so-called infringers.

The second and main point here is the economic one; or at least one hopes so. For the sake of straw men and ham sandwiches, I'm going to have to assume that what Mr. Pinkos meant to say was that the economic consequences of I.P. infringement are "negative" and hence undesirable. I'm also going to assume that he is referring in particular to the financial decline of the entertainment industry which derives its revenue from the sales and rentals of films, music, books; brand and character licensing; TV syndication; box offices returns; -- in short, a monolithic mountain of monopoly-protected I.P.

As is often the case of late, Frédéric Bastiat's 155 years-old essay on "That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen" goes unheeded. What we may readily observe is the decline of entertainment industry revenue, which is relatively a highly visible, and might I add, a colossal figure. However, what goes unobserved is the same wealth being put to the more productive use of satisfying consumer desires with tangible goods in other industries.

This should make it apparent that claims of negative economic consequences are folly. Perhaps yet another time when I'm better informed on the free-rider issue can I address the possible consequences upon creativity, although on no certain terms would I ever advocate coercion to maintain the well of creativity.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Twist on Charlie's Chocolate Factory

JunkChristopher Largen's JUNK is a upbeat, yet scarily prescient tale of where nanny-statism will eventuate.

Here is a cute excerpt:
"Pastor Smith snickered. “Well, I’ve got news for you. Despite the Reverend Goodman’s arrogant attempt to play God, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is actually a sublime Christian allegory.”

Farah leaned forward and smiled. “Oh? Do tell.”

“It’s simple . . . the Chocolate Factory represents the Kingdom of God, with Wonka as Supreme Being. In order to enter the kingdom, the Bible says, you must become like a child. So, Wonka has to find a kid to inherit his factory.”

Moe chuckled. “Oh, please. Spare us the muddled metaphors, Pastor.”

“Wait, there’s more . . . The children who find golden tickets embody the deadly sins. Augustus Gloop, of course, is Gluttony. He gets sucked into a chocolate-filled pipe, a victim of his vice. Violet Beauregard is Pride. She’s always showing off her gum-chewing skills, so she blows up like a blueberry—blows up with pride. Veruca Salt is Greed— she wants it now, and gets a one-way ticket to Rotten Eggsville. Mike TV is Sloth. He just wants to sit in front of the tube. So he becomes miniscule—he atrophies down to a speck of his former self. And Charlie is Envy. In abject poverty, he desires the comfort and security that more affluent families possess.” Pastor Smith folded his hands in his lap and smirked."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


This post having nothing to do with 1984, I'm just misusing George Orwell's newspeak to sing the praises of Dan Simmon's Illium-Olympos series. Yes, the same author of the acclaimed Hugo-winning Hyperion tetralogy penned yet another treat for his fans.

I'll be the first to admit that I was somewhat confused when I finished the first book Illium last summer, but all of that was cleared up when I tore through Olympos a little over a month ago.

Ok, enough about me.

This sci-fi series is set thousands of years in the future and spanning Earth and Mars, and guests from the outer planets of Jupiter and Saturn. In this post-human future there are strange things going on, such as Homer's mythological characters, gods and mortals alike are engaged in a battle over the city of Troy, and more accurately, over Helen, the wife of Agamemnon and ertswhile lover of Paris.

Without divulging further plot material, this series skillfully combines the complicated epic struggle of the Illiad and Shakespearean characters with the best of hard science fiction elements in a delightful manner. If a post-postmodern interpretation of greek mythology is your "thing", you will love and enjoy this series as much as I did.

Go on, buy it.