We already knew that computers, equipped with proper algorithms, could write stories pretty much indistinguishable from the work of professional journalists working under deadline pressure. And had I been paying attention, I’d know that the company behind this, a “spinout” from Northwestern University, is also moving into other “turn data into a story” tasks, which from the examples here seem to mainly focus on financial reporting, tho it also appears that buyers of used cars can be exposed to “automated and individualized vehicle stories” (pdf) about their cars, which presumably helps sales. And it’s no secret that In Q Tel, an affiliate of your Central Intelligence Agency, is one of several investors behind the company.
So, it’s technology, it’s government, it’s marketing– why am I surprised that it’s protected by a bunch of patents on different variations on “automatic generation of a story?” Here I am, using a computer with many automatic functions to generate a sort of story about this company, and I really haven’t time to read and try to understand all their patents. I guess I better stop before I get in more trouble.
Anyone reading this blog might get bored with the number of times I say that Henry George was right, and is even more right today than in his own time. But that’s what I do, and part of the reason for this blog is to provide a place where I can record show up.
Location is [still] everything, says the new book by Prof David R. Bell. When I saw the title, I thought it was about land value and real estate, but no, it’s actually about marketing on the Internet and evidence that location matters, a lot, to marketers working in that [virtual] space. For example, the best initial customers for your Internet business might be those who are relatively isolated and haven’t any local sources for your product. Subsequent customers might be those nearby to these customers, who learn of you thru conversation or by observing distinctive shipping boxes. And, for some reason which Bell does not try to explain, even for virtual goods people are most likely to turn to the geographically closest sources.
It’s a nice book for anyone who studied economic geography and marketing in the dark ages, bringing a few things up to date, but quite accessible to every interested reader.
Then there’s the matter of monopoly over text, part of what’s sometimes called “intellectual property” by those who seek to profit by restricting it. This comes from a fascinating interview with writer Poe Ballantine, well worth a listen in its entirely. Ballantine has found it difficult making a living as a writer, drifting geographically and among relatively menial jobs, mainly in food service it seems. He says that after four books he was still known mainly as “the cook.” But now he has reached the point where he can actually earn a living as a writer.
[starting about 45:35 into the audio]
Q: So your writing is sustaining you financially?
A: The writing is not quite enough, but the appearances, the invitations from colleges and universities are what cover my expenses right now. They pay very well. That’s where the money is; the money is not in selling books, the money is in the universities where people go to get their writing degrees.
So maybe the fighting over copyrights doesn’t benefit the writer? But, at least, sometimes the education monopoly brings about something useful.
[I]n Bill Clinton’s encapsulation of political strategy, “It’s the economy, stupid.” But the success of an economy can only be measured by its growth. Since growth requires the accelerated consumption of limited natural resources, it is not a sustainable model in the long run.
If you concentrate on how a place is owned, however, the perspective changes. As this book demonstrates, matters of laws, of rights and of politics become crucial, taking precedence over economics. From that point of view… “It’s the neighborhood, stupid.”
…Around the world and throughout history, neighborhoods have succeeded in a million different ways. It all depends on how the earth is owned.
That, the conclusion of Andro Linklater’sOwning the Earth, illustrates what is right and what is wrong with the book. Our quality of life does does depend on how the earth is owned, and Georgists are aware of the importance and practicality of recognizing each individual’s right to what no one produced. But must a sound economy necessarily use more of the earth’s limited resources? Is there no practical way to use resources more efficiently? And is there no possibility that economic improvement could be measured by anything other than economic growth?
The book is wide-ranging and (mostly) well-written, making connections in place after place between how the right to use nature is recognized, and how well the community developed. It draws some connections that I hadn’t seen before, such as how the growth in mortgages on American farms followed logically from the end of homesteading.
And Linklater does devote a couple of pages to Henry George, but seriously misunderstands why George’s proposals weren’t widely adopted, saying “[I]t is notoriously difficult to arrive at a valuation system that can clearly separate earned from unearned capital appreciation.” Here he means “separate improvement value from land value,” and he is wrong. Practical methods of doing so on a mass basis were described back in 1970 in TRED #5 (outline), which is not posted on line to my knowledge, and in this more recent paper by Ted Gwartney, MAI. And, of course, land values are routinely estimated by appraisers and are a component of almost every U S income tax return that involves commercial or investment real estate.
It is true that, with limited exceptions, George’s proposals weren’t adopted, but for a different reason. Mason Gaffney has provided a compelling and well-sourced explanation (also available in a book), and it is unfortunate that Linklater seems to have been unaware of it. One wonders what else he did not know.
A new report “Copyright Industries in the U S Economy” has been released by the IIPA (A conspiracy of seven associations of copyprivilege holders). I should read and review it, but I could not do a better job than Mike Masnick, so read his review and the comments thereon. Of course, IIPA and its members probably have several staff and/or automatons, whose duties include responding to constructive comments. Fortunately, they get responded to in turn.
After a couple of months’ diversions, I hope I am getting back to something like regular blogging, starting with a nice article — as far as it goes, at least– by Gregg Easterbrook about the subsidies and political favors governments provide for professional football. A lot of this, on stadium subsidies (not just for football), has been covered in the past by Heartland, most recently here (pdf). But Easterbrook covers some additional ground, noting the federal favors done for the football business. I hadn’t been aware that NFL has a special anti-trust exemption (I thought it was just one of the many many cases where feds choose not to enforce laws.) And I’d never made the connection between stadiums paid for by the public, and the “intellectual” “property” of football game images, which of course are government-created privilege.
Easterbrook does seem to be a football fan, which is a skill (affliction?) far beyond my capabilities. My preferred remedy for “sports” subsidies has always been for the audience to go away and do something else. But even tho I’m just as happy watching an amateur softball game, many people evidently get pleasure from seeing the professionals in action. Easterbrook suggests that it’s necessary that “public attitudes change.” Great idea, but as long as the public feel compelled to watch these games, it’s difficult to imagine any politician willing to risk the wrath of those who control them.
Here’s a program note from ABC indicating that yield of GMO crops is no greater than conventional crops. Unfortunately there is no formal citation of the source article, nor is it available on line as far as I can tell, and ABC tends to remove their program notes after a few weeks. However, the article, from the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, was written by Professor Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, which might be enough information to locate it. Heinemann’s web page links to an article which may even be the one in question.
A nice series of threeshortarticles (h/t Gloria Picchetti) in Salon by Michael Lind, explaining the difference between an entrepreneur — who may become wealthy by providing goods and services people want — and a rentier — who seeks to become rich by exacting a toll or tax on productive work.
Lind mentions, in a positive way, the land value tax, and also notes that this isn’t a left/right issue, as labor unions and professional associations can be just as monopolistic as bankers. The negative effects of “intellectual” “property” are noted, altho Lind seems to think that those who profit from patents are “inventors.” Of course there’s no mention of Henry George, but maybe changing our name to “Institute for the Study and Extirpation of the Useless Rich” would be a helpful step.
The remedies Lind suggests are quite centralized, such as changing federal tax laws, and maintaining financial repression with the object of moving people from private savings to social programs. Not what I would propose, but what does a geoist in flyover country have to contribute to this discussion?
Yesterday’s Guardian carried a very encouraging report from India, where rice farmers are multiplying their production figures by carefully and methodically managing their crops. This has nothing to do with genetic modification, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers, and no need for “protecting” “intellectual” “property.” Of course it may require more labor per acre than other methods, but growing population means growing supply of labor. And it may work best on relatively small, owner-operated farms. The method, known as System of Root (or Rice) Intensification, can be applied to other crops. It’s based on a French Jesuit’s observations of practices in Madagascar, promoted by Cornell’s International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development.
The Guardian article asserts that Cornell’s work was funded by “an anonymous billionaire,” altho links from the Cornell site imply that “actor Jim Carrey” is somehow involved. At this writing, there are 205 comments on the Guardian article, some of which are insightful. One suggests that the reported results are quite exaggerated, but to read beyond the abstract of the source cited seems to cost $19.95.
I have no idea whether this particular method is as beneficial as described, but just last week I spoke to an Illinois farmer who reported that four adults were gainfully employed, supporting themselves, by intensively cultivating an acre of vegetables. One way or another, people will find ways to coax more food from the earth, if they have a need (or desire) and are permitted to do so.
While the logical way to make most books conveniently available to more people is to greatly reduce the scope and duration of the copy-prevention privilege known as “copyright,” another approach is to buy books their freedom, one-by-one. This seems to be the approach of Unglue.it. They use a crowd-funding approach to pay privilege-holders for a creative-commons license, which essentially makes the book available to all if enough people are willing to donate enough money. Certainly better than nothing and perhaps it will prove fruitful.
To date they seem to have ransomed three books in this way, tho their web site doesn’t tell us how much they paid, with four ongoing campaigns seeking to raise between $1,000 and $25,000.
Twitter says it plans for its future patents to be subject to an “Innovator’s Patent Agreement,” which will prevent them from being used “to impede the innovation of others.” Seems like a good thing, but it’s still very much a proposal, with the latest draft apparently here. Like Google’s “don’t be evil,” I suspect there will end up being some flexibility as to what is “defensive” and what actually “impedes innovation.”