Sunday, May 17, 2009

Is scarcity a monetary phenomena?

A fellow blogger posted an article titled "Change the Rules of the game or Game itself?", where he mentioned the The Venus Project, and made claims in relation to the lowering of prices of mangoes such as:
For once, if we take the money out the equation, there are plenty of mangoes there a lot of people could eat instead of letting it rot in the market.
This is a bold claim to make. Is scarcity really just a monetary phenomena? If there was no money, there won't be any scarcity?I think not.

Taking money out of the equation does not remove the scarcity of the mangoes or any good for that matter. There is no infinite supply of land for mango trees, nor an infinite supply of farmers to grow them, nor an infinite number of traders and vehicles to bring the produce to the consumers, etc. Simply saying removing money out of the equation does not remove this scarcity.

Laws of supply and demand is the reality whether we like it or not. Whether money is involved or not. In barter as well, you would give up something more valuable in exchange for something that is more scarce. Money is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. Remove money, we are back to barter, and the problems of scarcity will remain.

Even assuming that the Earth has enough natural resources for the world population (as the Venus Project claims), it takes time, energy, skill, tools, machinery to make the resources to a consumable form. As such, it will always be a matter of trade off between where to put more time and energy to say growing mangoes or other tasks.

At a cursory glance, the Venus Project appears to advocate a central authority to control every aspect of our life in the name of humanity. It states:
Considerable amounts of energy would also be saved by eliminating the duplication of competitive products such as tools, eating utensils, pots, pans and vacuum cleaners. Choice is good. But instead of hundreds of different manufacturing plants and all the paperwork and personnel required to turn out similar products, only a few of the highest quality would be needed to serve the entire population.
Is it not the competition that drives innovation and creativity? What is the incentive to make the single highest quality product? Such central-planning never works.

And it is not even self consistent. Here it says (emphasis mine):
Overpopulation, energy shortages, global warming, environmental pollution, water scarcity, economic catastrophe, the spread of uncontrollable disease, and the technological displacement of people by machines threaten each of us.
While here it states:
With the advent of future developments in science and technology, we will assign more and more decision making to machines.
Ofcourse, there will be lots of benefit to come from the renewable energy research and others that they propose to do, but as a social system I have my reservations. And thats just after a cursory look at their website. I think there will be a lot more to dig out, or am I way out of line here? Just one question remains.

Who controls the code running on these machines?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The copyright debate

There is an ongoing online debate about copyrights on The Economist. The basic premise is that the existing copyright laws do more harm than good. Supporting the premise is Professor William Fisher of Harvard. Opposing the premise is Professor Justin Huges of Cardozo Law School, NY.

Although the debate is US-centric, the arguments and counter-arguments are very much relevant to our tiny country as we formulate modern intellectual property laws. Not that being modern is necessarily good.

Some Maldivians do think that copyright is an everlasting, overreaching right to do whatever you want with your works. They sometimes confuse copyright, patents and trademarks which are completely different things. We have to consider the costs to the society as a whole that results in overly broad copyrights, patents and trademarks.

For example, on 9 Feb 2009, Dhivehi Observer published an article titled Intellectual property and copyright law urgently needed in Maldives, states that:
For example, in recent years several special recipes for fish have been available in the market, like Faiy Mirus, Mas Mirus and so on. These are recipes that many of us tried for the very first time. Most people don’t even know who came up with the recipe but today several companies and individuals are selling the same product. One wonders what would happen to the first people had they been allowed to register the trademark and patent the recipe. Of course, others could sell similar products but not in the same name.
Are we to really allow trademarks on generic names and phrases such as "Mas Mirus", "Faiy Mirus" which Maldivians have used for long long time. Are we to allow patents on recipes which are modifications of recipes used by our previous generations? Are we forgetting that these recipes are also derivatives, and patenting them will restrict the recipes to selected few for the coming generations. And these few will be lobbyists benefiting at the cost of the society.

Overly broad copyrights and patents come at a huge cost to the society. It is no wonder that modern 'intellectual property' laws are allowing companies like Google to get sole access to millions of books and as one blogger put it, privatisation of the English language.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some questions for parliamentary candidates

Having watched some of the TVM 'debates', I wonder how will the candidates fair if they are asked some real political questions. Questions about issues that this country is facing, instead of giving them an easy ride by asking stupid questions. This way, the public can know what kind of policy stand their candidates favour.

Here are some questions, that I think are more relevant to the real world. Feel free to suggest more.

1. Do you agree that the current government's plans of privatisation of key sectors such as energy, health, education, utilities etc, will result in better and cheaper services for the public? How do you think standard of living, income disparity and poverty will change if such economic policies are adopted?

2. Maldives is currently facing proliferation of various religious sects, other religions and atheism. Should the state impose (by law) a certain sect of Islam? If so which sect, and how do we decide which sect? Or should the state allow anyone to practice their own selected sect of Islam, or allow complete freedom to choose one's own religion/sect?

3. Should the state have the right to monitor (internet, phones and other activities) of individuals in the hope of controlling 'social ills' such as religious extremism, other religions, homosexuality, pedophilia, drugs etc?

4. Do you consider the current drug laws sufficient? If not would you advocate more towards decriminalisation/rehabilitation or stricter criminal punishment?

5. If and when a tax system is introduced, should there be higher taxes with more government role in the society, or low taxes with less role for the government in the society?

I think such questions will reveal what the candidates really stand for and what their thoughts are (if they have thought of these problems at all) on these matters. It will help you in deciding who to vote for based on whether the candidates agree with you on what you think how these issues should be addressed.

Any suggestions/improvements are welcome.