Monday, March 08, 2010

Get Rich Quick?

I've been wondering lately why it is assumed that someone who comes up with a good idea or invents the "next great thing", no matter how small, is somehow entitled to get rich from it. This theme seems to run through all the debates I've had with others about "intellectual property" (IP), even if it's not articulated as such. Pro-IP folks vehemently defend the inventor's "right" to profit from his or her idea, claiming that someone else using another person's idea to make a profit is somehow "stealing" from the original inventor.

Inventors and innovators are definitely important for human progress, as without them technology would stagnate, and we wouldn't have many of the amazing devices and technologies we have today. But does creating something new really entitle you to a profit windfall? As a capitalist pig, I certainly believe that everyone has the right to exchange goods and services with others to make a profit, but why should inventors and innovators be given special treatment?

Many Pro-IP folks would probably say that if we didn't reward inventors handsomely we'd never have any new inventions, but I think that's hogwash. If nothing else, it ignores the fact that good ideas and useful inventions generate lots of profits for lots of people over long periods of time...not just at first or only for the inventor. Thus, it's silly to think that no one would ever invent anything if they couldn't be assured of getting rich from it within a short period of time. A good idea can make one rich without monopoly protection, maybe just not as quickly.

But I think there's something much more human that makes most people think that the market (or government or society or whatever) should make inventors rich. I'll call it the "It Could Be Me!" (ICBM, lol) principle. See, coming up with a great idea or a new useful gadget represents to most people the simplest, quickest way to "strike it rich." Potentially anyone can have a sudden flash of insight that leads to the next great thing and make a bundle...and it could be me! It's a way to make a bunch of money and live the life you've always wanted without saving and investing more of your earnings than you spend, being a real entrepreneur and starting your own business, or showing a ton of initiative and ambition and working your way up the ladder.

It's the everyman dream of success. It's hope that I could be the next one to get rich by hatching the plans for a better mousetrap. So if we got rid of patents, copyrights, and other IP monopoly protection, we would destroy the hopes of millions of people hanging onto that glimmer of hope...the hope that It Could Be Me! Who could possibly be so callous as to want to dash all those hopes and dreams?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The 2010 Census

I recently received an email (from my mom) warning me about possible scams associated with the upcoming 2010 federal census. Apparently there is a chance that some people will attempt to pose as census workers and try to get financial information from you so they can steal your identity. Maybe so, but that's not the reason for this post.

What stood out to me in the warning email was the following, seemingly innocent statement:
...more than 140,000 U.S. Census workers will count every person in the United States and will gather information about every person living at each address including name, age, gender, race, and other relevant data. (Emphasis added)

What do they mean by "relevant data", and why is any of the information mentioned at all relevant to the federal government?

According to the U.S. Constitution (remember that?), the census is only used to determine the number of representatives in the House for each state, as per the 14th amendment. Once upon a time it was used to determine taxes paid by each state, but that was superseded by the 16th amendment, which arrogated to Congress the power to levy income taxes with no regard to population whatsoever. The census is supposed to be a survey of the geographical dispersion of residents within the United States...that's all.

So why would it be at all necessary for the federal government to know the age, gender, race, or even the first name of every person living in your house? Is there going to be a new law mandating representation based on the relative ethnic composition of each state? Will there have to be so many black, hispanic, or Asian representatives based on the census? Are we going to ensure there is appropriate age and gender representation, ensuring that Generation X is as well-represented as the Baby Boomers, or that there is a geographically proportionate number of female and male representatives? How about names? Do we need an apportionment of representatives based on the first letter of each first name? Will I be represented by the Letter R in my district? Obviously this is all patently ludicrous (though I wouldn't be shocked if some form of race- or gender-related representative apportionment legislation made it onto the House floor), so why do they care?

I have to confess a tinge of paranoia when it comes to government gathering information on its subjects (as if you couldn't tell). I can't help but wonder what they're going to do with that information, particularly since it has nothing at all to do with apportionment of representatives. All they need for that is a simple headcount. I imagine most people probably think it's no big deal. After all, they're just statistics. But statistics in the hands of government can be a powerful weapon against freedom, and therein lies my concern. How many more entitlement programs will we see based on the census results? How much more redistribution of wealth will ensue? How many excuses will be found within those statistics for future expansions of government power over our lives?

Thinking back about the original email warning me about impostors fishing for information about me, I'm dismayed that most people are more concerned about the possibility that their fellow man may attempt to do them harm than they are about the activities of their government. It speaks volumes about the attitude of most people toward government...trusting their government over their fellow man. As I've said before, I'm a lot less worried about what free people might do than what an overbearing government is almost certain to do. In either case, regardless of who comes to my door claiming to be a census worker, the only answer they'll get from me is, "2."