Home > Economics - General > Piketty Crossing the Delaware

Piketty Crossing the Delaware

May 19th, 2014

Like lots of other readers of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, my big concern is not with the accuracy of the diagnosis and prognosis but with the feasibility of the prescription. Piketty’s proposal for a global wealth tax requires an end to the capacity of capital to escape taxation by exploiting the limitations of national taxations system, through tax havens, transfer pricing, artificial corporate structures and so on.

Given the limited record of success in past efforts to control global tax evasion and avoidance, Piketty is reasonably pessimistic about efforts in this direction. But the latest news from the OECD is remarkably positive. All members of the OECD (notably including evader-friendly jurisdictions like Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland) have agreed to a system of automatic information exchange for tax purposes. Moreover, the “too big to jail” status of major banks engaged in facilitating tax evasion and money laundering, may finally be coming to an end.

On the face of it, the oft-repeated, but so far unjustified claim that “the days of tax havens are over“, may finally be coming true, at least for all but the wealthiest individuals. But the crackdown on individual tax evaders only points up the ease with which corporations (and individuals with the means to establish complex corporate structures) can avoid tax through a mixture of legal avoidance and unprovable evasion (for example, by illegal but unprovable internal transfers).

At the core of the problem is the ability to establish corporations in ways that make their true ownership impossible to trace. And, the jurisdiction most responsible for this is not a Caribbean island or European mini-state, but the “First State” of the US – Delaware, which has long been the preferred location for US incorporation by reason of its business friendly laws.

For a long while, most reference to Delaware as a tax haven came in the form of a tu quoque from the pro-haven side of the debate. Since any challenge to Delaware’s role in the corporate sector seemed unthinkable, it was argued, any US criticism of Switzerland or Luxembourg was mere hypocrisy. The same point was made about the UK and France, with reference to their various offshore dependencies (the Channel Islands, Caymans and so on). But now the argument has turned around. As the various tax havens have fallen into line with OECD agreements and US legislation like the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), they now have an incentive to turn attention on to Delaware. Having a corporation registered in Delaware is starting to look somewhat like possession of a Swiss bank account: not necessarily illegal or even improper, but certainly something that arouses suspicion. Here are a few straws in the wind

* A New York Times story on corruption and money laundering in Europe gives a prominent mention to the role of “US states like Delaware and Wyoming”. There’s an internal link to an Op-Ed I’d missed, entitled “Delaware: Den of Thieves?
* In the course of the recent election campaign in Quebec, a prominent supporter of the Parti Quebecois was attacked for apparently owning companies registered in Delaware
* US Senator Carl Levin’s long-stalled attempts to bring in a “Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act” is restarting, including a focus on Delaware shell corporations. It’s unlikely that this will pass any time soon, but it’s still an encouraging development.

None of this would have much impact on the really big tax dodgers, like Apple and Google. But even here, things are moving. The era of untraceable and untaxable capital movements may come to an end sooner than we expect.

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  1. yuri
    May 19th, 2014 at 12:43 | #1

    There was an excuse – almost an obligation (think about the now old adage starting with “a man who is not a socialist at 21 has no heart…etc.) from the glimmerings of modern democracy and the end of Malthusianism as the gloomy timeless truth about 1850 for the highminded to believe in benevolent and intelligent state action as a realistic hope for the future.

  2. yuri
    May 19th, 2014 at 13:20 | #2

    Since then experience of National Socialism, Soviet socialism and not a few other reality checks such as India’s dreadful economic performance while still ruled by English educated socialists has revived the old healthy suspicion about all sources of great power and even, unevenly, revived traditions favouring individual liberties.

    Now the ideological, not to say messianic, heat should have died down and left more room for cool observation and analysis.

    I have known enough people badly and unjustly damaged by state action. Not including matters of criminal law, there are the destructions of property value even where not acquired (a process which doesn’t always result in “just terms” as required by the federal constitution), and truly gross results from the days before death duties were abolished. Some people were rich and/or strong enough to recover to the point where you didn’t need to feel sorry for them despite the injustice. But mostly not: it was a disaster.

    So I can’t help feeling sympathy for the view that one might prefer to see Kerry Packer with a spare $50 million at his disposition than the same in a department of 100 public servants reporting to a politician at the top…

    I wouldn’t invest in casinos if I had that sort of money (or with an extra nought or two) as both Packer father and son have done but neither would I or any public servant have created the new entertaining cricket regime which has captured the world. I think social disapproval is appropriate to most vulgar manifestations of great wealth like $20 million weddings but then I reflect not so much that even that keeps people jn business and often provides entertainment for the masses – like royalty – but that a rich man only eats enough for one person each day (and when he doesn’t his latest wife probably makes up for it).

    Inequality as such? I yawn.

  3. Henry George
    May 19th, 2014 at 13:52 | #3

    The states have available a simple source of revenue which can be raised by a single sentence letter to all local governments. “Please include a levy of x percent on your annual rates and send the funds to the State Treasury. Signed The Premier.”

    This would have the following properties.

    1. The tax would be hard to avoid to all property holders in the state.
    2. The infrastructure (land values, rate payers, and collection mechanisms , etc) are already in place thus requiring no additional bureaucracy.
    3. In a rough and ready way it would be equitable.

  4. alfred venison
    May 19th, 2014 at 14:00 | #4

    greetings Henry George. great idea! -alfred venison.

  5. John Quiggin
    May 19th, 2014 at 14:09 | #5

    @yuri

    Yawn indeed. This kind of tripe had some limited plausibility back in the 1980s. Over the subsequent decades the financial sector has prospered massively at the expense of (nearly) everyone else, while failing spectactularly at its core business

    BTW, Packer seems a remarkably poor example, given that his wealth is due mainly to state-created private monopolies (see also Macquarie Bank etc). If you need an outlet for your libertarian urges, that might be a good place to start.

  6. J-D
    May 19th, 2014 at 15:22 | #6

    @yuri
    Kerry Packer’s career would have been impossible without the existence of the limited liability corporation, which is entirely the product of state action. The same probably goes for most if not all of the modern rich.

    I am not saying that there should be no limited liability corporations. But if you want to consistently advocate against state action, that’s the position you should be advocating — although first you should make sure you have some idea of how drastic a change that would be.

  7. John Quiggin
    May 19th, 2014 at 15:31 | #7

    @J-D

    David Moss When All Else Fails is very good on the emergency of bankruptcy and limited liability, both strongly opposed by libertarians at the time. But you don’t need this kind of high-level argument for Packer: both Channel Nine and the casinos are specifically government-created monopolies.

  8. May 19th, 2014 at 17:02 | #8

    At the core of the problem is the ability to establish corporations in ways that make their true ownership impossible to trace. And, the jurisdiction most responsible for this is not a Caribbean island or European mini-state, but the “First State” of the US – Delaware, which has long been the preferred location for US incorporation by reason of its business friendly laws.

    I thought that that first came in with the Anonymous Societies that were set up with bearer shares in continental Europe precisely in order to allow investors to conceal their ownership, as otherwise the investors would have had a well founded fear of expropriation at the hands of the governments they were used to.

  9. Collin Street
    May 19th, 2014 at 18:03 | #9

    Channel Nine and the casinos are specifically government-created monopolies.

    All property rights are government-created monopolies.

  10. Pete Moran
    May 19th, 2014 at 20:34 | #10

    This maybe accounting more than economics, but if I pay real money to Apple in Australia at some stage there are transfers of real money somewhere else.

    If those transfers occur to tax havens (the sovereign State can declare what it likes – Apple are not obliged to operate in Australia), then surely the State can intercept those funds and tax them?

    I guess GST captures this transaction in some form.

    Another question then, why don’t other US states say, OK Delaware, everytime funds leave our state to yours there is a 30% levy?

    What am I missing?

  11. May 19th, 2014 at 20:41 | #11

    All property rights are government-created monopolies.

    They’re also one regulatory regime desperately in need of review and reform.

  12. Ernestine Gross
    May 19th, 2014 at 20:55 | #12

    A turnover tax (tax on revenue) is a way to reduce multinational corporate tax leakages. (It does not necessarily prevent real wealth transfers (use profits made in local economy A to buy inputs in economy A, which, together with inputs in economy B allow outputs to be sold only in B but not in A. Auditors can’t pick it unless they are experts in the production technologies. Most accountants and lawyers aren’t. [FN1]

    A tax on gross income above some carefully selected level, which can be changed with time and conditions, makes it difficult to avoid income tax (ie there is more than one way to deal with negative gearing and other tax expenditures).

    A global wealth tax on the asset values of those who make it into the rich league tables would seem to be a suitable place to start.

    An example of a partial international wealth and tax leakages tax can be found in the recent history of Cyprus. The amounts in the accounts in some banks were simple made smaller by a lot (I can’t remember the exact percentage of ‘expropriation’. No international court cases followed, as far as I know. The simple explanation is that the potential claimants faced the risk of ending up with huge counter claims.

    FN1: See ‘Partially segmented economies with multinational producers’, in Multinational Firms and Market Efficiency, E.M.A. Gross 1989. This theoretical model is an extension of the Arrow-Debreu model, hardly a ‘socialist’ or ‘anti-market’ model. [I know this result takes a bit of shine out of international trade theory and free trade agreements.])

  13. yuri
    May 19th, 2014 at 21:33 | #13

    @J-D
    But I don’t want to advocate against state action. However I think scepticism about most human action private or public, and especially when large groups of people, even relatively homogeneous, are involved, is the right starting point. Some libertarians seem to forget that there are some areas where state action is irreplaceable, most notably in relation to children who need protecting from many TV programs as much as from pedophiles.

  14. yuri
    May 19th, 2014 at 22:02 | #14

    @John Quiggin
    Well “tripe” is really a nicely chosen word JQ because it does correctly make clear that we are not in an argument (with the appeal to reason that implies) but in an exchange of attitudes or prima facie preferences, provisional (at least in my case) starting assumptions….. True I deliberately opened mysel up to a pointed riposte in choosing to cite the sometimes unlovely Kerry Packer as an example. However his dependence (absent corruption) on government regulation and licenses makes no difference to my willingness to see him having the disposition of the $100 million he wasn’t spending on breakfasts rather than a government department. (There have been a number of Treasury Secretaries whom, admittedly, I would put well ahead of Packer for the task but then, with their principles, we not only wouldn’t have had Packer’s cricket circus and what it led to, we probably wouldn’t have bid for the Olympic Games either; and that’s OK by me). I won’t try to pick an intellectual argument on this attitudinal difference because, who knows, tomorrow I may find out that the real Yuri No. 1 who is the highly esteemed and feisty lesbian first ordained minister of the Church of Christian Saints, Bondi, thinks about. I’m less uncertain about No.2 who sits in his chair at the club after lunch waiting for the steward to say “will you have another one general?”. “Did he say Trollope?” “No general, tripe” . “Quite right, quite right: there’s a lot of it about”. QED

  15. May 19th, 2014 at 22:34 | #15

    John, does Picketty have anything to say about non-Anglo models of capitalism? I get the impression that his central thesis is this structural inevitability of wealth accumulation in the hands of capital owners, but is that based only on the anglo economies? If so, is he ignoring the political aspects of capitalism? I’m just thinking that there are some Asian models of capitalism – China, Japan and Korea – that are very different to the Anglo models. Japan has had stagnant wage growth for 20 years but still is much more equitable than all the Anglo economies, and although there is concern about growth in inequality it remains very slow. Does Japan (or for that matter Iran, China, etc.) fit in with his thesis? Does he look at the nature of individual systems and the role of political decision-making in controlling capital’s effects?

  16. J-D
    May 19th, 2014 at 22:48 | #16

    @yuri
    If you don’t want to advocate against state action, then what was the point of your reference to it?

  17. rog
    May 19th, 2014 at 23:26 | #17

    In his review on Picketty Larry Summers suggests that inequality can be lessened by increasing financial regulation and decreasing the regulations on property eg land and patents.

  18. May 20th, 2014 at 00:44 | #18

    @faustusnotes

    I suspect that we need to learn from others (like the Japanese). The rise in income inequality does seem to be at least partly a cultural thing.

  19. James Wimberley
    May 20th, 2014 at 01:59 | #19

    Faustusnotes: Piketty naturally covers France in depth (it has had inheritance taxes since the Revolution, hence the best long-run records of wealth), but also Sweden, Japan and India. His findings are based on data series covering pretty much the whole world, available on his book website. Read the book, it’s long but not difficult.

  20. Ivor
    May 20th, 2014 at 10:35 | #20

    I wonder if Ernestine Gross can ever upload a post without mentioning Arrow-Debreu?

    Anyway how does a global wealth tax address the causes that leads that way?

    But as a temporary fix while society tries to sort itself out – it is certainly appropriate.

    Action on a national level is probably more practicable.

  21. May 20th, 2014 at 15:13 | #21

    Collin Street :

    Channel Nine and the casinos are specifically government-created monopolies.

    All property rights are government-created monopolies.

    More than that, all property is violence made into stuff, since it can’t exist without the assumed threat of violence to prevent its ownership being successfully contested (be it State supplied violence – a core function of any State – or from some other source). I know it’s stating the obvious, but I do wonder if folks (not you!) don’t think about it what it means when they say something is “owned”.

  22. yuri
    May 20th, 2014 at 17:06 | #22

    @J-D
    Sorry my detailed answer to your question got wiped out in some electronic mishap. You misconceived my reference to state action. If you re-read you will see that in a day when we can no longer naively believe in an age of progress because well motivated educated people will be able to control the ship of stare so that Utopia becomes believable I suggest that we can take a more realistic view of all wielders of great power, both as to ethics and as to competence. If I had wanted to enlist sympathy for billionaires I wouldn’t have chosen Kerry Packer, instead of, say, Bill Gates.

    Quotes from the old and wise of my youth include “War is the great socialist activity so how those who had suffered all the stuff ups and disasters inflicted by their own leaders could then vote for socialism is a puzzle” and “Most law reform is the result of trying to fix the unforseen problems of previous attempts at law reform”. I’ld take either side in a debate as to their validity, but I do like them.

    As a matter of interest for those who would, correctly, cite the limitation of liability for some corporations in an existing system of state action (namely judicature) as important state action that most investors and superannuants benefit from I note that California, of all states, didn’t offer limited liability until about 1930. Make of that what you will.

  23. yuri
    May 20th, 2014 at 17:23 | #23

    @John Quiggin
    I agree with your indictment of government’s shocking incompetence which allowed the long series of financial scandals in the US from the 1980s Savings and Loan bailouts and wipeouts onwards. And you would be right to connect it all with unmerited enrichment by a great many on Wall Street. (Interesting to recall the virulence of B.A.Santamaria’s denuciatons of themlong before they gave us the GFC).

    I csn’t help wondering whether Alan Greenspan whose fantastic diligence was never in doubt might have been better with a few more points of IQ or maybe just street smarts that wouldn’t have left so many thieves unchecked. J M Keynes wouldn’t have let it all get so out of control but then he was essentially a worldly man, idealistic and even a dreamer, but very much an empiricist who understood human nature (except for his charming 2929-30 fantasy about the idyllic world of “our grandchildren”.

  24. yuri
    May 20th, 2014 at 18:43 | #24

    @yuri
    I meant to add my pet hates amongst corrupting American corporates: not so much the Wall Street winners who don’t seem to have done much corrupting even if Goldman Sachs people became a bit overrepresented in government (and acknowledging that there would have been a good deal more fraud and inside trading than has been successfully prosecuted) but the great buyers of Congressional votes like Disney and, e.g. biofuel subsidy-eaters. One of the great scandals and misfortunes of US politics is that most Congressmen, despite very successful redistricting against there being loseable constituencies (so your mates get you at a primary), spend, quite literally, mist of their working hours raising funds for re-election. Disney has bought the Copyright laws which suit it and, thanks to Howard’s insistence on sucking up to George W. Bush, we copped a lot of it in the Free Trade Agreement. There is more than one facet to the scandal (which neither the Greens nor Labor had the wit to oppose, but the clearest is that Copyright extends for so much longer than a patent for a life-saving drug when the whole point of the voter/taxpayer’s gift of monopoly is to do just enough to make sure the public gets the benefit of creative people’s inventive work and publication. What author, artist, or composer would fail to create or fail to publish if he onlybhad a 25 year monopoly?

    Over to you on this one JQ. Or do you enjoy The Mouse Trap that you will be contributing to AC’s great-grandchildren’s royalties by attending its centenary production?

  25. yuri
    May 20th, 2014 at 18:45 | #25

    @John Quiggin
    Oops! My last post was intended as a supplementary reply to you JQ.

  26. J-D
    May 20th, 2014 at 18:51 | #26

    @yuri
    I’m guessing that was an attempt on your part to clarify your position. But if that’s what it was, all I can say is that I’d hate to see what happens when you deliberately aim at obscurity. I have no idea what your point is.

  27. May 20th, 2014 at 22:30 | #27

    @yuri

    Unfortunately, reality isn’t on your side with this factoid:

    neither the Greens nor Labor had the wit to oppose

    The Greens voted against the FTA.

    Latham’s ALP voted for it (with the LNP, as they most often do) after getting amendments to “protect” the PBS – later watered down when Howard controlled both houses.

  28. yuri
    May 22nd, 2014 at 09:13 | #28

    @Megan
    Concede my cunning then. I’ve got someone who really knows and cares about Greenery to put me straight. Except that you haven’t because you haven’t told me what thr Greens said about Copyright. I would be very surprised if they were on top of the issues I would put up front and suspect that they support giving some people more Copyright protection. That’s good if it means enforcement against stealing recent creations but my single test question would be “did you support the idiot Garrett’s ridiculous Resale Rights Royalty for Visual Artists?” – a typical product of French protectionist thinking and those under the illusion that they know how to help traditional Aborigines…..

  29. yuri
    May 22nd, 2014 at 09:15 | #29

    @J-D
    I never was any good with pass students. Sorry.

  30. yuri
    May 22nd, 2014 at 09:30 | #30

    @Peter Evans
    As to property rights flowing from state power, though I quibble below, I used to like teasing a Liberal politician who was also a developer and fulminated against Liberal governments interfering with the rights of freehold owners. I don’t remember now the Roman Law term for absolute ownership (allodium ?? anyone?) but pointed out that his freehold was a fee simple, which retained, despite all simplifications and elimination of intermediate lords the character of a feudal tenure which involved reciprocal duties owed to the feudal lord (now the Crown which should have impressed someone who was probably a monarchist).

    My quibble is that primitive tribes and clans may have used force to establish and protect property rights, mostly the threat of force, this was based on natural collective morality long before the state was even a concept.

  31. Ernestine Gross
    May 22nd, 2014 at 09:49 | #31

    @Ivor

    “Anyway how does a global wealth tax address the causes that leads that way?”

    The same way a lot of modern medicine works. Traffic lights, as a mechnaism to reduce death and injuries from car accidents is another example of preventing undesirable consequences without addressing the ultimate ’causes’ – if they can ever been known.

    “But as a temporary fix while society tries to sort itself out – it is certainly appropriate.”

    Fine with me although I take it as an assumption that society might try to sort itself out.

    “Action on a national level is probably more practicable.”

    The EU provides a useful model. Common agreements are implemented on the national level.

    What, you read footnotes? I have to admit I can’t remember anything about the content of your posts. I remember only that you like writing, using a lot of adjectives. I don’t wonder why you do this.

  32. Collin Street
    May 22nd, 2014 at 10:29 | #32

    yuri :
    @J-D
    I never was any good with pass students. Sorry.

    Prof Quiggin: is this really what you want to be providing a platform for?

  33. J-D
    May 22nd, 2014 at 10:52 | #33

    @yuri
    You’re evidently also not any good with honours students or postgraduates. But why do you say you’re sorry when it’s obvious that you’re not?

  34. John Quiggin
    May 22nd, 2014 at 11:56 | #34

    Yuri: you’re violating the comment rules, and making yourself look silly into the bargain. Please stop.

  35. yuri
    May 22nd, 2014 at 12:03 | #35

    @Collin Street
    What do you expect when you repeatedly accuse someone of presumably unintended obscurity? One can bristle at the insult, or, having run it past someone whose clarity of mind one respects, toss off some relatively good humoured flippant repartee. Would you prefer “Well that’s your problem mate”?

  36. yuri
    May 22nd, 2014 at 12:19 | #36

    @John Quiggin
    How does describing what someone writes as “tripe” qualify?

    The implication has to be that the person criticised is either a knave or a fool does it not? Or maybe just writing “under the influence”: in any case legitimately subject to being treated rudely….. You will not have forgotten that you did use the word “tripe” to which I replied in amiable spirit instead of bleating that the professor was sneering de haut en bas at poor little Yuri.

  37. Tim Macknay
    May 22nd, 2014 at 13:00 | #37

    There is more than one facet to the scandal (which neither the Greens nor Labor had the wit to oppose, but the clearest is that Copyright extends for so much longer than a patent for a life-saving drug when the whole point of the voter/taxpayer’s gift of monopoly is to do just enough to make sure the public gets the benefit of creative people’s inventive work and publication. What author, artist, or composer would fail to create or fail to publish if he only had a 25 year monopoly?

    While I agree that the extension of the life of copyright in the ‘FTA’ was unnecessary and a bad idea, this comment seems a little misconceived to me. Copyright has always had a much longer lifespan, and has always conferred more robust rights, than other forms of intellectual property. The more substantial nature of copyrights was hardly a creation of the FTA.

    What it demonstrated to me is how limited the benefits of preferential ‘free’ trade agreements are for countries which, like Australia, already have open economies. The modification of copyright laws was on the table largely because the Australian negotiators didn’t have much to offer, as Australia had unilaterally opened its economy years before.

  38. J-D
    May 22nd, 2014 at 14:19 | #38

    @yuri
    Since you ask:

    Anybody who tells you that you have not explained yourself sufficiently clearly to be understood must be right. In this case, even if your explanation is clear enough to be understood by other people, it still isn’t clear enough to be understood by me.

    You are not obligated to care about this. I do not own you. You are not under contract to provide me with explanations. (If you feel like pointing those things out to me, it’s unnecessary, because I already have that knowledge.)

    So if I tell you that I don’t understand your point (and I don’t), then you could respond ‘I don’t know how to explain it any more clearly’ or ‘I don’t feel like putting even more effort into explaining’ or even ‘I don’t care whether you understand’.

    On the other hand, if you felt like it, you could also make a response like ‘Which part don’t you get? Can you suggest any way I could make myself clearer?’.

    Yet another option would be not to respond at all. You’ve got plenty of choices there, I think.

  39. J-D
    May 22nd, 2014 at 14:21 | #39

    @yuri
    To describe a person’s statements as ‘tripe’ is an evaluation of the statements; to describe a person as a knave or a fool is an evaluation of the person. These are not equivalent.

    I would freely admit that I have said and done many stupid things in my life without describing myself as a stupid person.

  40. Tim Macknay
    May 22nd, 2014 at 14:40 | #40

    @Tim Macknay
    I’ll clarify my previous statement by saying that strictly speaking, copyrights have not always had a much longer term than patents, but that they have at least since 1912, i.e., well before the AUSFTA.

  41. May 22nd, 2014 at 16:16 | #41

    Robert Shiller has written a short response to Piketty – well, more of a “well I also addressed this issue and here’s how” missive. Worth a read.
    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/robert-j–shiller-praises-thomas-piketty-s-invaluable-contribution-to-a-debate-that-is-far-from-over

    I think he’s saying that you want to think of taxes as a form of insurance and, therefore, risk management. Political saleability aside, that’s eminently plausible if you fundamentally want to keep the status quo.

  42. Ivor
    May 22nd, 2014 at 16:17 | #42

    @Ernestine Gross

    You need adjectives to maintain a level of rigor. Try it – it doesn’t hurt.

    When medicine only treats symptoms – you get multiple episodes.

    In economics, multiple episodes leads to catastrophe.

    Traffic light let all vehicles go where they want.

    In economics, when capital goes where it wants (eg free trade agreements) you get increasing gaps in wealth and income and social decay which only ends in catastrophe.

    International global capitalism cannot be fixed with treating symptoms or traffic lights.

  43. yuri
    May 22nd, 2014 at 22:20 | #43

    @J-D
    My apologies for allowing myself to express exasperation rudely. Your defence of “tripe” I acknowledge to be fair enough even though my points about it were logical. After all saying that an argument is “tripe” is not like saying respectfully “I wonder if you have overlooked X” (even when X is something like “Ghenghis Khan was not a Christian”) or “there are alternative views and as you will have gathered I strongly disagree with you”. So what, amongst the available inferences, is the natural one when someone chooses to use the word “tripe”?

    If I am allowed after my discourtesy a little counter accusation I think you could have tried a bit harder to construe the meaning of someone who obviously didn’t fjnd it fascinating to go on about a pretty trivial issue (after all I know that my opinions are coherent and pretty well consistent even if doing justice to complexity and proper uncertainties makes my zeal for consistency a cross for my back when someone suggests, often quite justly, that perhaps a taste for or toerance for complexity has left my meaning unclear to them).

    On state action I am as likely to be on one side as the other (if I haven’t found a third or fourth side. But that doesn’t affect my areas of scepticisn about most human actions and intentions. And I can’t see why you, if of ordinary human experience, would fid it difficult to understand – even if you didn’t sympathise – my finding, on surveying my attitudes as evidenced in various ways, that there are quite a lot of decisions that I would prefer tk be in the hands of a random billionaire than a government department. And if you want something mire than just gut instinct behind it consider the implications of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

  44. yuri
    May 22nd, 2014 at 22:49 | #44

    @Tim Macknay
    I don’t think we are really disagreeing. While you might reasonably expect me to allow weight to Copyright’s history of being of longer duration than patents I don’t end up accepting it, for several reasons. And, btw, I only regard the FTA as adding gratly to an existing more than trivial scandal.

    Starting, as I think you do, with the acknowledgment that IP involves the creation at actual or potential public expense of monopoly rights which need strict justification, I used to opine that it’s generosity in the case of Copyright in contrast to Patents might have begun with fathers or older brothers of many aristocratic boys deciding as members of the Lords or Commons to give them a bit of a helping hand at no expense to themselves in case their painting or writing ever amounted to anything. There might be something in it and it is consistent with the view that there was no danger of excessive generosity causing scandal as in the case of something serious like giving an excessively long patent on a life saving drug or something which would keep the nation’s economy competitive.

    I think it also important that there us a vanishingly small chance that we would be denied the fruits of someone’s creativity by adopting a much shorter period of Copyright. Indeed the opposite might be true as people hastened to cash in on their Copyrights.

    Then there is the undoubted fact that we gave away longer Copyright protection for the reason you shrewdly noted – one that has nothing to do with Australian interests. Worse it was the product of a foul and corrupt system in US politics – in this case Disney being the chief corrupter.

  45. Ernestine Gross
    May 22nd, 2014 at 23:35 | #45

    @Ivor

    I’ll ignore your first sentence. As for the remainder, I don’t have the patience with discussions of the type you seem to be offering. I retract my first reply to your question on the grounds that I have obviously failed to provide useful information to you. This leaves my original post.

  46. J-D
    May 23rd, 2014 at 08:36 | #46

    @yuri
    If your point is (and I’m still guessing here, because you’re still wrapping up your meaning in too many words) that you’re not opposed to government action in general, only opposed to some particular kinds of government action, then my response would be that I don’t see how anybody could think something so platitudinous was worth saying without explanation of which kinds of government action you are opposed to and why. Nobody said, ‘I think the government should do everything’, and I seriously doubt anybody would.

  47. yuri
    May 23rd, 2014 at 09:32 | #47

    @J-D
    I think you are being remarkably obtuse, and like a dog with a bone which this dog long since was happy to think buried under a dead possum and forgotten. I think I am right in saying that it all started with tossing out an observation to the effect that I had sympathy for the view that power in the hands of a non-criminal

  48. Ivor
    May 23rd, 2014 at 10:00 | #48

    @Ernestine Gross

    And that is the problem – not just Ernestine Gross’s.

    However we do need to explore these issues, whether from the point of view of Marshall or Marx.

  49. Collin Street
    May 23rd, 2014 at 10:06 | #49

    @yuri: well, you would think that, wouldn’t you.

    [the alternative is that there are systemic problems with your communication skills. This is a testable hypothesis: when you talk to them, do more people express understanding or bafflement?]

  50. J-D
    May 23rd, 2014 at 11:02 | #50

    @Collin Street
    I am not suggesting that yuri is a poor communicator in general, only that in this particular instance yuri’s meaning is not clearly communicated to me. I don’t even want to suggest that yuri is culpable in this particular instance; it seems to me that yuri is the one who wants to suggest that somebody is culpable, and that it’s me.

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