Saturday, May 2, 2015

Property Rights in the New Glorious Not-Quite-Revolution

My guess is that many glitterati economists and political scientists at places like Stanford and Harvard are couching the TPP in terms of "property protections" (among which intellectual property is currently the most popular). By the same token that the "Glorious Revolution" supposedly marked a milestone in protecting property from the interference of a national leviathan (making possible the English revolutions in finance and industry), now restrictions on international leviathans (or national ones with international influence) will -- if you drink Obama's Kool-Aid -- promote revolutions in international commerce. With the TPP, international players will have further incentives to innovate and trade because they will be more confident of retaining the gains from their effort.... Or something like that. 

John Roemer wrote a nice survey essay in 2011: "The Ideological and Political Roots of American Inequality". He suggests that micro-economic theory has turned from focusing on the coordinating functions of markets to focusing on markets as devices for harnessing incentives (modeled in the theoretical tool of this time -- game theory). So politicians and executives who want to further line their own pockets now have a theoretical justification for opposing policies that might be deemed to interfere with the incentives of market rewards (especially any redistributive policy).

This serves a convenient dual purpose. First, since the middle class and poor are "takers, not makers," the effect on incentives for them is irrelevant, neatly excluded from the 'scientific' program. Second, redistribution effected by markets is okay (it's 'natural'), but redistribution effected by the leviathan is distortionary and depresses incentives. Regulations, environmental protections, loosening intellectual property protections, and so on, all involve government action that will weaken owners' property claims and effectively redistribute down the economic ladder. This also explains why we are seeing an explosion in conservatives and corporations appealing to rights.

No comments: