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Free Trade Agreements That Guarantee Monopolies?

from the that's-not-free-trade dept

Free trade is a good thing. Your basic economics should have taught you that. Division of labor, comparative advantage, supply and demand -- they all combine to allow for better specialization, more productivity and greater output. In general, free markets are a good goal. While it's nice to see governments (especially the US) pushing for free trade agreements, the reality is that these agreements are very often not about free trade at all. There's so much lobbying that the "free trade" isn't just watered down, sometimes it's a complete farce. Witness the New Yorker's coverage of how the US is using free trade agreements around the world to force US-style intellectual property rules on the rest of the world -- often at tremendous harm to those countries. It's doubly ironic when you realize that intellectual property rules are the exact opposite of free markets. They're government-backed monopolies that benefit the monopolists, generally at the expense of everyone else. The New Yorker piece does a good job highlighting Josh Lerner's research that strengthening patent laws has no impact on increased innovation, and there's almost no connection whatsoever between copyright law and creative output. In other words, the exact reason for the laws (to put in place incentives for innovation and more creative content) aren't supported at all by history. Yet, now, we're forcing those same policies on countries where it seems clear to hurt them. The only issue I have with the New Yorker piece is author James Surowiecki's claim halfway through, that "Intellectual-property rules are clearly necessary to spur innovation." The rest of his own article shows how that's simply not true at all. In fact, even going beyond Lerner's research, there's plenty of other support for the idea that intellectual property laws don't actually help grow the markets they're supposed to grow, and in fact that they can do great harm. So, why isn't anyone else noting the irony that US "free trade" agreements include the exact opposite of free trade in a way that clearly harms the countries that agree to these policies?

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2007 @ 1:29pm

    Re: I agree with Ed

    This is basically right. It's really just a new version of the old "sharecropper" model. In this version the land is "intellectual property" and the landlord is the union of US corporations known as the US government. Farming is generalized to "production" and the sharecroppers are the foreign countries doing the production.

    People who bemoan the shifting of production to foreign countries are missing the point: The US doesn't need to be productive any more than the land owner in the sharecropper system needed to work a plow. All the US needs to be able to do is enforce this model globally. That sometimes takes force and is why the US spends more than the whole rest of the world on its military. If any of the sharecroppers start getting "uppity" then they must be made an example of for the others to see. Example: Iraq. One thing the landlord certainly doesn't want to see is the sharecroppers arming themselves. Example: nuclear proliferation.

    What the US needs in order to work this new system is lawyers. Lots of lawyers. You can never have too many lawyers. In fact, the more lawyers you have, the more you need. So to any young people looking for a career with a future I suggest you forget engineering or anything else "productive" (unless you just want to be a sharecropper that is). For those with the means I suggest you go to law school. To those without the means for law school I suggest you consider a career having to do with guns or money. In other words: the military, law enforcement, or banking. Warren Zevon had a popular song in 1978 named "Lawyers, Guns and Money". That phrase pretty much describes the future in the US.

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