defending the right to innovate
Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (link here) has a post indicating that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is contemplating requiring American soldiers to sign no compete agreements when they enlist to keep them from serving a single tour of duty (and the training that entails) and then taking jobs with private contractors like Blackwater where they do essentially the same work but get paid a lot more money. I suppose that since national defense is a public good, the organization that provides this good is something of a natural monopoly, in which case, Secretary Gates seems to be suggesting that outsourcing these functions hasn't been a good idea.
One significant recent innovation is the introduction of health clinics into pharmacies. The article plausibly says that this is both convenient and cheap, especially for people who are poor or who don't have health insurance. Of course it represents competition for doctors (the clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners). Do I have to tell you what the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians had to say about the clinics?
[he] said the clinics have risen out of a broken health care system.
and the AMA?
[they] passed a resolution in June asking state and federal authorities to investigate whether there was a conflict of interest in drug-store chains that both write and fill prescriptions.
The desire for monopoly springs eternal...
Lawrence Lessig has a nice post (link here) on his blog -- and given how busy he's been lately, new posts are always welcome -- on the frequent disconnect between free market ideologues and network neutrality proponents over what could possibly be wrong with letting the big telecoms and cable companies have control over not just prices but content on the internet. In this case, the culprit is AT&T and their censoring of Pearl Jam.
The New York Times gets it just right in their editorial today (link here) on the Federal Communications Commission's "compromise" on open wireless rules for the public spectrum auctions coming up early next year, and the follow-on auctions of the analog television spectrum in 2009. Under the compromise, some portion of the spectrum being auctioned next year will have requirements that cell service providers operate open networks, without restrictions on which phones customers use and which software applications they run on their phones and over the open networks.
As the editorial notes, AT&T and Verizon fought this ruling tooth and claw.
An elaborate compromise patent bill has cleared the house judiciary commitee. I am dubious that it will make much difference, although by making it harder to get and easier to challenge patents it may be a step in the right direction. Abolishing software patents all together would be a much better step.
All of us Google-search users know that it is free for us and profitable from advertising. Most of us don't know that the advertising is handled by a subsidiary, AdWords. Google-AdWords has now teamed up with Salesforce.com to follow up on ad responses by keeping track of sales leads. Much of the communication involved uses Google mail and can use the Google online word processor and spreadsheet.
The Economist describes the relationship thusly link here: "Like all AdWords customers, they can then choose keywords ("car repairs", say) and bid to have small text links displayed next to the results of any web search for that term. They pay only when users click on the advertisement and are taken to the advertiser's website. At that point Salesforce's service kicks in [if they are among its subscribers], collecting information about the user which then pops up on the Salesforce page of the advertiser's sales team, allowing them to follow up and sell something."
Speculation arises that success will be followed by a buyout. Another natural monopoly challenges Microsoft's.
(via slashdot) The Slingbox is a device that can shift a television broadcast from one location to another. Major League Baseball is declaring this illegal. According to Sling Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronic Assocation, representing a large number of small (and innovative) manufacturers disagrees:
The Consumer Electronics Association agrees with Blake, and seems to be siding with Sling Media and consumers on the issue. "This is a classic instance of copyright owners trying to suppress innovation purely because it empowers consumers," says CEA President Gary Shapiro." There is no infringement or piracy here--consumers are simply watching content they lawfully purchase..."
This might be a good place to put in a plug for Gary and the CEA who are fighting hard to see that modern technology reaches the consumer and is not blocked by the copyfight.
(via Slashdot) The EFF managed to get a patent revoked see link here
From the NY Times Magazine [because registration is required I will only quote them when they do something dumb] it seems that cheap organic food is a bad thing
To index the price of organic to the price of conventional is to give up, right from the start, on the idea, once enshrined in the organic movement, that food should be priced not high or low but responsibly. As the organic movement has long maintained, cheap industrial food is cheap only because the real costs of producing it are not reflected in the price at the checkout. Rather, those costs are charged to the environment, in the form of soil depletion and pollution (industrial agriculture is now our biggest polluter); to the public purse, in the form of subsidies to conventional commodity farmers; to the public health, in the form of an epidemic of diabetes and obesity that is expected to cost the economy more than $100 billion per year; and to the welfare of the farm- and food-factory workers, not to mention the well-being of the animals we eat. As Wendell Berry once wrote, the motto of our conventional food system at the center of which stands Wal-Mart, the biggest purveyor of cheap food in America should be: Cheap at any price!
This type of hatred of Wal-Mart must surely stem from jealousy of their success, not any sort of rational consideration of the great good they have done.
Addendum: In the comments Melinda objects that I am too quick to pass over the enviromental issues. She makes some good points. See the comments.
A NYT article (May 9th, p A4), "Vinters with personal flair can't brag on wine labels", discusses how a new trade agreement between the EU and United States puts sharp limits on labeling of wine bottles. It seems small European growers may not be able to indicate they use oak barrels and other methods that would distinguish themselves from the larger, more "industrial" U.S. wine makers.
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