Chasing inflation backwards

So the latest CPI numbers came out today, followed closely by chicken little and all her friends running around screaming “inflation!!” Looks like energy costs may be, in fact, starting to creep into our price experience.

What doesn’t make sense to me, a degreed armchair economist, is just why exactly a federal reserve would chase energy-derived inflation with higher interest rates. I am reminded of my youth, where high gas prices conspired with rising interest rates to create one of the most ridiculous times in US economic history.

If inflation is being born from a high flying economy, sure, bring this economy back down with a little borrowing pressure. When the economy is not high flying however, and instead prices are rising due to raw, resource-relalated input prices (aka. OIL), let’s keep our finger off the “raise rates” button for awhile.

Not to mention, there would appear to be gazillions of dollars worth of capital sitting around. Do you want to direct that capital towards the government’s willingness to borrow more than ever? Or direct it towards investment in production and new combinations? Particularly at a time when local investment in new energy technologies and global competition for labor is prime.

While everyone has been going bananas over Web 2.0 (is it a bubble? is it a technology? is it a mindset?), a rather important suite of alterations to national and international intellectual property law have emerged. In this new conception of intellectual property, IP 2.0, ideas in physical form take on a nature far more powerful than regular run of the mill property.

A copy is no longer a copy. This is perhaps the most significant settlement taking place, in my opinion. This premise that intellectual property, when fixed to a media, is a copy – yet not really a copy. For example, in this emerging IP 2.0 world: (1) we don’t own the music- we never did (2) we don’t enjoy ownership rights of the copy (3) we don’t own a license to the underlying property (4) certain actors can lay claim to new copies (5) Those rights you do possess may be coded away from you. While some might disagree with these five points, let me argue the case.

(1) We don’t own the IP. This issue isn’t new and has always been the case. When you buy music, movies, even games you don’t own the underlying work. You get a supposed copy (which is truthfully indistinguishable from the supposed original), which you supposedly are free to use.

(2) We don’t own the copy. This is a noticeable shift. While it used to be the case that we could re-sell media we purchased (a consequent of first sale doctrine), this right is being carefully eroded away. The copy you purchase isn’t really purchased. Instead, what you have is a type of license, far different from other licenses we might own.

(3) You don’t own a license to the underlying work. Here is where the “now a copy, now its not” methodology completes its form. While what you purchased is no longer a copy you “own” and might resell, you also have no claim to continued access to the represented work, should you lose, break, or even move your version. You have a very special license that is your right to access the particular version imprinted on only particular, and approved media (CD, hard drive, etc). This third issue hasn’t taken on full form quite yet, but its seedy undertones can be heard in debates over fair use, time-shifting, personal copies, and even personal media servers.

(4) Certain actors can lay claim to new copies, the right of fixation. This is the trickiest shift of them all, courtesy the recent WIPO negotiations brought on by the blurring of national borders and the threats to broadcasting rights that are the internet (and upcoming wireless networks) and digital recorders (aka, hard drives). In point four, certain actors (those who “broadcast” media) can lay claim to rights surrounding the transmitted work. Its uncertain whether the consumer can forget time shifting since the broadcaster would own the right to “fix” such a transmission onto any media. This right is pretty special since techincally a copyright doesn’t exist until an idea is “fixed” to some media (paper, vinyl, CD, hard drive, etc).

(5) Those rights you do possess may be coded away from you. This final shift closes any gaps in points 1 through 4, by preventing you from circumventing protections placed onto media by claimed rightsholders. As such, if you do possess the right to use the purchased work in certain, even derivative ways, you cannot get to that right from here.
Combine these four, and you have what extensibly is a powerful shift in the potential of intellectual property. IP 2.0 is being permitted to take on a form far more imposing than real property, and more imposing than traditional relationships with intellectual property. Essentially, these rightsholders would be granted rather extensive monopolies over their products – including not only sale but also all forms of use.

Imagine a license to a patent if the patent could only be served from a single compact disc. Or the purchase of a house you cannot resell. Or rebroadcasting the comments of the president, for public comment, waiting to find out which network will sue you.

In the IP 2.0 shift, our relationship with recorded media isn’t even on par with that of a rental agreement. Instead, the relationship with media is fully conditional.

If I sell you a car, you cannot lend it or sell it. You could not take a picture of it for resale, since I own the design of the car. You cannot modify the car, since you ultimatley own no rights within the car. You cannot switch your car with that of your friend, even if they are identical models, since yours is not yours and his is not his. You cannot speed, since I have designed the car as such. You cannot crack the protection on the accelerator, since “cracking” the protections I place on the vehicle would also be illegal.

We are slowly converting intellectual property to something more than real property, not equivalent. While everyone is chasing the gold in Web 2.0, they might want to keep their eye on IP 2.0.

Its life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… in that order

Google finally launched a search terms interface whereby you can home in on the popularity of the various subjects for which we search, with access to this search data over time. I figured it would be interesting to look into those ideals, imaginations and even simple interests to see which we hold the most dear.

Life, Liberty or the pursuit of Happiness:

life, liberty or happiness : Google Trends

Life = blue. Liberty = red. Happiness = yellow

Looks like life comes out on top, by a seemingly wide margin. Of course, Google does not put a scale on the graph, so you are left to wonder just how popular these terms really are.

Heaven or Hell:

Googles Trends

Heaven = blue. Hell = red.

Somewhat surprisingly, given all the talk of fire and brimstone these days, heaven still takes the lead. Most research shows we respond better to rewards than punishment, so this ordering of terms seems to support such a premise, from a search perspective.

Sex, Drugs or Rock n Roll:

sex, drugs or rock n rool : Google Trends

Sex = blue. Drugs = red. Rock n Roll = yellow.

Seemingly no contest here. Sex comes out on top, literally.

Is the internet really anti-social?

I am always a bit stunned when I hear people enter into a tirade on the subject of how anti-social the internet is. I have to wonder if these people have every really gone anywhere online, or if they simply confuse the WWW for the internet. More likely, they consider telephone conversations as social, but not instant messaging. Or they only consider in-person interaction as social, while any mediated conversation as somehow anti-social. I guess, just “why” this difference of opinion might be a reasonable topic for research.

The “internet” has been a platform for social networks for decades. The debate would center on whether this status has been ongoing for 20 or 30 years, not whether a connected network of humans, by way of machines, can be “social”. There was no web (WWW) at first, just the early forms of email, usenet/newsgroup activity and directories, followed quickly by instant messaging applications. The anti-social dimensions of the internet- those directories- were probably in the minority, in terms of activity.

Then we met the WWW, a somewhat impersonal highway of scrollable, corporate billboards. The anti-social internet assumption probably took form at this time. Once homepages arrived, anti-social shifted a bit to form the “Me, Me, Me” generation of applications and services. And the WWW began its slow transition to a social platform.

Now we have this social web structure. Pages that are really and truly just homepages with guestbooks, photos and various widgets. Funny how MySpace, Friendster or similar pages are really just pre-formatted GeoCities pages (or Tripod, or any other early homepages project). And the WWW is suddenly social, slowly catching up to the internet.

Virtual worlds, real money, pegged currencies

The BBConline highlights an excellent example of the evolving, seamless transition between “virtual” and “real” economies. Cash station cards that allow players to convert games doallars to real dollars. There is a part of me that believes that virtual worlds really are a consequent and cause of a widespread acceptance of modern-postmodern questions concerning the subjectivity of the real. If our own economy were not a construction, than these currency transactions between virtual and real spaces would not be acceptable. You also have a “pegged” currency rate, akin to the world economies half a century ago.

Note that the game authors introduced features of scarcity (e.g., useful life) to otherwise unscarce information/digital goods. For the techie, this capacity to “code” scarcity into games is actually more plausible than the scarcity of real life- where innovation can alter the nature of products. In coded worlds, the social and economic facts are more truly facts… the average and even above average citizen in virtual worlds lacks the technical capacity to deviate from the coded order. Not to mention, maybe we will see a return to Deist theologies, since coded worlds more reasonably reflect a powerful creator who simply set the world in motion, bound by certain rules, and now sits back rarely interceding.