Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On intellectual property.

Preamble

I've been thinking through issues related to "intellectual property" and piracy and copyright and so on. I don't intend to get into any specific policy ideas here. I'm more interested in commenting on, and debunking, the arguments offered in favour of -- sometimes very harsh -- technological methods for protecting copyrighted materials, as well as constructing an alternate moral framework within which we can think, hopefully more productively, about what intellectual property is and is not.

The Problem with Moralizing

Debates on intellectual property quickly take on a moral tone. File-sharing is called "stealing" or "piracy" or, most directly, "wrong". (As well as the substitute for moral condemnation in our morally unserious age, "illegal". More on the stupidity of that another time.) Rights are invoked, property rights being the obvious ones, but also the (Lockean) right to be compensated for what one has mixed with one's labour. And, of course, whatever violates a right is, by definition, a wrong.

I don't think intellectual property issues are fundamentally a moral issue, though. That is, I think the real problem gets lost as soon as we engage in a debate about rights and rights-violations or about harms and wrong actions. Talk about rights and rights-violations immediately sets up a conflict between the rights-holder and the rights-violator, where the former has a legitimate claim against the latter. (Indeed, the idea of a "legitimate claim" can be seen as the moral foundation for the legal strategy that major media companies use against file-sharers.) In response, the alleged rights-violators try to deny the right, either by offering an alternate moral framework (e.g., copylefting, Creative Commons) or by invoking a sort of tu quoque argument (e.g., those evil corporate so-and-so's had it coming!). Similarly, when we talk about harms and wrong acts, it immediately imposes a framework of punishment, compensation and retribution -- those who commit harms deserve punishment as a legitimate retributive response to their wrong action. (And so on and so forth.)

It's the wrong framework to actually solve the problem, though, because of the usual difficulties associated with resolving moral problems. People get emotionally invested and take disagreement to be equivalent to a personal attack. Many are unwilling to admit that moral problems can be attacked rationally and the rules for reasoning about morality are not broadly understood. There are many fundamental debates within the folk concepts of morality which moral philosophers have spent centuries teasing out -- never mind finalizing. (Although some progress has clearly been made; for example, current deontological and consequentialist theories of ethics are more broadly in agreement than their historical forebears) And I haven't said anything about the religious aspect. Thus, generally, moral debates in the public sphere, given what the public sphere is currently like, create rather than remove problems.

Intellectual property is a current problem, though. Copyright laws are being rewritten, both at the national and international level. Individuals are having to pay incredibly high levels of civil damages. And our cultural industries are being fundamentally reshaped. So, if we're stuck with the moral framework, we're going to end up stuck with the IP problem, in some form, for the foreseeable future. (There is no serious basis to the claims the MPAA/RIAA strategy of constant lawsuits plus the secretive ACTA treaty will actually stop anyone from trading files over the internet. See below for why.)

The alternative is an economic framework. Treat IP as an economic problem, and look for an economic solution.

Looking at the Problem Economically

Here's why it's an economic problem. Black markets emerge when consumers want something which they either can't obtain legally (e.g., various drugs and weapons) or aren't willing to obtain legally (e.g., IP). That's just the way people work, and there's really no way to stop that from happening. However, the extent of the market can be controlled. The black market in child pornography is very small, given ongoing international law enforcement efforts to stamp it out. Similarly, the black market in nuclear technology is very small, given the same efforts. So, that's one way to eliminate or curtail a black market: a tremendous, coordinated system of hard legal enforcement.

This obviously doesn't work for all black markets. It's been a dismal failure when it comes to controlling the black markets in many drugs -- marijuana is the obvious case (hello, Vancouver!) -- and the black markets in many kinds of weapons, particularly handguns. The problem, I think, is that police enforcement is only successful when one condition holds. It has to be practically possible to deploy enough police resources to control both supply and consumption of the material on the market. The markets in child pornography and nuclear technology are quite small, so it's not impractical to control the supply (by eliminating it, in the former case, or rigidly controlling it, in the latter case) while simultaneously making consuming the product very, very expensive (with harsh penalties and concerted efforts to impose punishment on consumers in these markets). So, we need a pretty small market, given how many police resources have to be deployed to keep the market under control. One way to keep the market small is to have a broad mechanism of social disapproval towards those who consume the product available on the black market. Consumers of child pornography and nuclear technology are subject to broad social sanctions, which keeps the market small, making it possible to control it through police resources.

Now, compare that to, say, the black market in marijuana. Not only is there not broad social disapproval towards consumers of marijuana, there's some social tolerance (and even approval, in some circles) of those who consume marijuana. So, the mechanism which could keep the market small isn't working. This implies, I think, that the market will continue to grow -- the mechanism which would limit demand and thus keep the market small isn't there. The only way forward, then, would be to rigidly control supply, so that the demand would just go unsatisfied. That might work, except for the fact that growing marijuana isn't that difficult. (It's a plant, after all, which can be grown hydroponically.) It even grows wild. So, police are constantly fighting a rearguard action to try to keep the supply under control, while demand continues to grow, and thus economic incentives are pointing strongly in the direction of becoming a supplier. Thus while police may become harsher and harsher in their techniques, to try to keep the supply under control, they will inevitably get further and further behind.

If politicians really wanted to stop people smoking marijuana, they'd make it legal (which would cause the bottom to fall out of the illegal supply market, as small producers couldn't compete with large commercial farms), use police action to moderate its use the same way we do alcohol and tobacco (which would allow satisfying consumer demand while keeping the broader public safe from the twin effects of intoxication and second-hand smoke), and launch educational campaigns to discourage its use (the same way the use of cigarettes is discouraged). The impossible attempt to curtail the market would and should be abandoned.

An Economic Solution to IP Copying

The same, I think, applies to IP. There are millions of people, worldwide, who engage in the black market in IP. Some profit directly -- counterfeiters -- and others profit indirectly -- by contributing to a broad pool of available IP, which they can then use themselves, as well as through increased social status (see the founders of the Pirate Bay, for example). And that demand doesn't seem to be going down any time soon, because there isn't any broad social disapproval of consuming that black market product. Indeed, as attempts to control the market become more and more draconian, it seems that this actually increases consumer demand: the more control the MPAA has over how we can use our TV, the more control computer game manufacturers try to exert over where we can install the software, the more ridiculous the RIAA's legal victories become, the more people want the superior product -- the product that is available on the black market, without the harsh usage restrictions, and with the bonus "fuck you" to the big media corporations. (Don't underestimate that last one, BTW. Everyone likes to take a poke at a bully when he's vulnerable, and the RIAA has set itself up as the biggest bully in IP.)

So, the market can't be controlled. So, it should be made legal. Make personal, low-scale copying and sharing entirely legal. That gets the hardcore pirates out of the game. If anyone can copy and share, then there's no benefit to copying and sharing files en masse -- it no longer brings any social benefit, and no longer brings any personal benefit. If anyone can copy and share, the counterfeiters really can't benefit, either -- if everyone can produce something, then the price inevitably plummets. Any hardcore pirates still remaining -- leave them alone. And the same goes for the counterfeiters. If a legitimate company can't offer a superior product to a counterfeiter or a pirate, then that company should be in a different business.

An example: I remember when buying albums was an experience in its own right. From the small record shop with the cool older guy who knew everything there was to know about music, to the genuinely beautiful album art, to the special bonuses -- lyrics, photos, etc. -- that came in the CD booklets and album sleeves. So, even though I could get the music through tape-trading -- the old-school equivalent to BitTorrent and other P2P methods -- I didn't stop with that; I bought the things I liked, because I wanted those physical things. Somewhere along the line, that fell by the wayside. Now, I can get the lyrics and the photos online -- and I can also get videos, animations, band interviews, you name it. The only thing I couldn't get would be an interestingly-shaped album (like Cradle of Filth's Cruelty and the Beast in the cross-shaped box) or some sort of included bonus ("feelies" in video game parlance, like the stencil -- and the box -- included in Metallica's Live Shit boxed set). So, if you want me to buy a physical album, you have to make the physical object worth buying. Otherwise, it's not economically rational for me to buy it. On the other hand, if you just want me to pay for the music, then it has to be easy. Making me buy a DRM'd device is a pain; making me go to some special store is a pain; making me dig out my credit card and enter numbers and codes is a pain (not to mention clearing some space on the card); making me pay before I can hear the music is a huge pain. How is this superior to the pirated product?

It gets worse when we turn to, say, movies. The MPAA recently got approval from the FCC to stream first-run movies to TVs. Good idea, right? Movie theatres aren't doing so hot, and streaming the movies directly might make the MPAA members some serious dosh. Except: they also got approval to disable your TV's ability to record the signal; and any TV which can't be so disabled can't get the movies. Both features which don't exist in the pirated movie. So, why not pirate it? Again, keeping in mind that the police -- and governments and the whole legal apparatus -- can't keep this market under control, so the market will continue to grow, more people will enter the market, and the police will keep pouring resources into it fruitlessly. Just like the drug war.

Engaging with the Moral Debate on IP

I'm sure, at this point, that many readers are screaming (at least on the inside) about the moral aspects of the issue. I've already addressed why I don't think taking on the moral issues of IP is likely to be productive. But, for those who want to engage in that debate, here's my thinking.

The moral issue related to IP is something like the following. People own IP -- it's real property. They own it because they have worked on it or created it. Whatever one works on or creates becomes one's own. People who own something deserve compensation when other people use or take that something. And, people who own something deserve to control who can use or take that something, and when, and how.

Let's put some labels on the parts of this argument. We've got "the property claim" -- IP is property. We've go the "labour theory of property" -- working on something or creating it confers ownership. We've got the "compensation as rectification claim" -- taking or using something that belongs to someone else demands compensation to the owner. And, we've got the "absolute control of property" claim -- anything one owns is one's to do with as one sees fit.

I think these are all wrong.

IP isn't "P"

I don't think intellectual property is really property. This is a long argument, and I haven't worked out all the details. So, I'll just sketch it. Intellectual property is a poor name for something that actually forms part of one's self. The act of creation is a form of self-expression, but also of self-construction. Taking something that's implicitly part of who you are and making it explicitly part of the world doesn't just show who you are, but partly makes who you are. Think of sketching a work of art. One has an idea, then sketches it, then consults the sketch, then gets a new idea, then alters the sketch, etc. That's the point I'm heading towards. When I express who I am, and make it an external thing, the fact that it is now an external thing that I am observing actually changes who I am -- and then I can express this new self, consult the explicit thing, change my self, and so on.

The importance of intellectual property, then, isn't that it's something I own -- it's stronger than that. Intellectual property is important because it's me. So, let's instead talk about "explicit self-expressions" rather than "intellectual property". (Pretentious, I know; but "intellectual property" is just as bad.) That gives me some rights to it -- I can decide whether to make it public or not. But, once I make it public, just as when I choose to engage with the community rather than live in a cave in the desert, I have to accept that other people will evaluate, engage with, adopt, alter, and otherwise use what I bring into the community. I can't act all surprised when, if I'm out in the community, people talk to me, respond to me, adopt my ideas as their own, and so on. Similarly, when I put my explicit self-expressions out there for others to see, they will consume them, use them, evaluate them, engage with them, adopt them, alter them, co-opt them, satirize them, copy them, share them, etc, etc, etc. It's no different, as far as I can tell, from what happens when I speak to someone else. Those words could, from some perspective, be seen as my property. But they are really an explicit form of self-expression. I put my thoughts out into the public sphere, and those thoughts can then be used by someone else. That's what it means to make them public, after all: they become part of the public's space, part of the community, and are no longer just mine to use and control.

This doesn't mean I shouldn't be identified as the origin point, of course. Authorship is a matter of where something started, and if I'm the first person to tell you some idea, then basic respect for me as a person demands that you attribute it to me. But the fact that I am the author does not entail that I am the owner.

If IP is Based on Labour, It's Everyone's

The labour theory of property is deeply flawed; objections to it are well-known. I'll just give what I take to be the most damning objection, in this context. IP is often a combination of pre-existing elements: if we're talking about writing, then previous ideas or thoughts; if we're talking about music, then previous combinations of notes; and so on and so forth. So, if working on something or creating something makes one the owner, then everyone who has used certain combinations of ideas or thoughts owns (partially) everything subsequently created using those some combinations of ideas or thoughts. (Note: this isn't a legal argument; I'm not interested in what property law is like. This is a moral argument.) Given the long history of writing, this implies that many of the owners of any "new" piece of writing are long dead. Plausibly, their property rights have been inherited by their heirs. Which implies that any "new" piece of writing is owned by many thousands -- if not millions -- of people. And, if we push this line of thought as far as we should, we wind up, I think, with the claim that everyone owns every piece of writing that exists, ever -- for they all use ideas and thoughts that have been used before. The same obviously applies to music and all other forms of IP.

Now, one might object that the combination of ideas and thoughts is truly novel, and that is owned by the creator of the new piece alone. That's true. But it's irrelevant. Because all that shows is that the new creator is a part-owner of the piece of writing: the new creator's contribution is the combination. But all the ideas and thoughts are still owned by their previous owners, and thus the previous owners have an equal share -- at least -- to the new creator in the ownership of the piece of writing. If the combination weren't truly novel, then the new creator of the piece of writing would only own as much as he or she inherited from forebears due to their creation of ideas and thoughts.

(There's a wrinkle here for genuinely new ideas -- which are few and far between, at this point in our intellectual history. But, even if there are new ideas, they will occur surrounded by many, many old ideas, and so, again, this only entitles the new creator to a part-ownership of the piece of writing.)

So, if that's your theory of why intellectual property is property, then intellectual property is really a commons.

Not All Rights-Violations Deserve Compensation

When it comes to the idea that compensation is demanded as rectification for using someone else's property, this is just deeply confused. I think it's based on a flawed argument by analogy, which would go something like this. If you borrowed my car, you'd have to pay me for the wear on the car -- at least the gas. And if you took my car without asking, you'd have to pay even more -- you might even have to pay some of your freedom, and be taken to jail. So, if you take my intellectual property, you have to pay me for it -- and if it was done without my permission, maybe you should be taken to jail. There are two problems with this. First, as I've already suggested, intellectual property may not really be property. In which case, there are strong disanalogies between IP and a car. Furthermore, second, putting aside that argument, even if IP is genuinely property, it is still not property like using a car. For if I take your car without your permission, and then return it to you, you have been deprived of the use of your car, and your car has been diminished in value by my use of it. So, I owe you compensation because you have actually been harmed. If I copy your IP, though, where is the harm? I haven't deprived you of your use of the IP, as I copied it, rather than literally stealing it. And I haven't diminished the value of your IP; it's still as valuable as it was before I copied it.

I see two possible replies here. One turns on the idea that violating a property right is itself a harm for which compensation is owed. The other turns on the claim that repeated and widespread copying diminishes value of IP by diminishing the profit that one can obtain from selling that IP.

The second is an empirical claim, and the data are, at least, complicated to interpret. To establish it, it would be necessary to show that copying a piece of IP directly caused a drop in sales. But that is very difficult to show, for it's not clear that everyone -- or even anyone -- who copies a piece of IP would, if not for the copying, have bought it. That is, not every case of copying -- and possibly not any case of copying -- is a case of a lost sale. The data that have been presented by various industries thus far are nowhere near good enough to establish this causal claim; at most, they show a correlation between a rise in copying and a drop in sales. But a rise in copying and a drop in sales are not obviously causally related -- the correlation could be a complete coincidence, due to unrelated causal processes producing the rise in copying and the drop in sales as unconnected effects. So, better data is needed, and, as far as I know, no one has it.

The first is a strictly moral claim, but it's not a very good one. Not every rights-violation is harmful, and not every harmful rights-violation demands compensation. If I promise to hold on to your gun until you need it, and then you show up asking for it while in a violent rage, I would violate your right to your gun (and would violate your right to have my promise kept) not to return it. However, it doesn't seem that I harm you -- although I might wrong you -- by holding on to your gun. Indeed, I probably do you some good by holding on to it, as I keep you from using your gun until you are in better control of your emotions. (Example cheerfully stolen, with modern modifications, from Plato's Republic.) And, if I promise you on your deathbed to give your wealth to your dog, but, when you slip into an irreversible coma, I instead give that money to Oxfam, I have inarguably harmed you -- I have taken your property and broken my promise, and done you no good in the process -- but no compensation is demanded, for it is not possible to compensate you. You are in a coma, one that is, ex hypothesi, irreversible. You can't be helped any more.

So, generalizing from these cases: if a rights-violation actually helps you, then you are not owed compensation (there is no harm); and, if a rights-violation harms you but compensation is not possible, then you are not owed compensation. Arguably, both apply to copying IP. Widespread distribution of IP can help, rather than harm, creators who have had difficulty in getting the media corporations to pay attention to them. (Much as I do not care for his music, Justin Bieber's rise from YouTube to Island Records is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.) Similarly, compensation for widespread copying is incredibly difficult. The best way to compensate a creator for copying would be to directly pay the creator something; and, although "Donation" buttons are common for independent computer game creators, they don't seem widespread elsewhere. Short of contacting every single creator, what is someone who copies IP to do? I acknowledge that this could be vastly improved, making compensation possible. But, even if it were, then actual harm -- rather than help -- would have to be demonstrated, in each individual case. I'm not convinced that all but a handful of creators would turn out to have been genuinely harmed by copying of their IP.

Having Property is a Limited Right

And, finally, we come to the absolute control of property claim; that if one owns something, then one can use it as one sees fit. This is obviously false. I own a piano. I can't push it off my balcony -- I'm not allowed to. I own a cat. I can't drown it in the bathtub -- I'm not allowed to. And so on. There are many, many limits to what I can do with my property, usually related to causing harms to other people.

Does this apply to IP? Even if we concede that IP is property, as well as every other claim I have argued against thus far? Yes. Taking creators to have absolute control over their IP, given that most new artistic and intellectual creation builds on previous artistic and intellectual creations, would entail that creators of previous artistic and intellectual creations are able to stop others from making new artistic and intellectual creations. If I have written a song, and I have absolute control over that song, then anyone using even a part of that song needs to ask for my permission. Given that there are limits to how many novel combinations of notes can be used to make music, even atonal or dissonant music, sooner or later, every combination will be owned and no new creation will be possible. To my way of thinking, limiting how humans can express themselves intellectually and artistically is a very significant harm, much greater than the harm inflicted by copying IP.

I can see two objections to this point. First, it might be objected that this only entails that those who are going to create new artistic and intellectual objects should be excused from the absolute control exerted over IP. It doesn't entail that everyone should be so excused. Second, it might be objected that a limit on this absolute control -- say, 20 years -- would be sufficient to balance the various rights and harms that are in play.

With regard to the first, I think it only works if we assume that it can be predicted, in advance, who is going to be inspired to new artistic or intellectual creation upon being exposed to a given piece of IP. (And, really, whether that new creation is going to involve elements of that piece of IP, and which elements. But those are complications I don't think I need to make the point.) And, given that we don't really understand how inspiration works, this is just not knowable. Given that it's not knowable, the options are either give IP owners absolute control -- and cut ourselves off from new creation -- or don't -- and allow for the richness of new creation. I think the latter is a significant improvement, and so the property rights over IP have to give way in the face of that harm.

With regard to the second, it's a bigger concession than it seems. For, in offering a compromise, it necessarily concedes that the control over IP isn't actually absolute, but limited. But, if the benefit of new intellectual and artistic creation swamped the control over IP when it was held to be absolute, a fortiori it swamps the control over IP when it is held to be limited. So, the need for compromise is defeated as soon as the compromise is offered. In offering the compromise, the objection concedes that there is significant value in new intellectual and artistic creation; and, in that concession, there is no longer any reason that I can see to grant control over IP.

Summary

So, to summarize:
  • Getting into moral arguments over IP gets us into trouble, and leaves us without a clear solution to the problem
  • The real problem is economic, and thus requires an economic solution
    • The economic solution is to concede defeat and legalize the copying market
  • If we want to engage with the moral argument, then we have to see that the moral arguments surrounding IP are badly flawed
    • IP is not really property, but explicit self-expression
    • The labour theory of property, when applied to IP, implies that IP is a commons, not a private possession
    • Compensation is not owed for every rights-violation, and it's plausible that the rights-violations involved in copying IP are of the kind that aren't owed compensation
    • IP should not be held to be something the creator can absolutely control, for there is obvious and significant benefit to new intellectual and artistic creation
As said in the preamble, I didn't promise -- and, I think, didn't really deliver -- any policy suggestions. But, I think this is a useful framework for thinking about policy; once we get away from the moral thinking about IP -- which probably wrong anyway -- then the possibility of a workable, economically-sound solution becomes available. If we insist on thinking about IP in moral terms, then we need to face up to the strong arguments against the standard way of thinking about IP as a moral issue.

6 comments:

intellectual property rights Kolkata said...

Hey... much of your talks are worth meaningful in some senses, although we would choose to differ from what you have said in this post. The IP laws has been globally credited for its noticeable contributions towards the economic development. Under the law, the owners are granted some exclusive rights to a set of intangible assets, and this is what we think to very important. Don't you think so?

Catelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catelli said...

Thank-you, you've managed to spell-out the thoughts running around in my head that I have not been able to summarize in any coherent fashion.

Compensation for creating a new arrangement is the core argument. In our capitalist society, artists and distributors have to be compensated in some manner to ensure new works are created and the market is sustained.

Arguments from both sides of the debate assume a final ultimate conclusion, either everything will be "stolen" and no one will be compensated causing the market to collapse or everything must be paid for, no exceptions, to ensure fair compensation for all rights holders.

The true fiscal outcome is somewhere in the middle, and I agree that the best approach would allow a more flexible use of IP and the market will sort itself out. Maybe fewer artists will make a living, maybe more, it is unknowable. Maybe there will be fewer millionaire recording industry execs (a good thing in my books). Given the distribution models available, I suspect the market will flatten, removing a lot of the middlemen, and hence the entrenched interests.

I am going to point out that the economic "no money" model I was floating would allow artists to produce works as their own form of expression without worrying about compensation. (workable model or not, it is very appealing ;) )

ADHR said...

Kolkata,

No.

You're making a classic mistake: you're assuming that law is something other than an arbitrary set of rules (like the rules of a game). If the game would be better in some sense with different rules -- like adding the 24-second shot clock in basketball -- then the rules should change. I think we'd be better off economically and morally if we heavily revised current IP law; current IP law is a mess from both perspectives. So, whatever economic benefit is allegedly derived from the current legal structure is irrelevant; what matters is whether we could get more benefit from a different one.

Catelli,

It's sort of perplexing to me why anyone deserves compensation for a new arrangement of pre-existing pieces, though. If the argument is motivational -- without compensation, people won't create -- then "desert" isn't really a factor. (You don't deserve to be motivated to do something, although motivating you to do it may be a very good idea.)

Even if it's just a motivational point, then I really don't think it's true. There's many millions of artists in all fields who don't make nearly enough off their creations to even cover their costs, let alone make money. They vastly outnumber those who can actually make a living -- never mind a good living -- off creation. If compensation is needed to motivate people, then why do these people do it? (Why do you and I blog? I'm not making anything; are you?)

There's something to be said for the idea that people create for the sake of creation. There's something to be said as well for the idea that people create for the sake of the broader community. (This doesn't have to be altruistic; someone might engage in intellectual or artistic creation in order to improve their social standing or position within a subcommunity.)

An economic point I didn't mention -- as I was more focused on the failures to adequately address the very large black market in copied IP -- is that most people agree that folks who put in time and effort to doing something should receive something in return -- whether it's expressions of gratitude, "brownie points", tips, or what have you. (Compare to servers in restaurants; they don't do much, but we pretty much all accept they have to be execrably bad before they lose their tip entirely.) There seems to be something basically unfair about taking something for nothing. I think that, as long as it's fairly easy for people to "tip" creators, then people will do so. The problem right now is that those who control large blocks of IP want to exert total control over how much they get paid and what people do with their creations. (It'd be like if the server in the restaurant told you what you had to order, and refused to tell you the price until you were done eating.)

As I think we both agree, if there's some way to pay everyone apart from the work they do -- your "no money" idea or my guaranteed minimum income -- then tips become a bonus rather than a wage. But the idea of having to "work for a living" is very deeply entrenched, for some reason, and I think it would be the work of a lifetime to unseat it.

Catelli said...

If compensation is needed to motivate people, then why do these people do it? (Why do you and I blog? I'm not making anything; are you?)

Compensation motivates me to do my job only because I need it (money) to live. I have other motivations, it is what interests me, I have the skills, etc. We're told that ideally our job will match our interests so that it doesn't feel like a chore. Same thing for artists, they may not have the spare time to devote to their passion, so they try to make their passion their career. (Holds true for bloggers to. Some are full-time and have made it a career, others are part-time. What's relevant is the remuneration structure is different. Something that maybe artists can learn from and adopt.)

So the compensation as motivation comes from not the desire to create, but from the need to feed oneself.

It's about time invested and was the result worth the time to someone else (you recorded a song I really like that I could not do, and you invested hours in that creation).

Would you agree then that we are trying to compensate for time and effort rather than a product?

ADHR said...

I don't really see how time and effort deserve monetary compensation, though. Again, think of things you do for free -- you get something from them (or you wouldn't do them at all), but you don't necessarily get paid.

There's really two different issues here. One is the structure of motivation (in the "having a reason" sense, not in necessarily in the "getting in gear" sense) for activities. We engage in activities because they serve some kind of point, either as instruments (they get us something we want) or as goals themselves (the activity is intrinsically worth doing). Survival can be a point of an activity -- it's why we eat, for example. So, to survive can be a reason for taking certain actions.

The other issue, though, is how we gain the means of survival in a society structured like ours. And, for whatever reason, our society doesn't enact policies which say we deserve to live because we are alive. Instead, we have to somehow "prove" we deserve to live. And I think this is the source of the idea that we deserve compensation for putting time and effort into something -- because we're told that we don't deserve the means of survival except insofar as we are productive.

This is one of the reasons why I support a guaranteed minimum income. It reverses this rather odd situation where we're trying to give people reasons to do things they would really rather not do by holding the possibility of suffering and even death over their heads. It also reverses the rather odd situation where people have to jealously guard their productive activities for fear of losing the means of survival.