Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading...

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses the abuse of intellectual property law to turn publicly-funded research into privately-held profit centres (no matter how many people die as a result):
(A) Utah-based company, Myriad Genetics, claims more than that. It claims to own the rights to any test for the presence of the two critical genes associated with breast cancer – and has ruthlessly enforced that right, though their test is inferior to one that Yale University was willing to provide at much lower cost. The consequences have been tragic: Thorough, affordable testing that identifies high-risk patients saves lives. Blocking such testing costs lives. Myriad is a true example of an American corporation for which profit trumps all other values, including the value of human life itself.

This a particularly poignant case. Normally, economists talk about trade-offs: weaker intellectual-property rights, it is argued, would undermine incentives to innovate. The irony here is that Myriad’s discovery would have been made in any case, owing to a publicly funded, international effort to decode the entire human genome that was a singular achievement of modern science. The social benefits of Myriad’s slightly earlier discovery have been dwarfed by the costs that its callous pursuit of profit has imposed.
Sadly, the US and other advanced countries have been pressing for stronger intellectual-property regimes around the world. Such regimes would limit poor countries’ access to the knowledge that they need for their development – and would deny life-saving generic drugs to the hundreds of millions of people who cannot afford the drug companies’ monopoly prices.
Intellectual-property rights are rules that we create – and that are supposed to improve social well-being. But unbalanced intellectual-property regimes result in inefficiencies – including monopoly profits and a failure to maximize the use of knowledge – that impede the pace of innovation. And, as the Myriad case shows, they can even result in unnecessary loss of life.
- Lana Payne writes that the Cons have at least blinked in acknowledging problems with their preference for cheap, disposable temporary foreign workers over Canadian job-seekers. But lest there be any thought that they're doing anything more than the bare minimum to respond to a public-relations firestorm, CBC reports that they've been aware for at least a year that TFWs were being used in the same industries and locations where workers were receiving EI benefits for want of work. Tavia Grant confirms that the Cons' economic strategy is creating three times as many temporary jobs as permanent ones. And Tim Harford is the latest to weigh in on the corrosive effects of long-term unemployment on an individual's career prospects.

- Dennis Howlett highlights another failure of the Cons in government - noting that even after tax havens have emerged as a widely-known public issue, Con MPs have rejected any recommendations which would meaningfully address the problem.

- Meanwhile, the Cons are trying to deflect blame for their losing $3.1 billion of public money by saying...it's somebody else's fault for not identifying their failures sooner. Sound familiar?

- Finally, Paul Krugman comments on the Republicans' chutzpah in blaming everybody else for their own regular deficits. Suffice it to say that Christy Clark would fit right in:

The key measure you want to look at is the ratio of debt to G.D.P., which measures the government’s fiscal position better than a simple dollar number. And if you look at United States history since World War II, you find that of the 10 presidents who preceded Barack Obama, seven left office with a debt ratio lower than when they came in. Who were the three exceptions? Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. So debt increases that didn’t arise either from war or from extraordinary financial crisis are entirely associated with hard-line conservative governments.
And there’s a reason for that association: U.S. conservatives have long followed a strategy of “starving the beast,” slashing taxes so as to deprive the government of the revenue it needs to pay for popular programs.

The funny thing is that right now these same hard-line conservatives declare that we must not run deficits in times of economic crisis. Why? Because, they say, politicians won’t do the right thing and pay down the debt in good times. And who are these irresponsible politicians they’re talking about? Why, themselves.

To me, it sounds like a fiscal version of the classic definition of chutzpah — namely, killing your parents, then demanding sympathy because you’re an orphan. Here we have conservatives telling us that we must tighten our belts despite mass unemployment, because otherwise future conservatives will keep running deficits once times improve.

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