Property (and who owns it)


I’m not sure who owns this image!

Something out of nothing

Two distantly related matter are troubling me this morning. The first is the ownership of intellectual property and the second the ownership of a shower cubicle. Let me talk about the shower cubicle first. I was in the men’s showers  at Crisis yesterday when an argument broke out between two chaps over the rights to use the one available shower cubicle. It was won by the younger, fitter man, whose argument was simple “this is my shower, you fuck off”. The older man gave way but was inconsolable

“nobody in here owns anything, that’s all that we’ve got”

It seemed one of the most profound things I had ever heard, it came from the bottom of this man’s soul. It sprung from a profound well of humanity, it sends tears streaming down my face.

All that they’ve got is something in common, and if you believe that property enchains, then you may romantically believe that Crisis is some kind of utopia. Do not believe it. the rights to a bag, clothing , cigarettes and for some a phone- are rights that guests cherish. But to fight over ownership rights to a shower? The assertion of rights through physical strength? The lack of courtesy in a place where courtesy was shown in abundance. It was shocking to the older man.

He left the shower and later that day he left the site, his Christmas had been spoiled and though we spent some time talking about it, I saw that this dear man was not going to be happy , he had too little to support his sensitive spiritual love, I wish him well.

Something over nothing

I find myself illegally reading again the text of John Woods’ thundering polemic against the speculation of pension management that is driving out proper investment. You can read my comments here, but wait for Con Keating’s proper exegesis in days to come.

As with the argument in the shower room, this is about property rights in a world where we own everything and nothing. Can you own an idea, or an argument or a moral position?

Here is one of my academic friends commenting to me in a recent mail

It’s what known in economics jargon as rent seeking behaviour. Academic publishers charge universities massive economic rents. Problem is that we tend to judge the value of research not by a direct assessment of its intrinsic quality but by the reputation of the journal it appears in. As it happens Cambridge J (ournal)  of E (conomics) would not be rated very highly by a lot of ‘mainstream’ (i.e. neoclassical) economists because of its Keynesian (let alone Marxian) emphasis which is anathema to them. They would ban such work from being published in serious journals. Hence the irrelevance of much of modern economics and the dominance of the sort of harmful perspective you criticise in your blog.
I am flattered that my position is considered to be Keynsian or Marxist (like Moliere’s Tartuffe who was flattered to be told he spoke in prose).
But the other way round I guess I would be a monetarist (or be speaking in poetry!).
Either way, the value of my opinions is everything or nothing as I do not own them (this blog will stay free to read and re-blog).
Is the value of Professor Wood’s opinion reduced by my reading it, or writing about it. I suppose because I have not paid to read his paper, I am like the listener to Napster and because I have amplified his views, I have become a promoter of theft.
But like the man who stole the shower, I never knew there was ownership and dispute the value of the ownership of ideas that are simply an academic expression of what I thought in the first place.

Something from nothing

The great advances in learning are advances in understanding. The revelation of the truth is not the creation of the truth. The functioning shower pre-dated the argument about who owned its utility, the arguments of Professor Wood pre-date the professor.
Philosophically, we are free to own everything and nothing. Spotify and you tube make everything that was ever heard , available to us – at no greater expense than the cost of internet connection. The showers at Crisis will go on functioning for so long as it is Christmas and they are owned by everyone and no-one. The Cambridge Economic Journal may seek to extract a high rent for Professor Wood’s work but  I place no value on their attempts at rent extraction. I place a very high opinion on Professor Wood, and if he would like to write for my blog, he is most welcome.
I thank those arguing in the shower for helping me to understand something much deeper than the academic squabble. Sometimes something comes from nothing.





About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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