Showing posts with label Mark Carney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark Carney. Show all posts

Monday 5 July 2021

Virtues, Vices, and Values

A Charter of Values?

 In 2013, when the Parti Québécois government was proposing a “Charte des valeurs”  I reacted, on this blog, with "outrage, shame, embarrassment, anger, frustration, fear."  Admittedly, by the time the  Coalition Avenir Québec introduced its  "Bill 21: An Act respecting the laicity of the State," a watered-down version of similar legislation, my reactions had mellowed.  (See The "We" Vote in Quebec.) Nonetheless, I remain distinctly uncomfortable whenever I hear a politician invoking "values" and, still worse, "our shared values."  We might expect the expression "our shared values" to be followed by a list of said values but it almost never is.  Upon hearing "our shared values," the white supremacist and the advocate of Black Lives Matter might both breathe a sigh of relief thinking "finally, one of us"--which explains politicians' love of this empty expression.

The Common Objects of a People's Love

In his inauguration speech, Joe Biden offered this list: "Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth."  But he didn't call them values.  Citing Saint Augustine, he referred to them as "the common objects" which define a multitude as a people, and this particular list as what defines Americans.  However, as some critics have pointed out, what Augustine was suggesting wasn't necessarily values or virtues.  

“If one should say, 'a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,’ then it follows that to observe the character of a people we must examine the objects of its love.” — St. Augustine, City of God 19.24

The objects of a people's love could equally well be venal, could be vices.  The USA may be the "land of opportunity," whose "military-industrial complex" ensures its security, and whose constitution guarantees its citizens the liberty to have guns but not necessarily abortions or to use the girls' washroom if your birth certificate says you're a boy, but I've never thought of dignity, respect, honor (except for the spelling) and truth as being distinctly American. 

Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues

The more I have reflected on this topic, the less certain I've felt about what counts as a value.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the vices or "deadly sins" are clear:  pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.  The "heavenly virtues"--prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and charity--are more ambiguous. We might like to imagine that virtues and vices are absolutes, but it seems obvious that the difference between them is one of degree.  Moderate degrees of the vices seem desirable, while exaggerations of the virtues are equally undesirable.

Values and Valour

Invariably, we imagine our values are virtues and, conversely, we are likely to imagine that other people's values seem like vices.  In truth, few of us ever have to discover what our values truly are or if we have any.  The word "values" shares its underlying root with "valour"; that is, not just worth but strength and courage.  Our values are the principles that we have the strength and courage to maintain under stress and to act upon.  Still, even the most valourous among us can find themselves in a conflict of values, a no-win, double-bind situation which is the defining characteristic of tragedy.  (See The Double-bind Theory of Tragedy and Madness.)

Obedience to Authority:  Virtue or Vice?

Anomie, the absence of values, has long been the claimed condition of privileged, modern societies.  I am mindful of social psychologist Stanley Milgram's infamous Yale "Obedience to Authority" experiments which revealed that 65% of the test subjects would torture a victim to death using electric shock simply because someone who appeared to be in authority told them to.  Obedience is, of course, the most taught and enforced value in education.

What Are Your Values?

The webpage What Are Your Values? provides a list of 150 potential values, including obedience.  Looking at this list and every other list I have considered, I come away wondering:  are these really values?  The webpage offers a soft definition of values as "the things you believe are important." Sex and money don't make anyone's list of values, but I've met a few people who seem to think they are important.

The Central Bank:  God or the Devil?

I was drawn to Mark Carney's Value(s), in the first place, because of the title and because he was Governor of the Bank of Canada and Governor of the Bank of England.  To conspiracy theorists like my friend Henry Makow and members of the Zeitgeist Movement (not to mention bitcoin fans and fanatics), central banks are the spawns of Satan.  Against this foil, it was striking to read Carney's passionate prescriptions and earnest defense of central banks and a "sound dollar."  His sententious, Polyanna proposals for a better world are occasionally ponderous and left me wondering: would fat cats on Wall Street and in the Federal Reserve give two seconds of consideration to what he is recommending?

What's Good for General Bullmoose . . .

In Values, Carney comes across as a nice guy determined to be nice to everyone, even  Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase and a member of the New York Federal Reserve Board.  However, in Plutocrats, Chrystia Freeland reports on the animosity between Carney and Dimon which exploded at a meeting of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington in 2011.  Freeland points out:

The battle between Carney and Dimon gets at a bigger and more contentious issue [than taxes and profits]:  Are the interests of the state and its big businesses synonymous?  If not, who decides? And if they do clash, does the state have the right--and the might--to curb specific businesses for the collective good?

As Freeland records, Dimon widely promulgated his position that the kinds of global banking regulations Carney was proposing were "anti-American." The Carney speeches Freeland quotes show that the genesis of Value(s):  Building a Better World for All is at least a decade old.  Carney himself traces its origins to his childhood in Canada.

Can values drive value?

Carney argues that:

Values and value are related but distinct. In the most general terms, values represent the principles or standards of behaviour; they are judgements of what is important in life. Examples include integrity, fairness, kindness, excellence, sustainability, passion and reason. Value is the regard that something is held to deserve – the importance, worth or usefulness of something. Both value and values are judgements. And therein lies the rub.

"Therein lies the rub" indeed.  Can we separate values and value, the dancer and the dance?  Or, on the other hand, are they in complete contradiction to one another?  Witness the paradox of The Antiques Roadshow.  An expert explains the values embued in an artifact, but the climax of every episode is the revelation of the dollar value of the object, which is based on the current market and only a tertiary result of beauty or craftsmanship, history or sentiment.

The fiat global reserve currency:  where's the trust, integrity and transparency?

Carney claims that the value of "fiat money is grounded in the values of trust, integrity and transparency." The US greenback, the fiat (non-gold/commodity-based) money that really counts because it is the "global reserve currency" and about which Carney has remarkably little to say, as we have seen, is backed by the threat of military intervention.  (See Petrodollar Warfare.)  Moreover, in recent years, as Kishore Mahbubani (Has China Won?) decries and Josh Rogin  (Chaos under Heaven) lauds, the US has been weaponizing the dollar. (See Analysing the Discourse on the USA-China Cold War.)  The US Federal Reserve was born in secrecy and, to this day, most people don't realize, as Carney confirms, that 80% of the money in the world is created by private banks.  (See The Truth About Money.)

How Many "values" are there?

Carney's orbit of values expands centrifugally to include, in his final chapters: "solidarity – fairness – responsibility – resilience – sustainability – dynamism, and – humility." Once again, I find myself questioning which, if any, of these stand as values.  Values are the principles we are prepared to uphold in the most challenging of times.  Logically, values spring from ethics.  The word "ethics" comes from "ethos," behaviour over time, often translated as "character," and contrasts with "pathos," the emotions of the moment.  In the end, I conclude "values" is a misnomer.  There is only one value: justice.  Those things we call "values" are details:  customs, habits, rituals, and allegories.  Justice must be based on ethics, and Kant's much-maligned "categorical imperative"--laws are moral if you accept them being applied to you--imperfect as it is, is as good an option as we have available to us.

Friday 4 June 2021

How Do You Steal an Intellectual Property?

Every Property Has a Price 

Whenever I think of "a property," I imagine a couple of wooded acres by a lake.  By definition, an "intellectual property" is a creation of the human mind.  Can a thought be a property?  According to Mark Carney in his tome, Values: "The value of intangible capital (like software and intellectual property) now dwarfs that of physical capital (like factories and real property)."  Value, as Carney reports disapprovingly,  in our capitalist, market-driven society comes down to price which, in turn, means money.

Dead Celebrities

Michael Jackson's net worth has increased dramatically since his death nine years ago.  Managing the finances of dead celebrities is a very lucrative business.  We might like to imagine when we hear the expression "intellectual property" that the artist, inventor or scientist is being protected and getting the full financial reward of her brilliant idea, but history shows this is seldom the case.  Michael Jackson may have enjoyed abundant financial reward for his work but, even in his case, when we look at whose brain created the "intellectual property" and whose bank account ended up with most of the money, they are rarely the same person.

Injustice or Asymmetry?

We might imagine that this financial "injustice" (more an incongruity or asymmetry, actually) is a modern malaise but it runs throughout history.  "Render unto Caesar what is Ceasar's, and unto God what is God's."  The people who make money are the people in the money-making business.  (See The Truth About Money.) The principle is as old as recorded human history, though it may have become exaggerated in recent times.

Shakespeare Never Gave up his Day Job

You might think that Shakespeare got rich from writing plays, but he made his money by being a stage manager, a part-time actor, a co-owner of the Globe Theatre, a share-holder in the theatre company, and from some shrewd real-estate investments.  (Shakespeare never gave up his "day jobs.")   John Heminges and Henry Condell made money on Shakespeare's plays by publishing the folio edition of the collected works, seven years after Shakespeare's death.  (That publication is why Shakespeare is so widely known and studied today.)

How Newton Made Money

The history of science, physics and mathematics was forever changed by the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, but Isaac Newton had been unable to have his manuscript published.  Edmund Hailey paid for the publication out of his own pocket and was never financially reimbursed.  The Royal Society, responsible for scientific publications, compensated Hailey with unsold copies of their recently published Encyclopedia of Fish.  Of course, Newton eventually made money.  He wasted a lot of time as an alchemist trying to turn lead into gold, then he became Master of the Royal Mint.  (There's a pun in there somewhere.)  His financial gain did not approach a nano of the value of his "intellectual property."

Insulin Then and Now

The Canadian doctor Frederick Banting and his colleagues sold the patent for insulin for $1.  In the USA today, a single vial of insulin costs between $175 and $300.  Research any major medical breakthrough you can think of; invariably, someone discovered something, and someone else made a lot of money from the discovery.  Some people are good at making things and some people are good at making money.  

Exceptions Which Prove the Rule

We are all aware of the apparent exceptions to the rule:  Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk.  In Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs is quoted describing Gates, disparagingly, as "a businessman."  In my reading of the same biography, I came away with the impression that Steve Wozniak was the creator of the "intellectual property" that became Apple.  Elon Musk may be the only true exception to prove the rule.  I wonder if it's prophetic that he named his company after Nikola Tesla the brilliant inventor who died in poverty.

Romantic Clichés

The romantic cliché of writers and painters living in poverty is so well established that we tend to view affluent artists with suspicion.  The general rule is that artists are either born with money, marry money, live in constant financial distress, or a roller-coaster combination of the three.  Even though what they produce might end up being worth millions.

Robber Barons or Patrons

When we talk about the theft of intellectual property, what exactly are we talking about?  My cynical self says we are talking about stealing money from the people who make money from somebody else's intellectual property, like robbing thieves.   This attitude is completely wrong.  Artists need patrons, supporters, gallerists, publicists, and publishers--someone who believes in their work.  Picasso had Gertrude Stein, van Gogh had his brother Theo, James Joyce had Harriet Shaw Weaver, Tom Wolfe had Maxwell Perkins.  Only the lucky few profit financially in their lifetimes.

Inventorship Versus Ownership

The point is a simple one and well established in copyright law:  inventorship (or authorship) isn't ownership.  Owners make money if there is money to be made.  Consider yourself lucky if someone thinks your "intellectual property" is worth owning.   You are among the very rare few if you are the author and the owner and manage to make money. 

Intellectual Property:  An Ostensive Definition

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy breaks down "intellectual property" into copyrights, patents, trade secrets, and trademarks.  The Encyclopedia solves the problem of stealing a thought by pointing out that "Typically, rights do not surround the abstract non-physical entity; rather, intellectual property rights surround the control of physical manifestations or expressions of ideas."


[ . . .] rights only extend over the actual concrete expression and the derivatives of the expression—not to the abstract ideas themselves. For example, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, as expressed in various articles and publications, is not protected under copyright law. Someone else may read these publications and express the theory in her own words and even receive a copyright for her particular expression. 

Copyright is probably the most familiar form of "intellectual property" and plagiarism is the commonly understood theft of a copyright. The "intellectual property" I am most familiar with--the 20-page, peer-reviewed article in an academic journal--tends to get lost in a grey, copyright wasteland. Researching online I once discovered work I had published advertised (falsely, I'm afraid) as "a top article in the field," then realized I would have to pay a subscription fee to a database company to access my own work. I, like most academics I imagine, don't give much thought to monetizing publications. Aside from tenure and promotion, the reward is just being read and the vague feeling of promulgating knowledge. Teachers, in general, freely share their "intellectual property" every working day of their careers.

Copyright and Plagiarism

Plagiarism in the arts and academia is a very challenging accusation to prove.  (Forgery is, of course, a very different crime.) Early in his career, Shakespeare was accused of plagiarism.  Some readers might be surprised to realize that virtually every play Shakespeare wrote was adapted from an earlier story.  "Romeo and Juliet"  had been published twice before Shakespeare wrote his play version.  (See Why Did Shakespeare Make Juliet Thirteen Years Old?)  T.S. Eliot was particularly critical of Shakespeare's Hamlet, in part, because there had been two earlier Hamlets before Shakespeare wrote his.  (See Holding a Mirror up to Hamlet.)  After 350 years, the controversy continues over who first invented that form of mathematics called calculus--Newton or Liebnitz.

Chinese Theft or American Efficiency

These days, when we hear of the "theft of intellectual property," it is most often Western media reporting on China.  The expression "efficiency infringement" is currently being used to describe large American companies overstepping someone's patent.  Of 143 recent press releases on the FBI website related to "Intellectual Property Theft" about 30 mention China or Chinese nationals.

Trade Secrets

"Trade secrets" are the broadest and least clearly defined category of intellectual property.  They can include computer code, lab results, or a company's negotiating strategy.  Despite being "secret," they come with some of the biggest price tags and consequences.  "Chinese National Sentenced for Stealing Trade Secrets Worth $1 Billion" is a typical headline from the FBI website:  "A former associate scientist was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison in federal court today for stealing proprietary information worth more than $1 billion from his employer, a U.S. petroleum company."

The details of the case seem oddly mundane:

According to the plea agreement, [Hongjin] Tan used a thumb drive to copy hundreds of files containing the proprietary information on Dec. 11, 2018. He subsequently turned in his resignation and was escorted from the premises on Dec. 12, 2018. Later that day, he returned the thumb drive, claiming that he had forgotten to do so before leaving his employer’s property. Upon examination, it was discovered that there was unallocated space on the thumb drive, indicating five documents had previously been deleted. Investigators with the FBI searched Tan’s premises and found an external hard drive. They discovered that the same five missing files from the thumb drive had been downloaded to the hard drive. Tan maintained the files on a hard drive so he could access the data at a later date. Further accessing the material would have been financially advantageous for Tan but caused significant financial damage to his Oklahoma employer.

It whets my curiosity to know how five Oklahoma oil company computer files could be worth a billion dollars.

The Echelon Affair

A historical review entitled The ECHELON Affair conducted by the European Parliamentary Research Service quotes the Smid Report that 

a global system for intercepting communications, probably known as Echelon, indeed existed and was managed on the basis of a secret agreement (the UKUSA agreement) between five countries, the USA (as lead partner), the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

According to The ECHELON Affair, based on the Smid Report:

The countries most advanced in industrial espionage were using it [industrial espionage] for purposes of tailoring their economic or industrial policies or for gathering information useful to national companies trading abroad. The least advanced countries were concerned with acquiring know-how on the cheap.

The report quotes former CIA Director William Webster:

"Our political and military allies are also our economic rivals and the ability of an economic rival to create, win or control markets in the future has security implications for the United States."

In an Ideal World . . .

According to the World Intellectual Property Indicators 2018, in both 2016 and 2017, China filed more than twice as many patents as the USA.  It is odd that the country which has filed the most patents globally is also the country accused of being cavalier about the theft of intellectual property.  In Has China Won?, Mahbubani claims that, contrary to Western impressions, provinces, officials, and even individual companies in China operate with long-established habits of independence.  He argues that it has been a mistake for the central government to allow American businesses, which are the greatest supporters of China in the West, to be mistreated by lower levels of government and business.

As we reflect upon "intellectual property theft," it's worth keeping in mind that most of the time we are talking about money.  As long as the USA is the country which prints (or digitalizes) the global reserve currency, Americans don't really need to worry about money.  However, at stake is global hegemony.  We in the West, especially close allies like Canada, quite logically, might be more comfortable with the familiar, democratic, capitalist USA as the global hegemon. Mahbubani repeatedly emphasizes that in the USA-China geopolitical contest, both countries should step back and determine what is in the best interests of their populations.  Money and hegemony aside, collaboration and the sharing of intellectual property would seem to be in the best interest of the people of both countries, not to mention the rest of the world on the sidelines.  Unfortunately, the possibility of cooperation in science, medicine, economics, infrastructure, culture, and technology for mutual, even universal, benefit is retreating further into distant obscurity on a daily basis.

Why Is the Vagina Masculine? And What’s the Alternative?

“Vagina” is masculine  I first came across this factoid thirty years ago in Daphne Marlatt’s novel Ana Historic .   It came up again more r...