“Seek Truth from Facts”

(p. A15)  . . . 2019 . . .  marks the anniversary of the result of a . . . defiant protest—one that will receive little attention in or out of China, even though it launched the economic reforms that kick-started the country’s rise.

Forty years ago this spring, corn farmers in Xiaogang village, in the central province of Anhui (where Pearl Buck set “The Good Earth”), reported a grain yield of 66 metric tons. This single harvest equaled the village’s total output between 1955 and 1970—but for once the figure was not exaggerated. In fact, villagers underreported their actual yield by a third, fearing officials would not believe their record haul.

What caused this massive spike in production? A new fertilizer or hybrid seed? Better equipment? A catchy, rhymed propaganda slogan? No; Xiaogang’s farmers were starving. After taking power in 1949, China’s Communist Party had effectively abolished private land ownership, grouping farms into “people’s communes” subservient to the state. By 1978 villages were crippled by quotas that seized most of what they grew for redistribution.

Continue reading ““Seek Truth from Facts””

Private Property Unleashed Innovation

(p. A17)  Enlightenment philosophers recognized that the crown, guild, church and village sometimes acted as rent-seekers stripping away the rewards for work, thrift and innovation, and in the process inhibiting productive effort and progress. The Enlightenment established the principle that labor and capital are private property and not communal assets subject to involuntary sharing, and thus unleashed the explosion of knowledge and production that drives human flourishing to this day.

Extraordinarily in America, the crown jewel and greatest beneficiary of the Enlightenment, political movements are afoot that seek to overturn the individual economic rights secured in the Enlightenment and return to a medieval world of subjects and subjugation.

For the full commentary, see:

(Note:  the online version of the commentary has the date 9.)

Chief Justice Marshall Held That Corporations Were Citizens

(p. C4) How did corporations come to possess some of the most fundamental rights of individuals? They never marched on Washington. Instead, they have fought to win their rights in the Supreme Court–and in the process have been unexpected innovators in constitutional law.
The first Supreme Court case on the rights of business corporations was decided in 1809–nearly a half-century before the first case on the rights of African-Americans. Far from an oppressed minority, the Bank of the United States, which brought the case, was among the richest and most powerful corporations in the new nation.
After opponents in Georgia imposed a tax on the Savannah branch, the bank claimed a constitutional right to challenge the tax in federal court. Article III of the Constitution, however, guaranteed the right to sue in federal court only to “citizens.” In one of the neglected landmarks of American law, the legendary chief justice John Marshall held that the Constitution must be read expansively to include corporations.

For the full essay, see:
Adam Winkler. “What Rights Should Corporations Have?; The business world’s ‘artificial persons’ have long fought to win the same constitutional protections as citizens.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 3, 2018): C4.
(Note: the online version of the essay has the date March 1, 2018.)

The essay is based on the author’s book:
Winkler, Adam. We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2018.

Jason Potts Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

What explains innovative dynamism? Art Diamond has written a fantastic book exploring how strong property rights, not innovation systems, should be the basis of modern innovation policy. He has done a great job in setting out the case for a classical liberal approach to innovation and technology policy, and carefully counters many of the common arguments supporting interventionist policy models. The book is full of lucid and compelling case studies and will be popular among innovation scholars and policy-makers.

Jason Potts, Professor of Economics, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Director of Blockchain Innovation Hub at RMIT. Author of The New Evolutionary Economics, and other works.

Potts’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.

Assigning Property Rights to Internet Data Creators

(p. C3) Congress has stepped up talk of new privacy regulations in the wake of the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, which improperly gained access to the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users. Even Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified that he thought new federal rules were “inevitable.” But to understand what regulation is appropriate, we need to understand the source of the problem: the absence of a real market in data, with true property rights for data creators. Once that market is in place, implementing privacy protections will be easy.
We often think of ourselves as consumers of Facebook, Google, Instagram and other internet services. In reality, we are also their suppliers–or more accurately, their workers. When we post and label photos on Facebook or Instagram, use Google maps while driving, chat in multiple languages on Skype or upload videos to YouTube, we are generating data about human behavior that the companies then feed into machine-learning programs.
These programs use our personal data to learn patterns that allow them to imitate human behavior and understanding. With that information, computers can recognize images, translate languages, help viewers choose among shows and offer the speediest route to the mall. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft (where one of us works) sell these tools to other companies. They also use our data to match advertisers with consumers.
Defenders of the current system often say that we don’t give away our personal data for free. Rather, we’re paid in the form of the services that we receive. But this exchange is bad for users, bad for society and probably not ideal even for the tech companies. In a real market, consumers would have far more power over the exchange: Here’s my data. What are you willing to pay for it?
An internet user today probably would earn only a few hundred dollars a year if companies paid for data. But that amount could grow substantially in the coming years. If the economic reach of AI systems continues to expand–into drafting legal contracts, diagnosing diseases, performing surgery, making investments, driving trucks, managing businesses–they will need vast amounts of data to function.
And if these systems displace human jobs, people will have plenty of time to supply that data. Tech executives fearful that AI will cause mass unemployment have advocated a universal basic income funded by increased taxes. But the pressure for such policies would abate if users were simply compensated for their data.

For the full commentary, see:
Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl. “Want Our Personal Data? Pay for It.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): C3.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 20, 2018.)

The commentary quoted above, is based on:
Posner, Eric A., and E. Glen Weyl. Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Lenin “Sought to Destroy” Russian Peasants

(p. B14) A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in “Russia Under the Old Regime,” abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.
One of his most original contributions was to locate many of Russia’s woes in its failure to evolve beyond its status as a patrimonial state, a term he borrowed from the German sociologist Max Weber to characterize Russian absolutism, in which the czar not only ruled but also owned his domain and its inhabitants, nullifying the concepts of private property and individual freedom.
With “The Russian Revolution” (1990), Professor Pipes mounted a frontal assault on many of the premises and long-held convictions of mainstream Western specialists on the Bolshevik seizure of power. That book, which began with the simple Russian epigraph “To the victims,” took a prosecutorial stance toward the Bolsheviks and their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who still commanded a certain respect and sympathy among Western historians.
Professor Pipes, a moralist shaped by his experiences as a Jew who had fled the Nazi occupation of Poland, would have none of it. He presented the Bolshevik Party as a conspiratorial, deeply unpopular clique rather than the spearhead of a mass movement. He shed new and harsh light on the Bolshevik campaign against the peasantry, which, he argued, Lenin had sought to destroy as a reactionary class. He also accused Lenin of laying the foundation of the terrorist state that his successor, Joseph Stalin, perfected.
“I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences,” Professor Pipes wrote in a memoir. “Since scholars have written enough on the Holocaust, I thought it my mission to demonstrate this truth using the example of communism.”
. . .
In “The Russian Revolution,” he wrote:
“The Russian Revolution was made neither by the forces of nature nor by anonymous masses but by identifiable men pursuing their own advantages. Although it has spontaneous aspects, in the main it was the result of deliberate action. As such it is very properly subject to value judgment.”

For the full obituary, see:
William Grimes. “Richard Pipes, Historian Of Russia and Adviser To Reagan, Dies at 94.” The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): B14.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title “Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94.”)

The early Pipes book, mentioned above, is:
Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Old Regime. revised 2nd ed. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997 [1st ed. 1974].

The later Pipes book, mentioned above, is:
Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. revised 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Paying Consumers for Their Data

(p. B4) WASHINGTON–For every link you click, every photo you post, every word you search, somebody markets the data to advertisers seeking to target you. Consumer data is a valuable commodity, and that is one reason Google, Facebook and others let you use their platforms at no cost.
An Australian app maker called Unlockd thinks it has a better idea: The consumer should get a cut of this mobile-data business, in the form of rewards or other incentives. Other newcomers and smaller firms are taking a similar tack. Should this approach take off, some see it becoming a viable alternative to the ad model driving big platforms like Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

For the full story, see:
McKinnon, John D. “Startup Wants to Reward Your Clicking.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 10, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 9, 2018, and has the title “Startup Takes on Google With a New Approach: Rewards for Users.”)