The Problem with ‘Intellectual Property’ and ‘Capital Property’


The problem at the root of any “intellectual property” law is that intellectual property is not a tangible object.  Looking at copyright law (in this case Canadian copyright law) the notion of a tangible objct is inscribed into the law and absolutely necessary for any legal judgement, even though in most cases it is no longer such an object that is the target of copyright law:
“(j) in the case of a work that is in the form of a tangible object, to sell or otherwise transfer ownership of the tangible object, as long as that ownership has never previously been transferred in or outside Canada with the authorization of the copyright owner”
– from paragraph 22 of the decision, an extract from the Canadian Copyright Act, listing discrete rights subsumed by copyright
Historically, the notion of “object” itself derives from the notion of tangible personal property, not the other way around.  Property was divided into personal property and real property, the ‘real’ in the latter survives in the term ‘real estate’, and referred generally to land and structures on that land that could be rented out. However renting out ‘intellectual property’ as paywalled sites do, which is neither personal property (in the sense of a tangible object) or real property (in the sense of real estate) is a conflation of two inadequate analogies. Price is based on scarcity. Anything that can be infinitely reproduced for little to no cost will never remain scarce enough to command a reasonable price. As a result we need something completely different than copyright in order to compensate creators of ideas for their work.
Capital has the same basic issue as intellectual property.  Neither really are analogous to either tangible personal property or tangible real property.  Applying the idea of “property rights”, which derive from the latter two to the the former two simply doesn’t work.  With the decapitalization of the economy concomitant with the desubstantialization of currency, this problem is becoming more and more apparent.  Perhaps it’s time to revisit the basic notion of property rights entirely, since the relative value of ‘real property’, i.e. rentier property, has outpaced the marginal efficiency of capital to the point of returning to the ratios common in the early part of the mercantile era, and are getting close to those of the feudal era.
Not only intellectual property, but wage-goods and therefore the capital that earns money based on them have increased in value only marginally over the last 30 years while the value of rentier property has increased by magnitudes.  By and large wage-goods are purchased by wage earners (since the percentage of those with rentier income is extremely small), so the increase in percentage of wages devoted to rent costs (whether direct rent or indirect rent via a bank mortgage) reduces the wages available to purchase the goods that provide those wages, leading to an accelerating decrease in profits and therefore in the marginal efficiency of capital.  This spiral is accelerated further by the ability of the wealthy to shift investment from capital to rentier property, which further lowers the total wages paid to wage earners and further raises the percentage of those wages devoted to rent, since it pushes the price of rentier property up.
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