Patents should be more restricted, not liberalized.

I disagree with Paul Michel and Matthew Dowd, (Wall Street Journal, 1/24/2020, link below), that our patent laws do not give adequate and clear protection to inventions.  Conversely, we have become too liberal in both what is allowed to be patented and the length of time that patents are granted.

They urge the reversal by Congress of the Supreme Court of rulings that prohibit the granting of patents for “abstract ideas” and “natural phenomena”.  Abstract ideas, like mathematical formulas, computer code, or simple ideas drawn on paper, and natural phenomena, like the discovery of particular DNA or naturally occurring chemical compounds, should not be patentable.

Originally, U.S. patents had a maximum life of 14 years, then 17 years, and then 20 years.  Companies that earn billions of dollars in profits every year on their patents are very willing to spend many millions of dollars to lobby congress to extend their monopolies.  Who spends money lobbying to reduce the term of patents?  Shouldn’t the term of monopoly protection granted depend in part on how much it costs to meet government regulations related to the invention?  For example, prescription drugs may deserve a long patent term because of the cost to meet government regulations.  But there is no logical reason why all patents should be granted for the same length of time.  (Design patents are granted for shorter periods, but why should they be granted at all?)

The concept of “intellectual property” is man-made.  Since time immemorial, humans have copied one another.  For millennia legally protected private property was limited to physical property which could only be possessed by one person at a time.  Ideas can be possessed by many people at the same time without infringing on the physical property of others and without the use of force.  Monopolies, including the exclusive use of inventions, were originally granted by Kings to favored subjects through the use of force.  Our government protects patents through the use of force.  Contrary to the Founder’s intent, some patents appear to slow innovation rather than encourage it.  The case can be made that no patents should be granted.  In this case, Congress should expand patent protection.

Link to Wall Street Journal opinion:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/americas-innovators-need-clear-patent-laws-11579824646

Open letter to our federal legislators – please try to balance costs and benefits during this pandemic!

An open letter to our federal representatives  (I emailed this to my three federal representatives:
As you consider how much the federal government should spend in response to the current pandemic, please consider the following:
One trillion dollars equals about $3,000 per person for every man, woman, and child in the U.S., or about $12,000 per family of four!  Please be careful not to spend our tax money on anything that is not needed and not directly caused by the pandemic.  Specifically, there should be no money spent on the following:

  • Seniors and others on Medicare, disability, pensions, and other fixed incomes – they will continue to be paid.
  • People who have had no reported W-2 earnings during the past year – since they have been getting by on unearned income
  • People who have household earnings around or over $75,000 per year – they qualify for unemployment benefits.

Don’t give grants, but make low-interest rate loans available.  We can decide later whether or not to forgive any loans.  Don’t allow unrelated “riders” on any pandemic response bill.  For example, don’t’ forgive student loans, don’t add any permanent employer mandates such as child care, sick pay, paid family leave, etc.  Watch out for and deny other special-interest legislation trying to take advantage of this crisis.

Please try to balance costs versus benefits.  We have lived normally with the flu killing tens of thousands of U.S. citizens every year.  I am a senior – age 66 – and I don’t need any bailout.

Iowa needs to eliminate licensing laws and regulations that protect existing practitioners rather than their customers.

I agree with Valerie Stallbaumer in her letter to the editor in The Des Moines Register, (See link below), that the purpose of professional licensing requirements by government is to help protect the public from harm.   I disagree with her that it also is to guarantee quality. Safety issues are usually objective: we know pretty well what kind of things can hurt people.  Licensing should assure us that the licensed person knows and follows safe procedures.  But for many licensed professions, quality is subjective. If acupuncture is not effective for some people, what is the harm as long as they don’t get an infection?  The only reason I can think of why government would require a four-year program for acupuncturists is that acupuncturists and their schools lobbied for licensing to protect themselves against competition and to appear more professional.  Acupuncturists, physical therapists, tattoo artists, and ear piecers probably can learn proper safety procedures related to “needling” in just a few days.  We do need a complete review of licensing requirements and regulations in Iowa to eliminate those that prevent competition rather than protect people.

No end to subsidies for favored industries?

The $1 per gallon tax credit for biodiesel producers just passed the U.S. House and appears likely to become law.  The credit, which expired at the end of 2017, will be extended retroactively 2 years and forward for 3 years through 2022.  This tax credit started in 2005.  How long must the welfare continue?  Biodiesel producers are no different than most other businesses and industries in that they become dependent on subsidies and lobby heavily to prevent the subsidy from ever ending.  We need to pass laws that phase out all forms of energy subsidies, as well as subsidies given to other favored industries.  We need free-market capitalism, not crony capitalism.

Link to related Register report:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2019/12/17/spending-bill-includes-long-sought-biodiesel-tax-credit-renewal/2677476001/

Our federal legislators should oppose reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank

I urge our elected federal representatives to oppose the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.  (The Ex-Im Bank provides taxpayer guarantees to U.S. companies that export and sell products to international customers.  Authorization is set to expire on 9/30.)  This has been and continues to be a quintessential example of crony capitalism.  If a U.S. exporter has customers who find it difficult to find financing, the seller can always guarantee a loan and get a security position to get the asset back in a worst case.  If they still cannot get financing, the seller could provide direct financing.  In any case, our government should not guarantee such loan private companies.

I’m sure that small and large Iowa export companies are heavily lobbying for reauthorize the Bank.  I hope our representatives resist the pressure and vote against this bad policy where taxpayers are asked to take the risk and private companies reap the profits.

Bootleggers and Baptists – strange bedfellows.

During the time of alcohol prohibition, bootleggers and baptists were both opposed to repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.  It’s an example of how, “politics makes strange bedfellows.”  Even though the two groups seemed to have completely opposite views about drinking alcohol, they both opposed the repeal of prohibition: The baptists for moral reasons, the bootleggers for financial reasons.
I read the report in The Des Moines Register about how scared the Iowa medical marijuana dispensaries are about losing money once the legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois begins next January 1st.  (see link below)  It makes me wonder if Iowa might face a similar situation in the future. The governor and many other politicians oppose efforts to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for moral reasons.  I wonder if Iowa’s legal medical marijuana producers and sellers will oppose efforts to legalize recreational marijuana for financial reasons?

Congress has the power to prohibit states from giving special incentives to specific businesses.

The Des Moines Register recently published an editorial that showed how out-of control Iowa and other states are in giving incentives to businesses to locate in their state.  To help reverse this situation, Congress should exercise its Constitutional power to “…regulate commerce… among the several states…” and should limit states’ ability to bribe companies to locate in their state.  States should be prohibited from giving custom incentives to specific businesses to locate in their state.  They should only be allowed to use schemes that provide uniform incentives to all companies that locate their business or otherwise create new jobs in that state.

Link to Register editorial:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/2018/11/20/amazon-apple-corporate-iowa-workers-education-environment-bribing-business-workforce-jobs-money-tax/2061418002/

Farmers are doing okay.

The front page headline of the Des Moines Register on October 210, 2017 read: “Hoping To Break Even”  The sub-heading read, “Iowa farmers are facing their fourth year of possible losses as they head into this year’s harvest season”.  (See link below.)

The story mostly about the worries of some farmers.  It painted a picture of farmers on the brink of bankruptcy for reasons that were out of their control.The Register reported, “For a good number of farmers, it will be a fourth year of losses.”

I  don’t doubt that a “good number” of farmers will lose money, but it may be due to their own fault rather than factors that are out of their control… just like businesses in many other industries.  There was one telling fact that contradicted the mostly emotional report: “Since 2013 Iowa farm income has dropped from $5.72 billion to $2.6 billion in 2016…”  That fact  makes it pretty clear that a lot of farmers are still making a substantial profit, and are not losing money.

Farmers are working very hard to make sure that they don’t lose their federal subsidies, even though they have more wealth and higher incomes than most U.S. citizens.  When the current Farm Bill expires in 2018, we need to sharply reduce farm welfare subsidies.

Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2017/10/20/iowa-farmers-face-fourth-year-possible-losses-heading-into-harvest/775626001/

 

Many Iowa licenses protect existing businesses more than public safety

In today’s Des Moines Register, the guest opinion by Kollan Kolthoff was very vague in his call for “common sense reform” of the licensing of cosmetologists.  (See link below.)  He wrote, “…leaders from within the industry are uniquely aware that there are problems that need to be addressed.”   I presume the industry leaders he refers to are existing licensed cosmetologists and  licensed schools of cosmetology.  After a person has completed the 2,100 required hours of education and paid as much as $20,000, it is very understandable that they would not want to see license requirements significantly lowered – thereby indirectly lowering the value of what they have already paid for.  Similarly, licensed schools of cosmetology have a very strong financial incentive to maximize the number or hours of schooling required for a license.
He also wrote Iowa needs reform that, “…protects consumers against the deregulation of licensed beauty professionals.”  Deregulation does not and should not mean a lessening of regulation to keep consumers safe.  Deregulation should focus on removing regulations that have the primary purpose of protecting the income of existing cosmetologists and schools of cosmetology.
The same issues apply to a large number of occupations that require a license from the state.  Most calls for licensing, and opposition to deregulation, come from existing businesses and licensees, not from the general public.  Our elective representatives should establish a process to review and reduce licensing requirements in Iowa so that only public safety is is taken into account when requiring Iowans to get a license from the state before being able to work in any particular job.

Some of the rich are getting poorer, and some of the poor are getting richer.

The Des Moines Sunday Register published a lead article (Page 1) titled, “The rich keep getting richer”.  (See link below.)  Included were a number of misleading statistics or misleading conclusions based on the statistics.  For example, according the think tank, Iowa Policy Project, the median hourly wage in 2016 was $16.04 per hour.  37 years ago, the average wage, adjusted for inflation, which is fair, was $15.91.  The Register concluded, “This means a typical wage earner  working 40 hours per week for a full year would have seen a real increase of $270.40 over a 37 year span.”  While the statistics are technically true, you cannot logically conclude and that any specific person or group of people did not move themselves from a lower wage to a significantly higher wage.  I’m sure it is true some people moved down while some people moved up.  An interesting study would be to see how wages correlate to the number of years in the employment market.  It would be interesting to know the median starting hourly rate for a young inexperienced worker versus and an experienced worker who has been in the labor market to 30 years.  The fact that the average stays about the same my be a problem, but almost no one stays at the average wage for 37 years.

Another statistic was that the number of people who earned $1 million or more during specific years increased from 5,031 in 2010 to 8,325 in 2015.  Their “slice” of the state’s total adjusted gross income grew 37%.  Meanwhile, the number of Iowans claiming gross incomes of $40,000 to $99,999 climbed by 23%  while their slice of the state’s total adjusted gross income fell 2%.  First, I would venture to guess that a significant majority of the $1 million+ earners are people who sold their businesses or had other one-time income.  So, again,there is no logical reason to presume that the $1 million+ club is made up of the same people year-after-year.  At the same time, from 2010 to 2015 the Iowa economy was generally continuing to improve, so values and prices of businesses likely climbed.  Also, in the case of an “expanding pie”, the fact that any group gets a smaller percentage of the total does not mean that their real income is not increasing.

Finally, the Register reported that their analysis of U.S. Census data showed that the bottom fifth of earners saw practically no growth in household income – going from $13,798 in 2006 to $13,848 in 2016, again adjusted for inflation.  Here again, there is no logical reason to believe that the specific group of people who were in the bottom 20% in 2006 are the same people who were in the bottom 20% 10 years later.  It would be interesting to know what percent of the people in the bottom 20% in 2006 were still in the bottom 20% 10 years later.   My guess is there would be some, but not a majority.

As a society we need to make sure we don’t put hurdles in front of people who are trying to improve their lot in life.  In many cases this means removing government created regulatory barriers to entry into certain jobs.  The Register has done very good work exposing job licensing regulations that are in place more to protect existing businesses from competition and to protect the profits of licensing education businesses, than to protect the public.  Yet, the Iowa Legislature has done precious little to address this real problem for low income workers who are trying to work their way up in our economy.

Link to Register article:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2017/11/25/most-iowa-wages-have-stagnated-but-rich-keep-getting-richer/818770001/