Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The human heritage dividend:

No matter how optimistic we can be about that all the assets the US government acquires during the current financial crisis will be fairly priced, there is no doubt that the whole crisis is going to be extremely expensive for the public sector. The costs will have to be paid by taxes or, in its absence, by inflation.

In this respect society has a vested interest in finding new equitable ways of how to pay for it, and that these are aligned with the new global realities and interfere as little as possible with the recovery of the economy. The following is one proposal.

The human heritage dividend: An income tax on profits from intellectual-property monopolies.

Most—perhaps all—intellectual-property rights are awarded to the runner of the last leg in a relay race run by generations of human beings and depending on their ingenuity, creativity, and sheer efforts. The earlier runners allow the new laureate to cross the finish line victoriously, and then hold up the trophy for a finished idea, but not for its start.

Most often, even though you might hope you are running the last leg, there can never be any real certainty about that. Sometimes running the last leg (or any leg) can be easy; sometimes it requires much effort by a large team, and it costs billions in money. Society, in order to stimulate the ingenuity, the creativity, and the sheer effort of all the runners in the relay, and thereby help to take the world forward, has decided it needs to certify the intellectual-property rights of the winner.

The downside of this arrangement is that all intellectual-property rights awarded create a monopoly right that—as it can be exercised with little or no regulations, restrictions, and oversight—can unfortunately and quite easily be overexploited.

Also, since all intellectual-property rights awarded impose on society an obligation to defend and enforce those rights in many ways which costs money, the question remains whether it would not have been better to use these resources for other purposes like financing some of the other runners in the relay?

I find no logic or justice in assessing the taxes of a business venture that has to compete naked without any protection in the market at the same rate as a project that has been awarded the monopoly of an intellectual-property right, one to which prior generations of humanity have contributed and in legal defense of which the society invests much money.

I therefore propose that all profits generated from intellectual-property rights should pay an excess-profit income tax, something like 20%, with half of these revenues used to reimburse society for the costs of defending the intellectual-property rights, and the other half employed to help finance the other runners in the human relay, especially those developing vital goods that can serve us all.