Month: March 2014

Ryan Avent on why TPP is a good idea

Second, one of the stated ambitions of both TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is reduction in non-tariff barriers, which in most cases add substantially more to goods costs than tariff barriers. According to estimates by the World Bank, for instance, American tariff restrictions on agricultural imports are relatively low on the whole, at just 2.2%. But the tariff equivalent of an all-in measure of restrictiveness, which takes into account non-tariff barriers, jumps to 17.0%. The all-in rates for many of the partners in TPP negotiations are substantially higher; Japan’s all-in tariff equivalent on agricultural imports is 38.3%. South Korea’s is 48.9%. Australia’s is 29.5%.

Third, “implicit protection of services” does indeed impose additional costs. For instance, the cost to foreign providers of some crucial transport and shipping services within the American market is basically infinite. Services account for four times as much economic output as goods production in America but only around one-fifth of American trade. Many services aren’t tradable, of course; haircut tariffs will not be on the TPP agenda. But a growing array are. And rules on service trade have barely changed at all in two decades. TTIP and TPP (as well as the Trade in Services Agreement) are aimed at updating rules on services trade to make it easier to sell insurance, or financial and consulting services, or IT and environmental services, and so on, across borders. Now maybe these deals are “really about” intellectual property, and all-powerful Hollywood has convinced the government to expend a lot of time and effort setting standards for services trade, the better to provide a smokescreen for its own nefarious activities. But I doubt it.

Investment is another key item on the agenda. At present rules on cross-border investment can be pretty ad hoc; a firm interested in buying shares in a business in another country often needs to be careful not to buy too much or not to invest in politically sensitive industries, lest the investment invite political scrutiny. TPP is working to reduce the scope for ad-hockery in interference in investment, which I think we would generally consider to be a good thing. TTIP is as well (that’s what the “I” is all about).

There is more here, useful throughout.  I would add that this is also a foreign policy initiative and it will, if successful, allow various smaller countries in the region to resist pressures from various larger countries in same said region.

Assorted links

Software Patents are Not Good Property Rights

A good system of property rights establishes clear borders. Clear borders reduce disputes, encourage investment and promote efficient trade. Software patents, however, often fail to define clear borders. I am one of the amici in a amici curiae brief to the Supreme Court (regarding Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank) on software patents that makes this point:

Such abstract claims as “displaying data in
frames,” “recommending media based on past choices,” “reproducing information in material objects at a
point of sale,” or, as in the present case, using “a third
party . . . to eliminate ‘counterparty’ or ‘settlement’
risk,” simply cannot be reliably construed to define a
reasonable area of covered technology. See Wang, 197
F.3d at 1379; Interactive Gift, 256 F.3d at 1323; Pinpoint, 369 F. Supp. 2d at 995; cf. CLS Bank Int’l v.
Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd., 717 F.3d 1269, 1274 (Fed. Cir.
2013).

A general counsel at a technology startup
would be hard-pressed to describe any concrete
bounds or permissible follow-on innovations to her
fellow engineers in the face of such claims. Any
software that resulted in a similar functional result
could be construed as infringing, and any investment
in the commercialization of those technologies could
inevitably carry liabilities, risks, and costs whose
magnitudes are impossible to predict in advance.
Thus, the property system that ostensibly exists to
assure investors that long-term rents are secure does
the very opposite, casting a pall of uncertainty over
the viability of any commercial product that happens
to be adjacent to a lurking abstract claim.

Eli Dourado and I note that the Federal Circuit seems to have quite willfully disregarded the intent of the Supreme Court regarding patents on abstract ideas and I think this case may provide further pushback from the SC.

Questions that are rarely asked (are we ready for “home college”?)

From Hollis Robbins:

As a matter of economics, why not consider the option of hiring a single professor to teach a first-year curriculum to a small number of students? At the level of the individual student, it may make sense to some families. Rather than spend $50,000 for a year of college at a selective private institution, one could hire a single Ivy League-trained individual with a doctorate and qualifications in multiple fields for, say, two-thirds the price (far more than an adjunct professor would make for teaching five courses at an average of $2,700 per course).

The idea becomes more attractive with multiple students. A half-dozen families (or the students themselves) could pool resources to hire a single professor, who would provide all six students with a tailored first-year liberal-arts education (leaving aside laboratory science) at a cost much lower than six private-college tuitions, and at the level of a real salary for a good sole-proprietor professor.

A low-cost, high-value first-year education would allow students to transfer into a traditional degree-granting institution at a second- or third-year level, saving a year or more of tuition. Home-colleged students would have a year of personal attention to writing skills, research skills, oral-presentation skills, and the relationship of disciplines in the liberal arts.  The attention to oral and written skills may be particularly valuable to non-English-speaking students looking to succeed at an American college or university.

Accreditation is key, but if the problem has been solved at the secondary-school level for home schooling, why not in higher education?

Read the whole thing.