The decline of private ownership in America

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column,.  After a discussion of Spotify, Netflix, Kindle, and Uber, I move to the more general point:

Each of these changes is beneficial, yet I worry that Americans are, slowly but surely, losing their connection to the idea of private ownership. The nation was based on the notion that property ownership gives individuals a stake in the system. It set Americans apart from feudal peasants, taught us how property rights and incentives operate, and was a kind of training for future entrepreneurship. Do we not, as parents, often give our children pets or other valuable possessions to teach them basic lessons of life and stewardship?

We’re hardly at a point where American property has been abolished, but I am still nervous that we are finding ownership to be so inconvenient. The notion of “possessive individualism” is sometimes mocked, but in fact it is a significant source of autonomy and initiative.

And as software continues to “eat the world,” we often have fewer ownership rights when it comes to revisions, upgrades, and repairs.  The piece closes with this:

Does that sound like something our largely agrarian Founding Fathers might have been happy about? The libertarian political theorist might tell you that arrangement is simply freedom of contract in action. But the more commonsensical, broad libertarian intuitions of the American public encapsulate a more brutish and direct sense that some things we simply own and hold the rights to.

Those are intuitions which are growing increasingly disconnected from reality, and no one knows what lies on the other side of this social experiment.

Do read the whole thing.


This seems odd to me. The vast majority of the country owns stocks, bonds, and real estate. Isn't that the kind of buy in that we want common people to have in a capitalist system?

No, it is what has been termed pension fund socialism. It is the death knell of America's regime.

US Population that own stocks: 52%
homes: 65%
Bonds (direct): 1%
US Savings bonds : 8.6%

Pension fund socialism? This seems like a failed prediction of the 1970's ( A reasonable call at the time. Lots of people were in unions, unions had insisted on pension funds and pension funds brought stocks gradually increasing ownership.

But that future didn't come to pass. Today 80% of stocks are held by 10% of households. ( Yes lots of people may own stocks but if you own a single share of stock you are a 'stockholder'. But that's not really all that important. Having a few hundred dollars worth of stock is not very meaningful for a person's net wealth even if it puts him in the same set of stockholders as Warren Buffet.

Not sure it's "the vast majority" but I agree that you may get all the positive effects (incentives, etc.) from people "owning" money and investments, and trading them for services and experiences. As someone who isn't that into "stuff" even if I own plenty of the traditional stuff, I realized a few years ago that the only tangible (inanimate) stuff I really care about is my wedding ring, and my goal is to make sure I live that way (with 2 years to empty nest, that will get even easier soon). I always tell my kids that someone who has a nice car but parks far away in an empty part of the lot because he's worried someone will hit it is "owned" by his car. If a tree fell on my car, it wouldn't even ruin my day.

It used to be you worked for a military contractor and you got your pension. Now, you consult for the DOD and invest your 65k in the stock market. You live in a place like Akron and the construction goes so far out it's like living on Second Avenue. As far as ownership, I think from a corporate standpoint, the idea of ownership is just approaching haight-asbury. Someone who understands a footnote knows ownership is no virtue.

Ownership of big expensive items comes with many burdens and costs. Houses and cars aren't worth the hassle, in my view. I decided not to own them, and that boosted my happiness and freedom considerably. I'm not sure what the consequences would be if many others in this country decided to do the same. I suppose it would require a massive restructuring of the US.

But I'm not convinced that this will happen. Too many people are status oriented. The size and location of your house and the make of your car are powerful signals that many, many people focus on when they evaluate themselves and others. Not owning a house or car puts you, currently, in the freak category, where people call you un-American.

If people are moving away from big-ticket purchases, it's probably because of student debt--not because of some societal shift in values. But that's just a hypothesis. I don't know for sure.

Re: . Not owning a house or car puts you, currently, in the freak category, where people call you un-American.

There are plenty of renters and always have been. No one considers someone "unAmerican" or a freak because they rent.

The freak statement probably should have been qualified as; among those people with the means to do so.

I tend to agree that above a certain income level, renting as a strategy is very rare

Mid-range income people do still rent under unusual (and often temporary) circumstances. For example, when they have to move for a new job and need to spend time looking for a new house, and wait for their old house top sell. Also, people whose careers maybe require frequent moves.

The problem is that housing prices have been driven up to the point that few people ever get to pay off their mortgage and live rent-free (except for local taxes). So if your choice is to pay rent to a bank or pay rent to a landlord who owns the house and does all the maintainance, the renting option becomes more attractive.

But long term this is a problem for America because it means there's a large class of Americans who will never, ever, be free ofhaving to pay someone else for a place to live. they will never achieve that kind of financial independence. I suspect WB upthread either already has sufficient means that it doesn't matter to him, or has accepted the status of never being independent in that way. But for the bulk of society, homeownership (as in a paid off mortgage) would be dramatically liberating. it's just harder and harder for people to actually do it today.

As a side note, it's interesting because every once in a while I will run across someone who owns their own home, even just a condo for instance, and I see this all the time. That person will do things that a renter never ever gets to do like take 4 months off to go to India on vacation. or take 3 months off and go hike the Pacific Crest Trail. or they'll go quit their job and take pottery classes or something and try to start their own business. If you're always worrying about making rent or paying your mortgage, you just can't do stuff like that because you have to have a job and your job isn't going to let you just take off four months for the hell of it.

Much of the increase in housing prices on the US and Canadian West Coast is due to wealthy Chinese and others living in unstable regimes buying our real estate as a safe and stable investment. For years the United States and Canada have had this short sighted policy in place to the detriment of their Middle Classes. Our physical resources *are* finite and for the sake of a stable future, we should not allow foreign nationals to purchase our real estate.

The numbers of such foreign buyers are far, far, to small to explain the price rises observed. For example, even in London (global capital refuge for nervous Russians and Chinese), foreign buyers are only about 1% of the market.

When looking for explanations, it's a good idea to check that the magnitude of the effect is in the right order of magnitude even under optimistic assumptions.

Alistair, there are plenty of non-resident owners in the chart in the middle of this linked article about the Vancouver area.

It would be ironic if a call to reinvigorate an ownership culture results in the confiscation of the right to sell real estate to a foreigner.

It also depends on how you live.

If you live in New York City, for example, you can very easily never own a car and always rent, even as you have a solid job, family life, etc. In my experience, many urban Europeans live similarly.

Living out in the country, or the suburbs, on the other hand, owning a home and a car offer far more freedom and self-determination than not. You can get away with renting a home, sure, but not having a car and being able to drive means you can't be relied on for work, and so you end up being a kind of non-adult, yeah.

Now, on the other hand, given how many people lease cars, maybe there's a whole ton of people who don't actually own them.

were you an extra in Hoosiers?

Tyler, I'm really curious what if anything you think of Industrial Society and its Future (by Ted Kaczynski). He was quite prescient, 23 years later it holds up very very well... Here is an excerpt related to your article, which I also enjoyed:

127. A technological advance that appears not to threa- ten freedom often turns out to threaten it very seriously later on. For example, consider motorized transport. A walking man formerly could go where he pleased, go at his own pace without observing any traffic regulations, and was independent of technological support-systems. When motor vehicles were introduced they appeared to increase man’s freedom. They took no freedom away from the walking man, no one had to have an automobile if he didn’t want one, and anyone who did choose to buy an automobile could travel much faster and farther than a walking man. But the introduction of motorized transport soon changed society in such a way as to restrict greatly man’s freedom of locomotion. When automobiles became numerous, it became necessary to regulate their use ex- tensively. In a car, especially in densely populated areas, one cannot just go where one likes at one’s own pace; one’s movement is governed by the flow of traffic and by various traffic laws. One is tied down by various obliga- tions: license requirements, driver test, renewing registra- tion, insurance, maintenance required for safety, monthly payments on purchase price. Moreover, the use of moto- rized transport is no longer optional. Since the introduc- tion of motorized transport the arrangement of our cities has changed in such a way that the majority of people no longer live within walking distance of their place of employment, shopping areas and recreational opportuni- ties, so that they HAVE TO depend on the automobile for transportation. Or else they must use public transporta- tion, in which case they have even less control over their own movement than when driving a car. Even the walker’s freedom is now greatly restricted. In the city he conti- nually has to stop to wait for traffic lights that are desi- gned mainly to serve auto traffic. In the country, motor traffic makes it dangerous and unpleasant to walk along the highway. (Note this important point that we have just illustrated with the case of motorized transport: When a new item of technology is introduced as an option that an individual can accept or not as he chooses, it does not ne- cessarily REMAIN optional. In many cases the new techno- logy changes society in such a way that people eventually find themselves FORCED to use it.)

128. While technological progress AS A WHOLE conti- nually narrows our sphere of freedom, each new techni- cal advance CONSIDERED BY ITSELF appears to be de- sirable. Electricity, indoor plumbing, rapid long-distance communications... how could one argue against any of these things, or against any other of the innumerable tech- nical advances that have made modern society? It would have been absurd to resist the introduction of the tele- phone, for example. It offered many advantages and no disadvantages. Yet, as we explained in paragraphs 59-76, all these technical advances taken together have created a world in which the average man’s fate is no longer in his own hands or in the hands of his neighbors and friends, but in those of politicians, corporation executives and re- mote, anonymous technicians and bureaucrats whom he as an individual has no power to influence. [21] The same process will continue in the future. Take genetic enginee- ring, for example. Few people will resist the introduction of a genetic technique that eliminates a hereditary disease. It does no apparent harm and prevents.much suffering. Yet a large number of genetic improvements taken toge- ther will make the human being into an engineered pro- duct rather than a free creation of chance (or of God, or whatever, depending on your religious beliefs).

I have a passive interest in Kaczynski, because of my perception of technology. However, I find the idea that human constructions actually control humans instead of vice versa is a pointless observation. Humans are controlled by the structure of the universe anyway. The fact that we are the determiners of what we're controlled by is a measurable step up from the alternative--And if you argue that human constructions are not a by-product of humans, but rather of the universe acting on humans, then the change technology brings on humanity doesn't make things worse, it just maintains the status quo.

He does not dispute that humans are subject to the control of their environments. He argues that the human experience in one environment (natural) is superior to that in the other (industrial/technological).

The point that technology which may expand freedom (the human feeling of freedom) on the margin can also greatly reduce freedom in equilibrium is very good and not obvious. I can think of many many examples of this in my own life... For example, I have no option to not use email, and not an even an option to not use Gmail, without significantly disrupting my life (as in, I could not work at my current job).

tl;dr - but valuing the rambling disjointed rants of madmen is worrisome. When was this "formerly"?? Technology predates homo sapiens sapiens. Fantasizing about our ancestors living in some Garden of Eden state is not useful, and in fact delusional.

Thank you for your pointless rant about nothing.

I'm curious as to whether you've seen 'The Hunt for the Unabomber', and in particular the history regarding Kaczynski's participation in the Harvard mind control experiments. Then performed without any modern human subject controls and about which he was never properly "debriefed" that he had been part of an experiment to try to change his beliefs.

It seems to me that the Harvard experimenters achieved the opposite of the intended result. Rather than changing Kaczynski beliefs, they turned him into a fanatic about them - to the point that they actually created a terrorist, which is an interesting result in itself.

I've thought the same about smart phones. It is now presumed that you will have one along with the accessibility that goes along with it in business, social, and personal life. It doesn't lead me to want to destroy cell towers, but I can appreciate the broader and unavoidable spillover effects of tech.

So, fans of the Unabomber read MR?! Who knew.

Pretty meh.

"Each of these changes is beneficial, yet I worry that Americans are, slowly but surely, losing their connection to the idea of private ownership."

Tyler, a cursory review of 2-3 year-olds around the globe oughtta disabuse you of this idea. This may be about the last thing on Earth I'm personally worried about.

My grandpa counseled never to buy a house because it would make one conservative.

I'll have to read your Bloomberg post. BUT, isn't it the rational strategy to minimize your individual costs? Doesn't that imply renting instead of buying when that is cheaper? I personally feel, and I also believe most of us feel the same, that wanting ownership (property rights) is human nature, but that is not the lowest cost choice in all cases; especially when government distorts the market. Could it be that we are making better choices now or perhaps not better but different due to different economic conditions?

Every time I have to go to the city building department to get permission to change a water heater, I lost some ownership in my house as they have achieved some control over what I can/can't do. Real ownership is control over an asset, not who has some paper. If a bureaucrat controls, he is the real owner. The paper just determines who pay the taxes.

"Neither is it of decisive significance whether socialism is brought about by a formal transfer of the ownership of all the means of production to the state, the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion, or whether the private owners retain their property in name and the socialization consists in the fact that all these “owners” are entitled to employ the means of production left in their hands only according to instructions issued by the state. If the government decides what is to be produced and how, and to whom it is to be sold, and at what “price,” then private property still exists in name only; in reality, all property is already socialized, for the mainspring of economic activity is no longer profit-seeking on the part of entrepreneurs and capitalists, but the necessity of fulfilling an imposed duty and of obeying commands."

Mises, Ludwig von (1927). Liberalism

Sadly, as Mises pointed out that the Anglo-Saxon countries adopted the Zwangwirtschaft of the Nazis (compulsory economy).

"There is the Soviet pattern of all-round socialization of all enterprises and their outright bureaucratic management; there is the German pattern of Zwangswirtschaft, towards the complete adoption of which the Anglo-Saxon countries are manifestly tending; there is guild socialism, under the name of corporativism still very popular in some Catholic countries. There are many other varieties."

von Mises, Ludwig (1947). Planned Chaos

During the car-happy 50s and 60s, 40% of US population was rural. Today only 20% and falling. Parking is free in rural areas, not so much in cities.

Owning your own car is still a dream and cars are damned cheap buy. However, gas, insurance, radar tickets, and parking are above teenager's income.

So, owning a car is related to private property.

It's about being the owner of parking place at home, having friends who own parking places and being subsidized by supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas when you go out.

"subsidized by supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas when you go out."

Don't worry. You pay for it.

quite sad and true :(

Suburbs are generally classed as urban areas and outside downtowns (where they even exist) there's plenty of free parking in suburbia.

I've been trying to get the hyphen restored in "sub-urban" for years. If suburban counts as urban, subtropical will count as tropical and there will be no end of it.

While this doesn't quite reflect the Australian usage that I grew up with, I understand that in standard English a "suburb" is a small city that is a satellite of a big city. So if your home is suburban, then it is in a (small) city and is therefore urban.

I think there's a difference:

"Suburb" in (UK) English (and I think US) refers to a section of a city with particular characteristics, not small city satellite of a larger city.

The suburbs of a city are characterised by their dominant low-density residential nature, with some light commercial thrown in. They do not generally have an urban core of their own.

Suburbs are much more similar to cities than they are to rural areas. They have complex infrastructure (roadways, water and sewer systems etc.), lots of retail available, high population densities (relative to rural areas), bureaucratic governance and often non-trivial crime problems.
For that matter sub-tropical areas often have tropical vegetation and climate cycles (wet-dry as opposed to hot-cold)

True, personal transportation was more important for those outside the urban corpses, but it was also freedom. Today, this freedom is taken for granted. For car ownership, you need only one failed evacuation like New Orleans during Katrina and car ownership will rise. Shared transportation is by definition, inadequate transportation in a time of imminent need.

"Similarly the American who has been humbled by poverty, or by his insignificance in the business order, or by his racial status, or by any other circumstance that might demean him in his own eyes, gains a sense of authority when he slides behind the wheel of an automobile and it leaps forward at his bidding, ready to take him wherever he may personally please.

"In 1950 the civilian labor force of the United States was estimated to number a little less than 59 million men and women; in the same year the number of drivers in the United States was estimated to be a little larger: 59,300,000.
"Never before in human history, perhaps, had any such proportion of the nationals of any land known the lifting of the spirit that the free exercise of power can bring."

--'The Big Change: America Transforms Itself 1900-1950' (1952), Frederick Allen Lewis

You could make the same arguments about many physical products that people own. An owner of a house, car, or pet must pay taxes, maintain licenses, and get government permission to make certain modifications, etc. We have not had true private property in centuries. In my experience, new sharing technologies significantly increase my personal freedom—there is no question that Uber puts less demands on me than the state does on car owners, for example.

I’m not so sure about that ... at one point Uber was tracking your location even when not using the app (and even when the app was deleted, or was that Facebook), as does Google it was revealed in other news today. Plus it requires an open credit card, ratings, etc. Tech companies know more about you than the government (in many cases) so don’t believe renting and even getting services for free is free and easy.

The great American teenage dream used to be to own your own car. That is dwindling in favor of urban living, greater reliance on mass transit, cycling, walking and, of course, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

The 'move back to the city' was a blip. Suburbs and exurbs have resumed growing faster:

And note that during the years that cities were growing faster, the difference in rates was just a small fraction of a percent. Also, since suburbs are more populous than their core cities, they were adding more people even during the few years that cities were growing at an ever-so-slightly faster rate.

Also transit ridership has been falling in almost every metro area, even as cities pour more money into light-rail projects: seems to me to be doing a good job of advocating for "right to repair" the last part of the article is about.

Of course, home ownership has been government policy for many years, promoted with such things as subsidized mortgage rates and income tax deductions. Indeed, the policy has been so successful that the Fed has built monetary policy around housing. What? It's been rising asset prices (i.e., housing prices) and the wealth effect that has stimulated demand and supported economic growth. It works, until it doesn't. I like my house, but an economy built on housing is not an economy built on productivity and real growth ("sustainable economic growth" to use the term Cowen uses in his new book). But housing aside, Cowen is right about ownership but I'm not so sure he has correctly identified the problem. What's the problem? Tech is the problem. Tech is about software and apps and other intangibles that are used but not actually owned. I'm reminded of this jingle: "We don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better". Sure, tech makes the products we buy better, but without those products we buy, what's the point of tech. Google and Apple realized early on they couldn't build a reliable car, so they have limited their role in the development of driverless cars to the software. But without the reliable car, what's the point of the software? [As for the Tesla, Cowen linked to the article in the NYT written by a reported who test drove a Tesla and described the Tesla as more of an iphone than a car.]

Consider farmers that may have to sign a license agreement with John Deere forbidding nearly all repair and modifcations to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for "crop loss, lost, profitts, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software." The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and "authorized" repair shops can work on newer
tractors. Attributed to Jason Koebler

'The nation was based on the notion that property ownership gives individuals a stake in the system'

Particularly by increasing the public domain, as noted in the Constitution, Article I Section 8. Clause 8 - [The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

Disney disagrees, and the public domain, which we all own, has suffered - though one could hope, in Godot like fashion, that the public domain will again be expanded in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2019

'we often have fewer ownership rights when it comes to revisions, upgrades, and repairs'

The GPL stands in direct contrast to that belief.

Yeah. Agreed. Let's try to imagine a world without copyright law. Would it really mean no new books would get written? I doubt it. Without copyright law, for example with respect to Star Wars films, you would see the exact opposite - there would be dozens if not hundreds of "fan films", and fan re-edits on the market. Die hard Star Wars fans would finally get to watch the version of A New Hope in which Han shoots first in full HD video and remastered audio.
LOTR fans would get a high quality 11 hour re-cut of the Lord of the Rings in which "Xenarwen" has been digitally replaced by Glorfindel.

Probably films would take on some aspects of oral poetry traditions where people would just make modified versions of them and some faction of the population would settle on a preferred "best" version, which would be generally considered definitive cuts (except for a few curmudgeons complaining loudly about the superiority of some other cut in online massage boards).

These days making films and especially just reedits is so cheap that you don't need millions of dollars worth of special effects to do it, so the prospect of not being able to rake in $1 billion in combined receipts and merchandising is hardly a deterrent to people who mgiht be interested in doing it.

Stop it, you're making me want this.

Why shouldn't you want it? It would be awesome. Why do we need three or four entry franchise film series based on the same DC and Marvel comics superheros? Do the third generation descedant of the guy who wrote Superman and/or the film studios that purchased the rights to it really need to make another $100 billion dollars in order to incentivize people to write new comic books or graphic novels?

Imagine a world in which ANYONE could pick up on the Marvel universe and just add to it without having to get permission from Marvel comics. Or publish a Batman, or a Superman story. Why the heck do we care if someone writes a fan fiction takeoff on Batman, instead of some guy hired by DC Comics to write it?

Meh. We'd also get a lot of fan fic and outright porn, most of it ranging from drek to disgusting. Do we really need a "Gone with The Wind" spin off in which Rhett leaves Scarlett to shack up with Ashley Wilkes?

And as software continues to “eat the world,” we often have fewer ownership rights when it comes to revisions, upgrades, and repairs

Nobody ever had revision or upgrade rights on a book or a magazine or a VHS tape, either, so ...?

If you really care about "owning" software, and also having all the "rights" of upgrades (I mean, assuming someone will write them for you), get some OSS stuff.

Problem is, of course, none of the OSS solutions can compete in the real world market of everyday computer users*.

(* I mean, I'm a professional software developer with design training and also ran linux as a home server for almost 20 years.

Next year will always be "the year of linux on the desktop", because there are possibly insoluble - and definitely not Being Solved - problems with the general OSS development model for anything that isn't ... what developers and unix geeks use.)

"As for that iPhone, it is already clear that you do not have a full legal right to repair it, and indeed more and more devices are sold to consumers without giving them corresponding rights to fix or alter those goods and services. John Deere tractors are sold to farmers with plenty of software, and farmers have to hack into the tractor if they wish to fix it themselves. There is now a small but burgeoning “right to repair” political movement."

Silicon Valley (Tech) is feudal in tendencies. People are waking up to the fact that they are developing businesses that depend on the good graces of the platform's "lords". Increasingly the Tech lords use their influence on the king to keep their villeins on their hundred. In Apple's case, they use customs to stop repairers from importing refurbished iPhone parts.

Farmers are developing the realization that John Deere, and their local JD dealer, are direct threats to their ability to harvest or plant on time. But again, the feudal lords use their affiliation with the king to enforce their edicts through EPA regulators.

I don't think this will ultimately be a problem. To the extent that owning John Deere tractors interfere with farmer's ability to harvest and plant on time, they will stop buying John Deere tractors. there are other companies who would be happy to take some of the market share off of John Deere's hands.

It’s a good argument, but car manufacturers have started to argue the same points. In essence, they own the car and you mess with their software, you violate terms. You can’t perform your own repairs, you must take it to their approved personnel.

Well, let's look at this realistically. What are they going to do to you if you do your own repairs? Throw you in jail? No. They're just going to void your warranty. Which they have a right to do. They can put whatever terms in the warranty they want and if you don't like it don't buy a car from them.

+1. Don't fully agree, but warrants thought.

Steam is a good example. It feels like you're buying games, but you're really just buying licences to play games - which they can revoke, e.g. in order to force you to upgrade to a new version of Windows.

But then again, wasn't all property always illusionary? Anyone with the causal ability to take it can take it. The law protects it to some degree, but law enforcement is incomplete and the law requires politics, which can turn on a dime. Constiutions and cultural identities can protect expectations somewhat, but they, and their interpretation, can change politically as well.

The biggest proof that we don't actually own anything is the reality that we don't even own our own lives and bodies, as exemplified by the culture wars surrounding the evils of consensual sex or the evils of self-harm.

I don't think ownership rights to copies of things has ever been as established as you suggest. You can't write a modified version of Lord of the Rings and sell it publicly - that book you own on your bookshelf isn't really "yours" to copy or modify or upgrade as you please.

The inability to repair certain objects is partly also liability - John Deere isn't just stopping people from making repairs because they are greedy. They are doing it because they don't want someone damaging the tractor and/or injuring someone - they are big dangerous pieces of equipment, and if they malfunction they can seriously injure and kill people. The ability to keep up with repairs is a customer service issue which should solve itself. Of course, I do think people should be free legally to make their own repairs, but obviously this should, you know, void the warranty and release John Deere from liabiltiy and such. That's really all it takes - we just need a law saying that JD is not liable if someone screws up and damages one of their vehicles.

On the phone front I think the main issue is that people will hack phones that are under contract so that they appear to be "new" - which would encourage a black market in stolen phones. I.e. phones that are leased out and then modified and sold. I actually had that happen to me recently - I bought a phone that was advertised as new and "unlocked" on a website. I tried to activate it with the same network (I know, why buy an unlocked T-mobile phone if you are just going to subscribe to T-mobile anyway?), and it turned out it was already under contract - but it would have worked if I subscribed to verizon. Effectively the phone was stolen property - unlocking phones allows people to do that. (I sent it back, quietly)

The thing is though that we don't really need laws for these things - to the extent that a purchase is governed by a contract not to do certain things, contract law covers your use of it. And we don't really need copyrights and patent law as much as people seem to think, either. The market would just look different, possibly in ways that aren't all bad.

The problem arises when the tractor suddenly stops working one day, and your Deere mechanic points the finger at your home repair, and you point your finger right back at their buggy software. And there's really no practical way to sort that out.

FWIW, it's not just that Deere is trying to keep a wall around their repairs, it is that they are trying to keep the work for themselves, by not setting up certified indepdendent's access.

Yes there is. Deere just voids the warranty on the vehicle if you do your own repairs. They aren't going to send armed cops to arrest you, are they? So if you do your own repair, you take the risk that something will break in the future and John Deere won't fix it for free. Big deal.
I really don't see what the problem is here.

Ahh. Wait. I think I understand better what you are talking about. They want to apply copyright law to prevent people from modifying the software on their tractors. I.e. the "repair" is really like making a fireware upgrade or hack.
In that case, yeah, since I don't like copyright law anyway, there should be no law against modifying the tractor's software. BUT John Deere is within it's rights to void your warranty in you do so. And the market can sort out the rest.

"Ownership" often comes with many limitations.

An obvious example in the United States is real estate, as citizens never have absolute title to any real estate. Your deed says you own it "in fee simple," and it's understood that government can take it for its own purposes. Of course, it does have to pay you "just compensation," but, it's not as if you can decide not to sell.

When automobiles are all internet-connected then you, the putative owner, will no more be able to refuse a firmware update than can the owner of an iPhone or Windows 10 computer. Thus, by Cowen's logic, you won't really "own" that car even when you have unencumbered title to it.

Indeed, if Amazon can disappear ebooks from your Kindle then at least in theory the car manufacturer could remotely disable your motor vehicle. And perhaps in the future the company that owns your car loan will reserve the legal right to do just that? (When it's stationary, of course.)

If one were to construct a dystopia from this, eventually we'd mostly live in a world where practically ever action (opening your front door (or refrigerator?), starting your car, flushing your toilet, running your dishwasher) incurred a fee (because water is scarce, or for some other reason). Think of it as [everything] as a service.

In such a world perhaps the only true freedom would be ... to "own" nothing?

You obviously have not wasted too much time on mainstream news, good for you. I have to disappoint you. The dystopian future is already here:

"American property : a history of how, why, and what we own" by Stuart Banner was an interesting read. There used to be a lot of rights in a piece of property that not longer exist. For example, you use to have a right to sunlight, hence your neighbor was limited in how tall a building he could put next to your lot. Made sense in a pre-electric age.

The concept of ownership changes are the economy changes one of those changes is realizing ownership is really a bundle of permissions ranging from the right to read a book on Tuesdays to the right to have something take up space in their garage.

We are all mortal, so ultimately we own nothing. What we can do is bequeath property to our children. Prior to the industrial revolution what we bequeathed was the means of production, land and livestock. Now the means of production are education and financial assets. Everything else, we're renting.

I remember decades ago one of Martin Feldstein's advisees, who'd recently bought a house, noting that Feldstein thought that mortgage interest deductibility was bad social policy and was causing the USA to over-invest in housing, at the expense of productive capital.

I flip-flopped over that issue for decades after, but since the Great Recession have come to believe that Feldstein has been correct all along. The USA over-emphasizes home ownership, to its ongoing detriment. We'd be better off without the deductibility, with lower ownership and higher rental rates -- and the lower housing prices and reduced NIMBYism that would come with all that.

It's not just deductible interest; there's also the capital gains exemption, and of course the massively subsidized lending system.

Inflation should be taxed on the victim?

Why would anyone believe housing capital gains value?

Why would anyone pay more for a 30 year old asphalt roof than it cost to install?

Why the 1986 tax reform failed to index asset price basis for inflation as part of eliminating the capital gains tax dodge is a puzzle to me. By 1983 everything but asset prices had been indexed.

Indexing asset prices would eliminate capital gains in 90% of cases, leaving only untaxed retained earnings.

Ie, indexing my house would result in zero gain after 30 years.

If the development deteriorates it can still gain value in excess of inflation if the location becomes more valuable.

Regardless of your views on capital gains taxes overall, the fact is homeowning is currently preferenced compared to other asset classes

I see the IP rights problem, but not the larger connetion to individual property. To me they are orthogonal issues issues.

The distribution of wealth might be an issue, but I don't see why declining personal property (personal possessions) is related. Leasing is often more efficient use of resources than owning. Empires are not build with personal posessions.

I don't own my own apartement, I rent. I don't own a car, I Uber. My most valuable possessions are my workstation and laptop (I even rent GPU power to do deep learning runs) and stuff in my hard disc and USB drive I have made myself. I invest my money into stock markets instead. I own almost exclusively capital and abandon personal possessions.

I posted to the wrong place. Reposting here.

Is stuff you made yourself encrypted before you pass through airports?

My tenant's insurance is $10 per month for liability and $5 is for contents protection but nobody seems to be selling liability-only (without contents protection) so I have to pay $15. I don't want to insure stuff I made myself because it's unique so impossible to value.

Is stuff you made yourself encrypted before you pass through airports?

Sometime during or after WWII, Hitler's favorite commando -- Otto Skorzeny -- wrote:

"Like it or not, a new type of soldier has arisen: an organized adventurer. He must have some of the qualities of a guerrilla, a man of science and an inventor, of a scholar and psychologist."

"He can emerge from the water or fall from the sky, can walk peaceably along the streets of the enemy's capital or issue him false orders."

"In reality war is for him an anachronism. In vain the traditional generals view him with understandable suspicion. He exists and can no longer disappear from the battlefield; he is the authentic secret weapon of his fatherland."

As I have watched globalization and corporatism unfold over the years, and communication technologies become more powerful and far-reaching, and the nation-state slowly recede into the background, I've been forming a notion about a certain type of person that is coming into view:

"Like it or not, a new type of global denizen has arisen: the rootless cosmopolitan. He or she combines some of the qualities of a vagabond, a digital nomad and a gig worker, of a writer and technologist."

"They can work in an office or from their homes or in public spaces. They can use crypto currencies and dark nets with anonymous ease. They can settle comfortably among the residents of any capital, or move on without notice or concern."

"In reality national boundaries are for them an anachronism. In vain the traditional citizens view them with understandable suspicion. They exist and can no longer disappear from the body politic; they are the authentic harbinger of the unboundaried global economy."

Somewhere in there I suppose I should insert, "They don't like to own things."

They like to own bitcoins though. :-)

It sometimes seems to me people are less "materialistic" than their recent forebears. Kids prefer video games - or just videos - to physical toys. It is now de rigueur to talk of wanting "experiences" more than stuff. Their houses are often messy but not cluttered with objects of permanence like my mother's many "Southern lady" collections - that she has hoped, in vain, I would come to want. (She still loves a gift, like a child - she's never tired of even just the inexpensive magpie-like pleasure of choosing something from the immigrant ladies who swing by the hairdresser's with a cart of things -- jewelry, bags, scarves, trinkets -- to sell to the captive audience of old ladies under the dryers.)

But my parents' weekly trash fits into half of a small metal can ...

I compare that to how overflowing my neighbors' 96-gal. trash cans are, despite their "sparely"-decorated houses, week after week - some pay for two cans - in addition to their even larger recycling can (which I'm pretty sure half the stuff in there looks unrecyclable, and hey it's not really supposed to be bagged up like trash ...). And how much IKEA furniture and old TVs and broken patio sets they set out on semiannual Bulky Pickup day. Not to mention all the equipment they needed for those varied experiences - that stuff, they tend to sell on Nextdoor. And then there's the endless house remuddling. Now you own some five-year-old kitchen cabinets and some brand-new kitchen cabinets!

Less ownership? Yeah, no.

Pretty interesting, but I note one failure in the article. Doesn't Spotify bring us one step closer to living on the Enterprise D? In such moments, whether or not the Founding Fathers foresaw Spotify is a secondary consideration.

Hell, with the creation of "planned obsolescence", with the DMCA being used against tractor owners who want to repair their own tractors, with phones increasingly sealed with glue (so they can't be repaired)--hasn't the whole "ownership culture" ship sailed already?

I mean, if you buy a thing that is designed only to last 3 to 5 years before it must be replaced (and it cannot be repaired by its owner)--how is that any different than renting?

Comments for this post are closed