Is Sowing Artificial Scarcity The Future Of Business?
Tuesday, 01 January 2013 13:00
Via the The New Inquiry, Peter Frase on where we’re headed:
Where we see scarcity, much of it appears to be imposed by choice. In particular, the increasing weight of intellectual property law heralds a world where the prime objective of business is to make things scarce enough that people will still need to buy them.
Unexpected scarcity long characterized agricultural societies—drought, pestilence, fire, and other natural calamities could bring about famine at any moment. (Read more…) But today’s farmers, who have learned to overcome many of these challenges, now face the prospect of a legal, rather than natural disaster. In a case that will soon appear before the Supreme Court, a 74-year-old farmer named Vernon Bowman was ordered to pay $84,000 in damages for infringing on the patents of agribusiness giant Monsanto. His crime was to plant a seed—a patented “Roundup Ready” seed, whose license agreement prohibits using it to produce new ones.
The contours of the Monsanto seed lawsuit are really not so different from the cases that have been brought against mp3 downloaders. If one person can buy a CD and then copy it for all their friends, the sales prospects of record companies are greatly diminished.
Even if scarcity becomes a diminishing element of the human condition, it remains an essential condition for capitalism, both for its functioning and its cultural legitimacy. Both business and government are eager to enforce artificial scarcity in agriculture; the Obama administration weighed in on the Bowman case in favor of Monsanto. The United States government regards intellectual property such as seed patents as a key to national economic competitiveness, and the Office of Management and Budget claims that 30 percent of all U.S. jobs are “directly or indirectly attributable to the IP-intensive industries.”