The Uselessness of Property Owned But Not Used

PostedThe more I learn about economics, the more I turn against capitalism. It isn’t that I’m against markets or business or property ownership. But for all of the rhetoric to the contrary, capitalism is a very inefficient system. And I really think that globalization has highlighted some of the problems. At one time, to own land meant to work the land. Land that wasn’t being used was available to those who would use it. That’s not true anymore. I look around at where I live in northern California and I see all kinds of land that has not bee used for generations. But if you were to start camping on it, you would quickly find yourself in a jail cell.

I want to talk about a different kind of property, because it is one I know a lot about and that makes the subject very clear: domain names. They are the internet equivalent of land. And I’ve been in the market for a little internet property. I want to start a site about blogging with WordPress. It would be similar in style to Frankly Curious — personal, friendly, broad. But it would be about all the aspects of running a blog: technical, management, writing. And my focus would be to help people make a blog that works and not one that they start and quickly abandon.

So I came up with the name WPUnleashed. So I did a little research. Back in 2008, someone put a ghastly little website on it, “Complete Video Course Reveals
WORDPRESS Money Making Secrets.” But just because I have taste doesn’t mean that others aren’t allowed to use their websites as they see fit. But after a year, the owner let the domain name lapse and it was purchased by WebFizz, Inc. I can’t find out much about the company. It doesn’t have an office — just a box in a UPS Store. But I assume it is one of these companies that just buys old domain names and sits on them. This is what WPUleashed.com looks like now:

WPUnleashed.com

At the top of the page it reads, “The domain wpunleashed.com is for sale. To purchase, call Afternic.com at +1 339-222-5147 or 866-836-6791. Click here for more details.” So this company has been sitting on this piece of internet property for over six years. And of course, I know what the capitalism boosters will say, “That’s their right! They’ve paid for the domain name all these years!” That’s true, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not questioning that this is the way that capitalism works; I’m questions whether this is a good way to run a society.

My assumption is that the owner will want something around a thousand dollars for the name. Sometimes the owners’ valuations are far higher. This sort of thing is so common that I’ve created a website myself, Not Realistic. But the point is, things like domain names or plots of land are not something anyone created. Yet we have created a society that is based on the idea that you can just grab a piece of property and do nothing with it. This strikes me as immoral.

Libertarians (and similarly minded free marketeers) think that private property is such an important value that it trumps all other values. But the idea of private property (and similarly, intellectual property) has always been that it makes the society better. We’ve clearly reached a point where this isn’t true. I have no problem with people owning this kind of non-created property if it is being used to improve society. But it isn’t. This kind of property ownership actually makes us all less wealthy. And the owners are just parasites who suck off the efforts of people who are doing real work — adding real value to the society at large.

The ownership of land is an even more extreme example of this. In the past, to own a piece of land was to work it. Now, to own a piece of land is to simply have a piece of paper that allows you to use the police and the court system to stop other people from using the land. We need to seriously rethink the idea that the simple fact of ownership is worth something. Ownership of land or domain names should be dependent upon the owner making good use of the property. We can debate what “good use” is, but I’m not so much talking about the law here but about the way we as a society look at things. The laws in the US over the last 40 years have been terrible. But arguably even worse is just the way we think about economic issues, where there is no social cost for being the kind of “greed is good” jerk that would have made you a pariah during almost any other period in human history.

Update

I contacted the brokerage house and they said the domain name is available for $1,475. What a joke!

Do Conservatives Care About the Truth?

David Daleiden - The Face of EvilI think that certainty can be an extremely dangerous thing. Having a healthy dose of doubt is really important. Personally, I work on having a constant background thought that I might be totally wrong — that I am not the keeper of The Truth. I try on things like “tax cuts for the rich help the economy” and “same sex marriage harms society.” In almost all cases, I don’t just find the fit bad, I can’t even fully squeeze into their absurdity before ripping them off. But it is good to try because there are little things you can learn and you can evolve on questions. Some issues I do find vague and difficult to take absolute stands on.

But I wonder about conservatives on this issue. I’m not talking David Brooks here. He’s an idiot and a hack, but some intellectual sunlight really does make it to his brain. But you have to wonder about the conservative truth believers — and that is most of them. And then you really have to take a look at people like David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. They were two of the people behind the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) — the group that staged a “sting” against Planned Parenthood, using the usual tactics of highly edited footage made to look like something that wasn’t going on was — in this case that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.

I read a really good Dahlia Lithwick article about it, The Anti-Abortion Activists Targeting Planned Parenthood Have a Slew of Legal Troubles. Thus far, there have been 11 investigations of Planned Parenthood and all of them found that the group was (as expected) squeaky clean. But the most recent out of Texas turned the whole thing on its head, “The Harris County district attorney, announced the surprise indictments against the Center for Medical Progress’ David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for the felony of tampering with a governmental record; Daleiden received a second indictment for the misdemeanor prohibition on the purchase of human body parts.”

“The law is — we forget — different from politics, and even as politics becomes ever more a fact-free enterprise, the law is not.” —Dahlia Lithwick

Not that it matters. In the end, this will be just like it has been with James O’Keefe. These two will get a slap on the wrist. Maybe they will even go to jail for a while. But the money will continue to flow in and they will continue to be stars in the conservative movement. But this whole movement of young “sting” operatives has yet to result in a single actual discovery. In the case of the CMP, an enormous amount of time and energy was put into the effort. And like always, they found nothing. This is normally the case when one investigates an outrageous claim. When you shoot for the moon, you almost always miss.

But conservatives don’t seem to care about the truth. The nicest way you can put it is that they think they already know the truth. So it really doesn’t matter that they take dozens of hours of video, cut it up to make it look like something bad is going on, and then release it. The ends justify the means because they just “know” that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue. But I suspect I’m being far too charitable. Knowing conservatives it is just a matter of their side winning. (What continues to amaze me is that the mainstream press takes these adolescent pranksters seriously; have journalists no pride?)

Lithwick goes over in exhaustive detail all the legal problems that David Daleiden and CMP are having. At every turn they lose. As she put it, “The law is — we forget — different from politics, and even as politics becomes ever more a fact-free enterprise, the law is not.” This, of course, hasn’t stopped Congress and various state legislatures from acting as though CMP were on the level. But then, they are just looking for any excuse to end reproductive rights.

What it does all mean is that American conservatism is a kind of cult. Everyone in it just “knows” the truth and they will believe everything that confirms their beliefs. In fact, things that push against their beliefs make them believe it all the more strongly. It’s a very dangerous situation, given that these people will eventually be in control of this country and along with it by far the biggest military in the world.

Morning Music: Candy Says

The Velvet UndergroundIt is not entirely for James’ sake that we are going to listen to “Candy Says” today.

I hate self-titled albums. They just confuse everyone. But if you are going to have a self-titled album, make it be the first one. The Beatles’ self-titled album gets called “the white album,” which I’ve always thought was kind of silly. It’s because it’s white, get it? Of course you do, because there’s nothing to get. It’s grey lettering on a white background. It’s like they were teaching bad website design long before there were websites!

The problem is even worse with The Velvet Underground, which everyone I know just called “the third album” or “that one with the bad photo” or perhaps best, “the folk one.” Okay, not totally folk. There is “The Murder Mystery,” which is more an aural challenge just to see if you are willing to sit through to listen to After Hours. And I’m not sure it is, although I do love that song. In fact, I’d probably feature that song, if Maureen Tucker had not turned into a Tea Party Idiot.

So let me prepare you for Saturday, which is really going to be special. Really: you’ve got to come by; I’ll have a half hour of music you really ought to listen to. But until then, let’s listen to the Velvet Underground song “Candy Says.” It’s clearly one of those song that they would have had Nico sing if she hadn’t had better places to nod. This is, of course, exactly the point that the band was at when they recorded 1969: The Velvet Underground Live. What’s great about it is that, by and large, there is no pretense. For as much as I like Velvet Underground & Nico, there is a certain amount of pretending to be more hip than they actually are. All that is gone by this third album.

Anniversary Post: We Are the World

We Are the WorldOn this day in 1985, the song “We Are the World” was recorded. It was for a good cause. It was in response for the Ethiopian famine. Roughly half a million people died because of the famine — maybe a lot more. The proximate cause was a drought, but this was on top of war and bad government policy. Not that you would get any of that from the song.

“We Are the World” is exactly the kind of insipid song that you would think a bunch of rich people would come up with because they just have to do something. It was written Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie — both of whom were capable of writing decent songs. But when you set out to create a hit that will offend absolutely no one, you are sure to offend people like me. I’m just glad that Lester Bangs had died a few years earlier, because this song certainly would have killed him.

One of the things that distinguishes art from commerce is meaning. Art has something to say. It can be personal and small. It can be global and big. Whatever. But it has to be something. “We Are the World” has absolutely nothing to say. It isn’t even about peace and love. “We are the world”? “We are the children?” It’s no deeper than a Pepsi commercial, and it is a good deal less deep than a Coke commercial.

Of course, it was just a commercial. It was a way to get people to know about the famine and to care about it a little bit. But it makes me think very much of Slavoj Žižek’s “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce” — the idea that we feel good about ourselves by consuming the right products. Don’t drink Folgers; drink Starbucks because they will give a nickle to the poor from every ten dollar cup of coffee you buy from them. Good coffee karma. Or in this case, good insipid song purchasing karma.

I wouldn’t dare make you listen to “We Are the World.” Here is Slavoj Žižek’s discussion of the concept: