Is Sowing Artificial Scarcity The Future Of Business?

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. 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.”

2 Comments on "Is Sowing Artificial Scarcity The Future Of Business?"

  1. InfvoCuernos | Jan 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm |

    I have thought about this as it concerns minerals. I think about the artificial scarcity of diamonds and what would happen if we ever get into space and start mining astroids and bring back huge ammounts of “precious” metals/minerals like platinum or titanium or gold. Hell, things could take a turn for the worse if they ever find a deposit of oil (on earth obviously)that is so huge that we couldn’t possibly burn it all up. Sometimes a lot of a commodity is a bad thing.

  2. Monkey See Monkey Do | Jan 2, 2013 at 7:02 am |

    Artificial scarcity has been the name of the game since the advent of business (with a few very minor exceptions).

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