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Open Source Seeds and Inequality

Thursday, 17 April 2014 05:07

Morning Edition had an interesting segment reporting on a new effort to promote open source seeds. These seeds could be freely reproduced and varied, as long as any resulting seeds were also freely available.

Unfortunately this piece did not fully flesh out the economic implications of this movement. While it included the comments of the representative of a seed company, saying that it would likely avoid open source seed in order to be able to continue to sell patent protected seed, it didn't include any discussion of the larger implications of patents in seeds.

The seed companies and many of their top executives and scientists are getting very rich from patent protected seeds. This is not technology. This is not technology. (Sorry, had to repeat this in case any economists were reading.) This is the result of a government policy that hands out monopolies to certain companies and threatens to arrest competitors.

Patent monopolies are one way to finance research into developing new seeds. It is certainly not the only way. Much of the research into agriculture is paid by universities or government agencies. The government could increases this sort of funding to replace the research done by the private sector.

This would allow all seeds to be available at the free market price. This would likely eliminate many of the large fortunes earned by selling seeds. It would also eliminate the enormous distortions associated with patent protected prices. If the patent leads to a price that is 500 hundred or 1000 percent above the free market price it leads to the same amount of economic waste as if the government were to impose a tariff of 500 or 1000 percent on imports of the seed.

Publiclly funded research would also likely lead to more effective development of new seeds since making all research findings public could be a requirement for getting public funding. Under a system supported by patent monopolies companies only make available the information needed to get a patent. In fact, they have a strong financial incentive to misrepresent and conceal research findings in order to promote their product and inhibit competitors.

Since science advances much more rapidly in a context of open research it would have been worth including this point in the discussion. It also is important to point out that, insofar as patent protected products are a source of great wealth and a factor in inequality, it is the outcome of government policy, not technology.  


Comments (3)Add Comment
The Next Green Shoot of Capitalism: a Privatized Alphabet
written by Last Mover, April 17, 2014 6:38
John Shoenecker, director of intellectual property for the seed company HM Clause and the incoming president of the American Seed Trade Association, says his company may avoid using open source seed to breed new commercial varieties "because then we'd ... have limited potential to recoup the investment." That's because the offspring of open source seeds would have to be shared as well, and any other seed company could immediate sell the same variety.

Exactly. This is why the alphabet must be copyrighted as well. As it is, the offspring of open source seed letters of the alphabet are shared by everyone in a tragedy of excess word commons.

Anyone can immediately steal any letter of the alphabet they want to produce more words which vastly dilutes and depletes the value of those words because they have an artificial zero price of acquisition at the margin imposed by open source big commie government. In the end no one has an incentive produce letters of the alphabet anymore and America is stuck with the words it has.

Like Latin, the language of America is rapidly becoming a dead, unchanging language frozen in time because of open source socialism.

Stand your free speech ground America. Protect your letters and words now before they disappear by thieves who don't respect property rights. Copyright the alphabet and put a price on letters to prevent overuse of yet another freeloader entitlement good.
The Commons
written by Edward Allen, April 17, 2014 9:39
Re Last Mover's comment, see David Bollier's "Imagining a New Politics of the Commons" ( http://onthecommons.org/imagin...cs-commons ) and Gar Alperovitz & Lew Daly's Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance.
What if my seed randomly mutates?
written by Farmer Dan, April 17, 2014 10:32
I ran into a guy the other day that said he had some seeds that randomly mutated into an exact match to the Monsonto soy seeds. I think it was a pretty rare occurrence, but if we put the word out and form a database of farmers who have noticed the same mutation, perhaps we can learn something interesting. Anyone else heard of that mutation?

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.