Watching Foreign Markets

I have readers on this blog from all over the world, but the majority are Americans.  Unfortunately, most Americans, even those interested in the financial markets, tend not to hear a lot of news about overseas.

Sure, if you tune into CNBC, you will hear that Greece is on the edge of default again.  But then they will quickly shift gears and devote most of the discussion to American companies and their new products and their profitability.

So if you don’t search for some of your financial news, you may not be aware that foreign markets were rattled on Tuesday.  The Asian and European stock markets were mostly down.  The Shanghai index in China was the most significant story in stocks, as it lost over 4% in one day.

I am not saying this is the beginning of a major downturn in China, but it may be a signal that the beginning is not far off.  I don’t like to make big predictions in financial markets, but I am as convinced as I can be that China is in a major bubble.  The Chinese have themselves a real estate bubble and a stock bubble at the same time.  It isn’t going to end well.  I believe the only question at this point is “When?”.

Perhaps the even more significant news came in the bond market.  The U.S. 10-year yield closed just shy of 2.20%.  This is significant because it was under 2% for a while.

But the European bond market is the biggest story.  The German 10-year yield jumped by 32% in one day.  It closed at 0.52%, which is still incredibly low, but not as low as it was just a few weeks ago at 0.10% and lower.  It was close to zero percent at one point.

The Italian and Spanish 10-year yields also both jumped over 20% in one day.  They are getting close to U.S. levels now.  Even Japanese bonds took a hit, with the Japanese yield jumping higher.

The Swiss 10-year yield also rose out of negative territory, which is another story all its own.

Perhaps some of this is because of the situation in Greece.  Perhaps the markets are finally building in a slight expectation of inflation.  Perhaps people are realizing that government bonds are not always completely safe.

Just like China, I am not calling an end to a worldwide bond bubble.  At the same time though,  I can’t discount the possibility.  These were big moves in one day, already following previous big moves.

This is going to be a story to watch, so stay tuned.  The American press may not be giving a lot of coverage to foreign markets, but if these big moves continue, it is going to affect almost everyone, including American investors.

The bond bubble is going to pop at some point.  I am not ready to start shorting bonds, but this could get interesting if we see a few more days with big spikes in interest rates.

Patents and Copyrights in a Libertarian World

The issue of intellectual property rights has been more hotly debated in recent times in libertarian circles.  There are certainly two distinct sides in the debate, although there are surprisingly many without a strong opinion.

I say it is surprising because most libertarians are quite passionate about their beliefs.  So it is obviously a subject that doesn’t get a lot of attention because even many libertarians do not have a strong stand one way or another.

I like to watch the show Shark Tank on Friday nights.  One of the questions frequently asked by the sharks is if something has a patent.  They are more likely to invest in something that does.

I am not at all critical of people who get patents and copyrights.  In fact, in many cases, I think you should.  It is simply living within the rules set by the society you live in.  I don’t think you should do something highly immoral just because it is legal, but this does not fit that category here.

Even if you are 100% against the idea of intellectual property rights, you still might want to patent a new product you come up with for the simple reason that someone else could do it if you don’t.  You don’t want to invent something new and then have someone else take the idea and patent it and then prevent you from selling it.

The idea behind intellectual property is not an easy one to grasp.  The problem is that you are talking about assigning property rights to words and ideas.  It is not a scarce good such as a house or a pencil.

Taken to its logical conclusion, intellectual property is kind of silly.  If you come up with a new word, are you the only one entitled to use it unless someone else seeks permission?

This is one issue where many libertarians will agree that intellectual property rights should not really exist when looking at it from a moral standpoint.  But they get hung up with the utilitarian arguments.  They think there wouldn’t be progress without IP rights.

I always say that one of the good things about being a libertarian is that, at least for me, there are no conflicts between morality and pragmatism.  By advocating lower taxes or ending wars, I am taking a stance that I see as both moral and productive for the general welfare of society.

I see no reason why this should cease to exist with IP rights.  You don’t have to have patents for things to progress.  In fact, it is mostly the opposite.  Patents actually hold up progress.  Most products are not just invented and then that is the end of the story.  It is usually someone (or a group of people) coming up with an idea.  The first product produced is usually pretty bad.

Then someone else takes it and makes a slight improvement.  Then another person takes it and fixes a bug or adds a new feature.  This is usually the real story of how things improve.

Without patents, there are still plenty of incentives to come up with something new.  You will have the first shot at marketing it and selling it.  You have the advantage of being the first one.  But it shouldn’t grant you some right to continue selling the same product forever without any competition.

We also have to remember that just because something isn’t illegal, it doesn’t mean that society won’t put negative sanctions on certain actions.

For instance, if government copyright laws didn’t exist, it doesn’t mean that everyone will just go and start republishing books and claiming it is their own work.  You may have private companies that do some form of copyrighting so that people know who should get credit as the original author.  Most customers would want to buy the product from the true author anyway and would probably even be willing to pay a little more just for the justice.

It is also interesting that many authors write books to promote other products or ideas they have.  Buying a book will lead a customer to other facets of the author’s life and ideas.

It is the same with musicians.  It isn’t just about selling albums.  The albums lead to people wanting to go to concerts.  I can release someone else’s album, trying to pretend it’s my own, but good luck to me in getting anyone to come to my concert.  And again, society will find other ways to put negative sanctions on imposters.

It is understandable that this is a more recent issue tackled by libertarians.  Ayn Rand defended IP rights.  Many libertarians in prior times defended IP rights.  But we have much more research on this issue available now.  We also have the Internet, which shows that people will put out free content all day long and that you don’t always need a profit incentive.

Intellectual property rights are not really property rights at all.  As time goes on, I believe this will become more evident in our society.