Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 2 Num. 62

("Quid coniuratio est?")

NOAM CHOMSKY -- 10/17/94

My transcript of part of a talk given by Noam Chomsky at UICC (University of Illinois at Chicago Circle) on October 17, 1994. Special thanks to Paul Mueth for travelling to Chicago, taping the talk, then broadcasting it on local radio station WEFT 90.1 FM on Saturday, October 29, 1994.

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[Response to question about GATT and intellectual property rights]

...really important topic, and in fact it was one that I'd hoped to talk about but didn't have time for.

GATT is called a "free trade agreement", just as NAFTA was. But that's nonsense. These things... they're not free trade. They're not about free trade. And they're certainly not agreements. In fact, most of the people in the world are opposed to them. And they're not about trade, they're about services and all sorts of other things. They're certainly not free, and what you mentioned is an extreme case of that.

Intellectual property rights have to do with protectionism. The U.S., which has -- and in fact, the rich countries, generally. But primarily the U.S. -- has led the insistence that the GATT agreement, like NAFTA, include strong intellectual property rights. That's protectionism. That means increasing the power, the strength of patents.

O.K. Patents are protectionist devices. O.K., they are designed to ensure that the technology of the future is in the hands of transnational corporations -- most of which, incidentally, you guys pay for. 'Cause remember, they don't believe in free market. They want to be publicly subsidized. So they get publicly subsidized in research and development and, you know, controlled markets, and so on.

So, intellectual property: the strengthening of intellectual property rights means longer patents, which will... means, let's say, drugs, for example. Take, say, India. India happens to have a big drug, happens to have a good pharmaceutical industry. Meaning they can produce drugs at a fraction of the cost of what the, of what, say, Merck wants to sell 'em for. So, in fact, drug prices are way lower in India than in Pakistan, next door. Because India happens to develop its own pharmaceutical industry.

Well the American corporations don't like that. They want more children to die in India. I mean, it's not that they care that children die, they want more profit, which happens to mean more children die in India. So they wanna make sure that India doesn't produce drugs at less than the cost of American drugs.

Now this is done in two ways, under GATT. One way is to increase the length of patents. The other is to change their character -- from product patent... from process patents to product patents. That's very crucial. In the past, patents were process patents. Like if Merck, thanks to your taxes, designed a way to produce a certain drug, and then, say, some smart guy in India figured out a cheaper way to produce that drug, that was allowed! But we don't want that. We want to cut down technological innovation, cut back economic progress and economic efficiency, and increase profits. So now they're product patents, meaning if Merck figures out a certain way to produce a drug, they can hold that for 20 years and (of course, as a product), and then they can hold the process for another 20 years. They get 40 years of holding onto that drug. You know, by then, everybody's forgotten about it.

Now just look at... There's some history about this. The developed countries, like us, we never accepted anything like that. In fact, even weak patent on technological development wasn't accepted by the rich countries until just a few years ago. And there was one time, that I know of, when product patents were actually tried; namely, in France. In the early part of the century they had such patents and that destroyed the French chemical industry. Because what happened is, they moved over to Switzerland, where they didn't have... So Switzerland had a big chemical industry and not France.

O.K. Now, the same thing. It's not... It's not a big secret, you know. Look. This is straight history. And the people who are planning GATT understand it. And they wanna make sure that they destroy the Indian, or Argentinian, or other pharmaceutical industries the same way that France's dumb choices destroyed the French chemical industry.

And it's already happened. So, for example, the New York Times about a couple weeks ago in the business section had a tiny, 10- line item saying that India -- with a gun pointed at its head, 'cause there were huge... Nobody talks about this here, but in India there were hundreds of thousands of people protesting in the streets about it. Uh, they agreed finally, 'cause, you know, other guys got the guns, and they have decided to "liberalize" their pharmaceutical industry -- meaning sell it to western corporations so the drug prices won't shoot sky high in India, and, you know, children will die and so on and so forth. But there'll be more profits.

Now this has nothing to do with free trade. This is a high level of protectionism which, in fact, is specifically designed even to be contrary to the narrow definitions of "efficiency" that they teach you in the University of Chicago, you know, economics department [laughter]. So it's gonna cut down technological innovations, it's gonna cut down efficiency and so on. But it'll happen to increase profits. "By accident".

Well that's intellectual property rights. I mean it doesn't... I gave one example. But there's plenty of others like it. And if you look over the whole GATT agreement it's a sort of a complicated array of protectionist and liberalizing devices, very carefully geared to the interests of transnationals. As far as agriculture's concerned, there's a way of measuring efficiency of agricultural production -- which like most of these measures are just class-based ideology. They don't have anything to do with science or anything else. So the way you measure efficiency of agricultural production is to ask yourself... You know, you look at certain inputs, and certain outputs, and you do some calculations, and you figure out the efficiency of it. But some things are left out! Like you do the calculations their way: "Well, you know, the cost of, (say), of environmental pollution is not counted." That's called an "externality" (it means they worry about it in some other department). So that one you don't count. And there's another one you don't count: like suppose... It usually turns out to be the case that heavily subsidized western agri-business can produce, say, corn, more efficiently than, say, Mexican peasants. O.K., that's gonna be the case, you can be pretty sure. Now if you do a narrow measure, of the highly ideological type that they teach you about in economics departments, it'll turn out to be, you know, "more efficient for the world" if American agri-business produces corn, with big petroleum inputs and so on and so forth, than if Mexican peasants do it.

But there's a few things left out of that calculation. One part that's left out is that that means that maybe 10 or 15 million Mexican peasants are gonna be driven off the land. And they're gonna be driven into cities, where they're either gonna starve, or maybe somebody'll try to take care of them and so on.

Well there's a lot of costs associated with that. Put aside the human costs, which nobody cares about. But just take the straight economic costs, like taking care of them somehow. Well, you know, that's "somebody else's department". We don't count that one in. We define "efficiency" in a way which doesn't count that. Just like it doesn't count "externalities".

Well, you know, you put all this stuff together, you get particular choices. And, you know, any of you [who] have taken an economics course, you can... that's what you're first taught to do! To do these things.

But this is a game of class warfare. I mean, masked in big words. It sounds like science, with mathematical formulas and stuff. But if you simply ask perfectly common-sense questions, you can see there're all kinds of things that are left out. Which, I mean... For example, sending corn to Mexico. Well, you know, it takes... you gotta put it in trucks or, you know, send it over there. That takes... what about the transit costs, you know, how much, how much... It's a million things that aren't counted. Let alone the effect on Mexican peasants.

But the purpose of these agreements is to ensure that agricultural production is monopolized by transnationals. And that the third world gets nothing.

Actually, just a couple of weeks... If any Indians are around here and read the Indian press. They may have noticed that a couple of weeks ago, Indian customs officials stopped, at the border, some German, you know, alleged "scientists" who were leaving India with some funny stuff in their bags -- namely, a couple hundred thousand bugs. You know. And they didn't know, what the hell were they doing with these things.

Well we know what they're doing with those things. That's the gene pool that the western pharmaceutical companies are trying to steal from the south. That's their resources. But we get 'em free. You know, like maybe if [over] thousands of years people in the "south", so-called, have been developing crops and drugs and so on and so forth. They don't own 'em, right? We're... 'Cause there's no... They don't get any rights from that. We just go and steal 'em.

So they have the rich gene pool, they have the thousands of years of experience in creating hybrids, and figuring out what herb works, and so on and so forth. Then western corporations go in there and take it for nothing -- 'cause they don't own anything. [sarcastically] <<I mean, look. See if they got a piece of paper somewhere that says, "I own it." You know, a stamp with the writing authority.>> Well they don't, you know. So therefore we steal it from 'em. And then we make it appear in some biology lab. They, you know, minimally modify it. And then you sell it, you sell it to them. And they're not allowed to use the seeds again. Because, you know, now we patented it and now we've got 40 year patents and so on.

I mean that's... It's a scam. It's a scam designed to rob the poor and enrich the rich. Like most social policy. And that shouldn't surprise you. After all, who makes social policy? I mean, this was a truism to Adam Smith. It should be a truism to us. The people who make social policy make it in their interests. And they wouldn't be in a position to make social policy unless they were rich and privileged, so they make it in the interests of the rich and privileged. Poor people suffer.


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Brian Francis Redman "The Big C"

"Justice" = "Just us" = "History is written by the assassins."