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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11162/an-objectivist-recants-on-ip/

An Objectivist Recants on IP

December 4, 2009 by

On the Mises blog, I noticed one of the frequent commentators on IP-related blog threads, one Bala, used to defend the IP position but of late had been taking an anti-IP position. We discussed this privately and I asked him to give me a short write-up about his thought process as he changed his mind on this issue. I find such “conversion” stories interesting, and have seen it in others as well–myself, Jeff Tucker, etc. He sent it to me; I append it below.

Pro-IP to Anti-IP:
The Transformation of an Objectivist

by S Balasubramanian

[The author resides in Chennai, India, and has a B Tech (Aerospace Engineering)--Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras ('94), PGDM (equivalent of an MBA)--Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad ('98). He is a businessman, running a test prep company that trains students for competitive examinations for admissions to institutions of higher education, especially for those aspiring to get into the top B-Schools in India. He also recently started a pre-school which he hopes to build into a full-fledged school. His email is bala.hfca@gmail.com]

It was in August of 2009 that I stumbled, or rather fumbled, my way into mises.org. I was guided to LvMI by none other than the Ayn Rand Institute, which referred LvMI as the place to go to if I wanted to get any understanding at all of economics, especially capitalism. As a long-time fan of Ayn Rand, having read a lot of her fiction as well as non-fiction and actually applying the basic principles of Objectivism in my daily life, I decided to take the tip seriously.

Pretty much to my shock, almost the first thing I came across was a little Rand-bashing and, worse, a denunciation of an idea Rand had explained as being the cornerstone of property rights – that of Intellectual Property.

The ideas I came in with

My ideas on intellectual property were formed almost completely based on Rand’s arguments justifying the idea. It all begins with the fundamental premises that:

  1. Ideas are legitimate property;
  2. Ideas owe their existence to the person who originated or “created them” and hence morally “belong” to the creator.
    1. It is important for a reader to understand that Objectivists use the term “morally” differently. Morality, to an Objectivist, is a code of values that guides man’s actions in the face of choices. It is rationally derived starting with recognition of the Objective reality that we are a part of. It is not a set of edicts or diktats from a higher authority.
    2. Those who copy ideas deprive the creators of the value that should rightfully accrue to them and are hence guilty of stealing (the emphasis is on “rightfully” as it flows from point 2 above).
    3. It is the fundamental responsibility of government to protect individual rights, property rights being the most important of man’s rights.
    4. A system of patent & copyrights is a way by which creators register their claim to creating ideas, a means by which they inform all interested parties as to whose property an idea is
    5. Infringement of patents and copyrights is a violation of property rights and government enforcement of patent & copyright laws is legitimate protection of property rights.

Questions that troubled me

In the course of some heated discussions, a few interesting questions came up for which I had to reach deep inside to find the answers

  1. How do you reconcile the facts that recognising and enforcing IP essentially gives some people a right to the physical property of others?
  2. How can ideas and patterns be property?
  3. How do you propose to enforce IP except through the State machinery? Considering that the State has never demonstrated any tendency other than for evil, how is this consistent with the advancement of Liberty?

What made me realise the error in my (and the “orthodox” Objectivist) position on IP

To cut a long thing short, the moment I realised that there is a conflict between rights to intellectual property and rights to physical property, I also realised that something is wrong about the whole thing. Such a contradiction usually means that something is wrong with the premises of the person facing the contradiction – me.

Restricting a person from giving physical shape to an idea he has in his mind is clearly a violation of his Liberty and Property Rights. However, this is precisely what implementation of IP means. IP proponents typically tent to retort saying that what I am calling “violation of Liberty and Property Rights” is actually implementation of the property rights of the owner of the idea/pattern that is the subject of the IP.

If it is true that in the name of protecting Intellectual Property Rights, one is actually violating the Liberty of some individuals, in effect one is also saying that the holders of Intellectual Property have an undefined lien on the Liberty of the individuals of the other part. Translated, this gives some individuals the right to enslave others by virtue of being holders of Intellectual Property rights. This made the notion all the more bizarre to me. It was in direct contradiction of the most basic principles of Objectivism that no man may claim the right to initiate force against another.

This led me to realise that there is a fundamental problem in the way different people were defining the concept “property”. At least, the way Objectivists seem to be defining “property”, they are setting themselves up for a conflict between the right to physical property and the right to Liberty on one side and the right to Intellectual Property on the other.

The answer, to me, was to obtain clarity on the relationship between the Right to Liberty and the Right to Property. The question I was trying to answer was “Which of the 2 rights is more fundamental to human nature?”. If Liberty is more fundamental to human nature, it would be futile to define Property independent of Liberty because such a definition is bound to lead to a contradiction.

Liberty or Property – Which is more fundamental?

To me, the answer was obvious – Liberty. The Right to Liberty is a logical corollary of the Right to Life and is in fact a restatement of the latter focusing on a specific part of it. The Right to Liberty, as per Objectivism, is nothing more than the freedom to act as per the judgement of one’s rational mind. Action being essential to life and in fact being an integral and inviolable part of the definition of the concept “Life” (a sequence of self-generated self-sustaining actions), violation of the Right to Liberty is a violation of the Right to Life itself.

Once again taking from Rand herself, value is that which you act to gain or keep. Thus, gaining or keeping value is impossible unless one is free to act. Thus, it is futile to place “property”, which is nothing more than the value one acts to gain or keep with the aim of sustaining one’s life, above that which is a prerequisite to the process of gaining or keeping value, i.e., action. Translating this into a simple inequality,

Right to Life > Right to Liberty > Right to Property

Therefore, the choice was clear – to define the concept “property” in terms of the more fundamental concept “liberty”. The outcome is bound to be a non-contradictory system of Property Rights where it is possible for Liberty and Property Rights to coexist.

Defining the concept “Property”

(The most fundamental premise I used in this discussion is that initiating force against another is a violation of his Right to Liberty. As per my limited understanding of Objectivism, this is how Ayn Rand defined Liberty.)

Objects exist in 3 states – existent, possession and property. An apple exists. When I hold the apple in my hands, it is in my possession. When my possession is morally justified, i.e., when the apple “ought” to be in my possession, it is deemed my “property”.

Clearly, not every “possession” is “property”. That raises the question how and when a “possession” becomes “property”. The answer to the question is to be found by a study of the morality of the actions that went into gaining and keeping “possession”. If you obtain possession the “right” way, it is morally yours, i.e., you are better off with it than without. On the other hand, if you did something “wrong” in the process of gaining possession, it is not morally yours, i.e., you are better off without it than with it. Objectivists in particular should have no difficulty evaluating issues from a moral perspective and to talk of issues like “right” and “wrong” because they ought to be used to deriving these logically from reality, which they consider absolute.

From an Objectivist perspective, there is only 1 “wrong” that a man can commit in the process of gaining possession of an existent – that is to initiate force against other men in the process. Thus, possessions to gain which man has to necessarily initiate force against others will not get moral sanction. Such possessions cannot be considered property.

Equally fundamental to the concept “property” is the right to exclude others from total or partial enjoyment of the value that the property holds. Exclusion of others requires specific actions from the person in possession of an object. The nature of the actions one needs to undertake in order to exclude others from one’s possessions also influences the moral status of the possession in question. If excluding others requires retaliatory force only, such exclusion would be a morally sound action. If, on the other hand, exclusion itself involves initiation of force, it would naturally be immoral and the author cannot exclude and be right at the same time. Such possessions that create contradictions by their very nature cannot and should not be deemed property.

Applying this idea to the 2 broad categories of property – physical and intellectual, physical possessions clearly justify the use of the term “property” to denote their ownership. The taking possession of or the exclusion of others from physical objects does not necessarily involve initiation of force. On the other hand, the taking away of a physical good without the consent of the legitimate owner always involves the initiation of force. Thus, the statement “no man shall take away the physical property of another man without his consent” is equivalent to saying that “one man may not initiate force against another”. In this sense, it is no different from the basic Objectivist principle of non-initiation of force.

Ideas and patterns, on the other hand, presented a problem when I tried to treat them as “property”. While there is no denying the value of ideas in human advancement, exclusion of other individuals from an idea or pattern necessarily involves the initiation of force. For instance, how else is A to prevent B from incorporating A’s idea in his B’s product other than to force himself upon B’s property and coerce B to prevent him from doing so, thus violating B’s Liberty? In effect, recognising ideas and patterns as property is tantamount to saying that A has a moral right to initiate force against B simply because he has coined an idea. Thus, as an Objectivist, classifying ideas and patterns as “property” takes me into dangerous territory where I am ready to label the initiation of force as legitimate.

Even worse than the above is to codify IP into law and giving the State and its machinery additional legitimacy engage in rampant violation of Liberty. As an Objectivist, I hate the State as much as anyone else can. To see the State as an ally just because it is the only agency capable of enforcing Intellectual Property Rights is downright immoral. I realised that once there, there was no turning back. I become as evil as the very collectivists and statists that I am trying to condemn and fight against.

I am now left with a very moral choice – do I or do I not recognise ideas and patterns as “property”. If I should remain true to my Objectivist roots (which I value for good reason), my only option is to apologise to Rand for disagreeing with her strongly and telling her that she was wrong on this one and that I am not ready to apply the label “property” to ideas and patterns.

(While in the above analysis, I might appear to be going in circles around essentially 1 idea, the non-initiation of force, given that that principle is the most important Objectivist social principle, the one that defines how an individual ought to deal with the society he lives in, I do not think I am guilty of circular reasoning. Rather, I am making my axioms clear and validating all my conclusions against my axioms.)

Conclusions

An Objectivist cannot and should not support the notion of Intellectual Property because it violates fundamental Objectivist principles. Rejecting the validity of “Intellectual Property” does not mean that one is rejecting Objectivism. Anyone who claims otherwise needs to be reminded of Ayn Rand’s warnings against package deals. He who wishes to say “Rand said otherwise” needs to be reminded of Rand’s other very important point – that no human may consider himself or any other human being to be infallible, not even Ayn Rand herself.

{ 128 comments }

Stephan Kinsella December 8, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Silas, you can jabber all you want about economic calculation and the gray areas in real property borders and EM spectrum rights–it doesn’t matter because none of it justifies patent or copyright-like “rights.”

Silas Barta December 8, 2009 at 3:31 pm

@Stephan_Kinsella: Yes, it most certainly does matter, for the reasons I have given numerous times in the past. Want the links, including links to your concession of the relevance, or would you rather just take back the point you just tried to make?

Btw, why is it you post so close to when Lord_Buzungulus,_Bringer_of_the_Purple_Light does? Hm…

Stephan Kinsella December 8, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Silas, the point is you have not and cannot justify the socialism and aggression that underlie your amorphous, incoherent defense of statist IP. You yammer and spit and squirm, but you just can’t do it. So have fun trying.

Unlike you, John Sharp, Richard Harding, Person, I never post under nyms.

Silas Barta December 8, 2009 at 4:27 pm

@Stephan_Kinsella: Silas, the point is you have not and cannot justify the socialism and aggression that underlie your amorphous, incoherent defense of statist IP.

Begging the question, and strawman — I don’t defend statist IP.

You yammer and spit and squirm, but you just can’t do it. So have fun trying.

Ad hominem.

Unlike you, John Sharp, Richard Harding, Person, I never post under nyms.

Then you wouldn’t mind deleting Lord_Buzungulus,_Bringer_of_the_Purple_Light’s off-topic and incivil posts, would you?

Oh, right…

Stephan Kinsella December 8, 2009 at 4:52 pm

“Silas,” nyms are permitted here (that’s not my decision–if it were mine they would not be). If we are to delete incivil [your insinuations of dishonesty on my part, e.g.], off-topic [your recent post on another thread about global warming where you gratuitously brought up my name and IP!], or pestery, gadfly posts, yours would all have to come down.

Lord Buzungulus, Bringer of the Purple Light December 8, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Silas, nothing compares to your rank stupidity. That’s what should be deleted.

And for the tenth time, I am NOT Stephan.

Pedro Carleial December 9, 2009 at 5:51 am

*** Let’s say we have 1000 doors and behind one of them is the answer. ***
This person sees rational thought as random chance.

*** [Human action requires knowledge] It doesn’t. ***
This person also sees humans as automatons. Or perhaps as animals like any other acting automatically.

It is pointless do discuss such a complex issue as property with someone who doesn’t even understand what a human being is.

This is typical of the “economicist” libertarian. Much like the argument that scarcity is the basis for property.

Kinsalla in particular is interesting. The fact that you cannot argue the principle of property (as it applies to knowledge) without discussing the mechanics of how you imagine enforcement of such a principle would be is entirely consistent with my previous experience with you – and typical.

You don’t really reason, you just run simulations of what you think would happen in a given situation and classify them as “me like” or “me no like”. That is why you cannot argue principle, only system.

The term Ayn Rand coined for such mentalities is “concrete bound”.

Bala, at least, should have a clue and be able to understand my argument in principle. I’m curious about his take on it. Engaging you others is not worth the effort.

Peter Surda December 9, 2009 at 6:14 am

>> Let’s say we have 1000 doors and behind one of
>> them is the answer.
> This person sees rational thought as random
> chance.
No action has a 100% chance of achieving the intended result. Does that mean no action can be purposeful? Often gaining an answer requires to perform a large amount of tests that all prove negative before reaching the one that is positive. Does that mean this type of action is not purposeful?

>> [Human action requires knowledge] It doesn’t.
> This person also sees humans as automatons. Or
> perhaps as animals like any other acting
> automatically.
No. This person is claiming that purposeful action does not require the assumptions leading to the action to be true. It merely requires that the actor believes they are true.

Yet another troll missing elementary things of everyday life and instead dreaming up theories in disconnect?

Jay Lakner December 9, 2009 at 7:29 am

Pedro wrote:
“… Much like the argument that scarcity is the basis for property.”

So what is the basis for property then Mr Smarty-Pants?

Why oh why would we assign ownership of material things to individuals if not due to scarcity?

Scarcity is the key to the entire concept of property.
Scarcity is the reason we have conflicts.
Scarcity is the reason why socialism encounters calculation problems.

If you do not understand the importance of scarcity then you simply do not understand economics.

Kerem Tibuk December 9, 2009 at 7:48 am

I almost wholly agree with Pedro, except for

“Independent invention must be recognized. However the burden of proof rests on the person claiming independent invention to show that he did not have access to the original. Patent systems usually circumvent this issue by publishing patent requests and assuming everyone has read them (the merit of this solution is debatable).”

The burden of proof rest on the accuser not the accused. Copying without consent is an act of aggression and the person claiming the other person didn’t independently discovered, but copied his original has the burden of proof.

Many people can not seem to comprehend what Pedro is saying because they don’t have a sense of a natural rights ethics based on objective reality. Also Rothbard is a better source than Rand regarding Ethics and I suggest everyone to read more Rothbard regarding property rights, in general.

Whoever uses the the word “assigned” regarding rights, is a positivist that thinks rights are based on social contracts.

newson December 9, 2009 at 10:02 am

“objective reality”

oxymoron to all but a randian.

Stephan Kinsella December 9, 2009 at 11:12 am

Objectivist Greg Perkins, who previously wrote DON’T STEAL THIS ARTICLE: On the Libertarian Critique of Intellectual Property (discussed in my post Elaborations on Randian IP), has written a post commenting on the present post: An Objectivist Recants on IP??.

My comment there was:

Greg,

For those interested, I’ve laid out why I think the entire Objectivist case for IP is flawed and unlibertarian in various articles and posts. I list these below; I encourage those Objectivists seriously interested IP to consider these arguments.

Articles: “Intellectual Property and Libertarianism” (in particular see here and the section on Libertarian Creationism); also “The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide”; for an alternative to the Randian approach to rights and politics, see What Libertarianism Is.

Media: I discuss problems with Rand’s view at length on the Peter Mac show and at the Mises University this year; also The Intellectual Property Quagmire, or, The Perils of Libertarian Creationism.

Blog posts: Rand on IP, Owning “Values”, and “Rearrangement Rights”; Libertarian Creationism; Objectivist Law Prof Mossoff on Copyright; or, the Misuse of Labor, Value, and Creation Metaphors; Inventors are Like Unto …GODS…. Also these blog posts: Intellectual Products and the Right to Private Property; New Working Paper: Machan on IP; Owning Thoughts and Labor; also Elaborations on Randian IP; and Objectivists on IP.

Stephan Kinsella December 9, 2009 at 11:53 am

See my post Objectivists: “All Property is Intellectual Property”.

Update: Diana Hsieh, the owner of the blog in question, has banned me from commenting there, so I can’t respond or answer questions–so I have to rely on my fellow Misesian commentors here to go over there and make the case.

John Rolstead December 9, 2009 at 9:14 pm

@Bala:
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your argument was always constructive. I too came to Mises by way of a footnote in Ayn Rand book. It changed my life as well.

@Stephan Kinsella:
Great work on this topic. You are a fascinating guy. But… IMHO your use of STFU is not conducive to moral-suasion.

@All:
How about we all stick to making our own points and skip the time wasted trying to label others or put them in a box?

@Peter Surda,
Great summary of the situation on IP. Looking at comsumer/producer angles brings things into focus. The problem of using an idea is not that I create something that embodies the idea, it is that I try to sell it and therefore devert monopoly rents from the inventor. I can still create my interpretation of my concept of the idea that I picked up from the inventor’s creation. Afterall, I do own the materials used to create it.

@Jay Lakner:
You laid out a great exposition on rights! Loved it. I think history shows how patents and IP have been used as a means of enforcing monopoly rents on the rest of us.

@Pedro:
Jay is right, in a one man world, the concept of rights does not exist. It is similar to Mel Brooks proclaiming, “It is good to be the King”. If you are the King, there is only one of you and you are superhuman, so you own everything. It is only when humans come into contact with each other on an equal footing that conflict arises. Due to scarcity, we must figure out how to peacefully allocate resources. Property rights are an extension of the ownership of your own body, as Hoppe states.

My use of an idea in no way impinges on your simultaneous use of that idea. Therefore the idea is not scarce. The concept of a single inventor of an idea is silly; it would only apply if a new born babe conceptualized the idea, with no prior knowledge. All ideas are built on the ideas that came before.

If IP is valid, then why would it have a time limit? What other property rights have time limits? A time limit is a utilitarian solution to an invalid premise.

The use of IP is a hold over from the mercantilist days of King granted monopolies. Let’s move on to new ways of collecting rents for ideas! If I write a book and post it online for anyone to read, and then contract with companies to advertise on my site, then I am collecting rents on my content without resorting to IP. If someone want to copy my content off to their site, then they are free to compete, but I am free to inform the public of this fact and intice them to be loyal to my brand.

Does anyone have any good ideas on replacing IP rents? Oh, and anarchism does not have to mean lawlessness, just no government authority. Associations would be fine.

Stephan Kinsella December 9, 2009 at 9:51 pm

In Perkins’ article, cited over on Noodlefood/Hsieh’s site noted above, writes:

The first thing to note is the plain fact that people are routinely prevented from using their material property when it would violate any right — so the protection of intellectual property rights would not be unique in so “controlling” other people in their use of their material property. For example, my neighbor’s person and property rights are not violated when he is not allowed to spontaneously whack me in the head with his fully-owned two-by-four. His rights are not violated in preventing him from using his tangible truck to pull up to my house and drive off with my entertainment center. We are all restricted from using our persons and property to violate the rights of others, and such restrictions do not themselves constitute an infringement of rights because nobody has the right to violate rights.

The fallacy here is assuming that the prohibition on being able to whack your neighbor on the head with your two by four is a limitation or restriction on your ownership of the two by four. It is not. The prohibition on your harming your neighbor has nothing to do with your property–it is a restriction on your right to action. You are not permitted to engage in the action of invading your neighbor’s body–with any means whatsoever. All action employs means. If you are prohibited from committing battery or murder, this implies you can’t use any means to cause this. The means invariably includes scarce resources. These resources may or may not be owned by the aggressor. The aggressor is not permitted to hit his neighbor with his own two by four, or even with the neighbor’s two by four.

If I am not permitted to bash my neighbor in the head wiht my own two by four, that is not because there is a limitation on my ownership rights on the two by four–it it a limitation on waht actions I can perform. And the reason I cannot bash my neighbor in the head is because he owns his body–he has a property right to control his own body. So the inability to use my two by four in a certain way is a result of my neighbor’s property rights in his own scarce resource (his body). This supposed “limitation” on property rights in scarce things presupposes property rights in scarce things.

Note that the reason we all agree I am not permitted to perform this action, is that we all agree my neighbor owns his body. This is not controversial.

But Perkins wants to say that just as your rights in your two by four are limited–you can’t just use it for anything, after all–so your rights in other property is limited. You can’t use it to perform a certain method, say. The problem here is that using the stick to bash in another’s head is aggression, and that’s why it can’t be used that way. But patterning my stick a certain way, or using it to perform a method, or building a machine out of it, does not commit aggression. It does not invade the borders of my neighbor’s property. It does not bash his head in. It does not take any property from him at all. To say that it violates his property rights is to beg the question, by presupposing he has an IP right in some pattern or logos.

Note that Objectivists usually recognize that man has a right to live by right, not by permission. In communist systems you can do only that which is permitted. It’s a sea of prohibitions, with tiny islands of permission. You live by permission of the state-master.

In capitalist systems favored by Objectivists, you can do anything you want, except initiate force against others. It’s an ocean of permissibility or freedom, with little islands of prohibitions–things you may not do. You do not need to ask permission to do something. You may do whatever you want, so long as it does not initiate force–commit aggression–invade the borders’ of others’ property. The Objectivist flips this presumption and adopts one akin to that of communism: you can’t use your property for “whatever you want”–you have to make sure the way you are using it isn’t similar to some other way someone else used their own property before, and if it is, you have to get permission. This is nonsense–and clearly unlibertarian. The only limit on my use of my property is that I cannot engage in aggression–using this property or other resources as means.

Bala December 10, 2009 at 3:59 am

Stephan,

” This is nonsense–and clearly unlibertarian. ”

You can’t convince an Objectivist who thinks Libertarianism is nonsense by telling him that this statement is “unlibertarian”. IMO, you need to show him that it is contradictory to basic Objectivist principles themselves (that’s what I tried to do). Just wanted to highlight this for all Libertarians who are still reading this.

Pedro Carleial December 11, 2009 at 5:10 am

* Due to scarcity, we must figure out how to peacefully allocate resources. *
Scarcity is not the basis of property right. Property rights are a political concept, they must be based on something hierarchically antecedent. Economics – a special science – is not it.

Property rights, as all valid rights, are based on Ethics, not on Economics.

Since libertarian ethics all branch off an arbitrary (i.e. ungrounded, not rationally derived) “non aggression principle”, it is quite obvious why libertarians cannot understand the actual nature of property rights. Their ethics can’t support them – so they try to ground them in economics.

Since the “non aggression principle” is actually right (and an Objectivist knows WHY it is right, and in what context), it is easy to see why the discussion between Objectivist and libertarian becomes so charged.

To use an exagerated metaphor to illustrate the point:

Let us say two people are discussing baseball. One of them understands the principle of gravitation, while the other simply assumes “the falling principle”.

While the discussion is restricted to Earth, they agree completely – their concepts produce the same results. But one day they start talking about how it would be to play baseball on the Moon.

At this point the guy who simply uses “the falling principle” is out of his depth, but he doesn’t know it. The claims of the other guy will seem absurd (mile long home run hits???).

The fact that his “principle” is not grounded in solid understanding, but a floating abstraction, renders him incapable of following the guy who actually understands gravitation. And makes that guys claims seem quite absurd.

In this case the Objectivist, who’s concept of rights is firmly grounded in a coherent ethics derived from basic facts and actual philosophical axioms is like the person who understands gravitation. The guy who blindly applies “the falling principle” because he doesn’t know better is the libertarian.

And when the Objectivist tries to explain to the libertarian that in certain contexts his understanding is incorrect, the libertarian answers “ah so you are in favor of aggression!”. Or, in our metaphor, “ah, so you are saying things don’t fall!”.

John Donohue December 11, 2009 at 9:32 am

Pedro Carleial that is a good example, hope you don’t mind if I use it myself.

You are correct to pinpoint that because libertarians and Objectivists share a certain set of agreement that when we move off of that set there is a jarring disjoint.

The same thing happens between Christians and Objectivists and Conservatives and Objectivists and even Lefties and Objectivists! Just because the paths travel together in certain places does not mean they start from the same place, end in the same place or fully validate each other.

John Donohue December 11, 2009 at 9:33 am

Mr. Kinsella, I’ve read this over a few times. Can’t parse it. You are saying two different things about Objectivists, first that we have one point of view, but then “flip it.”

“In capitalist systems favored by Objectivists, you can do anything you want, except initiate force against others. It’s an ocean of permissibility or freedom, with little islands of prohibitions–things you may not do. You do not need to ask permission to do something. You may do whatever you want, so long as it does not initiate force–commit aggression–invade the borders’ of others’ property.

The Objectivist flips this presumption and adopts one akin to that of communism: you can’t use your property for “whatever you want”–you have to make sure the way you are using it isn’t similar to some other way someone else used their own property before, and if it is, you have to get permission. This is nonsense–and clearly unlibertarian. The only limit on my use of my property is that I cannot engage in aggression–using this property or other resources as means. ”

Do you stand by the full syntax of this or do you wish to clarify?

Peter Surda December 11, 2009 at 9:44 am

While I’m not Stephan, I think it’s a typo and the first paragraph should say “Austrians” instead of “Objectivists”.

Stephan Kinsella December 11, 2009 at 10:15 am

Donohue, Surda: No, I meant “In capitalist systems favored by Objectivists, you can do anything you want.”

Sure, this is true of Austrians too. But it’s supposed to be true of Objectivists. Objectivists are libertarians on the basics of politics. I’m showing that this basic position is undermined by their IP views. IT’s incoherent.

I’m saying that you would probably agree with me that the basic idea is you can do anything you want, you should not have to live by permission. But then I’m arguing that the Objectivist-qua-IP-advocate ends up adopting the opposite presumption.

John Donohue December 11, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Well, the writing was unclear. Now that you clear it up it is nothing new, just your same erroneous claim. Your error continues to be the false claim that ownership of the value embedded in a tangible product that made it possible/valuable in the first place is transferred to the purchaser of said product.

This IP issue is a red herring. Avoidance. Obsessing on it masks the bankruptcy of the underlying conjectured condition of man under anarchism, which is: victim of multiple gangs/agencies/states frequently at war with each other.

Until that is cleared up, the issue of IP — although denying intellectual property rights would still be wrong — is trivial.

Shay December 11, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Pedro Carleial, your posts display a kind of supriority where you assume that you are correct and that others are wrong, even though the reverse could just as well be true. It’s ill to read because you put down those you’re discussing with. Might I suggest that you simply recognize that there is a conflict between participants, and try to find the cause of it, without assuming it lies in others? If the goal is to truely understand, then you must be open to the flaws being in your own understanding.

Silas Barta December 11, 2009 at 2:31 pm

@Stephan_Kinsella:

The fallacy here is assuming that the prohibition on being able to whack your neighbor on the head with your two by four is a limitation or restriction on your ownership of the two by four. It is not. The prohibition on your harming your neighbor has nothing to do with your property–it is a restriction on your right to action.

Step back for a minute here: look at what you are trying to do: you are trying to refute a position by a relabeling of an event. That should cue you in on something — that you made a mistake somewhere. The person you were responding to was saying that IP’s restrictions on “other people’s property” is not unique, in that physical property rights do this too. It is a point I have made before as well. You think that by shifting the focus of your description of the event — from the two-by-four to the neighbor’s head, you have refuted this. You haven’t. The prohibition pertains to both the 2×4 *and* the neighbor’s head.

As usual, we can see the problem most clearly in the EM spectrum. Like IP, it restricts people

Moreover, you’re begging the question when you call it “already-owned property”. The very question at stake is, who owns what? How far do those rights extend? You are assuming your conclusion when you say someone *already* owns the right to do this or that with “their” property. Even when someone owns e.g. land, it doesn’t mean they get to gun down aircraft above it. Someone who assumed it did in a debate about property rigths would be likewise begging the question. As when assuming that land gets you the right to EM radiation passing through. As when assuming property gets you all IP rights.

By the way, I will repeat my objection to Lord_Buzungulus,_Bringer_of_the_Purple_Light, whoever he is. You need to delete his incivil posts and those which do nothing but insult without adding to the discussion. Don’t try to excuse his behavior by saying you’d “have to” delete mine too. I *want* you to delete the posts of mine that are incivil. But keep in mind, just because they irritate you doesn’t mean they’re agains the rules of this forum. My remarks contribute to the discussion, while Lord_Buzungulus,_Bringer_of_the_Purple_Light’s do not.

Your frustration at the strength of my arguments is not the same as incivility.

If you don’t have a reason to grant Lord_Buzungulus,_Bringer_of_the_Purple_Light special privileges, then please remove the offending comments, because that’s exactly what it looks like.

Bala December 12, 2009 at 12:10 am

In case anyone is interested in the response of Objectivists (at least some of them) to this little piece of mine, I’m just about wrapping up a discussion with some of them on the Objectivist blog “Noodle Soup”

http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/2009/12/objectivist-recants-on-ip.shtml

The discussion was fairly intense and (I think) I have managed to dissect the traditional Objectivist position on IP and shown it to be contradictory to basic Objectivist principles themselves.

I am mentioning this so that it enables more people to engage Objectivists they meet and try to bring them around by showing them the folly of treating ideas & patterns as “property” the way Ayn Rand did and Objectivists have been doing since that.

Hope it helps.

Jesse Forgione December 26, 2009 at 12:00 pm

@Pedro Carleial,

Your gravity/baseball analogy was brilliant. I think it’s a perfect illustration of the disparity between a deep and principled understanding, and a more superficial one. However, you’ve applied it in reverse. It’s only a superficial understanding of the concept of property that misapplies it to patterns and ideas.

You wrote:
“Property rights are a political concept, they must be based on something hierarchically antecedent. Economics – a special science – is not it.”

Ethics presupposes purposeful action, and any system of ethics is based on an understanding of human action, as such.
Ethics answers the question: “given that action works the way it does, which are the right actions to take?”

While the Objectivist ethics, like your “falling principle” is of course correct, it is based on the science of human action. In other words, it is based on economics (or more generally, praxeology).
The science of human action is not only prior to politics, but it’s required for ethics as well. Mises showed how it was derivable from epistemology.

Mark Hubbard January 23, 2010 at 7:31 pm

This argument and reasoning being raised by Bala are false. I have debunked it in posts starting here:

http://www.solopassion.com/node/7285#comment-83769

Then further developed here:

http://www.solopassion.com/node/7285#comment-83773

Finally a tail piece here:

http://www.solopassion.com/node/7285#comment-83800

Objectivism does not support a no-IP position – from the founder of objectivism on up – just as the no-IP position could not support a capitalist economy, and is the enemy of individual liberty. I put it to you Mises would also be appalled at the duplicitous anarchist position being promoted on this site.

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