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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/16529/freedom-ownership-and-human-progress/

Freedom, Ownership, and Human Progress

April 18, 2011 by

Why did men walk and carry goods (and other men) on their straining backs for 6,000 years — then suddenly the forces of nature are harnessed to do the bidding of the humblest citizen? FULL ARTICLE by Henry Grady Weaver

{ 13 comments }

Joe April 18, 2011 at 10:27 am

Great article and one that should be read by all school children. I plan to buy Mr. Weaver’s book, The Mainspring of Human Progress.
Just from reading this article I find it to be so very similar to Rose Wilder Lane’s book, The Discovery of Freedom, and Isabel Paterson’s, God of the Machine. I would strongly recommend these books expecially Rose Wilder Lane’s book.

Wildberry April 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I find the following from the end of this article relevant to the discussions elsewhere about the natural rights of property to intellectual works.

Plants occupy space and contend with each other for it. Animals defend their possession of places and things. But man has enormous powers, of unknown extent, to make new things and to change old things into new forms. He not only owns property but he also actually creates property.

In the last analysis, a thing is not property unless it is owned; and without ownership, there is little incentive to improve it.

If rights, in the form of property rights, are not first asserted and successfully defended in intellectual products, then their producers, for the most part, are producing for external economies. Because they would not own and control the result of their productive efforts, there is little incentive to improve the state of human knowledge in the form of intellectual works whose purpose is to disseminate useful knowledge.

In the absence of ownership rights to useful knowledge, it will likely be hoarded and protected in secret to insure personal gain, or the endeavor will simply be abandoned in favor of those which are producing for internal economies.

There is little incentive to engage in a given enterprise if the results of such endeavor is not owned by the producer, such that his output equates to his income.

lectrolytes April 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

If a person decides to tie a vine to a plank of wood and use that plank to carry his possessions he has improved a plank of wood by turning it into a more useful object, a sled. He owns and controls his sled and continues to benefit from his idea each time he uses it. It is his property and he has rights to it by virtue of improving and mixing his labor with the wood and vine.

If another person sees this invention and makes one of their own, but actually improves upon the idea by adding wheels to his plank, this person again has ownership and property rights in his piece of wood and vine and wheels.

What benefit is accrued to mankind by preventing subsequent persons from using and improving upon these ideas? The original innovators can continue to benefit from the fruit of their ideas and labor and indeed implement the improvements from others upon their rendition of the idea. They continue to improve upon their original idea to increase productivity and usability, that is their incentive, which I would call profit.

Joe April 18, 2011 at 4:45 pm

@Wildberry,
I just wanted to say that I’m happy to see your post and you still are engaged. We need more people like you on this blog. (I haven’t seen that many posts from you lately and I didn’t want all the trolls keeping you away)
Looks like you have recharged your batteries because the IP issue always has the troops coming out of the woodwork. Get ready for the barrage.

Wildberry April 18, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Hey thanks, Joe.

I’ve been on another thread, “The Origins of Libertarian IP Abolitionism” here:

http://blog.mises.org/16319/the-origins-of-libertarian-ip-abolitionism/comment-page-1

Wildberry April 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm

@ lectrolytes April 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

What benefit is accrued to mankind by preventing subsequent persons from using and improving upon these ideas?

None at all. In fact, the whole point of IP protection is to insure access while providing a way for the producer not to be producing for free.It is easy to use your example and project the logic to all such cases of innovation, but connecting a vine to a plank is not equivalent to, say, developing a complex new machine, or authoring a book. In any case, you cited an improvement, which is also to be encouraged.

Another word for this improvement is innovation. In a complex society, there is a conflict between free access to innovations, and the incentive for innovating itself. If the connection between innovation (innovation plus production) output (products) and income is severed, then the benefits of ownership being highlighted in this article is negated.

That is the matter of public choice inherent in the production of intellectual works. How do you propose balancing these two competing objectives: access to innovation v. incentive to produce?

lectrolytes April 18, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I do not see the innovation as property, it is an idea. The access to the innovation is intact when you offer a product with that innovation incorporated for sale. A producer’s ownership in an innovation extends to the actual products he produces (physical objects) and no further. You do not have the luxury of preventing others from offering the same innovation that you pioneered. So competition plays out and the best deal wins, understanding that value is subjective and the best deal is judged by the person who hands over their property in exchange for the produced property.The primary incentive to encourage innovation is profit.

I understand the thought that it would be convenient to have an entity bless me as the original creator and disallow others from using my idea in their own production, but I have a hard time accepting this as just. I could go around telling potential customers that I came up with this idea first, but for many that would not be as important as how good a deal they perceive I am offering (ie price, quality, etc).

The innovator can try various strategies such as producing a large quantity before introducing the innovation to capture more market share, giving his implementation a catchy name to inspire potential customers, and whatever other methods he can dream up that do not rely on force or fraud. But once the innovation has been introduced to market there is no turning back. Any attempts to forcibly restrict others in the use of their own property, even if that involves creating a product that incorporates your innovation , should be seen as undesirable.

Wildberry April 18, 2011 at 9:25 pm

@lectrolytes April 18, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I do not see the innovation as property, it is an idea.

This is the line of reasoning that “ideas are free” applied to a patent context. Do you not see a meaningful distinction between an idea for an innovation, and an actual innovation that works and can be sufficiently described to allow of reproduction? Isn’t just a little too glib to say that all intellectual endeavors are simply “ideas”, and should be treated equally as such?

The access to the innovation is intact when you offer a product with that innovation incorporated for sale. A producer’s ownership in an innovation extends to the actual products he produces (physical objects) and no further. You do not have the luxury of preventing others from offering the same innovation that you pioneered.

I understand what you are saying; anything that is disclosed automatically becomes part of the public domain, right? And from this you conclude the following:

So competition plays out and the best deal wins, understanding that value is subjective and the best deal is judged by the person who hands over their property in exchange for the produced property. The primary incentive to encourage innovation is profit.

Of course, profit is a key motivator for innovation and productivity. As this article points out, nothing inspires productivity and improvement like ownership, yet you seem to discount the importance of owning intellectual goods, and imagine that what we have around us is unrelated to the fact that IP rights exist, or perhaps that they have caused more harm than good. How do you reach this conclusion, given the fact that you can only speculate on that probabilities of innovation in the absence of some form of property rights in that form of production?

Have you considered how this would play out for a small inventor? Wouldn’t what you propose insure that innovation only came from those large organizations which could capitalize mass production from the outset? Wouldn’t this make the “Not Invented Here” problem much worse for small inventors, since buying a design from the outside would be very risky?

Producers would have a one-shot chance for successful innovations to get it to market first. After it is released, there are no longer any advantages for being first to market. Consumers would be conditioned for wait for the proliferation of copies, and producers would build this knowledge into their risk calculations and would pass on all but the most killer apps, and only if they had absolute control throughout the development process.

I understand the thought that it would be convenient to have an entity bless me as the original creator and disallow others from using my idea in their own production, but I have a hard time accepting this as just. I could go around telling potential customers that I came up with this idea first, but for many that would not be as important as how good a deal they perceive I am offering (ie price, quality, etc).

I don’t deny that if there is a steady supply of innovations, then freedom to copy them would be good for consumers. My question is how long would such a stream of innovations be forthcoming under those circumstances, especially when the cost of research of development is high and time-consuming?

The innovator can try various strategies such as producing a large quantity before introducing the innovation to capture more market share, giving his implementation a catchy name to inspire potential customers, and whatever other methods he can dream up that do not rely on force or fraud. But once the innovation has been introduced to market there is no turning back. Any attempts to forcibly restrict others in the use of their own property, even if that involves creating a product that incorporates your innovation , should be seen as undesirable.

I understand your point, but it seems a little naïve. First, you are assuming that the innovator is capable of attracting capital for his development work, and the development of mass production capabilities. Second, you are assuming that the important distinction for consumers is a trivial thing like a “catchy name”. Price, availability and quality are much more important. Isn’t it at least possible that what you propose would result in far less competition, and not more?

So, while I see the advantage to consumers for having the complete freedom of use for anything that hits the market, I don’t think you have considered the other implications of this vision from a position of understanding the externalities this would also create.

lectrolytes April 19, 2011 at 11:56 am

I do not discount the importance of owning intellectual goods, I disagree with the possibility that intellectual goods can be owned, and in fact that there exists any such thing as an intellectual good. Methods, ideas, stories, songs, designs are information they are not goods. Once they have been shared they “belong” to all who have received them. Any attempts to “get them back” or restrict their use requires a violation of the property rights of the recipients.

It seems that IP laws and restrictions, as they exist, favor the large corporations who can afford teams of attorneys and expensive litigation and political influence instead of the small inventor. It seems that the absence of IP would do more to help small inventors and small business as it would free them to serve the market within their scope of influence and free up others to serve more distant markets. Large corporations could still compete in these small markets as well, but they would have to compete, they would not be able to just rest on their monopoly status and ability to force others out of the market. A corporation who attempts to serve all markets for a given product will have disadvantages that open the door for thee smaller operators.

I do not claim to be enlightened or have a superior opinion to yours. I am only stating my opinion and attempting to explore the subject of IP. My instinct tells me that intellectual property rights are anti-freedom, anti-liberty.

Nuke Gray April 19, 2011 at 7:33 pm

You might have missed my comments at an earlier site.
I am a minarchist, because i believe in evolution, not revolution, and because I believe that some one or thing will end up owning or controlling the roads of a community- so why not create a Public utility which owns all the public lands and property? Why not just convert existing local governments into these utilities? And I like to keep it at the local, small, level, because it will be easier to get to another domain if your domain passes laws you don’t like- voting with your feet, as it is called.
Under such a system, if someone invents something new, and doesn’t disclose how it does what it does publicly, then they could apply for a patent from the county, which would give them the right to use and advertise their invention on public lands, exclusively. This would be how I think freedom and property-rights go together.

Nuke Gray April 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Quite right, Wildberry! As an inventor, the thoughts of profits drives me forward!
In answer to a previous question at another site, where you see Balkanisation, I think Switzerlandisation! Switzerland has strong Cantons, and a weak central government, and still manages to function! Some of the Cantons even have different languages, but they get by! I hope that settles your mind.

Wildberry April 18, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Yes! Dreams of becomming Switzerland! That’s the ticket!!

Nuke Gray April 20, 2011 at 7:33 pm

however, there is one drawback to all this progress- we are doomed as our machines take over from us, and kill us all!!! Disconnect Skynet- right now!!!!! It takes over today, your time!!! QUICKLY!!!! Oops, too late! Oh well, at least john Connor (same initials as Jesus Christ!) will save us all!! Let’s hope he’s an IP-loving libertarian!

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