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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5196/rand-and-marx/

Rand and Marx

June 19, 2006 by

I wrote an Objectivist friend the other day, “No matter what your stance on IP, surely you must wince to read Rand write: “patents are the heart and core of property rights.” I mean… COME ON!”

Her reply: “Rand’s view is a variation of the Communist view that a worker owns what he worked on for having had some kind of productive contact with it.”

I had never thought of it this way; but he has a point. This helps explain why Rand focused on the necessity of IP as a way of ensuring that the innovator profits from his intellectual creativity. (I critique Rand’s IP views in Against Intellectual Property; see text at notes 45 and 51 for the quoted line above and a related quote.)

{ 64 comments }

Person June 22, 2006 at 10:45 am

Peter: Please postpone comments until a substantive remark can be given.

To quasibill, Fred_Mann, Albert_Esplugas, Stephan_Kinsella, (the last of whom doesn’t appear to have a counterargument), and anyone else still disagreeing with my refutation of Kinsella’s scarcity argument:

Let me try to phrase my point in a different context, to see if it better makes the point. What if I said:

The below is a hypothetical argument used for illustration. I do not endorse the below argument.Capitalists believe there should be property rights in food. This is non-sensical. Food is not scarce; there is more than enough to feed everyone. To feed one person does not come at the cost of feeding anyone else. Ergo, we should not assign special privileges (“property rights”) in food. That would be an act of naked aggression.The above is a hypothetical argument used for illustration. I do not endorse the above argument.

Or, what about this:

The below is a hypothetical argument used for illustration. I do not endorse the below argument.Only possession rights, and not absentee “property rights” are valid rights. This is because, if someone is not using some item X, he does not lose anything when others use X. X is not scarce when in an unused state, since its use does not come at the expense of the self-styled “property owner”. Ergo, it makes no-sense to apply rights to it. To enforce such “rights” against a willing user is thus an act of naked aggression.The above is a hypothetical argument used for illustration. I do not endorse the above argument.

Now, how would any of you respond to the above?

Okay, do you have your answer in mind? Great! Now take that argument and apply it to Kinsella’s “IP isn’t scarce” argument.

Stephan Kinsella June 22, 2006 at 10:57 am

Person:

To quasibill, Fred_Mann, Albert_Esplugas, Stephan_Kinsella, (the last of whom doesn’t appear to have a counterargument), and anyone else still disagreeing with my refutation of Kinsella’s scarcity argument:

I think your argument is non-serious and incoherent. I think mine makes perfect sense. I don’t have time to reply to every bizarre assertion that others make.

I have explained that “scarce” means “rivalrous”; if you want to reject the concept of rivalrous goods, go ahead; interesting upheaval of economic theory.

There are a couple ways of looking at it. Of course there are never really rights in “ideal objects”; it’s just that the attempt to give rightgs in them *necessarily* really assigns rights to scarce (rivalrous) items. Why? Because giving rights means something enforceable–and force means physical force directed against physical things. So in a sense, you are right: anyone advocating IP is really advocating rights in scarce things: but the scarce things are the material objects owned by other people. You are in favor of assigning a property right in A’s property to B, merely if B thinks of a recipe for the use of A’s property. I call that theft; you call it IP.

You try to squirm out of your advocacy of wealth redistribution, theft, and socialism, by disingenuously asserting that you simply are in favor of property rights in another type of scarce thing, IP, all the while refusing to admit that what this of course means in effect is that you are really granting rights in others’ already-owned property.

Food is not scarce; there is more than enough to feed everyone.

YOu continue to miscontrue “scarce”. Scarcity in the sense used–as I explicitly defined it in my article, and as Hoppe, e.g., uses it in his libertarian property rights theory–refers specifically to the possibility of (violent, physical) conflict over the use of a given resource; it specifically refers to the fact that the use of the good by one person *excludes* others from using it. Thus it means “rivalrous” goods. It most certainly does not refer to the overall plentifulness or lack thereof of a class of goods. Each *particular* good is scarce. there can be a billion gallons of water but if I scoop one out with my bucket and isolat it, *that gallon of water is scarce* since only one of us can use it. This is certainly not true of ideas, which are the archetype of a non-rivalrous good. I think you are just confused and/or disingenuosly using semantics to engage in sophistry.

To feed one person does not come at the cost of feeding anyone else. Ergo, we should not assign special privileges (“property rights”) in food. That would be an act of naked aggression.The above is a hypothetical argument used for illustration. I do not endorse the above argument.

It’s a ridiculous argument. Each particular piece of food is a rivalrous good. If there are banana trees everywhere and billions of them all for free, each banana is a material item and thus it is a rivalrous (scarce) thing. If I have a banana then only I can use or eat it; my use of it excludes yours ,and vice versa. We cannot both use the banana. We could potentially fight over it: that is the potential for conflict. That is why teh banana is scarce. that is why a property rule would be applied to it: to assign to one of us the right to control it–because its nature is that only one person can control it.

Far from being aggression to assign rights in plentiful bananas, the very purpose of assigning property rights is to prevent aggression and violent conflict over given bananas.

This is really not that difficult, and you are clearly not stupid, so I fail to see why you can’t see this.

quasibill June 22, 2006 at 12:20 pm

“Okay, do you have your answer in mind? Great! Now take that argument and apply it to Kinsella’s “IP isn’t scarce” argument.”

Well, Kinsella has already shredded your first hypo, and shown how it is meaningless.

Now, for the second.

Notice, how every time I’ve talked about “scarce,” I’ve qualified with a term about “the relevant time period.” Again, since you are having problems reading that phrase, scarcity is about the object in a given time. If during that time period, one person’s possession excludes the possibility of another person’s possession of the object, then it is scarce. If two people can possess the object the object for a given time period, it is not scarce.

Your challenges don’t in any way invalidate Kinsella’s theory. They do, however, shred yours to bits. You can argue that scarcity shouldn’t be involved in the decision, but then you’ll have to (after dodging 5 times, at least) answer why I can’t force you to pay for seeing me on the street, on principled grounds. Or at least admit that you don’t have any principled grounds to do so.

Person June 22, 2006 at 12:24 pm

Stephan_Kinsella:

me [in hypothetical argument I don't endorse]: Food is not scarce; there is more than enough to feed everyone.

You: YOu continue to miscontrue “scarce”. Scarcity in the sense used–as I explicitly defined it in my article, and as Hoppe, e.g., uses it in his libertarian property rights theory–refers specifically to the possibility of (violent, physical) conflict over the use of a given resource; it specifically refers to the fact that the use of the good by one person *excludes* others from using it

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Look at how I defined “scarce” in the hypothetical argument I don’t endorese but am merely using for illustration. You — rightly — rejected the relevance of such a conception of “scarce”. It doesn’t matter, you say, that “everyone can get food”; the “real” issue is whether any one, specific food-unit is scarce. It *is* scarce, ergo the proper domain of property rights.

Now, what I’m doing is taking this another step, and further sub-dividing that food-unit. Just as you rejected the “scarcity” in looking at the class of all food, I’m rejecting your indivisible look at the class of all possible uses of the food-unit. I submit that there can be a separate scarcity over different possible uses of it. It could be the case that regarding one possible use, only one person wants that use; on other uses, there may be real conflict. Looking at the scarcity of the food unit as all-or-nothing establishes nothing.

Without fail, each time I have made this point, your response is, “but the full rights, to all uses of the resource are already assigned by [...]” Whether true or not, that’s beside the point. The question of whether there exists scarcity in one possible sub-use of the item, is a separate matter from how to assign that sub-use right (which you conclude to be insegregable from the full use-rights). Your argument from scarcity says IP rights are invalid because “information isn’t scarce”. But nobody asserts rights to “the information”. They assert right to its use in other objects. This is a scarcity.

All I’m establishing here is that that particular argument doesn’t help your case, NOT that your conclusion is invalid. (Just as I can agree with you that “Skunks are smelly” without agreeing with you that “The sun being hot implies that skunks are smelly.”)

Do you now agree that the (non-)scarcity of information does not help establish the invalidity of IP rights?

One final request: I ask that you read this post in full before beginning a response, and understand the relevance of each paragraph to the neighboring before responding, so as to ensure we do not talk past each other.

N. Kinsella June 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm

Person:

I submit that there can be a separate scarcity over different possible uses of it. It could be the case that regarding one possible use, only one person wants that use; on other uses, there may be real conflict. Looking at the scarcity of the food unit as all-or-nothing establishes nothing.

The problem is this view is tantamount to the view that we have to live by permission. That *every* single action we want to take can be defied by some narrow right, and then you have to go make sure you have that right. but there are an infinite number of ways to characterize an action; so your proposal would mean we have to clear our action in an infinite number of ways; we would all die out waiting for permission to act.

For example, just as Rothbard pointed out, there is really no “right to free speech”. There is only a right to decide what you want to do on your own property. one of those things is: you can choose to speak on or with it. The “right to free speech” is only shorthand for one important consequence of having private property rights.

LIkewise, as I have pointed out, if I want to dance on my lawn, i don’t have to find some “right-to-dance-naked”. I just have to show I own the lawn. Your view implies that I do have to find this right, since you are saying someone else can homestead this right. Your view is that I own an object and the uses I have made of it; but I don’t own yet as-yet-unforeseen uses-of my property; these have yet to come into existence; and when they do, the person who thinks of this way-to-use is the homesteader of it. So nothing is taken away from those who own objects, by prohibiting them from using them in this way without the permission of the innovator–because they didn’t have the “right” to do it earlier!

I have been well aware of this way of looking at it for a long time.

I rarely put it explicitly because your side is either too stupid, inarticulate, or unwilling to put your own position this bluntly, and I don’t feel like doing your work for you. But there you have it: and i think it shows how un-libertarian your view is. YOu view these mystical “rights-to-do-X-with-property” as floating around, waiting to be invented or homesteaded. You think that a “right-to-use” either “exists” or “does not exist”; and thus, if it is “created,” the creator, naturally, owns it.

You reason that property owners are no worse off by being prohibited from using these techniques, since in the absence of the creator’s coming up with the idea, the owner could not do it anyway.

But this is not a libertarian argument (and it is just wrong, in the case of patents at least–eventually almost all inventions would be invented by someone and thus usable by people at large; so those who argue for infinite or long patent terms do advocate restriction what people could have done with their property; they ARE made worse off).

Again, unpacking your view this way makes it clear why it is nothing more than question begging. Your view amounts to this: if A writes a novel and sells one of the physical books to B; and B discards it and C finds it: as Rothbard argues, you would argue that C simply has no right to use the plot, since he gains no more title to the book than B had. But this is question-begging since this argument requires you to maintain that you need permission to use your body and property to reproduce the plot of the novel. Which presupposes that ideas are property. Which begs the question.

We do not live and should not live in a totalitarian state where nothing is permitted, where everything is forbidden, except that which is permitted. Liberty means any action (with or on one’s own property) is permitted, *unless* it invades the borders of others’ property.

So you would say that before an idea is created, that people who have property with which the idea could be imprinted or emulated, do not have a right yet to do the idea, since the idea does not exist yet, so the right-to use it cannot yet exist. This implies that we live by permission. It implies that before I scratch my nose I first have to make sure I have a “right-to-scratch-my-nose.” Etc. It’s absurd.

A right to property is the right to use it in any way I see fit, so long as that use is not itself an act of invastion of others’ property borders. I think it is wrong to view proeprty rights as some set or bundle of particular rights–only some of which you originally homestead; others whcih can be homesteaded by others at a later time. It is the other way around: you can do anything with property; you can *view it* as an *infinite* bundle of rights, if that helps you to understand it, but apparently, this bundle of rights approach is yet another dangerous metaphor.

Person June 22, 2006 at 1:16 pm

Stephan_Kinsella: I’m really getting tired of this, and it is due to no error on my part. I have NEVER in this thread, said I disagreed with your conclusions. I don’t think I’ve anywhere on mises.org concluded that there should be IP rights. All I’ve ever said on this site regarding IP are things like “Reasoning X doesn’t establish conclusion Y”, and people never fail to reply with “OMG LOL YOU’RE AGAINST CONCLUSION Y, WTF!!!!!111 j00 R teh communistzor5″ And it gets old. Real old, real fast.

Stephan_Kinsella, it doesn’t help when people with sound conclusions attempt to advance them with poor reasoning. Please try to look like you’re making an effort of maintaining a pretense of understanding that. Rather than using this insight, your tactic is to act like I reject your conclusions, then invent the reasoning I use, and then you merrily go about showing how that invented reasoning I never gave is somehow wrong, and how that must make me a Marxist, or, perchance, at the very least a Marxist sympathizer. It doesn’t suit you.

I “get” that you recognize only homesteading as establishing first ownership, that it’s indivisible, etc. etc. etc. But AGAIN, those are separate arguments. What is at issue now is the relevance of the scarcity of information in justifying or invalidating IP rights. Each and every time, you invoke your homesteading principle (and the reasoning behind it) to address the flaws I have shown in your invocation of informational non-scarcity to this end. This shows that you cannot justify the relevance of information’s non-scarcity. It doesn’t add anything to your case at all. It’s a red-herring. Your entire case is founded on the homesteading principle; whether or not information is scarce has absolutely NOTHING to do with your position. The moment you appeal to the need to resolve conflicts, you cede the relevance of information’s non-scarcity; the competing claims to one particular use (just as to all uses) *is a conflict*.

You are in error to argue as if information’s non-scarcity is relevant, in your JLS paper.

quasibill: I’m not sure what I would say in my reply that I haven’t already said before. You’re not answering my argument, and you’re putting words in my mouth each time. How else can I say it?

N. Kinsella June 22, 2006 at 1:25 pm

Person:

I’m really getting tired of this, and it is due to no error on my part. I have NEVER in this thread, said I disagreed with your conclusions. I don’t think I’ve anywhere on mises.org concluded that there should be IP rights. All I’ve ever said on this site regarding IP are things like “Reasoning X doesn’t establish conclusion Y”, and people never fail to reply with “OMG LOL YOU’RE AGAINST CONCLUSION Y, WTF!!!!!111 j00 R teh communistzor5″ And it gets old. Real old, real fast.

Yes, well, when people refuse to state their position despite requests to do so, and continue to debate a topic nonetheless, they should not be surprised when others are forced to try to interpolate their views.

There is a real easy way out of this: just say what your views are.

Stephan_Kinsella, it doesn’t help when people with sound conclusions attempt to advance them with poor reasoning. Please try to look like you’re making an effort of maintaining a pretense of understanding that. Rather than using this insight, your tactic is to act like I reject your conclusions, then invent the reasoning I use, and then you merrily go about showing how that invented reasoning I never gave is somehow wrong, and how that must make me a Marxist, or, perchance, at the very least a Marxist sympathizer. It doesn’t suit you.

Okay, prove me wrong. But be aware that I do believe all non-anarcho-libertarians to be statist-socialist-criminal to some degree.

I “get” that you recognize only homesteading as establishing first ownership, that it’s indivisible, etc. etc. etc. But AGAIN, those are separate arguments. What is at issue now is the relevance of the scarcity of information in justifying or invalidating IP rights. Each and every time, you invoke your homesteading principle (and the reasoning behind it) to address the flaws I have shown in your invocation of informational non-scarcity to this end.

It’s because I believe the institution of property as a way to address the problem of scarcity–that is, conflict–explains exactly what scarcity is (in this context) and why it is important. These are not isolated issues, Garshnuckle.

Your entire case is founded on the homesteading principle; whether or not information is scarce has absolutely NOTHING to do with your position.

Wrong; homesteading is about what principle decides who owns a given contested THING when there is conflict over it; this of course implies something about the nature of the things over which ownership is to be decided–that they are contestable, for instance; and that whatever ownership-assignment rule be adopted, that its purpose is to resolve the possibility of conflict, so that means it has to be an objectively fair rule etc.

The moment you appeal to the need to resolve conflicts, you cede the relevance of information’s non-scarcity; the competing claims to one particular use (just as to all uses) *is a conflict*.

Dude, as I have said many times: conflict implies scarcity, and vice-versa. Scarcity is another way of saying conflict is possible.

Fred Mann June 22, 2006 at 3:55 pm

Stephan,
While I agree with your views here, it is not necessary to take this approach to refute Person’s argument.
I already delivered the coup de grace to his argument above. But it looks like the implications were not clear. So here goes …
As I showed above, Person has defined “scarcity” in such a way as to render the word useless. Now, according to his definition, everything is equally scarce (remember, I willed this condition into existence a couple of posts ago). There is not a single thing in the Universe which has any greater or lesser degree of scarcity. Whether or not this is a technically accurate definition of “scarce” is irrelevant. What IS relevant is that this definition of “scarce” is DIFFERENT from your definition and, HERE IS THE KEY (!!!), PERSON WANTS TO USE THESE DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS INTERCHANGEABLY!!!! (as illustrated in his last couple of posts)
To use my alternate example, how would you respond to a theory that used the phrase “naturally-occurring” to mean BOTH “not man-made”, AND “everything” interchangeably? Hopefully you would just ignore it. It is literally nonsensical.

Stephan Kinsella June 22, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Fred, yes, I agree with you. I did not mean to imply my approach was necessary. I wanted to put it down to name explicitly some things about this type of criticism, even though, yes, I agree, your comments were the coup de grace.

Peter June 23, 2006 at 1:51 am

BTW, slightly off-topic, but I don’t know where better to put this…has anyone read this?

Quote:

Socialists often claim that capitalism is based on humanity’s worst impulses, greed and selfishness, despite the fact that people who live in societies that participate in markets tend to be more generous and cooperative than those who don’t. Oswald and Zizzo’s research suggests that socialists who believe that their ideology appeals to humanity’s better instincts have it backwards. Envy is behind the leveling spirit of socialism.

Nothing earth-shattering here, of course, but nice study.

TGGP June 23, 2006 at 8:17 am

Kinsella, I’ll be forthright and say that I’m (horror of horrors!) a minarchist utilitarian. Nevertheless, I agree with you on the desirability (or lack thereof) of I.P and your scarcity argument. My question is, why do my views make me a criminal? I suppose, as a legal positivist (I view status as a criminal as being independent of ethics, which I believe are not objective as discussed here: http://mises.org/journals/scholar/knott.pdf ), I use criminal in a much different sense than someone who believes in “natural law” or something to that effect. However, I find it hard to believe that a libertarian would endorse the idea of “thought-crime”. Perhaps “criminalist” might be a better term, as I endorse something you would consider to be “criminal”. I don’t like labels that are only used in accusation and never self-description, but that would certainly be a step up from “criminal”.

Stephan Kinsella June 23, 2006 at 9:35 am

TGGP:

Kinsella, I’ll be forthright and say that I’m (horror of horrors!) a minarchist utilitarian. Nevertheless, I agree with you on the desirability (or lack thereof) of I.P and your scarcity argument. My question is, why do my views make me a criminal? … I find it hard to believe that a libertarian would endorse the idea of “thought-crime”. Perhaps “criminalist” might be a better term, as I endorse something you would consider to be “criminal”.

Oh, I was speaking quickly. I suppose you could distinguish those who advocate criminal behavior and actions from those who engage in it. Sure, okay, criminalist is okay.

OTOH, an argument can also be made that criminalists are causally responsible for the crimes the state commits that the criminalists advocate, sort of like aiding and abetting, criminal conspiracy, that sort of thing. That the state would not be able to get away with crimes (like taxation) were it not for the support of criminalists. So in a sense, criminalists are also criminals, or at least some of them arguably are.

Fred Mann June 23, 2006 at 12:54 pm

Peter,
Interesting study. I took a look at the actual paper. While I agree with their conclusion, I’m not sure the study can be given much weight. When the study’s authors say, “Our subjects gave up large amounts of their cash to hurt others in the laboratory”, the term “large” refers to a percentage amount, as opposed to an objectively “large” amount of money. Converted into US dollars, we are talking about only a few cents, up to maybe $2 or so. These are the amounts spent to “burn” a percentage of some of the other player’s money (who may have had as much as $8 or $9!!).
It’s almost like the authors of the study used the word “large” in a deceptive way … as if the two definitions of large were interchangeable …

Andrew October 22, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Wow, this is a perceptive observation.

Seems Rand viewed property like Marx as some mystical, magical right which comes from ‘creation’ or ‘labor’. I suppose this view of property appeals to many people including Ayn Rand because it seems more ‘just’ and also more ‘romantic’. It is the same emotional appeal that attracts left to taxation, redistribution and socialism – the respect for other people’s rights to do what they want, be selfish etc doesn’t seem ‘just’ or ‘romantic’ enough. The realistic, logically consistent approach to property (first users and voluntary transfers) is also not that appealing to emotions, that’s why even the people who basically get it right (like Ayn Rand) try to pervert it to look more appealing, exciting, ‘just’ or whatever.

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