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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6682/knowledge-true-and-false/

Knowledge, True and False

May 25, 2007 by

“Our theory of property rights,” wrote Murray Rothbard, “can be used to unravel a tangled skein of complex problems revolving around questions of knowledge, true and false, and the dissemination of that knowledge.”

In chapter 16 of The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard takes on such issues as libel laws, “right to privacy,” the “privileges” of newspapermen, and the “public’s right to know,” (“Not only newsmen and physicians,” says Rothbard, “but everyone should have the right to protect their sources, or to be silent, in court or anywhere else”), copyright, blackmail, and all claims to a “right” to one’s reputation.

You can listen to this chapter in MP3, read by Jeff Riggenbach, or read it here: FULL ARTICLE


Michael May 25, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Rothbard’s explanation of copyright is totally bogus. The business of acquiring a “greater property title in something than has already been given away or sold” presupposes that there is some property right involved in Black copying Brown’s mousetrap.

But there is no such property right as the “right” to make a copy of something; the only thing that keeps Green from doing so is that as a condition of buying the mousetrap from Brown, he had to agree to a contract that restricted him from doing so. But as Black has made no such contract, he is bound by no such restriction.

Copyrights are an unnatural, unenforceable mockery of real property rights; moreover, the information age is increasingly demonstrating that they are counterproductive, stifling innovation and entrepreneurship. Libertarians should understand this better than anyone.

Michael May 25, 2007 at 12:58 pm

By the way, the preview feature of this comment area is broken: it shows no line breaks, which caused me to add <br> tags manually, which in turn made my post above contain far too many line breaks once actually posted.

JIMB May 25, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Amazing: yet, surely legality or illegality should depend not on the motivation of the actor, but on the objective nature of the act.

So murder = manslaughter ?

This is what we get when a good economist tries to become a lawyer …

I am so ready for MISES.org to get back to MISES.

Michael A. Clem May 25, 2007 at 6:42 pm

Of course murder is not equal to manslaughter. In that case, the “objective nature of the act” is that someone is dead. Big rights violation. Under those circumstances, the intent is considered to mitigate the punishment.
But Rothbard was talking about situations where rights were normally NOT being violated. Regardless of a blackmailer’s intentions, the blackmailer is not violating anyone’s rights unless he takes the money and then breaks the contract by revealing his information.
I agree that there seems to be a problem, as mentioned above, with contractual copyright as Rothbard presented it, but it’s at least a starting point for considering it.

Björn Lundahl May 25, 2007 at 7:42 pm

The Ethics of Liberty is a masterpiece and an extremely important work.

This does not mean, of course, “that not even the sun has its dark spots.”

Björn Lundahl

Bernie May 25, 2007 at 7:49 pm

On the whole area of IP I tend to agree with Kinsella and those above who were agin it.

But I would very much like to know how the problems that IP is meant to solve can be solved without violating the non agression principle.

Answers on a postcard please…

Michael May 25, 2007 at 8:38 pm

Bernie: open source, patronage, donations, support contracts, etc. There are many ways that so-called “intellectual property” could be produced without copyright, patents, et al.; and indeed they were so produced for many generations prior to the advent of such controls.

More importantly, the very notion of “property” is completely incompatible with the nature of ideas. Not only is it impossible to achieve the desired artificial scarcity without resorting to draconian restrictions enforced by Leviathan’s threat of violence; but also the closer we come to achieving this, the fewer benefits we reap from the very ideas whose creation we are trying to encourage.

The most wonderful thing about ideas is that they are nonrivalrous: any number of people may “possess” and use the same idea at the same time without interfering with anyone else’s ability to do so. If that were true of physical goods, we would have no need for property at all! And yet we view this marvelous property of ideas as a problem to be solved, because we fear that supply and demand won’t operate “properly” on them!

Björn Lundahl May 26, 2007 at 5:14 am


In a pure free market without government enforcement of copyright laws, it might not make a great difference or at least not in many cases.

This because of the reason that producers of, for example, intellectual property would, in a free market, have the legal rights to stipulate in contracts that customers would not be allowed to copy the products and not either to resell them to third parties without stipulating the same terms. Secondly if third parties would make copies knowing those restrictions (that is being aware of the fact that the original owners did not sell all the rights to their properties) without any restrictions on their purchases, they might still be in trouble.

In a free market the flexibility of the participants are nearly unlimited and the market solves economic problems when it is profitable and needed.

Björn Lundahl

RWW May 26, 2007 at 10:17 am

I am so ready for MISES.org to get back to MISES.

Amen to that, JIMB.

Brent May 26, 2007 at 3:49 pm

>Amen to that, JIMB.<

What’s funny here is that Mises would agree that understanding particular subjective motivations (or valuations) are irrelevant to the scientist and should be left to those who do endeavor in psychology.

Nathan Reed May 27, 2007 at 4:52 am

I am in agreement with Adam Knott (and others). Libertarians need to apply praxeology to this problem. On this one I think Mr. Rothbard (and others) have lead us astray.

Björn Lundahl May 27, 2007 at 8:20 am

Stephan Kinsella:

“Interesting how Rothbard talks about possible extensions of praxeology as well as “axiomatics,” the logical-deductive approach of Hoppe that is compatible with, if not a type of, praxeology.”


On the Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property:


Björn Lundahl

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