Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The problems with the Mises Institute

Let me take a moment to give you a brief public notice.  Since I regularly recommend that readers head to the Mises Institute for rational writing in economics, I need to also let you know that I have serious reservations about their non-economic writing.

That is to say that when the economists of the Mises Institute write about economics, using the insights of the Austrian tradition of economics, there are few better – as last year’s much-needed Bailout Reader should demonstrate. When the Institute’s economists write outside their field however, they are universally awful. Specifically, they are awful on intellectual property, on foreign policy, on religion, on anarchy, and on how the South will rise again.  (On morning drinking, of course, they’re fundamentally sound.)

And they’re not just awful: their writings on these subjects are in opposition to Ludwig von Mises’s own writings on these subjects – or the first four subjects, anyway.  So as a “Mises Institute” it’s only on economics (and morning drinking) they can be taken seriously on “what Mises would have said.”

Just thought you should know. In my view, for all their heroic work in resuscitating the economic thoughts and writing of Ludwig von Mises and his colleagues in the Austrian tradition, the Mises Institute should more accurately be re-named the Rothbard Institute, with all that implies.

And for those still confused about Mises’s own views on intellectual property (which includes his followers at the Mises Institute), Mises’s translator, editor, and bibliographer Bettina Bien Greaves summarises here. Short story: “Without copyright protection, musicians, authors, and composers are in the position of having to bear all the costs of production while the benefits go to others.”

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27 Comments:

Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Quote:
Without copyright protection, musicians, authors, and composers are in the position of having to bear all the costs of production while the benefits go to others.

Does that apply to concert's/sport's ticket scalpers?

9/08/2009 11:37:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

No.

9/08/2009 11:44:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without copyright protection, musicians, authors, and composers are in the position of having to bear all the costs of production while the benefits go to others.”
And given that they are almost exclusively leftists, you problem with that is?

9/08/2009 11:45:00 am  
Anonymous twr said...

The rules need to apply the same way to everyone, whether you like them or not. The fact that they are leftists is irrelevant.

9/08/2009 11:48:00 am  
Blogger Sean said...

Not to mention that creative people come from all ends of the political spectrum. Talk about insulting One's self. Anon may as well of said; "I'm on the right, so I'm too dumb to write a book. Hick."

9/08/2009 12:00:00 pm  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

PC said...
No.

Can you explain a bit more detail on the why and the why-not, especially in regards to your blog post shown below from a few years back.

Scalping U2

I can sense that I am nailing you on this one.

9/08/2009 12:15:00 pm  
Blogger Mark Hubbard said...

Timely post Peter.

I've long been following their economic analysis, which is almost wholly virtuous, so to speak, but I've not been able to reconcile this with their position on the property right of intellectual rights.

How can they be so divergent?

9/08/2009 01:12:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

FF, I"m sure you can work it out on your own. They're both different forms of property rights.

Copyright protection protects musicians', authors', and composers' property in their songs, writing and compositions. That's as it should be.

That other thread isn't discussing copyright. It's not even discussing property rights. (If you look at my last comment in the thread to which you link, you'll see I say that the promoter is "quite entitled to set whatever prices and conditions he likes, . . . . just as I'm free to criticise his decision.") What it's looking is not whether or not a promoter is entitled to try to ban scalping (that's his prerogative, of course) but whether or not banning scalping actually provides customers with a good service or not.

So they're different subjects.

9/08/2009 01:35:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Mark:

Q: How can they be so divergent? Simple answer: Because they have no philosophical base.

9/08/2009 01:37:00 pm  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Can the promoters of the sport/entertainment events claim that the tickets are the properties of whoever they represent (All Blacks, U2, UB40, etc...)? If not, then why not? After all, the CDs, records are the properties of the record labels rather than the artist him/herself although they're being paid royalties?

Why can't the promoter of a sport's/concert's event demands that you can't resell the ticket they promote (scalping) whereas a record company can legitimately do so?

9/08/2009 02:08:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

PC

I tend to be a lot more sympathetic to anti-IP arguments than Objectivists. Perhaps that's because I worked in IP for a long time and experienced first hand what actually occurs. Suffice to say much of what passes as IP "rights" or intellectual "property" is little more than attempted justification for arbitrary rent seeking- permits to rort based upon government awards of false rights and non-property.

Ideas are not scarce. There are plenty- as long as there are people, an inexhaustible supply. Scarce are the means, the real property, to execute ideas and reduce them to practice. Such are not protected by state sanctioned grant of IP monopoly. They are damaged.

In the arena of IP the Mises Institute exercises an important role by offering up critique of the present system, the underlying ideologies and the very notion of "intellectual property" itself. It is a discussion/debate well worth consideration. An investigation of the nature of that which constitutes property and whether or not "IP" should properly be considered a portion is important.

LGM

9/08/2009 02:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you fully explore the "early morning drinking" principle, "The South will rise again"

9/08/2009 02:17:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Mark:

Longer Answer (from a 1946 letter from Ayn Rand to Leonard Read about his new organisation, the Foundation for Economic Education):

"The great mistake here is in assuming that economics is a science which can be isolated from moral, philosophical and political principles, and considered as a subject in itself, without relation to them. It can't be done.
The best example of that is Von Mises' book Omnipotent Government. That is precisely what he attempted to do, in a very objective, conscientious, scholarly way. And he failed dismally, even though his economic facts and conclusions were for the most part unimpeachable. He failed to present a convincing case because at the crucial points, where his economics came to touch upon moral issues (as all economics must), he went into thin air, into contradictions, into nonsense. He did prove, all right, that collectivist economics don't work. And he failed to convert a single collectivist.
The organization desperately needed at present is one for EDUCATION IN INDIVIDUALISM, in every aspect of it: philosophical, moral, political, economic—in that order. (That is the actual order in which men's thinking proceeds on these subjects.) As part of such a program, an education in sound economics would be essential and valuable. Without it, it is a wasted effort."

That was written in 1946.

I think she's been vindicated, don't you?

9/08/2009 02:34:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

FF: You're off-track and off-thread.

I didn't say that "the promoter of a sport's/concert's event [can't] demand that you can't resell the ticket."

In fact, I said that the promoter of a sport's/concert's event has every right to demand that you can't resell the ticket. So you've got that back to front.

And my point was not on their legal or moral right to demand that you can't resell the ticket, but on the economic non-sense of keeping ticket prices down and complaining when arbitrageurs take advantage of that.

So it's not about copyrights - a subject that's confused enough already without confusing it with further red herrings.

9/08/2009 02:45:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

LGM: Alright, I'll bite: What has scarcity to do with it?

9/08/2009 02:46:00 pm  
Blogger Ruth said...

The problem with Mises. org is the owner Lew Rockwell. I stopped reading the site a long time ago because he is always shoehorning religion into everything. Mises was not a Chistian - he was a Jew - and not a religious one at that.

There is no moral and philosophic consistency on the site - and since it is the premier Austrian site on the internet that is one BIG problem if one wants to spread the economic ideas.

9/08/2009 02:57:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

PC

Some commentators consider that for an entity to be classified as an economic good it must be scarce.

LGM

9/08/2009 03:18:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't "the invisible hand" the moral basis for Austrian economics

9/08/2009 03:20:00 pm  
Anonymous Quoth the Raven said...

For those interested in the debate there are some anti-copyright resources at the Molinari Institute.

As to the mises.org there are a number of people with a range of differing opinions. Libertarianism is not supposed to be dogmatic. Just because they're not objectivists does not mean they don't have a philosophical base. One ought to be tolerant of a bit of pluralism.

9/08/2009 03:42:00 pm  
Blogger Mark Hubbard said...

Great quote from Rand, she has it in one.

And she pigeon holed our own crop of economists by the same damnation. Which is not surprising, but I have to work through in my own mind how an economist from the Austrian school, does not 'get' the philosophy that so naturally informs that school of thought.

9/08/2009 04:00:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

PC

Quote from Rand is interesting. She must have understood that philosophy includes morality, politics and economics. They are branches of the whole and not separate from it.

LGM

9/08/2009 04:11:00 pm  
Blogger Mark Hubbard said...

Ruth said:

There is no moral and philosophic consistency on the site - and since it is the premier Austrian site on the internet that is one BIG problem if one wants to spread the economic ideas.

Agreed.

Though there are others. CafeHayek and the Austrian Economist blogs are more coherent in this respect.

9/08/2009 04:12:00 pm  
Anonymous Elijah Lineberry said...

'Rothbard Institute'...eeekkk! that chap was rather odd at times.

His 'Anarchy in the USA' and 'Survival-of-those-fortunate-enough-to-be-able-to-afford-mercenaries-to-protect-themselves' routines probably turned vast numbers of people off libertarianism.

Having said that I do find 'Mozart Was A Red' to be awfully funny..haha!

9/08/2009 07:03:00 pm  
Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

Well, given that we published and sponsored the definitive Mises bio, have all his archives, have published 50 or so books on his thought, and etc. etc. there is no doubt about the Misesian credentials here.

On copyright and patents in particular, this is complicated. Rothbard was against patents but for copyrights. Mises however provided a robust rationale for opposing both. Writing in Human Action, Mises was the first to really explain the different between real property and what is called intellectual property. He also provided a basis for regarding IP as a statist measure.

9/08/2009 11:48:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Mr Tucker: I appreciate your visiting here to comment.

Since I hold the economic work you do in very high esteem, it's a shame that the first time you're here is on a post where I'm grumbling about some of what the Mises Institute is doing.

But my chief frustration is that at at a time when the world is experiencing its greatest monetary crisis for eight decades, and the Institute and Mises's writings are the primary ammunition in the battle to fight back the economic barbarians who caused the crisis, the Institute is taking its eye off the ball and heading down roads that the man whose name is on the masthead wouldn't have, and didn't do.

Like I said in the post, you and your colleagues are doing heroic work in economics -- which should be the Institute's primary raison d'être. Leave those other things for other websites and other blogs.

9/09/2009 10:14:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

"The great mistake here is in assuming that economics is a science which can be isolated from moral, philosophical and political principles, and considered as a subject in itself, without relation to them."- Rand

Surely it isn't correct to be asking the Mises Institute to do that which Rand accused Mises of attempting to do- that is, isolating economics from the rest of philosophy.

LGM

9/09/2009 10:31:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but I've not been able to reconcile this with their position on the property right of intellectual rights.

How can they be so divergent?


Not read Against Intellectual Property, which explains all? Realizing that intellectual "property" is necessarily opposed to "property", how can you not be?

And why should the Mises Institute be expected to toe Mises' line anyway? He died in the 1970s. Is there supposed to be no further progress?

9/10/2009 07:46:00 pm  

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