Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Wrestling with a pig—debating intellectual property

For the last three or four years, an oaf called Stephen Kinsella has poisoned the libertarian world on the subject of intellectual property, persuading naive libertarians and Austrians about the supposed “virtues” of intellectual communism, i.e., that it is okay to steal someone else’s ideas, work, writing, inventions, software, trademarks, films, designs, logos … in short, everything that constitutes intellectual property.

Unwilling to wrestle with a pig on the basis they’ll get muddy themselves, most saner folk have demurred debating the oaf.

But on April 1st, economist Robert Wenzel agreed to get into the ring in order, at least, to show Kinsella as nothing more than “a glib guy talking out of his hat” who “attempts to dance away when he is cornered,” whose 70-page booklet against intellectual property is littered with errors.  They do all their sparring without a moderator, unfortunately, and I don’t think Wenzel puts up a decent extended argument for intellectual property itself (in my estimation, the likes of Adam Mossoff and Greg Perkins do that far better)*, but after a poor start (you would be well-advised to skip straight to 18 minutes when the debate proper starts) he still does do a fairly robust job of showing Kinsella’s  sloppy thinking; his general evasiveness; and his ignorance even of those like Rothbard from whose ideas he claims support. **

Something that might help naive libertarians realise their defender of intellectual communism has no clothes.

When you’ve finished (or even before you start) enjoy the continuing debate in the comments at Wenzel’s blog.

* * * *

* The basic argument being based on the moral principle that creators are entitled to the new wealth and new values they bring into the world. (More quotes on this point here.)
    Ultimately, what we’re creating with our good judgement is new values. By identifying and rearranging what nature has given us, we raise materials from a lower value (as measured by human beings’ independent evaluations) to a higher value (as measured by human beings’ independent evaluations); they move from being materials to being resources; from being things to being goods.
    It is their creation as new goods that is the economic component. It is their creation as new values that is the moral component.

** Wenzel identifies “16 serious errors” in Kinsella’s tiny 70-page booklet promoting intellectual communism, of which e only attacks 5 in this debate. But he “will be out with a booklet detailing in a more formal fashion the 16 errors I found in Kinsella's writings.
   “From this debate [says Wenzel], it's clear Kinsella is sloppy in his thinking and writing, the booklet hopefully will put a nail in the coffin of this nutty notion that ideas aren't scarce and therefore we should just "take" from people who do not want to be taken from.”
   Until then, why not take advantage of Strangerous Thoughts’s 17 fallacies of of intellectual communists, from the most common to the most bizarre.


  1. If I understand you your position is that the creation of IP is an act of creating wealth that creates a property right which should be protected (I remain interested in what this philosophies position on independent invention is).

    There are disagreements that people may have with the current state of IP laws that may be correct and do not contradict that position.

    For instance Software and Business Methods patents. As currently constituted they do not, generally, protect actual wealth creation but stand as toll barriers to the creation of wealth.

    In software work which is valuable may be a rigorously described algorithm or thoroughly tested instruction set or some other computationally useful intellectual effort.

    But what is often patented is a deliberately vague and useless description of an idea intended to stake out territory not actually contributed to by the patent application.

    It can be consistent with the philosophy that wealth creation in IP is property to be protected that the current patent law for Software and Business Practices is a rort on actual wealth producers.

    And I hope that specific arguments against NZ facilitating such rorts are not confused with generic debate on the philosophy of IP laws.

  2. "intellectual property" has no meaning as soon as an intellectual work is shared, because the work no longer has the quality of exclusive posession which is essential for all property.

    The corporatists typically ignore the concept of fair use and wrongly label any sharing of a copyrighted work as theft.


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