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Posts tagged Jeffrey Tucker

Libertarians for Protectionism, Appendix B: contrarium sequitur edition

I haven’t yet had the chance to read Michele Boldrin and David Levine’s Against Intellectual Monopoly. Ideas may not be subject to economic scarcity, but my time to enjoy them — alas — is. But it looks really promising, and exciting, judging from some of the excerpts and commentary I’ve seen about it online. I look forward to digging in soon.

In the meantime, besides tantalizing discussions, the online commentary has also offered a perfect opportunity for students of economics to witness the ridiculous sight of self-proclaimed free marketeers dragging out all the crassest sorts of corporate protectionism to apologize for actually-existing forms of economic privilege. And for students of logic to enjoy a few choice specimens of the contra-sequitur in its natural habitat.

Thus, for example, consider the reader comments on Jesse Walker’s notice of the book at Hit and Run:

Fluffy | January 16, 2009, 5:11pm | #

Fine — but without the ability to file a patent and make money off it, would James Watt have even bothered to invent the condenser that everyone else’s steam engine used?

Wah wah wah we could introduce innovations faster without patents! Maybe, but who would bother? Owner/operators only.

We already experienced a time without intellectual property. It was called the Middle Ages. And while the Middle Ages were not a completely backward time as imagined by the public and were marked by the gradual introduction of many important technological innovations in agriculture, mining, metallurgy, transport and power generation, just about all innovation came from owner/operators or their equivalent, and the pace of innovation and adoption of new technologies was brutally slow, despite the really high marginal utility that even the smallest advance brought under those conditions.

Of course, whatever you may think of the Middle Ages, some other eras without anything remotely like modern copyright or patent law have been called classical Athens, Renaissance Italy, Shakespearean England, and the Scientific Revolution. But never you mind that. The important thing is this: if it weren’t for copyrights and patents, technological innovation might not be profitable for large corporations to pursue. Heaven forbid; some business might have to be carried on by somebody other than large for-profit corporations. Similarly:

Hazel Meade | January 16, 2009, 8:46pm | #

Episarch. I think the idea is more that with IP rights someone else couldn’t simply take your cold fusion device apart, figure out how it works, and start manufacturing knock-offs. Unless they altered the design in a way that improved it.

The problem is that development of new technologies often takes years of research. If others can copy your designs, it makes it unprofitable to bother.

Automobile factories take years of capital-intensive construction and immense amounts of labor. If other corporations can just push cars into the market willy-nilly, it makes it unprofitable to bother. Without a protective tariff, who in their right mind would invest in American automobiles? In a free market, who would be in charge of making all the shoes?

If there is one thing that government can and ought to do, it is to make sure that no large business ever has to fundamentally rethink their business model, ever. I mean, sure, consumers and investors may have a different idea of how much art or R&D is enough art or R&D for them; they may decide they want to pay for other things on the margin — for example, they may want to put more efforts into derivative, marginal improvements rather than fundamental redesigns; or they may just want to spend some of that money on little fripperies, like food, clothing, or shelter. But if government isn’t there to force the prices of everything upward, then that may mean that corporate investment in some highly visible, culturally prestigious set of goods and services (like literary works, or mechanical devices, or Kenny G. albums) might possibly falter or fail when people want to pay for other, different things. Good lord, if nobody can make a profit from selling the easily-reproducible products of their creativity and thought, then thinking and creating might even be left to academics. Or to a bunch of rank amateurs.

Before I continue to the next argument, I want to mention, in all earnestness, that there is a common problem with all of these arguments. The problem is that they attempt to support intellectual enclosure on explicitly protectionistic grounds: they begin from the premise that there is some level of innovation or artistic production which, somehow or another, they presume to know perfectly well to be the right amount. Then they offer a pseudo-economic argument intended to show that absolutely free exchanges in products that depend on intellectual discovery or creativity would fail to funnel enough money into the purses of discoverers or creators to produce the level of production that they’ve deemed the right level. Thus, they conclude, you ought to institute government restrictions on free exchanges just in order to make sure that enough money is pried from out of buyers’ hands to encourage the level of production that the protectionists have deemed the right one. The problem with all this is, first, that the Intellectual Protectionists are ignoring the invisible cost of this visible subsidy; whatever extra money buyers are forced at bayonet-point to spend on nifty inventions or works of art is extra money that would have gone to other productive purposes — like living our lives, or working on projects of our own, or gaining the leisure to put some of our own thought and creativity to work. Like all forms of protectionism, Intellectual Protectionism engages the force of the State in subsidizing some politically-favored goods (or, rather, politically-favored producers) at the expense of other goods or producers, which happen to be economically popular but looked down on by politicians. And this form of inequity and privilege — enforced through government coercion — is in fact utterly arbitrary — arbitrary because Intellectual Protectionists never offer any non-arbitrary basis whatever for their judgment of what the right levels of their favored goods would be. Non-protectionists have a perfectly good standard: we figure that the right level is the level that free people would freely choose to get for themselves, if left alone to make their own decisions. But Intellectual Protectionists cannot appeal to anything of the sort, since the whole idea is to override the normal processes of free exchange. They just know, by some kind of revelation, which they more or less never spell out in any detail, that the right level is something more than that, and thus the need for a command economy, controlled by the legally-privileged copyright- or patent-holders — usually, as a matter of fact, giant, bureaucratic corporations (Apple, GE, AOL Time Warner, Pfizer, and the like) that can sustain big-time R&D departments and, just as importantly, can pay for the small army of lawyers needed to effectively manage their politically-fabricated portfolio.

I took the time out to say all that, with my face as straight as I could make it, because most of this post has involved an argument wrapped up in a lot of ridicule and facile sarcasm. But sometimes people say things that make ridicule and sarcasm simply beyond the point. Like this:

TallDave | January 16, 2009, 11:31pm | #

IP should expire (we don’t need Michael Jackson owning the Beatles’ albums 30 years late), but we need some kind of IP rights or there will be nothing but monopolies exploiting their entry barriers and stealing ideas. Yes, it’s less efficient in some ways, but that’s true of most any private property (public transportation vs. owning your own car, etc.).

Want to know what a world without IP looks like? It’s Microsoft. Wordperfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Netscape… all reverse-engineered and shoved down the OS marketing channel.

Some things you can reply to. Some things you can ridicule. Other things you can only repeat.

See also:

The Protection Racket

Last weekend, Jeff Tucker put out a really good article on LewRockwell.com, on the State’s so-called criminal justice system, and its sanctimonious claims to protect us, especially the poor and oppressed. He writes:

If you think about it, it is inherently implausible that the state could be an effective administrator of justice, for which there is a supply and demand like any other good. Shortages, inefficiencies, arbitrariness, and underlying chaos all around are going to be inherent in the attempt.

Because we are dealing here with the meting out of coercion, we can add that inhumane treatment and outright cruelty are also likely to be an inherent part of the system.

Even so, nothing had prepared me for what I witnessed in the courtroom the other day. …

… I got an education. It turns out that in a courtroom packed with criminals, not even one of the people who appeared before the judge was a danger to society. Nearly all were in for victimless crimes. The two who had perpetrated actual crimes – petty theft from Wal-Mart and the local mall – could have easily been dealt with without involving the state. So far as I could tell, the place could have been emptied out completely and our little community would have been no worse off, and massive human suffering could have been avoided.

But that’s not the way it works. These people, overwhelming black and poor but dressed very nicely in the hope of impressing the master, found themselves entangled in the web and thereby elicited the glare and killer instinct of the spider. How painful it was to watch and not be able to do anything about it.

The machine continued to operate. The judge hardly looked up, not even to notice how much these nice but exceedingly poor people dressed in an attempt to impress him. They and their lives meant nothing. It was all about keeping the machine working.

Finally 11am rolls around. The court had already raised for itself about $20,000, from my calculation. The judge says that there will be a short recess before he hears the not-guilty cases, mine among them. He will then assign public defenders to those whose income is low enough and then schedule jury hearings.

In other words, I would have to wait and then return at some later date.

My kids, who came with me, persuaded me that this was hopeless and ridiculous and very costly. I should declare my guilt and pay the $200 and be free. They didn’t want their Dad entangled anymore in this system. This is what I did, and I was free to go and join the multitudes who put up with this system of blackmail and money extraction every hour and know better than to attempt to use the system to challenge it.

Most people in my position would have never gone to court, and thereby they will never have seen just how cruel this system is for the poor, for minorities, and for everyone who gets tangled up in this web of coercion and legalized plunder.

But now I understand something more fully that I once only understood abstractly. I see how utterly ridiculous it is to think that the state can be the right means to help those who are poor or living at the margins of society. The state is their enemy, as it is for everyone else.

— Jeffrey Tucker, LewRockwell.com (2007-12-15): How the Justice System Works

Read the whole thing.

The Conservative Tradition

Isn’t it great to know that the intellectual bodyguard of the party currently in power in Washington stands for limited government and individual liberty? So much so that when Ted Kennedy–one of their most hated opponents, but also a man a man whose presence on an aeroplane poses no threat to anyone else–is prevented from boarding a plane because of a secret, unaccountable, government no-fly list forced on private airline companies by the fiat of the Executive Branch of government, and which has been repeatedly used in acts of political harassment, one can certainly count on them to make a bold, principled denunciation of this shameless invasion on civil liberties by a overbearing government. For example, here’s National Review Online on the incident:

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE [Steve Hayward]

Ted Kennedy on the no-fly list? Supply your own punchline.

Posted at 08:12 PM

Ho, ho, ho. Nor is this the first time that American conservatism has extended this sort of charity towards Mr. Kennedy:

So, I ask the question – is Senator Kennedy a traitor who says things which give aid and comfort to the enemy, or is he just plain and simple stupid? There are no other options on this – pick one, or the other.

Let us be clear about this — there are legitimate criticisms to be made about the liberation of Iraq; about whether or not we should have gone in, and about the manner in which we went in, and about how we have performed since we went in; there are, however, no legitimate criticisms to be raised about the reason we went in, nor can there be any legitimate point for an American to make other than that we should be doing more to win this fight. To criticise the reasons we went in and/or to do anything which indicates an unwillingness to see this thing through to final victory is the statement of a fool, or a traitor. No two ways about it.

We’ve given the left a pass long enough — its [sic] time for those who are of leftwing opinion to make their final call: which side of the river are you on? If you’re on America’s side, then you want total and overwhelming US victory — and just to really spell it out; this means that our enemies are dead or begging for mercy. I challenge you — choose, and let you be known for what you are by what you choose — patriot, or traitor.

— Blockheads for Bush 2004/04/09: Is this treason, or stupidity?

I have to disagree, though, with Jeffrey Tucker’s suggestion that this sort of good-hearted charity and principled defense of liberty is a new trend in modern-day conservatism. It is actually a long-standing tradition of the Right, from the Old Right’s defense of peace and prosperity for all:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives…. All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers.

— Senator James Eastland, addressing a rally of the White Citizens Council in 1956

… to the vigorous defense of liberty and principled opposition to all forms of invasive power by the leading lights of the New Right, such as the folks behind the National Review:

the thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union imminently threatens U.S. security, … we have to accept Big Government for the duration–for neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores…

And if they deem Soviet power a menace to our freedom (as I happen to), they will have to support large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and the attendant of centralization of power in Washington — Even with Truman at the reins of it all.

–William F. Buckley, The Commonweal, 25 January 1952

Thank God Above for the Right: they’ve been staunch defenders of an orderly freedom for lo these many years. And by orderly freedom, of course, I mean the freedom to take orders from an all-powerful righteous government. Or else.

Further reading

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