Objectivists, anarchy, IP, libertarianism, and Galt’s Gulch

Wow, a herculean task.

Over at mises.org blog, there’s been an ongoing discussion about IP (intellectual property) and patents, and how they inhibit wealth creation and economic prosperity.

I’ll grant completely that patent holders (as in the most recent Microsoft ruling, an act of judicial tyranny.  Even though I write this on a mac, and use PC’s* only by “force” at the workplace.) spend considerable time defending their patents once granted, and squander valuable resources that could otherwise be devoted to entrepreneurial efforts.  I completely agree that open standards, such as .pdf, would not be such had it not become a royalty free standard.  (which has oddly enough been a major problem/issue with MS Word, the .doc format.  It isn’t Word per se, but the closed file format.)

I used to be a regular reader of slashdot but haven’t been for a few years.  There are a variety of reasons, some philosophical, some just of different interests.  Either way, IP has been a major recurring theme and oftentimes dominated the stories.

I have been involved with computers, both networking and programming, for some time.  I have been a linux user since the mid 1990’s, when as much as I tried to validate its desktop viability, it was so far from being such, that only the rosiest of lenses (which I proudly wore) would allow one to see it so.  Linux, if one is not aware, is a version (in a general sense) of UNIX.  It is open source, meaning the source code, i.e. computer instructions, are freely available and alterable by anyone.  It is freely redistributable and can be downloaded in many, many version, from many hundreds of thousands of websites.  (side note: I highly recommend ubuntu linux. )

Linux is licensed under the GPL, General Public License, itself a form of IP agreement.  Linux code, all GPL’d code, can be used openly, freely, but with one caveat: it must remain GPL code, and cannot be closed.

In a manner of speaking, if Microsoft is defender of IP, linux is the exact opposite: an anti-IP, if you will.  So, I am very familiar with, and have been involved with, IP issues for several years.  Though, in all fairness, this has been purely from a hobbyist/enthusiast standpoint, not as one with any real stake in the outcome.

As for Rand’s strong support of IP and the need for state protection of IP right, akin to protection of physical property rights, I believe there could be a comparison made.

This does not negate or argue against the anarchist, pure libertarian argument against IP.  Rather, I simply acknowledge, that in some instances, IP rights do have a place.  I look at it thusly.

An inventor ought to have ownership of his efforts, just as any producer has ownership of the product of their resources.  The problem, which ought be fairly obvious, is that ownership of an idea is altogether different from ownership of physical property.  All physical property is a scarce item.  An idea, once shared, doesn’t leave the originating mind upon entry into the replicator’s.  Ideas are not scarce.

Thus, property rights, a sine que non with scarce resources, are not equatable.

I recognize that there are considerable societal benefits both from protecting IP, as well equally from a lack thereof.  It could be that IP provides the inventor incentive to produce, to take risk, just as ownership of physical property does.  It could also be true that IP stifles invention just the same, that improvements to and other uses are prohibited.

The ultimate question arises, one of cost/benefit analysis.  Do the costs outweigh the benefits?  That is one for much greater scholarly research and inquiry.  Suffice to say, I’ll acknowledge the issue to be one much grayer than that of physical, scarce property.

Why then would objectivist so disdain anarchy even though Galt’s Gulch is an anarchist’s utopia?  I have a few thoughts.

First, Galt’s Gulch consisted entirely of people chosen by John Galt, who shared his views that nobody had right to claim against him, nor did he have right to claim against another.  Thus, all members of GG had were of like mind regarding the sanctity of property.  In such a society, no doubt, anarchy could and very well would, be the natural outcome.

But alas, that does not reflect the true nature of human political intercourse.  We know quite the opposite, that ochlocracy is more often the rule.  As Aristotle wrote in the Politics, it is the middle class who should govern, as they are to busy tending to their own affairs to be concerned with the affairs of others.  They were those of property, who stood to lose if either the rich or poor would rule.

In either case, the rich or the poor would rule for their own benefit.  Rand was very much influenced by Aristotle, his work on reason and logic being our most valuable tools,our only tools we had for our survival.  No doubt both would well have understood that there are inequalities inherent in mankind, and that given the chance, mankind would seek to mitigate, or outright overturn, those natural differences.

Aristotle was also a proponent of private property.  It was his teacher, Plato, who was the communal utopian.  Aristotle believed that only private property kept people from jealousies and violence.

John Locke, a profound thinker and champion of liberty, wrote in the Second Treatise that

therefore God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men. I easily grant, that civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of nature

I have always loved that phrase, “the inconveniences of the state of nature”.  Without question, Locke, who argues that we were of perfect equality (i.e. rights, not outcomes) and freedom (of action), knew that though true, it would not be appreciated by all members of society.

Thomas Jefferson was as influenced as any by the works of Locke.  Reading the Declaration of Independence might be referred to as reading the Cliff Notes for Locke.  In Jefferson’s first inaugural address he stated that

Still one thing more, fellow-citizens–a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement

Certainly this indicates, at the very least, that some men might have proclivity towards injuring one another.  He also full well understood (and with good cause, for he served in the same cabinet with the American Caesar in waiting, Hamilton) that the greatest threat to liberty and property was the state.  And sadly, it would be men, using the instrument of the state, that would bring about such ruinous appurtenances.

Trying to climb into the minds of the departed, especially ones two millenia or more so, is an act of intellectual curiosity and perhaps frivolity.  To speculate how Aristotle would have argued IP is an absurd undertaking.  However, I would argue, it is a highly improbable possibility that in a state of anarchy one could expect property rights to be recognized and respected.  Thus, there would be need for an enforcement mechanism of some kind, as minimalist in nature as possible, but nonetheless needed.

Galt’s Gulch is entirely possible if such controls (limited entry, prohibitions on revelation to the outside, etc.) were in place.  Odd that Rand didn’t include that as it would certainly have altered the calculus considerably.  One could only surmise that just as the death ray (the exact name escapes me right now) that was taken over and subsequently exploded, so too would GG have been “liberated”.

Given its very limited nature, the almost scientific controls, the complete agreement and adherence to such rules, and the select members of the residents, then by default, IP would surely be unneeded in GG.  As would any state of any kind.  The problem is that such a world, in all honesty, does not exist.  It cannot exist.

The ancients knew it and the modern thinkers of the enlightenment knew it.  Today, the massive welfare state and the subsequent, widespread belief by so many that they have a right to make claims against the property of others, only reinforces such beliefs.

Certainly I do not answer the question regarding the validity of IP, but only serve to offer some thoughts as to why Rand, given her fierce support of the individual, rights, property, free markets, and the limited state, was a strong opponent of anarchy.

A final thought and I do think it is relevant to the entire theme: Stephen Kinsella refers to Atlas Shrugged.  It was Rand’s prior work, The Fountainhead, which IP was perhaps most prominent.  Howard Roark was an architect.  It was his ideas on paper, his creation and property, that were stolen and so grossly distorted in the Cortland project.  If we dispute the notion of IP, then it cannot be said that Peter Keating stole anything from Howard Roark.

Howard Roark’s genius was his mind.  He owned it, and all work form his mind could rightly be said to belong to him and him alone.  The disposition of such would be entirely of his discretion. Would he not have complete right to determine who, when, and how it was to be used?  If not, then taken to an extreme, all he thus “owned” was a piece of paper with pencil marks on it.

That sounds rather socialist to me.

Don’t know if the stables are clean. 🙂 🙂

* PC is a hardware architecture.  Many operating systems run on it, including but not limited to Windows.  PC has become synonymous with windows, but this is in error.  I do like PC’s.  They are powerful, cheap, and have multitude of peripherals.  I also choose to run linux on them when I own them.

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