you review the statement of Vin Suprynowicz linked to in Stephen
Kinsella's blog entry at C4SIF, let
me say a few words on the topic of libertarianism, and property
rights theories. Vin
Suprynowicz, is a so-called "libertarian" writer for the
Las Vegas Review-Journal, that I usually enjoy reading very
much, but in this case he shows his glaring lack of understanding of
property rights theory.
Modern American libertarians are in a nutshell, a new breed of anarchist, but not anarchists of the traditional social anarchist tradition, we are anarchists that came to stateless conclusions from very different philosophical/foundational ideas. We are anarchists that were not influenced by thinkers like Karl Marx, or Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, but rather followed the classical liberal ideas of people like John Locke, Frederic Bastiat, Gustav De Molinari, etc... to their obvious logical conclusion, that mankind does not need a predatory, ruling, aristocratic class to micro-manage society and peaceful human action. We have concluded that if free, peaceful, people find it necessary to organize in order to provide for their own mutual security, and general welfare, that they are perfectly able to do this voluntarily without resorting to the formation of a traditional coercive, monopoloid nation State, or arbitrarily imposed hierarchical authority. So in short the modern, principled, American libertarian is merely a new breed of propertarian anarchist.
Now that I have offered up my basic definition of what I mean by the term “libertarian,” I will attempt to address the topic of property.
What is property?
Though I think it is wise for people that wish to live peacefully amongst each other to come to some mutually agreed upon standard of respected private property rights, I do not believe there is, or ever can be a single, absolute, objective definition or standard for private property. Property is merely a social construct. It is an agreed upon, normative “OUGHT,” not an objective “IS,” in the way that two plus two IS four. What kind of property standard people choose to adopt will determine how peacefully, and civilly those people will be able to live amongst each other. For example if a group of people choose to treat human beings as resources that can be homesteaded, and owned in the same way that a parcel of land is homesteaded and owned, that society has adopted a property standard that is going to lead to some very unpleasant interpersonal relationships. I hope we can all understand that not all things are wise, or reasonable to see as open to appropriation, and by rejecting the notion that some things are open to appropriation, one is not rejecting the utility of all private property schemes. If one believes that it is wise to subscribe to a private property scheme in order to establish and respect rights in tangible materials, as the only feasible means of avoiding conflict over the use of tangible materials, they cannot then logically and consistently enforce an exclusive rights scheme over others ability to carry out certain peaceful acts with the tangible material that they are said to own.
I submit that it is wise for people to
limit their adoption of private property standards only to justly
acquired LAND, MATTER, and movable or immovable objects, NOT ACTIONS.
There is a name for an interpersonal relationship wherein one person
has involuntary, sovereign authority over the peaceful actions of
another. This relationship is called SLAVERY.
Can the right to certain types of free human action be logically enclosed for exclusive, private use in the same way that unowned matter from nature is often respected as having been appropriated for exclusive, private use? Can one ever be logically seen as having an exclusive right to walk a certain way, sing a certain arraignment of words, sell letters and words arraigned and expressed in a certain way on paper, etc?
If I discover a new way to arrange words that tells an interesting story, do I automatically have a natural right to use any means necessary (even potentially lethal means) to stop another from imitating me, assembling words the same way I did, and selling them expressed on paper in the form of a book?
If you can't tell by now, I'm talking about a supposed form of property called “intellectual property,” that is patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc... The way I see it, and to the surprise of many, the way Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, and many other classical liberal, and libertarian thinkers also saw it, ideas, formulas, writings, recipes, designs, trademarks, and other informational, conceptual abstractions, cannot be seen as justly appropriated property in the same way that a homesteaded parcel of land can be.
The best justification I am aware of for the private appropriation of land, is the fact that humans all need some place to exist, and a portion of the natural world to claim as their own in order to support their lives and provide for their needs. If a group of people wish to subscribe to a property, or anti-property standard(if such a thing is even possible) wherein people are not allowed to privatize such things for their own personal use, they have devised a system that will be fraught with unceasing conflict over these resources because in order for me to exist in any given space, I HAVE to exclude all other people from existing in that space. In order for one to live on a piece of land, and have any reasonable ability to shape that land for their own uses, they HAVE to exclude others from interfering with their use. In order to eat a grape, I MUST exclude all others from eating that grape because two people cannot eat the same grape.
Ideas, formulas, writings, recipes, designs, trademarks, methods and other informational, conceptual abstractions do not work the same way, they do not have the same limitations on their use, they are not finite, scarce, or rivalrous, because “they” do not even exist physically, and therefore do not have the ontological limitations of tangible material. If I think to walk to the park, that does not interfere with your ability to walk to the park, I have not used up, or consumed the action of walking to the park. Likewise if I apply ink to paper, in the form of the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” and put my material ink and paper property up for sale, I am not interfering with Leonard Peikoff's(the “owner” of the fiat legal “rights” to Rands novels) ability to do the same thing. I did not devise the story “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand did, but I don't see how nature, logic, deductive reasoning, etc would suggest that my printing the same story on my paper, with my ink, is not my right being the owner of that paper and ink. You may correctly point out that some people may choose to buy from me instead of a Leonard Peikoff approved source, which would affect his likelihood of successfully selling his copies, but this is no different than any other form of competition, either competition justifies retaliatory action to punish and discourage it, or it does not. It should be self evident that A free marketeer would not conclude that peaceful competitive action justifies retaliatory action to punish or discourage it, this is the antithesis of free market theories.
In closing I will summarize all the above philosophical jargon by saying this. If Leonard Peikoff, Vin Suprynowicz, or any other patent, copyright, etc, holder has the legitimate, exclusive right to allow, or disallow the sale of ink and paper in the form of the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” or any other form, then they also have a shared property right in all mater in the universe, even the bodies of other people, because if this is the case that they have this right to veto others choices to act in a peaceful manner, that means that these other people are owned, are not sovereign over their own peaceful actions, and do not fully own their material property.
If intellectual property law is NOT compatible with material property law, one must subscribe to one, or the other, or at least must subjugate one to the other in some sort of hierarchy of rights scheme.
If property rights claims over conceptual abstractions are legitimate, then individual sovereignty, and property rights in material resources are extremely limited because patent office records are an ever growing list of millions and millions of things that individuals are not at liberty to do with their material property, and with their bodies, and IP is somehow a justified form of soft, limited, fascist, mercantilist, slavery. Either this is the case or so-called “Intellectual Property” is NOT justifiable by way of consistent, logical, deductive reasoning.
Real libertarians reject the concept of intellectual property, and other forms of coercive monopoly privilege. Only Randian subjectivists, and other right and left wing statists subscribe to the contradictory concept of intellectual property.
Artwork by Nina Paley: http://blog.ninapaley.com/