Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jeff Tucker and Stephan Kinsella and the Keynesian Mode of Argument

A couple of times here at EPJ, I have written that Jeff Tucker has a Keynesian style in the manner he writes. I wrote that to have some fun, but I also think there is some truth to the comment. Keynes used words in unfamiliar ways, which made following his thought process confusing to many.

Henry Hazlitt in The Failure of the New Economics wrote:
My criticism of Chapter 1 [of the General Theory] must apply to every sentence in it. They must apply, also, to his curious use of the term "classical," which he defends in a footnote[...]
Keynes also has some odd definitions of savings and investment. Hazlitt, again:
Keynes argues at times, as we have seen, that saving and investment are not only always the same thing but "merely different aspects of the same thing."
But then Keynes switches and use the two terms as meaning different things. Hazlitt writes:
Yet he still keeps to his old habit of deploring saving while approving investment.
In other words at some point, he is using unconventional definitions, which he does not even use consistently through out his own book! For the uncareful thinker, this confuses matters, since such a reader may often have in mind the traditional definition of the words, but argue from the perspective of the new definition.

It is my contention that Tucker and Kinsella do the same thing with their use of the term "scarcity."

The dictionary definition of scarcity is:

1. inadequate supply; dearth; paucity
2. rarity or infrequent occurrence

Certainly, my example of the "Drudge formula," meets these common definitions of scarcity. Yesterday, I quoted Ludwig von Mises with regard to scarcity and economic goods:
The available supply of every commodity is limited. If it were not scarce with regard to the demand of the public, the thing in question would not be considered an economic good, and no price would be paid for it.
This introduces an even more precise definition of scarcity for the economist, within the common definition. Kinsella and Tucker, on the other hand, take a different route and define the term "scarcity" in an odd way. In Against Intellectual Property, Kinsella writes:

Ideas are not naturally scarce.

How could he possibly mean this in any generally used sense of the term? My "Drudge formula" meets scarcity definition 1 above. There most certainly is an inadequate supply of the formula relative to the numbers of bloggers that would like to use it. It is certainly a rare formula, thus it meets definition 2, and people are willing to pay a price for the formula thus it meets the Mises definition as a scarce economic good.

So how is Kinsella, in the face of this overwhelming  stream of definitions, able to justify calling ideas in general and my "Drudge formula" not scarce? Why by introducing an unconventional definition of scarcity, which doesn't mean lack of supply. By scarcity he means that if I have an idea, e.g., the "Drudge formula," and still have it after telling someone else the formula, it is therefore not scarce! This despite the fact that in the normal sense the term is used, the Drudge formula remains rare, is not superabundant, people are willing to pay for the formula and it is out of reach to  most bloggers who would like to have it.

Kinsella argues his point in his booklet, Against Intellectual Property, (and watch the jump in his argument):
Like the magically-reproducible lawnmower, ideas are
not scarce. If I invent a technique for harvesting cotton,
your harvesting cotton in this way would not take away the
technique from me. I still have my technique (as well as my
cotton). Your use does not exclude my use; we could both
use my technique to harvest cotton. There is no economic
scarcity, and no possibility of conflict over the use of a
scarce resource. Thus, there is no need for exclusivity.
Here in the first half of the paragraph he is using the term scarcity in the odd way he chooses to define it, but in the second half after defining scarcity in his odd way, he applies, in his conclusion, the term scarcity to economic scarcity, which does not apply to his definition but to the Mises definition of scarcity. Ideas in the Misesian sense are scarce unless there is no price for them. Thus, Kinsella is employing a type of bait and switch on the term scarcity. A bait and switch similar to the type Keynes used with regard to the words savings and investment.

This type of switcheroo between definitions apparently catches a lot of people. The Keynesian revolution is built on it and has survived for decades and the Kinsella-Tucker anti-IP theory is based on it and it has created a bunch of rabid followers (as evidenced by the number of comments here at EPJ on IP posts).

In the real world common use definition of scarcity, my Drudge formula is scarce. It is only  not scarce based on Kinsella's odd definition. However, Kinsella has no justification to reach conclusions based on his definition and then apply Misesian conclusions, which are based on a more conventional definition of scarcity then Kinsella's.

Kinsella-Tucker are about masterful Keynesian odd definition confusion.

As Hayek put it about Keynes:
“some of the most orthodox disciples of Keynes appear consistently to have thrown overboard all the traditional theory of price determination and of distribution, all that used to be the backbone of economic theory, and in consequence, in my opinion, to have ceased to understand any economics.”
Those following Kinsella-Tucker are throwing overboard the traditional sense in which the terms scarcity have been used and are ceasing to understand what scarcity really is.


  1. Great write up Bob. There is no question they are conflating "scarcity", with the intention of ruling out unique ideas as being "property".

    The laughable thing about this is that Kinsella was complaining the other day that your argument was substantially surrounding this notion that ideas are scarce, saying something to the effect of "That's it, that's all he's got."

    It's amazing to me that he complains about this argument when the opposite notion completely underpins his entire basis for being anti-ip.

    It's like the pot calling the kettle black.

    They know once people reasonably accept(what I believe to be a reasonable premise) that unique ideas can be property the whole thing comes crashing down for them.

    1. Nick, can you please explain, as Bob failed to, how it is possible to assign property rights to ideas without undercutting property rights in physical things?

    2. I think this is an important question Stephen.

      I'm going to direct you to my response to "Ted", which eventually culminated in what was nothing more than ad hominem on me by Kinsella-which in my estimation is telling.

      Rothbard was very careful to lay out an exact case for copyright as a form of ip in way to not subvert property rights in physical things. It is a brief, but beautiful construct. In fact, I mentioned it to a friend the other day because it is very impressive in this way:

      I call it, "deadly brevity". Rothbard lays out in an exact, but brief manner his framework. It's easy to be "baffled by bullshit" sometimes when someone goes on and one with a "war & peace" style think "shit, they must really know their stuff"...but what it really is sometimes is just a cover.

      Not Rothbard, the guy was truly deadly...and brief...conversly you might look at it, UNDERESTIMATE IT, and claim it's "confused"...or something along those lines.

      I leave it up to you to decide for yourself:

      (scroll down to my response to "ted" for the links, enjoy reading Rothbard)

    3. I just realized you will have to go to two different might want to do it for context anyway, but here's 2nd link for expedience:

    4. Nick, I've studied Man, Economy, and State in depth (and Ethics of Liberty, etc.) As Kinsella pointed out during the debate, Rothbard was simply advocating contractual arrangements. This should be crystal clear:

      "Copyrights, in other words, have their basis in prosecution of implicit theft. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant stole the former’s crea­tion by reproducing it and selling it himself in violation of his or someone else’s contract with the original seller."

      If a contract is violated, there is legal recourse. This has nothing to do with parties not bound by a contract.

    5. "how it is possible to assign property rights to ideas without undercutting property rights in physical things?"

      That was your question Stephen, so I'm going to assume in your study you can see how assignment of property right via contracts was explained by Rothbard in a way that answers your question. But let me quote the specific paragraph that speaks to your original question(I'll address the 2nd one in a moment):

      "The application of patents to mechanical inventions and copyrights to literary works is peculiarly inappropriate.
      It would be more in keeping with the free market to be just the reverse. For literary creations are unique
      products of the individual; it is almost impossible for them to be independently duplicated by someone else.
      Therefore, a patent, instead of a copyright, for literary productions would make little difference in practice.
      On the other hand, mechanical inventions are discoveries of natural law rather than individual creations, and
      hence similar independent inventions occur all the time.97 The simultaneity of inventions is a familiar historical
      fact. Hence, if it is desired to maintain a free market, it is particularly important to allow copyrights, but not
      patents, for mechanical inventions."

      So, QUITE CLEARLY, Rothbard is endorsing a form of ip(via copyright). I don't think anyone can reasonably say otherwise.(although Kinsella suggested Rothbard was anti-ip in his book)

      He speaks to the "physical things" you reference as well, answering your question.

      "This has nothing to do with parties not bound by a contract."

      You did not ask about that in your initial question. Frankly, I think Wenzel does a good job explaining the third party further than even Rothbard...but I'm not so sure it is that important.

      Here's why: If the idea is "unique"(and in my mind property) and Party A contracts with Party B(who has the idea) for use....both parties benefit from said property via exchange/contract.

      If party C comes along and "self discovers"(referenced by Rothbard) then there is no theft.

      If Party C bribes Party A to disclose the ip, party A is liable to Party B for the damages....per contract (if the contract is written properly).

      Did Party C commit a crime? ...well I'm going to leave that to the smarter people here. I haven't decided for myself...BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER.

      What I've described up to Party C stealing the ip all fits within the framework of libertarian ideals, property rights, contracts, etc.

      The issue of Party C is a minor one(in my opinion) in the concept of recognizing unique ideas are property and allowing for Parties A & B to contract with each other as a result in a free market manner.

      Just because the Party C THEFT scenario is difficult to address from a libertarian perspective, DOESN'T MEAN WE DON'T CALL IT THEFT.

      We have to start with the basics of recognizing reality, and go from there. (in my mind)

      I think those of us on both sides of the ip issue, should be more gracious with each and all agree that what makes us libertarians is that whatever the framework, we don't want coercion or any form of "state" involved...we all want free market with respect for property rights.

    6. Nick, Rothbard's discussion is always in context of contractual arrangements. (Not that Rothbard's views have any bearing on the legitimacy of IP.)

      What people who support property rights in ideas seem not to understand about their position is that they are trying to bind people who are not parties to specific contracts, and trying to tell them what they can do with their physical property. This is absolutely not consistent with a free market and respect for property rights.

      Let's use your example. A and B agree to a contract: A agrees to share information with B on condition that B not reveal it. The contract specifies monetary damages if B shares the information. The information could be anything.

      Now, let's assume that B breaks the contract and reveals the information to C. B is liable for the monetary damages specified in the contract. But C is not a party to the contract. Now A, B, and C know the information.

      If C uses the information to guide his action, is he violating anyone's property rights? How can A prevent C from using the information without violating C's property rights?

    7. Nick, one more point. When you say that the issue of C is a minor one in "recognizing unique ideas are property," the point you are missing is that not everything specified in contracts is ownable. A contract may stipulate that someone perform or not perform a certain action, but that doesn't mean that actions are ownable. Actions can act as triggers for transfer of title to physical scarce resources, but the actions themselves are not ownable.

    8. "If C uses the information to guide his action, is he violating anyone's property rights? How can A prevent C from using the information without violating C's property rights?"

      I'm going to leave that debate for Wenzel and everyone else.

      In my mind writing a contract over ip is a step that everyone on both sides of the debate should have no problem with. (Step 1)

      Step 2: If the contracted parties have agreed to terms surrounding the use of UNIQUE ip, and the the user of the contracted ip violates the contract, then there should be damages.

      Everyone should agree with that on both sides of the ip debate so far, right?(from a Libertarian perspective)

      Ok, so here's what I see as the battle grounds:(or the step 3 we should see if we can agree on)

      I personally feel the signing if a contract surrounding ip is one factor(among others, such as scarcity) that classifies ip as "property". Some here disagree.

      The reason this is important is because of the implications for "Party C" and acquisition of said property in violation of a contract(which some think is not including self discovery)

      I have tremendous respect for Rothbard, it is clear to me that Rothbard is pro-ip(unlike as noted by Kinsella) I consider his opinion and framework worth noting, here is the first sentence to Rothbard's infamous "mousetrap" example:

      "Violation of (common law) copyright is an equivalent violation of contract and theft of property."

      Remember, Kinsella said in his book that Rothbard was anti-ip(which is obviously not true)....he's also said that he is using "copyright" under some different meaning from today(I have not seen that explanation yet)-I have my doubts.

      Lastly, in his debate with Weznel, Kinsella said Rothbard was "confused".

      I disagree, Rothbard is clearly not confused in my estimation. You can all read it yourselves and decide.

      Even Rothbard though, left the proverbial "Party C" issue open for debate and discussion:

      " Of course, there may be some difficulties in the actual enforcement of Brown’s property right. Namely, that, as in all cases of alleged theft or other crime, every defendant is innocent until proven guilty. It would be necessary for Brown to prove that Black (Green would not pose a problem) had access to Brown’s mousetrap, and did not invent this kind of mousetrap by himself independently. By the nature of things, some products (e.g., books, paintings) are easier to prove to be unique products of individual minds than others (e.g., mousetraps)"

      So we have Rothbard not only "pro-ip", we also have ROTHBARD CALLING IP "PROPERTY".

      I find that compelling and his reasoning sound and compatible with my own opinions and reasoning.

    9. Nick, no one disputes that a contract can be entered into that involves information. Whether the information itself is an ownable thing is the critical point that you are simply asserting without providing an argument.

      Unless you (or anyone else) can answer these questions, then the anti-IP argument wins the day:

      How is C violating anyone's property rights by using information to guide his action?

      How can A prevent C from using information without violating C's property rights?

    10. Well, Rothbard outlined in my link above the possibility of the A vs. C lawsuit.

      I actually see the debate a little differently than you because I think ip needs to be considered "property" regardless of the outcome of the A vs. C issue. You anti-ip'ers won't concede that.

      So "winning" may be a matter of opinion.

      That being said, you are simply "asserting" the opposite in terms of "ownership" without an argument. Who is the burden on?

      I could say something like, "What if I claim you don't own your car and I come and get it, because I say it's not property- is that tough luck?(let's say you don't even have a title to it, it's just sitting your yard but you bought it without make it more interesting)"

      You could come to collect the car from me with a gun if you'd like...and maybe someone will get harmed on the collection action. Right?

      Although truth be told, the harm started when I came over to take your car, right?

      So naturally, can't the same principle be applied to ip?

      If you say "no, it's IP, it's unownable" we are now at an impasse over our fundamental differences in opinion on what is property and ownership.

    11. Nick, this debate is among people who already agree that there should be a free market and property rights in scarce physical things. You can't say that IP needs to be considered property in order to make your case. You have to show how IP can be property without undercutting the property rights we already agree on.

      I'm using the scenario you presented. If you can't explain how C is violating A's property rights, you have not made the case for property in information. If you can't explain how A can prevent C from using information without undercutting C's property rights in scarce physical things, then you have to abandon the idea of property in information because it undercuts the property rights we already agree on.

    12. "Nick, this debate is among people who already agree that there should be a free market and property rights in scarce physical things. "

      Ok, wait a are starting not to make sense.

      First, I'm not sure who decided who could debate what and why- but I'm certain it wasn't either of us...or anyone for that matter.

      Second, the whole issue is your above quoted statement minus ONE WORD:

      "physical", you think it's limited to that, I don't, Rothbard doesn't, Hoppe does, Kinsella does.

      "If you can't explain how C is violating A's property rights, you have not made the case for property in information."

      Rothbard has explained it(which I linked to and I agree with)..the question is how it is enforced.

      "You have to show how IP can be property without undercutting the property rights we already agree on."

      I explained this as well and posted the links via obviously haven't read them.

      I think we are at an impasse. I like discussions and hashing things out, I don't like repetition though.

    13. "They know once people reasonably accept(what I believe to be a reasonable premise) that unique ideas can be property the whole thing comes crashing down for them."

      There are no unique ideas.

    14. Nick, do you agree with the libertarian position that there should be property rights in scarce physical things? If you do, then everything in my post above stands.

      To make the case for property in information, you need to explain how you can assign property rights in information, outside of contractual arrangements, without undercutting property rights in scarce physical things.

      The example above is the perfect way for you to present your argument. You claim that A has a property right in the information. B has a contract with A, so we have no dispute there. But C does not have a contract with A. So, how is C violating A's property rights by using the information to guide his action? And what can A do with regard to C that doesn't violate C's property rights?

      Please present your case.

  2. Distortion and twisting definitions of words is a common ploy used by those who cannot achieve change by honest dialog.

    The easiest one for most people to grasp is that the term "regulate" was commonly understood to be "to make regular" or "regularize". Congress has twisted this over the years so that "regulate" now effectively means "control every little goddamned thing", in order that they could illegally expand their control.

    1. Dave, you're absolutely right about the word "regulate." Kinsella is clearly not engaging in distortion and twisting of words: he is crystal clear about his definition and makes his case using this clear definition.

      Since Bob disagrees with Kinsella's definition, why doesn't he supply his own definition? He kept saying that at the point when A and B are the only ones that know about his "Drudge formula," it is scarce. Well when does it become not scarce? Is there some sort of continuum? Bob did not provide a single clear definition of terms during the debate.

    2. Ideas are not scarce.

      Novel and/or original ideas are.

    3. Dave,

      Kinsella is clear that by "scarce" he means "rivalrous."

      A rivalrous good is a good whose use by any one person for any one purpose necessarily excludes (or interferes with, or restricts) its use by any other person or for any other purpose.

      Can you please explain how a pattern of information can be rivalrous?

  3. Thank you for pointing this out. When I was arguing about IP a while back on your comments with another commenter, this is what ticked me off the most. Re-defining words to have a different meaning than they do in English. A very dishonest and Keynesian thing to do. Just redefine the terms. Total scumbag politician way of doing things. Remember when Clinton said, "That depends on what your definition of 'is' is." Reminds me of Kinsella during the debate.

    1. David, every clear thinker will define terms. Many terms within Austrian economics or libertarianism do not mean what they mean to the general public. Kinsella defined his terms. Bob did not. It's perfectly fair to quibble about definitions during a debate and provide alternate definitions; the point is to be clear and not equivocate so that people know what you are arguing for. Bob did not define any terms and engaged in equivocation, while Kinsella was very clear, even if you disagree with his definition.

    2. Exactly, apparently Mises was acting Keynsian by using the term "rational" in such a specific way.

  4. Bob, you're really going to double-down on this scarcity thing?!

    Criticizing an argument based upon a definition different from the one used in the argument is rank equivocation.

    If anyone is using Keynesian argumentation (redefining terms to skew an opponents argument), it is the one who is blind to his own projection.

    Your stubborn lack of intellectual rigor, or glaring incapacity for logical extrapolation -- whether willfull or simply beyond your ability -- is a liability you are strenuously broadcasting, much to the detriment of your stature and respect.

    A graceful bowing-out to write (or not) your book/pamphlet on the subject, by all measures of decorum and dignity, I respectfully submit, is fully warranted, if you wish to retain a modicum of legitimacy as a theoretician.

  5. Bravo Bob!

    Supply, demand, price, cost, value, etc. These terms are indicative of some amount of scarcity. The sky is indeed blue.

  6. Maybe scarcity is relative just like value judgements.

    For instance, Kobe beef is much more scarce to me than to Barrack Obama.

    Is it scarcity strikes me as being, in essence, the relative supply vs. demand. Is something scarce if no one wants it, but there is only one?

    Tough questions. Still, quibbling. You haven't proved how the knowledge is yours in the first place yet. You certainly cobbled it together from other people's knowledge.

  7. Your Drudge Formula is not scarce in the economic sense. Those definitions from some dictionary are great and all, but using them to support your argument is the fallacy of equivocation. Scarcity in the economic sense is different from the definition above, because it includes rivalrousness.

    Kinsella repeatedly tried to explain this but you seemed fixated on conflating the root of rivalrousness (rival) with competition, and refused to listen to his argument.

    In brief: "In economics, a good is considered either rivalrous (rival) or nonrival. A rival (subtractable) good is a good whose consumption by one consumer prevents simultaneous consumption by other consumers."

    See here:

    To borrow your illustration, if you exchange your formula with person B, and person C happens to get the formula, C's use of the formula does not preclude its simultaneous use by you and person B.

    1. Please explain club goods, if scarcity necessarily includes rivalrousness. I previously used the example of a boat saving a bunch of people from drowning. The boat ride is scarce, because people are will to pay to be saved, but multiple people can consume the boat ride. Therefore, the boat ride is scarce and not rivalrous.

    2. Unless your boat allows an unlimited number of people to use it simultaneously it's a rivalrous good. An idea, unlike your boat, may be used by any number of people at exactly the same time without depriving anyone of its use.

    3. Your mistake is referring to the boat ride as scarce and non-rivalrous. People are not buying a boat ride. People are buying a spot on the boat. The spots are rivalrous. Two people cannot occupy the same spot. Your example only seems to work because you specified that there were as many seats as people needing them. It becomes obvious that both scarcity and rivalry exist when we speak about what is actually being purchased. Would you say that an iPhones are non-rivalrous if a store has 10 of them and only 10 people want them?

    4. "Willing to pay to be saved" = willing to pay for a seat or space on the boat, which is absolutely rivalrous. There is a limited supply, and as the supply gets used up the price will climb.

      If the number of people needing saving are less than the amount of space on the boat it simply means that the supply is greater than the demand, and the price will fall, not that there is no rivalrousness.

      For it to not be rivalrous your boat would need a practically infinite capacity and also be constructed out of materials that are of infinite supply and manufactured and operated by people with an infinite supply of time and labour. In reality there is scarcity AND rivalrousness not only to the seating but also the materials and time used to operate the boat. So even if it had an infinite capacity the rivalrousness of the factors of production would ultimately make the good rivalrous.

    5. Ed Ucation:

      You're not talking about a "boat" that is scarce. You're talking about SECTIONS of the boat that are scarce. No two people can occupy the same spot on the boat, so the boat sections are rivalrous goods. That is how you should understand the boat. You can't treat "the boat" as a non-rivalrous good. If it were non-rivalrous, an infinite number of people can use it at the same time. Clearly absurd.

  8. Bob, I wasted 2:30 hours of my life on that interview. When I first came here today, I was going to read your defense of the interview, but then I kept thinking about how you really didn't want to debate Kinsella much on IP at all.

    It's obvious, you were out to "destroy" him and that was your main reason for entering this debate. Not only was it petty, and very childish, but it really smacked of hypocrisy when you kept damning Kinsella for calling you a "clown" and a "worm", yet throughout the show, you kept peppering him with even more disrespectful attacks.

    I couldn't have imagined I would have watched this, and decided to no longer come to this website, but after this posting, that will most likely stay the case.

    If you want to be Bill O'Reilly-Howard Stern-Robert Downey Jr, there is a big market for that. Best of luck to you.

  9. Robert,

    Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems to me that your argument for scarcity of ideas is as follows:
    1. Commodities can be scarce;
    2. Ideas are commodities;
    3. Hence, ideas can be scarce.

    You provide quote from Ludwig von Mises in support of statement 1.

    However, statement 1 is utterly non-controversial. It is statement 2 that anti-IP crowd contests. I expect you will have hard time to find support for statement 2 in works of Mises, Rothbard or any other prominent Libertarian philosopher/Austrian economist.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Instead of focusing on the definition of "scarcity" how about pro-IPers actually address innate-exclusiveness/rivalry and conflict argument. So what if no one else knows Wenzel's formula, the issue is if Wenzel's knowing it necessarily excludes everyone else from also knowing it. Why is the supply or rarity of physical goods or ideas a criterion for property rights over innate-exclusiveness/rivalry?

  12. The difference between a physical good and an idea is that an idea is infinitly reproducible. Whether this difference is to be conveyed by the word 'scarcity' or by some other expression is not very important. Mr Kinsella made very clear that this difference was important.

    The confusion would go away in a moment if we agreed that the idea is not scarce, but that the number of people who know it is scarce. Then 'scarcity' would be used in an objective manner (referring to objects) and not in a metaphorical manner (treating patterns as objects).

    If Mr Inventor is the only one who knows his Great Idea, he is a scarce or rare person. His idea is not a property he owns, but an attribute of his person. His desire to outlaw that attribute in others (by absurdly claiming that he owns an attribute) is merely a desire to use violence to limit the property rights and liberties of others. It is a desire to monopolize a market by threatening immitators with violence.

    Expressing all this as an issue of property rights is fraudulent. Nobody can own a pattern, an attribute, a characteristic, a similarity, a feature. They can only own objects. They can no more own the pattern in their mind than they can own the color of their eyes.

    Further, the claim to be the 1st to hold an idea may be true, but it is not provable.

    Being a Rothbardian, Mr Wenzel is not in fact defending the use of violence to monopolize markets. But he continues to defend the metaphorical misuse of the word 'property' - currently by making a mountain out of the molehill of the word 'scarcity'. In order to acheive the free, property-respecting society he claims to respect, he does not need to cling to that retorical error of ideas-as-property. There is no good reason to continue with it.

  13. This is so ridiculous. Bob, you are committing an equivocation fallacy. Stephan defines scarcity differently than you. During the "debate" he clearly defined his terms. YOU DID NOT. If you wanted to argue about the proper definition of scarcity, you should have defined scarcity during the debate and argued against Stephan's definition.

  14. I think we are all having an issue of semantics. While I agree that Stephan is making some logical errors, he is also making good points about the current problem we have with the state granted privilege of IP.

    Just as Stephan can be pompous, so can Robert lack finesse. These are personality issues that tend to take away from both messages.

    The reality is that there is truth in both positions.

    State granted monopolies as we know it are not "libertarian" property rights. My take from Stephan's position at a high level is that and I agree with him. I'd say this is Rothbard's position also in MES:

    "If the state decrees that a man's property ceases at a certain date, this means that the State is the real owner and that it simply grants the man use of the property for a certain period of time."

    Stephan also makes the point that Rothbard's use of common-law copyright is really what we consider a "trade-secret" now.

    "The common law has often been a good guide to the law consonant with the free market. Hence, it is not surprising that common-law copyright prevails for unpublished literary manuscripts, while there is no such thing a common-law patent. At common law, the inventor also has the right to keep his invention unpublicized and safe from theft, i.e., he has the equivalent of the copyright protection for unpublicized inventions.

    On the free market, there would therefore be no such thing as patents."

    So, I agree with Stephan on this point. It does pair up with what Rothbard was trying to say in that context.

    Robert is also right that the Drudge formula is Intellectual Property. Stephan would call it a trade secret.

    Here is my take on the root of the issue:

    If I come up with a unique, novel formula that is currently unknown and I start using it to advance myself as a strategic advantage over my competition, in a "libertarian" world the market would determine the value of that formula based on how they pay me over my competition.

    If I never distribute that specific formula, then there is no debate over it. If I do choose to distribute it, I should be able to name the terms of that distribution via contract. If someone who has also developed a formula that gives the same result as mine, who has not violated any contractual agreement with me, has not stolen anything from me. That is the difference between physical property and uniqueness of that tangible good versus an idea that has a specific non-unique end result.

    If the idea was really unique "property," no one would be able to achieve the end result on their own without stealing it from the original developer.

    The problem with current IP is that the state grants monopoly power over a generic end-result. I see the Kinsella-Wenzel IP debate as one of defining semantics. It is a legitimate debate that is required to define private property in a "libertarian" world.

    The problem happening here is that most people are comparing apples to oranges. They are mixing the state use of force to incorrectly apply a broad monopoly power privilege, with one of private property contractual obligations and free-market competition.

    Both Wenzel and Kinsella are right in what they are trying to convey, even if they are having issues adequately communicating or have logical errors. Wenzel is right in trying to show logical errors in Kinsella's position in order to better define property rights in a "libertarian" private property society. Kinsella is right in that IP as we currently know it is not private property in that very same "libertarian" society.

  15. Property is a normative concept. The entire point of property rights is to answer the question "who owns this scarce resource?"

    No one disputes that parties to a contract are bound by the contract. The argument is over whether INFORMATION is an OWNABLE THING.

    The critical question is: does a property right exist in INFORMATION such that someone who is NOT A PARTY TO A CONTRACT can be FORCED NOT TO USE INFORMATION TO GUIDE THEIR ACTION?

    This is the entire crux of the argument.

    1. Correct. And the answer is that an attribute of a brain is not ownable. One person cannot rightly claim to own a thought in another person's brain.