Thursday, August 14, 2014

Edelstein and Block versus Wenzel, on IP

Michael Edelstein and Walter Block disagree with me on Intellectual Property and Rand Paul (and perhaps other things).

Recently ,the three of us, at Michael's urging, agreed to have a series of telephone conversations on these topics. At the last minute, Michael proposed that he record the conversations. Walter and I both agreed. Below is the first conversation in the series. Because the decision to record was made at the last minute, the quality of the recording is poor at times.

For the next conversation, I will record from my end, hopefully resulting in a little better quality.

Here's Round 1:


  1. Damn, RW, it takes balls to go head to head with Walter and Edelstein at the same time!

    I'll grab the popcorn and listen.

  2. Can get to the clip.

    Your link goes to a post in the LRC blog which contains a link. This second link goes to a page that says the audio file is corrupt.

  3. I just finally had time to listen to this discussion, here are some notes:

    1. I like the tone and the fact it's a discussion more than a debate, I think that dissect the issues better.

    2. I'm quite surprised that Block seemed to take a utilitarian approach to the discussion.

    3. As most that read here know, I agree with RW on his viewpoint that IP should be treated as other forms of property in the libertarian ethos, the only difference being that I see Bastiat's work as relevant and applicable in the "proof"(as in work) of such.

    In that regard, I think Bastiat offers answers to some of Block's questions, specifically in regard to movement of property from the private sphere to the public sphere. I believe Bastiat was cutting edge in his viewpoint/theory and more importantly it fits with Rothbard's view of "natural rights" and serves as an explanation as to why Block's example of "word" monopoly is not only not realistic in a utilitarian sense, but more importantly simply not natural.

    The bottom line is that just because some might invent/own something, doesn't mean that the property right isn't lost or given away for a variety of reasons. Having no heirs, technological advance that makes the property irrelevant, etc. et al(there's a ton of reasons) all contribute to this movement of property Bastiat defined from the private to the public sphere.

    I hope in the next discussion there's some further (deep) exploration on why Block is ok with copyright but not IP...I think there's some room for dissection there so I better understand his viewpoint and how he differentiates the two.

    For instance, program code can be words....just like a how does Block differentiate the two?(because one can copyright a novel, but not code) That to me seems important. Also, I'd like to know how Block feels about Trademarks.

    Great discussion in all, I look forward to hearing more.

    1. It could also be argued that code is a series of equations, whereas a novel is not. I'm not arguing this is necessarily relevant, but it is an objective difference.

    2. "It could also be argued that code is a series of equations, whereas a novel is not."

      Depends on which level of language it's being written in of course....

    3. One other quick note on your thought just struck me. Bastiat talks about the creation of property itself via the basis of Lockean philosophy(labor theory) mixed with a "gifts from God" type premise. You can substitute the God portion for let's say natural resources as an example of you aren't a Believer(that would be me for example).

      On that basis, here's an example of this notion:

      No one "creates" gold, but labor/capital is put in to pulling it out of the ground, refining it, casting it, etc. and then it becomes someone's property.

      How this relates to your comment is this:

      Someone undertook the work to write code in a way that made a "series of equations" meaningful, they added their labor to create said value(though subjective) but the equations themselves are a natural resource(from where we don't need to debate as it's not germane for this topic). However, without the work to uncover them, they remain an unusable(and perhaps unknown depending on the equation) resource.

      I lifted the above straight from Bastiat(contextually of course), but I just wanted to point it out/make people aware of his work in this specific area.

    4. "...Block's example of "word" monopoly is not only not realistic in a utilitarian sense, but more importantly simply not natural."

      The natural purpose for sex is to procreate, yet people have sex for other reasons. Some have sex purely for pleasure (sex with contraceptives or homosexual sex); relevant to the language discussion is that people charge money for sex- an example of a use that is "not natural".

    5. "It could also be argued that code is a series of equations, whereas a novel is not."

      Depends on which level of language it is being written in of course....

      That depends on what your definition of is is.

    6. "relevant to the language discussion is that people charge money for sex- an example of a use that is "not natural"."

      I'm not sure if I agree. Sex itself is a natural drive, even that of a homosexual nature(though the prevalence statistically is far below that of hetero).

      Regardless, it probably a minor point in the scope of the discussion.

      Btw, after a while I felt really bad about the way our last discussion ended on IP, please accept my apologies.

      Best Regards.

    7. "That depends on what your definition of is is."

      LOL! I thought you might feel that way, hence my follow up.

  4. Robert,
    I think I'm missing a part of your argument... What if I were to tell you that I invented the word threepeat the year before Pat Riley, and that I established a patent on it then with a $1,000,000,000 fee for all who use it, and use of the term without paying the fee results in jail. I heard you use it on this podcast and now I'd like to collect. You'd comply with my terms? Or are you saying that I have to inform you of my patent before I can enforce it?

    1. Yes, you are correct. You are missing part of my argument. You didn't get at all my point in the conversation that I made with regard to independent discovery. You don't have to inform me of anything. If I use a term that I develop independently, you have no claim against me.

  5. RW, I agree with you pretty much in principle on IP but suggest you rethink your "independent discovery" requirement.

    I prefer "first to file" (which btw the US adopted March 16, 2013).

    It's much easier to validate a date than independent discovery. There is a greater risk of patent trolls doing a little work on a promising new invention, wait for someone to file and then make a claim. They could back date work products and claim they had no idea the invention was patented. Could be very burdensome on courts and inventors.

    First to file means inventors need to get their application in quickly which is a good thing anyway AFAIC. Not being first is a risk of the game.

    Just a thought. Keep up the good work.