22 Aug 2011

Stephan Kinsella on Intellectual Property

All Posts, Economics 20 Comments

This was his talk at Mises U this year. I didn’t watch it live, but just caught it while balancing my checkbook. (Feel free to steal my idea; I won’t sue.) The Q&A is really good.

20 Responses to “Stephan Kinsella on Intellectual Property”

  1. Silas Barta says:

    Kinsella is most certainly not “excellent” on intellectual property.

    • Rick Hull says:

      Silas, care to elaborate?

    • bobmurphy says:

      Silas, I know you don’t like his views on this, but is the “excellent” a specific reference to something? If so, I don’t get it.

      • Silas Barta says:

        No, just his general tendency to praise any argument, no matter how bad, if it agrees with him on IP.

        The specific argument’s he’s failed to address, however, are summarized here

        In short,

        1) IP claims, contra Kinsella, are claims to the right to use scarce resources so long as you phrase them correctly. There goes his argument from scarcity.

        2) He can’t distinguish the scarcity in ideas from scarcity in radio transmissions. So he doesn’t even know if his IP argument is consistent with support of (any kind of) EM spectrum rights!

        3) He can’t reconcile it with the calculation argument, showing how entrepreneurs can know the relative merit of investing in producting informational goods vs other kinds in the absence of such property rights.

        He’s aware of the arguments, he understands them, he just doesn’t know what’s wrong with them. I’m surprised you buy into it still.

        • Rick Hull says:

          Regarding #1, you say in the linked post:

          > They are making specific claims about others’ moral right to instantiate it, which is different. While we may have reasons to find this claim unjustifiable, it cannot be on grounds of non-scarcity: they are, undebatably, making a claim to the use of scarce resources.

          What is the scarce resource? You assert scarcity without demonstrating it.

          > any IP proponent can sidestep that argument simply by rephrasing it (“I own this idea” to “I should have the right to exclude others from using their possessions to instantiate this idea”)

          What is the right to exclusive use of something other than ownership? Could we not simplify your sidestep to “I own the instantiation of this idea”? If we can, it’s not so clear how useful this sidestep is.

          • Silas Barta says:

            No, because the person is claiming partial ownership of certain uses of the object — which is scarace — not the “idea”, which isn’t. The only way for your or Kinsella’s argument to work is to take “idea ownership” metaphorically in one case and then literally in another. If you keep consistent usages, you can see that any IP advocate, through simple change of phrasing, is claiming scarce resources.

            And yes, for the 1000th time I’ve had to explain this, that wouldn’t itself make the IP advocate’s claim VALID, just that it couldn’t be rejected on grounds of non-scarcity … which is what Kinsella is trying to do, if you didn’t notice.

            • Rick Hull says:

              So, the scarce resource is precisely “certain uses of the object”. Pardon me if I do not find this concept coherent or compelling. You are stretching the definition of a resource beyond reasonable bounds. I make a distinction between the resource itself and how it is used. Do you deny this distinction?

              For example, I make a distinction between the resources on this planet, e.g. oil, minerals, flora, fauna, etc, and the way in which we use these resources — i.e. technology.

              Advances in technology will not increase the resources on this planet. Advances in technology will only affect the way in which we put these resources to use. Our resources are indeed scarce. Our technology is not.

              • Silas Barta says:

                So, the scarce resource is precisely “certain uses of the object”.

                No, the scarce resource is the object, and the right extends to only some uses. Kind of like an apartment rental arrangement in which the owner and renter only retain partial usage rights to the apartment.

                See? This is why it’s so hard to communicate with Kinsella acolytes.

                (Please, please confirm your confusion by objecting that my example of a rental contract is irrelevant to my claim, that a right may only cover some uses of an object, by saying something asinine like “But that’s a voluntary arrangement!” Cause, like, I haven’t heard that a hundred times before from people who didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.)

            • Beefcake the Mighty says:

              suck it, [female dog–editor]!

              .(‘(…´…´…. ¯~/’…’)
              …’\……………. _.·´

        • Rick Hull says:

          Later, regarding #1:

          > The very act of presenting a claim over “IP” while others disagree with it, irrefutably establishes the existence of conflict and therefore scarcity.

          This seems completely daft. If I make a claim to the contents of your brain, and you contest this claim as illegitimate, have you therefore established its legitimacy?

          • Rick Hull says:

            Further, I think mere conflict is neither necessary nor sufficient to establish scarcity. I may characterize your mother poorly, and you may disagree, thereby creating a conflict. Where is the scarcity?

            • Silas Barta says:

              I agree. So, you’re saying, then, that you don’t understand where the scarcity is when A says “X should be used per Y” while B says “X should be used per ~Y”.

              • Rick Hull says:

                If I may fill in the variables to make the example concrete:

                X = humor; Y = “in the presence of others”

                I don’t see where scarcity is established.

          • Silas Barta says:

            Wow, didn’t see that one coming!

            Yes, your assertion would not establish your claim’s validity, but neither would it be relevant *in objecting* to your claim to say that “my brain isn’t really scarce, so you’re wrong”.

            …which is what Kinsella is trying to do with his case against IP.

            • Rick Hull says:

              OK, maybe I chose a bad example. Your brain is clearly scarce, for better or worse.

              If I instead make a claim to the breeze over the Midwestern Plains, and you contest this claim as illegitimate, have you now established that the breeze is scarce?

              • Rick Hull says:

                I’ll be generous and assume Silas is no longer checking the comments, here. I’m sure I’ve got him boxed in, here.

                I would also like to note that I am not a Kinsella acolyte. At this point I’ve read more Barta than Kinsella on IP.

                Though I remain deeply suspicious of IP, my objections to Silas’ argument are not in defense of IP skeptics but rather pointing out where and I why I do not find his position compelling.

                I fully admit to finding his arguments confusing, and this dialogue is a genuine attempt on my part to clear it up.

              • Silas Barta says:

                I replied to your other point above; I’m not going to reply to each branch because most of the points are redundant. See the top branch where I have the latest reply.

        • Tel says:

          2) He can’t distinguish the scarcity in ideas from scarcity in radio transmissions.

          Presumably he has never watched cable TV.

  2. Beefcake the Mighty says:

    Silas Barta is the intellectual equivalent of a Cleveland steamer.

    • Rick Hull says:

      Thanks for presenting your intellectual bona fides.