[This article is based on a speech I gave at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, December 5, 2011.]
You know that anti-piracy video you sometimes see at the beginning of movies? It explains how you wouldn’t steal a handbag, so neither should you steal a song or movie by an illegal download. Well, it turns out that the guy who wrote the music for that short clip, Melchoir Rietveldt, says that his music is being used illegally. It had been licensed to play at one film festival, not replayed a million times in DVDs distributed all over the world. He is demanding millions in a settlement fee from BREIN, the anti-piracy organization that produced the thing.
Interesting isn’t it? When you have hypocrisy that blatant, criminality this rampant, practices called piracy this pervasive – it reminds you of the interwar Prohibition years – you have to ask yourself if there is something fundamentally wrong with the law and the principles that underlie the law. Yes, people should keep to their contracts. But that’s not what we are talking about here; this case is being treated not as a contract violation but a copyright violation, which is something different. We are dealing with a more fundamental issue. Is it really stealing to reproduce an idea, an image, or an idea? Is it really contrary to morality to copy an idea?
The verdict here is crucially important because ever more of the state’s active intervention against liberty and real property is taking place in the name of intellectual property enforcement. The legislation SOPA could effectively end Internet freedom in the name of enforcing property rights.
If people who believe in liberty do not get this correct – and it no longer possible to stand on the sidelines – we will find ourselves siding with the state, the courts, the thugs, and even the international enforcement arm of the military industrial complex, all in the name of property rights. And that is a very dangerous thing at this point in history, since IP enforcement has become one of the greatest threats to liberty that we face today.
The media are in a kerfuffle about a short-term egg shortage caused by Target and other supermarket chains dropping a major supplier, Sparboe Farms, following reports that workers at its production facilities abused chickens and failed to follow the company’s animal welfare policy. The revelations were punctuated by a graphic undercover video released by animal rights group Mercy for Animals, which showed workers stuffing chickens into cramped battery cages, pulling rotting carcasses out of cages, “torturing” birds by swinging them around by their legs, and so on. No matter how you feel about animal rights, it’s not pleasant to watch.
Sparboe, for its part, has shifted its damage control into overdrive, posting updates about steps it has taken to “rectify problems” and pointing out that it is the first egg supplier to receive USDA certification. Which, given these reports, provides some insight into the worth of government certifications.
I expect a government response will be forthcoming, and Sparboe may face fines and possibly a regiment of FDA inspectors swarming over its farms in the months to come. But anything the government can do in its enforcement role pales next to the punishment which can be meted out by the market. Even if millions of consumers haven’t suddenly adopted veganism in response to the video, they still have let their displeasure be known, and the result is that Sparboe has lost significant business and is now forced to reevaluate its practices in order to regain consumer trust. Which is exactly as it should be. No amount of regulatory oversight will prevent every problem in our food supply (this year has also seen the deadliest listeria outbreak, from tainted cantaloupe, since the 1920s), but with the ease with which information disseminates online, the market will help ensure such problems do not go unnoticed by consumers, who are then free to vote their conscience. If only the market was free to punish every business, no matter how large or small, for bad decisions and unethical practices.
Supporters of free markets are often attacked for their “Do Nothing Principle” position, which tends to deeply upset policy wonks and media talking heads alike. Obviously this is buncombe, and to the contrary it is these would-be do-somethingers who are intellectually or ideologically incapable of grasping the sweeping scope of necessary changes that free market advocates are calling for.
For example, the charge that “Hangover Theorists” are selfish moralizers who want poor and middle-class families to needlessly suffer during a recession is prima facie incorrect. The interlocutor is simply misled by my yawning enthusiasm for his policy prescriptions into thinking I have no “serious” and “realistic” plan to help society, and that I want to “do nothing.”
Do nothing you say?
To the contrary, I advocate doing a lot, including the complete abolition of the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury, the US Federal Mint, the US departments relating to labor, trade, banking, securities, etc. It is those who want to merely tweak a bit here and there who are hem-hawing over making serious policy changes, and who have the gall to accuse me of advocating to “do nothing”!
The entrance to the neighborhood where we live is very well designed and maintained, complete with manicured lawns, ponds and fountains. Just recently, while on a run, I noticed that each tree was being irrigated. Not by hand of course. Not even by one sprinkler. There were two of them–two very small sprinklers slowly misting the roots of the tree.
How great that thanks to capital accumulation it is possible to have these little wonders of the market.