“I think, therefore I own” – Objectivists as NeoMarxists of sorts

The usual apology for IP (“intellectual property”) privilege is that effort has to be rewarded in an advanced society if justice is to be made to creators and producers.

Interesting: Marxists say the very same thing. They claim that previous effort (“frozen labor”) is that which gives value to economic goods. Well, Objectivists are doing the same in a more fashionable — yet equally flawed — way. They claim economic value is derived from frozen…thoughts. Yes, frozen thoughts. See, Objectivists consider labor performed inside our heads1 the source of economic value, and thus being the very core of value creation it has to be rightfully protected at all costs, right?

Wrong. The source of value is the customer’s valuation of said good during the time of sale.

Yes, ladies and gentlement, it is sales (that mundane and sordid act) that which generates an income in a free society (i.e. the division of labor). Sales are the only way in which demonstrated preference tells us that which is valuable to others. And if it is, they surrender certain amount of another good by giving it to us in exchange for what they need and want. That good is generally one of general acceptance (the most marketeable one), in other words, money. So in order to make money one has to sell. It does not suffice to sit, philosopher style (see pic), and wait for money to come to oneself. One has to know how to turn the idea into an attractive and/or useful product, which requires a whole different set of skills. Or find able partners for the risk-taking endeavor. Even choosing an adequate partner/team for production, distribution, and sales require entrepreneurial skills far beyond the usual thinker’s.

But in any case, it is not “who thought of this first?” that makes people buy more of brand X. The customer couldn’t care less either way. It is the positioning of brand X in the customer’s mind that creates what we call a true market niche for a product. Thus, it follows that it is opportunity, quality and ultimately demonstrated preference (sales) that determines commercial success. Alas, Capitalism is not the social system of thinkers (nor was Socialism, as it was predictably taken over by power-mongers): it is the social system of merchants. Yes, lowly, mundane, and anti-intellectual merchants.

This, to the despair of (Objectivist) NeoMarxism and Marxism, two philosophies founded  by intellectuals who wanted to highlight the role of people like themselves.

  1. A substantially less sweaty form of labor, of course 

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Nice. As I wrote in The Death Throes of Pro-IP Libertarianism,

    “When the holes in their weak arguments are exposed, they [the libertarian IP proponents] escalate and call us IP socialists or communists — even though the idea that people who mentally "labor" "deserve" a "reward" for their labor is itself Marxian (see "Locke, Smith, Marx and the Labor Theory of Value"; "Objectivists: ‘All Property is Intellectual Property’").

  • The present effort to deny recognition of the individual right to intellectual property is a curious phenomenon. Those campaigning for this violation appear to be basing their argument (if such term can be employed in the present context) on some unspecified social good to be gotten for the many, a good sufficiently substantive as to outweigh any consideration for the well-being of that very small minority of people capable of the effort required to create intellectual content valuable enough to warrant the majority’s desire to enjoy it.

    This position seems to be reinforced by the intellectual property rights (IPR) abolitionists with the pragmatic argument, to the effect that the ready availability of personal computers and other technology puts powerful “copy machine” capability into the hands of millions of people – that majority again – who wish to enjoy the products of the creative exertions of the more innovative minority.

    Thus (these IPR deniers seem to be arguing) because the innovator lacks the proximal power to defend his output from those who would enjoy it (or otherwise make use of it, including the presentation of the innovators’ work as their own product, which is called “plagiarism”), there is no reason whatsoever to condemn the self-serving exploitation of the innovator’s property in his efforts.

    Hm. Sounds like the classic “defense” uttered by the violent rapist, doesn’t it? “If she didn’t want me to knock her to the floor, yank down her panties, and plow her furrow, she shouldn’t have shown herself in public dressed like that.”

    Yeah, that’s about right. If the innovator didn’t want his abstract arrangement of words or pictures or sounds taken by somebody else without either payment or an incidental recognition of the creator’s achievement, the silly booger shouldn’t have put it down so that any random admirer could scan it into easy-to-copy digital form and spread it all over.

    Of course, the pragmatic argument begs extension, doesn’t it? If the innovator is not able to get himself a living by way of his creative work – and the IPR deniers seem determined to achieve this condition, don’t they? – how is he supposed to be able to devote time and effort to the creative purpose?

    It might be supposed that the creator can find some wealthy eccentric who wants such work done – exclusively – for his own enjoyment, without any intention of publishing it in any mass market. Didn’t Anais Nin write erotica back in the ’40s for an anonymous “collector” for a dollar a page? The stuff became (unanticipatedly) publishable in the ’70s, and was at that time brought into print as Delta of Venus and Little Birds.

    Both titles, of course, had long since been digitally pirated by IPR deniers. Oh, well.

    But how much creative work that might appeal to the desirous majority is likely to come out of masturbatory fantasies produced for the monied onanist?

    Those who seek to secure without compensation the enjoyment of conceptual innovations (as opposed to material goods) which would not have come into existence without the purposeful effort of people who must – because they are themselves physical creatures – get themselves food and clothing and other material goods in order to survive are not only parasitic in their intentions and purposes but virulently pathological.

    They kill the process by which creative effort is enabled, particularly when they strive – as the IPR deniers are presently striving – to make a spurious argument for the obliteration of intellectual property rights.

    Think of it always as the rapist’s excuse. After all, the forcible rape of a woman or girl does not necessarily deprive her of the ability to engage voluntarily in sexual intercourse, does it? Her physical property in her person – while momentarily usurped by her rapist – is not permanently impaired, is it?

    By the bye, simply characterizing that there are “holes in their weak arguments” when that creative minority voice their objections to getting raped does nothing to refute them.

    Logical fallacy. But, then, rapists aren’t exactly logical people, are they?

    • Excellent comment, Tucci78! It is refreshing to read, for a change, something other than the echo chamber of Kinsella and his hangers-on. My favorite is Kevin Carson, who likes to refer to anyone who defends IP rights as a “Copyright Nazi” (cue Hitler moustache). These guys are riding high now, apparently certain they represent the wave of the future and will herald the world into a wonderful new era of freedom, where creators will magically reap sufficient reward in spite of the fact that theft of their work is legal, even encouraged, by Kinsella and his gang.

      I think it’s important for IP defenders to acknowledge that there ARE abuses perpetrated by governments today. The DMCA, for example, forbids commoners from even POSSESSING the means to crack anti-copying schemes; I, for one, absolutely refuse to abide by that law even as I try very hard to pay for what I enjoy even though I could circumvent the protections if I chose to.

      I also think it’s important to distinguish between patents, which tend to protect ideas that would almost certainly be independently derived by any number of people, from copyrights, which protect completed works, the accidental duplication of which would be astronomically small. I discuss this further at http://www.strike-the-root.com/node/26134 .

      Please keep posting! It’s high time for the advocates of freeloading to understand that their morally bankrupt ideas won’t sell, even to libertarians.

      • “I also think it’s important to distinguish between patents, which tend to protect ideas that would almost certainly be independently derived by any number of people, from copyrights, which protect completed works, the accidental duplication of which would be astronomically small.”

        I don’t think you know what you are talking about. Ever heard of “derivative works”? And are you aware copyright does not prohibit only literal duplication?

      • “These guys are riding high now, apparently certain they represent the wave of the future and will herald the world into a wonderful new era of freedom, where creators will magically reap sufficient reward in spite of the fact that theft of their work is legal, even encouraged, by Kinsella and his gang.”

        I, for one, do not say this. I support freedom. Compensating creators is meaningless to me. If the popular book and movie industries collapse, then so be it. I’m no more concerned about that than I would be concerned about fate of the domestic steel industry in the absence of high tariffs.

  • Tucci78,

    Your response is cute, but ultimately is not an argument. Precisely whether or not ideas can be property is what is under question. JFC here argues that it is not merely thinking and coming up with ideas that creates value. He is correct. Furthermore, any implementation of intellectual property is going to be inherently problematic, because ideas abstract things that are not scarce. Multiple thinkers coming up with an idea is one prime example — only one of them is given a patent. (this has happened quite often throughout history; i.e., Newton and Leibniz arguably inventing calculus independently).

    Furthermore, the supporters of intellectual property must support aggression against real, physical property. Intellectual property is incompatible with private property rights. Here’s why…lets say that two people are on an island, John and Adam. If John discovers a better way to fish — using some new method or technology — and Adam sees him doing this, John can prevent Adam from implementing this idea himself. Why? Because John “thought of it first”. But so what? That doesn’t give John the right to prevent Adam from configuring his property in the way he sees fit.

    Perhaps you should read Stephan N. Kinsella’s paper, Against Intellectual Property. It thoroughly demolishes your ideas.

    PS: It is also worth noting that there is something ironic about Objectivists and Randians who say that they value freedom and private property rights, yet utilize Statist intellectual property rights to prevent the wider dispersal of their ideas. Fortunately for the opponents of IP, it will always be easier to obtain access to their idea than to the ideas of the proponents of IP.

  • Tucci78,

    I read your post a number of times and I believe that you may have formulated a straw man argument.

    Conceptual patterns (thoughts, expressions, personal reputation, etc) are not goods. Nor are they products or things. Conceptual patterns are just that, concepts. It is certain that a conceptual pattern can be represented in a physical medium (recording, video, book) but that doesn’t make the underlying concept a good anymore than writing 2+2=4 makes numbers suddenly possess material reality.

    I think what concerns you the most is the notion (concept) that someone might put a lot of time into, say, writing a novel and not get monetarily compensated. This is a sad testimony to the current state of cultural and civil evolution. It never seems to occur to you that perhaps such an artist might not have material gain foremost on their mind. That perhaps the artist is more interested in promoting aesthetics or putting forth a particular viewpoint or simply wants to share his or her innermost thoughts with the rest of humanity.

    There is really only one question that need be resolved: can a conceptual pattern really be considered property? I have yet to hear an argument on the pro side that is logically and rationally consistent. Be that as it may, that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to hearing them. However, rational and logical consistency is a requirement for any argument to be considered sound.

    All of the other points you make in your comment derive from this question. You have clearly arrived at the conclusion that conceptual patterns are property. Yet you offer no logically consistent rationale. Instead you try to draw an analogy between rebroadcasting a NFL football game in a bar without express, written permission (for example) and raping a girl. One cannot rationally compare the two. Rebroadcasting is not violent. It does not require the bar owner to physically stalk the NFL, subdue the NFL, hold the NFL down and forcibly stick his penis into the NFL’s “furrow”. The former is simply a matter of passively collecting a pattern of electromagnetic energy out of the sky and processing it through a television. The other is a brutal and violent violation of a person’s body.

    Making use of conceptual patterns is not rape.

  • I’d also like to add this: I don’t have any philosophical problem with people who wish to gain wealth by selling a conceptual patterns to others. I also don’t have any problem with those same people employing any non-violent means at their disposal to prevent anyone else from discovering the exact, conceptual pattern without first giving them compensation. However, once the encryption algorithm is cracked, the broadcast is unscrambled, the file is hacked or the widget is reverse engineered, then the genie is out of the bottle and is in the public domain.

    Further, I have no problem with the originator of a conceptual pattern publicly railing against a plagerist who tries to pass it off as their own. Reputations are not property and therefore open to influence. Nor do I have a problem with consumers seeking restitution against a seller who passes off a copy of something as though it were an original. Fraud is theft by deception.