Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is Intellectual Property Bad?

Jeffrey Tucker, editor of Mises.org, gives a rave review of a new book that suggests intellectual property laws should be abolished.

Is there something wrong with our intellectual property laws?

"The worldly-wise say no. This is just the way things are. It is for us not to question but to obey. So it is with all despotisms in human history. They become so woven into the fabric of daily life that absurdities are no longer questioned. Only a handful of daring people are capable of thinking along completely different lines. But when they do, the earth beneath our feet moves.

Such is the case with Against Intellectual Monopoly (Cambridge University Press, 2008) by Michele Boldrin and David Levine, two daring professors of economics at Washington University in St. Louis. They have written a book that is likely to rock your world, as it has mine. (It is also posted on their site with the permission of the publisher.) ...

Their main thesis is a seemingly simple one. Copyright and patents are not part of the natural competitive order. They are products of positive law and legislation, imposed at the behest of market winners as a means of excluding competition. They are government grants of monopolies, and, as neoclassical economists with a promarket disposition, the authors are against monopoly because it raises prices, generates economic stagnation, inhibits innovation, robs consumers, and rewards special interests.

What they have done is apply this conventional model of monopoly to one of the most long-lasting, old-world forms of mercantilist/monopolistic institutional privilege, a surviving form of mercantilist privilege of the 16th century. IP is like a dam in the river of development, or perhaps very large boulders that impede the flow.

They too favor its total repeal but their case goes far beyond the theoretical. They convince you that radical, far-reaching, uncompromising, revolutionary reform is essential to our social well-being now and in the future."


Anonymous said...

I just want to make a few statements real quick and hope it makes sense.

1.) This review sounds like Communist propaganda dribble. Notice the undertone of class warfare – “imposed at the behest of market winners as a means of excluding competition” and all the rest of the third paragraph.

2.) Also in the third Paragraph; “the authors are against monopoly because it raises prices, generates economic stagnation, inhibits innovation, robs consumers, and rewards special interests.”
However the intellectual property of say, a writer, weather it’s fiction or non-fiction takes time and work. Why should the labor of one person be free? As for it rewarding special interests wouldn’t that only be true if only special interests could buy the product? Further more a good idea that is protected by a copy right means that another writer would have to come up with THEIR OWN thoughts to write and sell, this is competition and the biases of a free market. It generates more business rather then stagnation.
3.) I think it is both scary and frustrating to see that the authors of this book being reviewed are college teachers, making them selves evidence that communism is being forced on students!

Philip said...

I don't believe anyone at the Mises Institute (or anyone they would review positively) is in favor of a communistic system. Far from it; they abhor even our current "mixed" economy, preferring a pure laissez faire economy.

This article builds upon that theme by arguing less government intervention, even in areas where it might seem especially beneficial (e.g., the copyright on a novel).

I would be interested to hear Stephen's defense of this particular case.

Stephen said...

I haven't really delved into this issue deeply, I just found it an interesting perspective.

However, I did find a passage in the book that addresses the novel example. The PDF is here:


The part about novels starts on the bottom of page 24 (page 26 of the PDF).

Philip said...

Very interesting read! I can certainly understand people's initial reaction of - WHAT!?! (for example, Karen's not buying it), but I think they may be on to something . . .

In may experience, the free market solution always ends up being the right answer. Even when it sounds crazy.