I really don’t believe what I have just read from Patrick Vessey over at the LPUK blog. Though he stresses that his views are not necessarily those of the party, it brings me deep unease.
A nice little article today over at mises.org looking at how ‘Intellectual Property’ in the form of patent protection held back the industrial revolution, and slowed down advances beneficial to us all. It’s not a new story, but rent seeking has a long and ignominious history.
Why should the products of the mind not receive the same protection under law that products of the body have, by virtue of property law – that which libertarians ought to accept as the underpinning of civilisation?
Hmmmm… if you read the article at Mises, it’s actually about how James Watt, having used the fledgling patent system to protect his steam-engine inventions, then went on to abuse the same system to unfairly prevent competition.
So, because one man, in the early days of the concept of property of the mind, played the system to do better than his competitors and wring the maximum return out of his inventions, yet failed to innovate once his patent was in place, there’s the idea that we should eject the bath, water and baby? That the products of the mind, lacking the tangibility of solid goods and being the privilege of a fortunate minority of superior minds, should be expropriated for the benefit of all those who contributed nothing to the innovation?
I’ll take the point that the patent system, like any system, is not perfect. But are we to entitle ourselves to the Rolls Royces of those who are fortunate enough to afford one? And what about others’ houses, clothes, electronics that we may covet? Is it unfair that we can’t have them? Shall we just take them?
Update: I’ve just read much of the Kinsella book mentioned above and it’s quite absurd. It is written not from a neutral viewpoint, but from an openly anti-IP position. Repeated and laboured examples of the difference between physical and intellectual property, all based on a raft of false and disingenuous premises. Let me give you an example.
Kinsella holds that property rights are justified by the scarcity of physical goods and resources, which we know and accept. He conversely posits that IP amounts to ideas, and there cannot be a scarcity of ideas, therefore ideas can hold no tangible value.
This is clearly a nonsense. Sure, very few ideas truly hold worth, since most are inconsequential or somehow flawed. But to therefore say that ideas hold no tangible value is to say that no material item has value because an empty crisp packet is worthless.
What there is a scarcity of, Mr Kinsella, is good ideas. As someone who reads, learns, thinks and innovates, I rather dislike the idea of every other numpty, sat watching Big Brother and guzzling Pringles ‘deserving’ the opportunity to benefit from my ideas. The value invested in my ideas comes from the efforts and sacrifices I have made to bring myself to the point of having the ideas.
It’s possible that as the British education system continues its slide into decrepitude, the paucity of exceptionally talented minds will become more pronounced and the value of good ideas will increase. This is already happening in the Anglophone world. When I was leaving school, it filled me with dread to see how talented men of 50 were being overlooked because of ‘age discrimination’ i.e. there were plenty of good younger candidates. I’m not worried now, because with plummeting rates of literacy and numeracy, I’m always going to be needed so long as I am of able mind.
There’s a pie, right, and I’m having it.