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Unpublished Letter to The Economist on Inflation, and others

Three letters-to-the-editor I wrote in the 1980s/90s that were never published are here, and repixeled below: on on inflation; one on gambling prohibition; one on free will (nature vs. nurture).

To The Economist (Nov. 11, 1992)

Editor, Letters Page
The Economist Newspaper
25 St James’s Street
London SWlA 1HG
England

Dear Sir:

In “Zero Inflation: How Low is Low Enough?” (November 7th) you assume that governments ought to pursue a low, stable price inflation rate in order to best benefit their economies. In a growing economy, however, a zero price inflation rate would require inflation of the money supply, which itself adversely affects market behaviour. Money inflation artificially lowers interest rates, sending false signals which cause malinvestments and temporary booms. These malinvestments must, ultimately, be liquidated by recession. Thus, the business cycle is born.

The “ideal” rate of price inflation is thus whatever rate—probably a mild deflation—accompanies a zero money inflation rate. In short, in order to avoid price inflation and harmful market disturbances, government should quit printing more money altogether.

Very truly yours,
N. Stephan Kinsella
Houston, Texas

 ***

To the Gonzales Weekly [La.] (Oct. 4, 1988) (written when I was in law school and more in my Randian phase)

Editor, Gonzales Weekly
P.O. Box 38
Gonzales, LA 70737

Editor:

It may be a sin to gamble; it may be immoral, stupid, wrong. But much worse than a gambler is the man who attempts to pass—or preserve—a law which makes gambling illegal. To chain a man; to enslave your fellow man—even partial enslavement like restricting his right to gamble, or smoke, or read pornography, or drive without a seatbelt—is much more evil than the minor sins which are banned.

When you deny a man the chance to be immoral, you also deny him the chance to be moral; you turn him into an amoral robot. Just as a torture-induced lie is no sin, so abstaining from gambling under threat of law is no virtue.

The fundamental characteristic of America (now being casually discarded) is the concept of individual rights; each person has certain inalienable rights which even a majority may not violate. “Democracy”—a word which is not mentioned in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution—is not what made America so great. Let us not forget that a lynch mob is a perfect example of democracy in action.

As Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence, wrote in Notes on Virginia, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Now in deciding, on last October 1st, whether to vote for the Off-Track Gambling proposal, the question to ask was not: “Do I like to gamble?” Rather, the proper question was: “Do I have the right to stop my neighbor from gambling—or smoking—or praying—or drinking—if he wishes to?” The answer is no.

And what is truly sad is that the pro-gamblers had to beg for your permission to do what is their right, like a starving dog begging for crumbs off the master’s table; but, you see, no man is another’s master. Instead of “Vote for gambling—you’ll get some tax-money out of it!” the pro-gambler’s ads should have read: “Whether you gamble or not, vote to legalize gambling; for no man can have the right to enslave another—even if it is for his own good.”

N. Stephan Kinsella

 

***

To The Economist (Jan. 4, 1993)

Editor, Letters Page
The Economist Newspaper
25 St James’s Street
London SWlA 1HG
England

Dear Sir:

You suggest in your article “Nature or Nurture” (December 26th) that various character traits, such as criminality, are the result of certain amounts of nature (genetics) and nurture (environment). A choice to steal may be, under this paradigm, “caused,” say, 30% by nature and 70% by nurture. But this omits the factor of free will—a choice to steal is a choice, after all. A more realistic division of causal factors might be one-third nature, one-third nurture, and one-third volition. Indeed, with a deeper and truer sense of volition, we might say the cause of a given choice is 100% free will. Otherwise how can any actions be blame- or praiseworthy-and how could we justify imprisoning a person “forced,” by nature and nurture, to murder someone?

SHORTER VERSION OF SAME LETTER:

You suggest (December 26th) that various character traits, such as criminality, are the result of certain amounts of nature and nurture. A choice to steal may be, under this paradigm, “caused,” say, 30% by nature and 70% by nurture. But this omits the factor of free will. A more realistic division of causal factors might be 1/3 nature, 1/3 nurture, and 1/3 volition. Indeed, with a deeper and truer sense of volition, we might say the cause of a given choice is 100% free will. A choice to steal is a choice, after all.

Very truly yours,
N. Stephan Kinsella
Houston, Texas

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  • Major.Freedom February 2, 2015, 1:33 pm

    Hi Stephen, long time follower, first time commenter.

    I have what I think is a new idea on IP that perhaps you might be interested in reading.

    I think the route of regarding ideas as not scarce, as not rivalrous, is wrong, but nevertheless still does not constitute a justification for intellectual property in them.

    Here is how I came to this conclusion, and do please do not hesitate to suggest any corrections should there be errors.

    Ideas in the realm of pure thought are indeed infinitely reproducible, and non-rivalrous. Ideas as such in the realm of pure thought encompass the idea of God, immortality, and the soul, whether they are right or wrong.

    But ideas constrained to praxeology are not infinitely reproducible, and they are not rivalrous. Here is what I mean. Time always goes forward. We must make choices. By the nature of our being, we cannot actually infinitely reproduce any idea. Ideas must be economized. I believe you’ll agree with me that some people are better or worse than others in economizing ideas. If I think an idea of how to build an iPhone, then I am not thinking a practically unlimited potential supply of all other thoughts. If I consider my life, I have only ever thought of a finite, limited supply of ideas as such. This will not change throughout my life.

    Now if we then admit that ideas in the praxeological sense are always scarce in that I essentially compete my own ideas against each other, where thinking some things become “winners” whereas all other potential thoughts are “losers”. For me, I win praxeologically, but in terms of my attention to ideas, some ideas lose out in the competition for my attention.

    Now this view of ideas as scarce I would argue doss not have to necessitate you losing material property in order for that idea to be scarce. For you, if I think an idea, and then you use your mind and property to have the same idea, then you I would argue have not shown that idea to be non-rivalrous. For if you did acquire that same mental pattern, that same thought, then you yourself have made other ideas impossible in your mind. The idea you believed was non-rivalrous, is I argue you competing for an idea that makes other ideas an impossibility at the time. You would be economizing that idea. How much and how oftsen do you consider that idea?

    I think this is the constraint that causes ideas being priced even in a free market. Ideas in a division of labor become scarce and valuable.

    Does this mean that IP is justified? I would say no. For it is not the scarcity of the idea that is valuable, but the time and effort in orgnizing one’s body and resources to hold the idea, and the extent of the opportunity costs make such an idea more or less valuable.

    What I think remains true despite the above is that even though the ideas are scarce, it doesn’t imply you can own other people’s persons or homesteaded property. Property rights are not justified per se because of scarcity of property, it only makes property rights the only way to avoid conflict in a world of scarce bodies and material goods.

    Now even if we assume a world of infinite abundance, I would argue that A would still be committing an act of theft against B if A took B’s homesteaded iPhone against B’s will. For even though B might very well be able to go out and replace his lost iPhone with a new one, he would still as an actor be required to exert effort and time in replacing the stolen iPhone. Those costs are not justified simply because the good is infinite supply. Imagine me taking your house but then offering you the choice of taking an exact replica by your own efforts out of the magical box of infinite houses. It would still be theft.

    So infinite supply of goods is not actually sufficient to making property rights unjustified or ungrounded. It is actually scarcity inherent in action.

    So if you “copy” my idea, without incurring any violations of property rights, it does not imply that idea is not scarce. It still is scarce praxeologically, which is why you might find a willing buyer for it.

    Now if on the other hand you were not constrained to action, if your consciousness was unlimited and infinite, THEN ideas would lose their scarcity, because then you would be able to think of any idea without ruling out thinking of other ideas. You could think of everything simultaneously. And then you would not entertain anyone’s offer to work for you as an idea factory, or accept someone’s offer to sell you their idea. For then you would be a being of pure thought not constrained to action.

    But as long as you act, you must make choices not only in what you produce and consume materially, but also what ideas to entertain. But does this make ideas “rivalrous”? If rivalrous means that acquiring it implies someone else must give up material wealth or personal freedom, then no. But if rivalrous means one must exert an effort in order to acquire it, where it cannot praxeologically be infinitely reproduced out of sheer constraints of time and resources, then yes. Ideas are a personal, subjective rivalrous good, like one’s body. Just like someone else duplicating your body using their own wealth is not theft against you, neither is duplicating the ideas in your mind.

    I think Hoppe may be treating ideas as infinitely reproducible because of the Kantian habit of working with transcendentals. I speculate of course. I think Mises’ discovery of action as being the link between ideas and “external” reality, applies to ideas in the body as well. Action, for better or worse, constrains even our thoughts.

    I welcome demolition.

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