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KOL367 | Disenthrall with Patrick Smith: Fisking Strangerous Thoughts’ Critique of “Intellectual Communism”


Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 367.

I appeared on Patrick Smith’s Disenthrall channel (Disenthrall Youtube channel) to discuss and rebut—to fisk, really—an article by one “Strangerous Thoughts” from 2010 criticizing my IP abolitionism—or my “intellectual communism,” as he called it. The main article is: The economic principles of intellectual property and the fallacies of intellectual communism; see also his related article The ultimate justification for natural and intellectual property.

From Patrick’s shownotes:

I was linked an article calling my position on intellectual property communism. Let’s dive in and see if I’m wrong and if we can learn something new with none other than the leader in libertarian intellectual property critiques, Mr Libertarian Heavyweight himself, Stephan Kinsella!

Article in question: https://bit.ly/32d3WXZ

For links to Support Us, Our Social Media, Video Platforms, Swag Stores, Discord Server, and way more check out our web site: https://www.disenthrall.me/platforms

Patrick is one of the best podcast hosts/interviewers I’ve had, and he was excellent here. We crammed a lot of fisking into this 100 minute discussion, which was not easy since Strangerous purports to identify “17 fallacies” in my IP thought.

Odyssee video:

My backup video on Youtube:


{ 7 comments… add one }
  • David Burns December 22, 2021, 8:55 pm

    24:30 “ It’s impossible to own knowledge because all rights are enforced by a law and all law is enforceable with physical force and physical force can only apply to physical things in the causal world, which are the scarce resources which are subject to property rights. […] The court might issue an injunction saying you cannot use your printing press to print this Harry Potter book […] force is being used against your physical body, threatening you with jail time or with financial penalties or using an injunction against your physical property. So all rights are property rights and they all affect scarce resources. So it is literally impossible to own ideas.”

    I basically agree with the thought, but find the expression quite misleading and exaggerated. Obviously this is not saying that the legal system currently does not treat copyrights and patents as things that can be owned, used, licensed, sold, and violated. So it is not physically or conceptually impossible. It must mean some other sense of impossibility.

    IP is not logically self-contradictory, or at least if it is, this has not shown us the receipts. It does contradict some libertarian principles. Primarily, it contradicts a specific interpretation of Hoppe’s derivation of private property in his argumentation ethics that restricts property to rivalrous physical objects. Rivalry creates the possibility of conflict; Hoppe views property as a means for resolving and avoiding such conflicts. Without rivalry, property serves no necessary or even useful purpose. It’s purpose of avoiding conflict can be achieved automatically in a world without rivalry. Persons that Hoppe has persuaded could only defend IP by somehow showing that IP somehow counts as a rivalrous resource. (Lester makes such an argument, but equivocates on the meaning of rivalry.)

    Dissenters from Hoppe’s property idea are free to imagine their own purposes for property norms and contradict Hoppe. Hoppe would probably reply that such alternative approaches depart from the libertarian principles he derived. Then the controversy shifts to arguments for and against that interpretation of Hoppe’s argument.

    Another way to read “it is literally impossible to own ideas” is as “IP is misguided.” I agree that IP is misguided. But saying it is impossible seems like a much stronger claim.

    What about the claim that “physical force can only apply to physical things?” When a law is enforced, the force is applied primarily to the violator, a person. The legitimate use of force against trespassers and aggressors does not need to be applied to the objects involved in the violation. So although they are usually physical, and perhaps there are good reasons that should always be the case, this does not provide these reasons explicitly here. Ownership is primarily a relation between persons, not between persons and objects. When I gain ownership of a thing, the object does not change, my rights against other persons change. Before I owned a thing, no one was obligated to consult me about its use or possession. Afterwards, they are obligated, and I have a right to recourse if they violate their obligations. This is a social phenomenon, not purely a physical one. It is probably a bad idea to create ownership of non-physical things, but if so, it has nothing to do with using force to respond to violations, or what the force is applied to.

    It is tempting to think that a contract breach might provide a counterexample, where a valid dispute has no physical object as it’s source. But we could counter this, by pointing to Rothard’s and Evers’ theory of contract. That would indicate that it is the money paid for fulfillment or restitution of the contract, not the actions of the defaulter that are in dispute, and failure of fulfill the contract is merely the reason that the injured party is the legitimate owner of the damages.

    But then why can’t the defender of IP make a similar move? This approach would cast IP as a sort of permanent contract, in which persons have agreed to act in a certain way with respect to intellectual goods. But then the controversy would move to issues such as, did the parties to the contract give informed consent? Is the contract valid? Etc. There probably are some good replies to that, but it still undermines the claim that all rights are property rights and property can only apply to rivalrous physical resources. Some rights are contractual rights, and although they ultimately may apply to the money involved rather than some intangible, the conclusion that “ It’s impossible to own knowledge” because knowledge is not physical seems not to follow, or to follow only in a weak sense. I don’t literally own the actions or circumstances that fulfill a contract. But I can get similar recourse if the contract is breached. I own restitution conditioned upon the non-fulfillment of the contract, which accomplishes the same outcome that owning those circumstances would.

    Does this undermine Rothbard and Evers? The point of their argument was to interpret contracts in a way the they remain practical and usable, while ruling out circumstances where persons may end up with their bodies being owned by others. I don’t think the creation of a property regime that includes IP would obviously contradict any of their arguments. That doesn’t mean they require such a modification.

    • someone January 10, 2022, 8:44 am

      @David Burns

      What is property ? Property is the right to undisturbed possession, control, or use of a given object without interference of third parties. But abstract objects are widely believed to reside outside of time-space and to be causally inert. So they cannot be possessed, controlled or used. Hence there is no way to interfere and property rights in abstract objects are meaningless. I believe this is what Mr. Kinsella might mean.

      And you do not have to be Hoppean to recognize this 🙂

      • David Burns January 10, 2022, 3:13 pm

        If we accept your definition, your argument follows. Your opponents do not accept your definition. That is where the controversy lies.

        “ abstract objects are widely believed to reside outside of time-space and to be causally inert. So they cannot be possessed, “

        I may possess a text. It may be memorized, written down, recorded on electronic media, etc. But this is not central to your point.

        “controlled or used. Hence there is no way to interfere and property rights in abstract objects are meaningless.”

        I use a text when I read it. Again, this is not important.

        The problem is, a text can be controlled. (Or perhaps Kinsella would say, the ability to record and store a text on media can be controlled.) Persons who copy it without a license can be fined or jailed. Kinsella’s point is that we can’t control the text independently from controlling the media that contain it. His opponents see no problem with this, as my ownership of a parking spot may interfere with your ability to park a car you own, without requiring us to conclude that I have part ownership of your car. Your ownership of your head limits where I can shoot bullets that I own, without giving you ownership of them. Similarly, Kinsella’s opponents think IP is justified in limiting how I use my car, gun, pen, or computer, without taking anything from me.

        Kinsella gives priority to ownership of the physical media. He thinks that the owners of media should be free to record any pattern they like without restriction. There are some very good practical reasons we might take this position. But he doesn’t just make practical arguments. He wants an a priori reason, a reason that we must necessarily conclude that IP contradicts liberty. IP together with liberty is impossible. So he needs Hoppe’s argument. He needs a way to say “you’re doing liberty wrong. This is what liberty must be, it can’t be what you want.” Otherwise, we could just argue about which way is more popular, convenient, efficient, traditional, progressive, etc.

        • someone January 10, 2022, 5:27 pm

          @David Burns

          Your statement “The problem is, a text can be controlled.” is interesting.

          So let me also ask for the definition you refer to. What is a “text” ?

          Is it material or immaterial ?

  • someone January 6, 2022, 6:11 pm

    The IP impossibility may be understood in one more way. This is stated in a recent paper by Jakub Bożydar Wiśniewski in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.
    Link: https://cdn.mises.org/qjae_23_1_wisuniewski.pdf

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