Natural Rights Libertarianism and IP: A Reply to Tom Palmer

by Stephan Kinsella on October 23, 2011

Mark Friedman, a purported “natural rights” libertarian with an apparently religious grounding (he quotes the Talmud), has graced us with an incoherent defense of IP in the form of an attack on IP abolitionist libertarian Tom Palmer’s writings, in his post “Natural Rights Libertarianism and IP: A Reply to Tom Palmer“. It is no argument at all. Typical incoherent combination of amateur religious-influenced newbie theorizing and unprincipled and implicit and hidden utilitarianism.

Just to note a few obvious confusions and flaws:

  • “I ultimately found the author’s reasons for rejecting a rights-based justification for IP to be less than compelling.” Note how this subtly puts the burden of proof on the IP abolitionist, instead of on the defender of statist positive law. The burden should be on him, not us. A so-called advocate of natural law is here giving presumptive legitimacy to existing state positive law. Lon Fuller weeps.
  • “I will pause here just long enough to clarify that while I do not subscribe to the self-ownership thesis, which seems to be Palmer’s primary target, I believe that his argument, if successful, would also be telling against Nozick-style libertarianism, i.e. one grounded in respect for persons as rational (moral) agents.” So this religious “natural rights libertarian” does not respect self-ownership. There are a few possible explanations why a self-styled libertarian would make such claims.  First, pure inconsistency and amateurishness. Second, the believe that God “owns” us so we are not self-owners. I.e., we are God’s property, his slaves. Soi-disant religionists are free to propound such nonsense, but if they do, it is no wonder that they rebel against principled libertarianism. Yet I would point out that even if “God” “owns” us, that does not mean that in the real world of inter-personal and political relations, the normal Lockean-libertarian property rights and self-ownership rights don’t apply. That is, even if you think God has some ultimate claim and authority over us, his flock, his slaves, any one of us God-slaves has no right to commit aggression against the other. Third, if you reject self-ownership this means not merely God-ownership (whatever such ravings really mean) but other-ownership, i.e. chattel slavery. And I can think of nothing more libertarian than a rejection of chattel slavery–that is, of upholding self-ownership. Any so-called libertarian who expresses problems with self-ownership: in my view, they are either stupid, or confused/amateur-newbs, or statists in libertarian clothing. In this respect I am reminded of Francisco D’Anconia’s “Money Speech” in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: “Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter.” Likewise, anyone who opposes self-ownership is either a fool or an advocate of slavery. In neither case is he a libertarian. (See Against the Non-Aggression Principle and Self-Ownership? Run!)
  • His criticisms of Palmer’s IP views rests on arguments like “I believe it should be apparent that patent rights actually represent a fairly trivial restriction on self-ownership” and “It is true that copyrights enjoy a much longer period of exclusivity (life of the author, plus 70 years), but this does not seem to constitute an undue burden on the freedom of others to write, compose, paint, etc.” Ah, I see: patents violate rights, but it’s fairly trivial (even though patent trolls cost the economy $80B a year), so hey, everyone, stop yer belly-achin’! And copyrights may be a tad “too long,” but hey, it’s not an  “undue burden”. It’s a due burden! Patents are a justified restriction since it’s only trivial! Don’t worry, be happy!
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