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The Galambosians strike back

For Intellectual Property: The Property Ideas of Andrew J. Galambos,” by Richard Boren, was recently published in The Voluntaryist.

Many IP advocates get upset when you accuse them of holding the view that ideas are property—that they think there should be property rights in “ideas”. Nonsense, they say—they are only in favor of property rights in “logos” or “instantiated ideas” or “inventions” or “works of authorship” but the notion that they favor property rights in ideas is ridiculous, a straw man.

Not according to the Galambosian. He frankly admits: “I am in favor of treating ideas as property.”

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A few comments. In Boren’s piece, he says:

Those readers whose curiosity about Galambos may have been piqued by the references to him in Kinsella’s paper and elsewhere will be presented with facts rather than speculation. It is my experience that the negative comments about Galambos’ ideas always come from people who never took his courses or read his book, relying instead on hearsay and fragmentary information, drawing incorrect conclusions as a result. Mr. Kinsella is in this category.

I.e., I am misdescribing Galambos. And this is my fault. First: as admitted by Boren, Galambos was intentionally, bizarrely secretive in letting his ideas become public. So people who get it wrong can’t really be blamed. Second, I do not believe I’ve gotten Galambos wrong. I can spot and IP nut from a mile away. It’s not too hard to size them up. Even when they are the biggest IP nut of all time (contenders being Lysander Spooner and Ayn Rand), so much so that they use control of ideas to keep their own ideas from spreading (leading to mockery and lampooning by people like Tuccille), enough leaks out that the lunacy can be assayed and criticized.

In Against Intellectual Property, I wrote:

The most radical of all IP proponents is Andrew Joseph Galambos, whose ideas, to the extent that I understand them, border on the absurd.[49] Galambos believed that man has property rights in his own life (primordial property) and in all “non-procreative derivatives of his life.”[50] Since the “first derivatives” of a man’s life are his thoughts and ideas, thoughts and ideas are “primary property.” Since action is based on primary property (ideas), actions are owned as well; this is referred to as “liberty.” Secondary derivatives, such as land, televisions, and other tangible goods, are produced by ideas and action. Thus, property rights in tangible items are relegated to lowly secondary status, as compared with the “primary” status of property rights in ideas. (Even Rand once elevated patents over mere property rights in tangible goods, in her bizarre notion that “patents are the heart and core of property rights.”[51] Can we really believe that there were no property rights respected before the 1800s, when patent rights became systematized?)

Galambos reportedly took his own ideas to ridiculous lengths, claiming a property right in his own ideas and requiring his students not to repeat them;[52] dropping a nickel in a fund box every time he used the word “liberty,” as a royalty to the descendants of Thomas Paine, the alleged “inventor” of the word “liberty”; and changing his original name from Joseph Andrew Galambos (Jr., presumably) to Andrew Joseph Galambos, to avoid infringing his identically-named father’s rights to the name.[53]

By widening the scope of IP, and by lengthening its duration to avoid making such arbitrary distinctions as Rand does, the absurdity and injustice caused by IP becomes even more pronounced (as Galambos demonstrates). And by extending the term of patents and copyrights to infinity, subsequent generations would be choked by ever-growing restraints on their own use of property. No one would be able to manufacture—or even use—a light bulb without getting permission from Edison’s heirs. No one would even be able to build a house without getting permission from the heirs of the first protohuman who left the caves and built a hut. No one could use a variety of life-saving techniques, chemicals, or treatments without obtaining permission of various lucky, rich descendants. No one would be able to boil water to purify it, or use pickling to preserve foods, unless he is granted license by the originators (or their distant heirs) of such techniques.

Such unbounded ideal rights would pose a serious threat to tangible-property rights, and would threaten to overwhelm them. All use of tangible property would by now be impossible, as every conceivable use of property, every single action, would be bound to infringe upon one of the millions of past, accreted IP rights, and the human race would die of starvation. But, as Rand noted, men are not ghosts; we have a spiritual aspect, but also a physical one.[54] Any system that elevates rights in ideas to such an extreme that it overrides rights in tangible things is clearly not a suitable ethical system for living, breathing human beings. No one living can actually act in accordance with such an unrestricted view of IP. The remaining advocates of IP all qualify their endorsement by limiting the scope and/or terms of IP rights, thus adopting the ethically arbitrary distinctions noted above.

[49]See Galambos, The Theory of Volition, vol. 1. Evan R. Soulé, Jr., “What Is Volitional Science?” http://www.tuspco.com/html/what_is_v-50_.html. I have read only sketchy accounts of Galambos’s theories. I also met a real, live Galambosian once, much to my surprise (I had supposed that they were fictional creations of Tuccille [It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand, pp. 69–71]), at a Mises Institute conference a few years ago. My criticism of Galambos’s ideas in what follows only applies to the extent that I am properly describing his views.

[50]Friedman, “In Defense of Private Orderings,” n. 52; Foerster, “The Basics of Economic Government.”

[51]Rand, “Patents and Copyrights,” p. 133.

[52]Friedman, “In Defense of Private Orderings,” n. 52.

[53]Tuccille, It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand, p. 70. Of course, I suppose that any Galambosian other than Galambos himself, having the same type of dilemma, would be unable to change his name as a solution to the problem, because this solution was Galambos’s inalienable, “absolute” idea.

[54]Harry Binswanger, ed., The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z(New York: New American Library, 1986), pp. 326–27, 467.

Now, here is what Boren says in his piece:

Galambos planned to write a book and even pre-sold it to his students, who paid for it in advance. I am one of those students. Publication was targeted for 1987 (not coincidentally the 300th anniversary of the publishing of Newton’s Principia Mathematica), but he never wrote it. Instead, in accordance with the book purchase contract, a lightly-edited transcript of his 1968 delivery of Course V-50, together with an extension called V-50X, given in 1976, was published by his trustees in 1999 as Sic Itur Ad Astra, Volume One (SIAA). The Latin title means, This Is the Way to the Stars. I own a copy and will be quoting from it. I also own a recording of Senior Lecturer Jay Stuart Snelson’s 1978 delivery of the course, to which I have listened numerous times.

The trustees have a contractual requirement to publish the remaining volumes, which were to have included the contents of Course V-201, the course Galambos called his most important. However they have refused to do so, saying that it was a mistake to have published anything. In line with that position, they have withdrawn Volume One from sale. I strongly disagree with these actions. In my opinion, by Galambos’ standards what his trustees have done is criminal.

So…. over the years I’ve had Galambosians upbraid me for getting Galambos wrong. For not reading the material. Etc. Even though it’s almost impossible to get. Because of his own insane IP views. Right here Boren admits that he has in his possession a copy of the transcript for the Course V-50 plus a recording by Snelson. Why not release these? Post them to the world. Release these ideas. Enough paraphrases and summaries from “trusted insiders.” But no, of course not, the inner-logic of the IP-insane Galambos and his followers presents even this.

This is exactly why they were deservedly mocked by Tuccille, as I noted in “Around this time I met the Galambosian”:

Around this time I met the Galambosian.

“I am a Galambosian,” he said.

A what? I was beginning to feel like a right-wing Yossarian. All these mothers were out to destroy every principle I believed in! If it wasn’t squarejawed Southwesterners with mixed premises, or Ivy League intellectuals who mouthed off in public like truck drivers, or shifty-eyed carny barkers from the Middlewest, it was an S. J. Perelman character with a pipe and an ascot, telling me he was a Galambosian.

“What the hell is a Galambosian?”

There was this individual, it seems, named Joseph Andrew Galambos who evolved a theory of “primary property rights.” Apparently, as soon as someone came up with a new idea—whether an invention or an original philosophical concept—the prototype belonged irrevocably to him and was to be regarded forevermore as his primary properly. Somewhere along the line Galambos picked up the notion that Thomas Paine had invented the word “liberty,” whereupon he established the Thomas Paine Royalty Fund, and every time he gave a lecture and used the word “liberty” he dropped a nickel into his fund box as a royalty payment to Tom. How he determined that a nickel was the proper measure of homage to Mr. Paine, I have no idea. Legend even had it that Galambos was still diligently searching for Thomas Paine’s descendants so he could turn over moneys due their famous ancestor.

Sometime in the early or middle 1960s, Galambos decided that his name, Joseph Andrew, was actually the primary property of his father. In order to avoid giving his father a royalty payment every time he spoke the name, Galambos reversed the order and sent out notices to all his friends that henceforth his name was Andrew Joseph, and that he was to be addressed as Andy, instead of Joe.

“There are five legitimate functions of government,” said the Galambosian.

“No kidding. What are they?”

“I am not at liberty to say. The theory was originated by Andy Galambos and it is his primary property.”

The Galambosian also informed me that Andy had been introduced to Ayn Rand several years before, and that after five minutes of conversation they had pronounced each other insane.

“Of course, it is Miss Rand who is really insane,” said the Galambosian.

“Why is that?”

“I’m afraid I cannot tell you. The reasoning behind that theory belongs to Andy.”

The most peculiar thing about the whole Galambosian concept was the impossibility of finding out anything about it. Galambos’ disciples were not at liberty to disseminate his philosophy without paying a royalty to their leader—who could not even waive payment, since primary property was an absolute good and could not be given away. You were stuck with it whether you wanted it or not, throughout eternity. Consequently, all the converts were those proselytized by Galambos himself—a time-consuming and self-restricting process, it being physically impossible to convert more than a handful of people at a time.

“If the rest of us were free to discuss his ideas,” said the Galambosian, “there is no question in my mind that Galambosianism would spread throughout the world like wildfire.

For background:

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To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.