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Does Cato’s New Objectivist CEO John Allison Presage Retrogression on IP?

Intellectual Property (primarily: patent and copyright; but also others, like trademark) has become one of the most significant state threats to liberty in our time. My estimate it’s now in the top 5 or 6 among the most evil and destructive statist laws and policies.1 It drains hundreds of billions of dollars worth of productivity and innovation from the US economy alone each year.2

And thankfully, since the Internet’s rise to prominence in the mid-90s, and the increasing threat IP poses to Internet freedom, libertarians have been waking up. They are increasingly for the abolition of IP, especially among anarchists and Austrians.3 Utilitarian libertarians are being pulled along too by the overwhelming empirical evidence of harm done by IP.

One stubborn IP holdout are the Objectivists, since Rand geared so much of her moral and property theory around this idea, going so far as to (ludicrously) claim that “Patents are the heart and core of property rights.”4 And though an increasing number of Objectivists are deviating from Rand’s pro-IP5 and pro-government script, most of them are still strongly for IP.

So it is troubling that the Cato Institute has named as CEO John Allison, a former Ayn Rand Institute board member. As he said once about Cato’s strengths and weaknesses to a gathering of fellow Objectivists:

They are a mixed bag: healthcare policy research excellent; foreign policy bad; intellectual property mixed but not too bad.

This obviously means Cato is too anti-war and anti-interventionist and not pro-IP enough.6 And though not all Cato scholars are openly anti-IP,7 Cato scholars have done great work in this area, e.g. Tom Palmer, in his articles Intellectual Property: A Non-Posnerian Law and Economics Approach and Are Patents and Copyrights Morally Justified? The Philosophy of Property Rights and Ideal Objects.8

So let’s hope that under the new CEO’s leadership, Cato does not shy away from criticism the outrages of statist war and statist IP.

  1. See Where does IP Rank Among the Worst State Laws?; Masnick on the Horrible PROTECT IP Act: The Coming IPolice State. []
  2. Costs of the Patent System Revisited. []
  3. The Death Throes of Pro-IP LibertarianismThe Origins of Libertarian IP AbolitionismThe Four Historical Phases of IP Abolitionism. []
  4. Quoted in Ideas Are Free: The Case Against Intellectual Property. []
  5. An Objectivist Recants on IPYet another Randian recants on IP. []
  6. Objectivists on War and the State. []
  7. Some are for limiting pharmaceutical reimportation—i.e. free trade—in the name of IP, see Intellectual Property and Think Tank Corruption. []
  8. Although in recent comments here and here he seems to be retreating somewhat from his previously principled opposition to the wealth-maximization arguments for patents, as noted in The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide. []
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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.