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Huemer vs. Epstein on Intellectual Property

Interesting recent discussion/debate between minarchist Richard Epstein and anarchist libertarian Michael Huemer at Victor Niederhoffer’s “Junto” meeting in New York. Go to around 1:07:22 or so. Some guy asks a question about patent law in a free society.

Huemer seems to oppose patent law, though in a fairly tepid and unprincipled fashion. Epstein has respectable arguments for minarchy over anarchy, but his arguments for patent law are completely hollow: his case is basically empirical and utilitarian, but he offers no empirical evidence to back up his pro-patent contentions (no one else has either, that I am aware of).

A few minutes later, Epstein argues for a muscular US government to keep order, etc.

Update: on a Facebook post, which I can no longer find, I had listed the top state evils:

1. Drug War
2. War
3. Taxation
4. Intellectual Property
5. Government Education
6. Central Banking/fed/inflation/business cycle

and I asked the open-borders libertarians, who oppose immigration restrictions, if they think immigration restrictions are really as bad as these top 6. Huemer responded:

Mike Huemer Yes, I think immigration restriction is a strong candidate for the worst government policy, comparable to the drug war. (And IP doesn’t belong on that list.) If you don’t see that we would say this, then you haven’t understood the open borders argument.

There was also another FB post which had some info on it but it, too, has been deleted. Odd.

Here’s more of the interchange from the other Facebook post:

Immigration/libertarianism query for my open-borders libertarian friends.

My view is that most anarchist libertarians are for open borders, though there is a sizable minority of anarcho-libertarians who maintain a dissenting view, primarily based on the ideas of Hoppe, who argues that when a modern state opens the borders it amounts to forced integration.

I also think that most minarchists are not open-borders, since most of them support (a) a state, (b) state borders, (c) state citizenship, and thus, (d) *some* limitations or regulation of immigration. And, since most libertarians are minarchist, it’s probably safe to say the vast majority of libertarians are not pro-open-borders (though most anarchists would maintain that a *consistent* libertarian has to be open borders).

Now here’s my question–primarily for the pro-open-borders libertarians (most of whom will be anarchist, I think).

My view is that the primary evils the state foists on society are the following, roughly in order, from worst to least-bad (but not completely, many of these are interrelated or as bad as others):

1. Drug War
2. War
3. Taxation
4. Intellectual Property
5. Government Education
6. Central Banking/fed/inflation/business cycle

[Update: you could add here also Welfare state to the list]

These are the great evils of our time, and you can make a case that any single one of them is the paramount evil–or that, if you could only abolish ONE thing, that one should be the one.

for example:

drug war: it’s the most obviously evil and unjustifiable of all of these; it does tremendous, appalling human damage.

war: kills hundreds of millions, and is the health of the state.

Taxes: state, war could not exist without it.

Central bank: modern warfare could not be funded without it; it’s a hidden tax, via inflation; destroys wealth via the business cycle; redistributes wealth via inflation

IP: patents extremely damaging to innovation and wealth, copyrights threaten Internet freedom and distort and corrupt art and culture; and unlike the others, it is disguised as a form of property rights, as a part of the free market and capitalism–it is the most insidious

government education: propagandizes each generation and turns them into docile sheeple and cannon fodder

But, this is not my point.

My question is: even if you think thing immigration restrictions are immoral and unjust, would you really put them anywhere on the level of these other state evils? I ask b/c I recently had a couple of leftish-libertarians I know imply that immigration controls are among the worse things the state does. They literally compared immigration restrictions with emigration restrictions–i.e. if the US limits how many Haitians or Mexicans can come into the country, this is *just as bad* as East Germany’s Berlin Wall was. I find this preposterous and cannot think of a way even an open-borders libertarian can seriously argue that immigration limitations are on the same level or magnitude of evil as the others listed above. For example, if you were given the choice to abolish one state policy, it would not be immigration: each of the other 6 listed above would obviously have a higher priority than immigration policy reform.

Agree? Disagree? I am curious how many open-borders anarchists agree with my other two friends, or whether you would conceded that the drug war, war, taxation, etc., are far more pressing than opening the borders.

not looking for an argument, just curious how this is viewed by libertarians, esp. open borders libertarians.


In Masnick on the Horrible PROTECT IP Act: The Coming IPolice State, I noted some insane excesses of patent and copyright (like the precursor to SOPA), and wrote: I believe in days past, say, befor…

Mike Huemer Yes, I think immigration restriction is a strong candidate for the worst government policy, comparable to the drug war. (And IP doesn’t belong on that list.) If you don’t see that we would say this, then you haven’t understood the open borders argument.

Like · Reply · 15 hrs
Monica Sophie Granger

Monica Sophie Granger Why doesn’t IP belong on the list?

Like · Reply · 1 · 15 hrs
Oliver Westcott

Oliver Westcott The open borders argument (Caplan) seems to be purely one of economic benefit, yet the argument about the burden of the increase of the welfare state seems neglected. The same as the moral burden of having to associate with people through the force of anti-discrimination laws.

Like · Reply · 10 mins · Edited
Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella “If you don’t see that we would say this, then you haven’t understood the open borders argument.”

I think this is an unnecessarily condescending way of putting it. It coudl be an honest disagreement amongst principled and even radical libertarians. I am myself open borders and an anarchist (albeit a principled, rights-based one) and I do not agree immigration belongs on the list, and i do think I “understand” the open-borders argument. Indeed, I have understood it for maybe 30 years, unlike some johnny-come-lately libertarians.

As for the derisive comment that IP doesn’t belong on the list: i have provided reasons for my view as to why it does. Huemer does not. Perhaps Mike Huemer does not think it’s clear IP is unlibertarian, since his approach to anarchy is not rights-based–David Friedman for example is ambivalent about IP, even though he is a supposed anarcho-libertarian. I can’t recall Huemer’s approach to IP but let us just say that I totally disagree. IP clearly ranks up there with the top 5 or 6 state evils, and immigration, *even* if you accept the libertarian arguments against immigration restrictions–it’s not clear thati it belongs up htere on that list, any more than minimum wage does (as bad as it is).


Update: See this facebook post:

From Michael Huemer:
“Example 2: I start deliberately spreading false rumors that Walter Block is a Nazi. This causes him to be ostracized, lose his job, and be blacklisted by the SJW culture that is academia.
Almost everyone, including most libertarians, agrees that Walter should be able to sue me for defamation in court, and collect damages, coercively enforced, of course.”
Huemer seems unaware that most libertarians don’t accept defamation law. No wonder he’s also not solid on IP law. If you can’t get defamation law straight (which is a type of IP) you can’t get IP law straight.
“Example 1: I promise to mow Ayn Rand’s lawn in exchange for her grading some of my papers. Rand grades the papers, with copious helpful comments (pointing out where students are evading reality, hating the good for being the good, etc.), but then I don’t mow the lawn. I also refuse to do anything to make amends for my failure. Haha.
Almost everyone, including libertarians, thinks that the state can force me to mow the lawn or otherwise make amends (e.g., pay the money value of a mowed lawn).”
Uh, no. Most libertarians do NOT think the state or legal system can force you to mow the lawn. This is specific performance, and if you can justify that you can justify voluntary slavery agreements, which most libertarians do not.
“NAP: It is always wrong to initiate force against other people.”
Huemer might want to take a look at the work of fellow philosophers Rasmussen and Den Uyl, who view rights as metanorms, not as normal personal norms. See Douglas B. Rasmussen & Douglas J. Den Uyl, “Why Individual Rights? Rights as Metanormative Principles,” in Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005):
“An individual’s right to liberty is thus not in essence a normative principle. Rather, it is a metanormative principle. In other words, it is concerned with the creation, interpretation, and justification of a political/legal context in which the possibility of the pursuit of flourishing is secured.”
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