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“Good Ideas is Pretty Scarce”

I’ve bemoaned stupid arguments for IP for a long time,1 one of which is, when I point out that property rights apply only to scarce (that is, rivalrous) resources,2 you hear the retort, “Well, shucks, it seems to me that good ideas is pretty scarce!”3  Equivocating on different senses of scarce: to mean rivalrous, on the one hand, for economic and political discourse; or to mean not abundant, in colloquial terms. Thus, to counter this tedious disingenuous and semantical/equivocational argument, I tend to use the term rivalrous, or sometimes “conflictable,” to focus on the aspect of things that makes then subject to possible conflict, and thus, to property norms. Ideas, even “good ideas,” do not have this characteristic–or “property,” one might say. They are not conflictable.4

Of course, just as some IPtards go apeshit when we point out that ideas can’t be owned—we don’t claim you can own ideas!—they indignantly retort; meanwhile, half the other IPtards call us commies if we don’t respect property rights in ideas5 — the same here. IP advocates say ideas, or at least, good ideas, are “scarce” in the colloquial sense that doesn’t mean rivalrous, since they sense that ideas are not rivalrous, as all economists (even pro-IP economists) recognize. So they don’t want to be limited to a property theory limited to rivalrous resources; no, it extends to “scarce” things, even in the colloquial sense. After all, people have used the word “scarce” before to explain the problem with IP rights! So .. soo….. blah blah blah.

Yet others are a mite more honest. Case in point: “Property Rights in Non‐rival Goods,” by Bryan Cwik. It’s another flawed argument, but at least he recognizes that ideas are not scarce (in the sense of rivalrous) and thus, to justify IP, one must come up with some way to justify property rights in non-rival goods. No surprise, he elsewhere makes other bad arguments for IP, e.g. “Labor as the Basis for Intellectual Property Rights.” (Interestingly, another Cwik, Paul Cwik, also makes bad arguments in favor of IP. Unlike the other Cwik, Paul should know better, as he is an Austrian and libertarian. See Classical Liberals, Libertarians, Anarchists and Others on Intellectual Property.)

  1. Absurd Arguments for IP”; “There are No Good Arguments for Intellectual Property”; There Are No Good Arguments for IP-Redux. []
  2. See Kinsella, Legal Foundations of a Free Society, e.g. pp. 14–15, 26–27, 140-41, 206, 266, 402, 622, 628, 690; Hoppe, “Of Private, Common, and Public Property and the Rationale for Total Privatization”. []
  3. I lament this, e.g., in Legal Foundations of a Free Society, pp. 177 n.19, 265, 411. []
  4. On Conflictability and Conflictable Resources. []
  5. IP isn’t about owning ideas; those who oppose ownership of ideas are commies. []
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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.