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You Be the Judge

I really try to do my best to read Progressive blogs and to stay away from getting near anything resembling an ad-hominem. With that in mind, I reprint in full today’s post from Scott Sumner, who is always well worth reading (of course, after reading him you will realize how utterly bad your macro education has been):

Robin Hanson expresses skepticism about IP laws:

Similarly, the kinds of innovation activities and intellectual property rights that make sense depend on available institutions and technologies. I’m happy to admit that today intellectual property (IP) is not obviously a good idea. Such property can create large “anti-commons” transaction and enforcement costs that greatly raise the cost of combining old ideas into valuable new ideas. Such costs often outweigh the social benefits of the incentives to create IP, in order to sell it. Today, it is often better to rely on other social incentives to innovate, incentives that don’t require such expensive support.

Brad DeLong read Robin’s post, and summarized the argument as follows:

Robin Hanson appears to think that people have the right to send killer robots off to hunt down people who use their ideas without paying.

Me? I think this is an example of how thinking too much about property rights can madden the mind.

That’s basically it (plus some quotations.)  Then it hit me.  That’s why we can’t have a better press corps!  Too many reporters are sloppy, biased, prone to mischaracterize one’s argument.

PS.  I originally left a much nicer version of this comment at DeLong’s blog, but he deleted it.  Big mistake Brad.  I have my own blog, which is much more widely read than your comment section.

Funny, because I have just piled up several back issues of Paul Samuelson’s legendary economics text (the one that DeLong and virtually every economist just older than me learned from) and in it (I’ll get the exact reference later on) Samuelson totally dismisses the idea that property rights even matter, indeed going so far as to calling them part of “capitalist ideology.”

4 Responses to “You Be the Judge”

  1. Rod says:

    Yes, generations of economics students have embraced Samuelson as the only thing they’ll ever need to understand economics.

    We don’t know what courses the president took in college and in law school, but I bet he read Samuelson, too. And that’s it: he’s an expert on economics like everything else. Today the president called for a “smart” compromise in the debt ceiling debate — I bet he whipped out his old Samuelson text for insipiration.

    This is not to say that one should not rely on basic college courses for one’s liberal education. My old philosophy professor, Howard DeLong, used to preach the importance of lifelong learning as part of liberal education. He said that if one’s education stopped at the end of college or grad school, one would really never be educated. How right he was.

    My father grew up in the Depression, so his college education was cut short because of a lack of funds (they did not have Pell Grants and federal student loans back then). He nonetheless was self-educated in economics: we had The Road to Serfdom on our family bookshelf, and my parents had direct experience in economics as owners of their own business. Also, my father was an ace at what he called “mental arithmetic” — calculating in his head, and so he had an instant understanding of financial ratios when he read annual reports through to the end of the footnotes. My parents also subscribed to National Review beginning in 1958 or so, and my own education was helped immeasurably by trying to understand all the words in Bill Buckley’s writings.

  2. Rod says:

    There’s often confusion over rights and powers. At least in our Constitutional form of government, the government has no rights at all, either to hold or to give. People are endowed with rights by God, and that’s it. One has one’s rights, and the Constitution protects them. Then the people give the government its powers, and they are limited under the Constitution.

    Today Tom Harkin was citing the Fourteenth Amendment as the basis of allowing the president to skip getting permission to raise the debt ceiling. He said it’s an emergency, and we can’t wait around for Congress to act. I say we let Senator Tom have a fireman suit and a big brass pole to slide down to the subway that connects the Senate office buildings and the Capitol. Let’s give him a fire hose, too, so he can blast away at the Senate chamber. And a flashing red light and a siren. Go for it, Tom!

  3. When owned by two or more persons, a stock certificate may declare them to have “rights of survivorship and not tenants in common,” or to be “joint tenants.” Both of those are phrases directly from real estate law. In some ways, jurisprudence has not yet caught up with the first industrial revolution. So, too, is “intellectual property” perhaps a floating abstraction, i.e., a label without any referrent because it is a contradiction in terms: ideas are intangibles.

    The classic TED Lecture from Johanna Blakley shows that fashions which have no IP have three orders of magnitude more market than those things (books, movies, music) which do. Piracy by Adrian Johns tells Robert Andrew Macfie, a 19th century capitalist who argued against patents.

  4. cmprostreet says:

    I’ve seen several links to Sumner’s blog, but this excerpt pushed me over the edge- I’ll add it to my regular list.

    Every comment I’ve ever posted on DeLong’s blog was deleted, and I don’t think any of them were remotely inflammatory (especially when compared to DeLong’s rhetoric).

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