BT et C

Friday, April 08, 2005

Good and Bad Libertarians

Bad libertarians are easy to spot: in any current event or conflict, they take the side of the corporation. If no corporation is involved, it'll be the more conservative public official. Maybe at least the official with the most conservative rhetoric.

I want to address the good libertarians out there. Hell, I'm practically one of you ... meh ... as much as I am a Green, or anything else. There's great stuff in the theory, but there are also complexities in action. The critical difference is between being good and bad whatever-you-are: acknowledging the complexities and the other points of view in the public square, and sincerely trying to navigate them.

Violent Crime. Why Not?
We have seen fit to criminalize an act that comes quite naturally to human animals -- the destruction of other human animals. Applying, reductio ad absurdum as it were, the laissez-faire principle, this wouldn't be necessary, would it? Eventually, people will wise up to how much cooler/better the non-murderous folks are, mate with them, and we'll just evolve ourselves a nice path out of violence.

Can't quite go that far?

Bribery. Why Not?
It is illegal to give a public official money who can make a law that favors you, or can allow you to skirt an existing law. How come? When I'm wearing my Very Libertarian hat, I say why not? Legalize it. Eventually, you'll see one of two outcomes:
1. The demos will come to see the advantages of electing non-bribable officials
2. Corporocracy. And are we sure that's bad?

Bribery is a simple transaction, from which both parties receive a benefit. But any normal person gets a whiff of this-can't-be-right at this point, so what's wrong? I submit to the good libertarians:

-The free market is not the current state of affairs, to be protected from government intrusion. Free markets are the goal.

The problem with the bribery transaction is that it tends to make the market less free; two agents in a system (whatever constituency the official represents) are conducting a deal that has effects far beyond themselves. Now I'll return to the topic of software.

The open source movement is in need of a philosopher, and I'll volunteer. I love him to death but think rms is more of a political ethicist than a "real" philosopher.

Concerning freedom, Kant pointed out that there is a negative and a positive understanding of the term. Freedom in the "negative" (that's not pejorative, btw) sense is absence-of-restriction on one's actions. In the positive sense, freedom is the faculty of initiating a causal series; freedom is creativity.

The superiority of the GPL to the X11 or the modified BSD license is in an implicit recognition of this, and of the points above regarding free markets. To place no restrictions on anyone, throw your code into the public domain. BUT ... to extend the causal series that has created the greatest technical reference library on earth, GPL it.

To trust the (presumed free) market to make most-efficient use of your code, license it "BSD-style". But to contribute to steady progress toward a free market and away from one choking on weird patents backed by weird senators, GPL it.

Ick. Blogs are supposed to be short. More later.


  • who says blogs should be short? I only ever end up reading blogs where people post some of their own thoughts and ideas rather than just links to others'.

    responding as what you'd call a good libertarian, I need to know where you picked up those perspectives on crime and bribery. offering what I understand to be the more accurate libertarian responses:

    Violent Crime: in your own 'great stuff' link, there is the refutation of the laissez-faire approach. so to elaborate on that, as others smarter than myself have done so...

    that laissez-faire application as described to violent crime seems based on utilitarian grounds. I may have even tought this when I first dabbled into Libertarianism, but the utilitarian approach completely overlooks the natural rights basis of the Libertarian creed. every person has a natural right to ownership of themselves and their property. everyone is free to act how they like, as long as it does not violate these rights of other people. violent crime most obviously violates the personal ownership right that every person has.

    Bribery: most Very Libertarians should refute this on the grounds that a "public official," or more accurately "legal bandit," should not have the power to pass any law that has any type of exclusion. government should exist only to protect the rights and liberty of its citizens universally. this means restricting laws to natural rights shared by all, not creating legislation that only applies to this or that group.

    you are 100% correct that the current state of affairs is NOT a free market. and Corporocracy is SURELY a bad thing. by Corporocracy, I assume you mean, of course, the application of power that corporations are allowed to extend thru government. and here is a point at which you may say I'm taking the side of the corporation...

    corporations are able to exert power in other methods because of the resources (property) they possess. but merely because a corporation exerts power, does not mean ipso facto that their action is wrong, and it is most assuredly not illegal. IF they are utilizing their power to forcibly violate the rights of a person, then yes, it is illegal. but if they are using their power just to do something you, or even 100% of the population, thinks is disagreeable, it is not, by that characteristic, illegal.

    reliance on Kant for a definition of freedom is like relying on an atheist for the definition of God. as I understand, Kant was basically convinced that freedom did not actually exist - it is only an idea. I'd like to humbly agree with Rothbard's refutation of that premise (linked above).

    I would offer that freedom is not (indeed, cannot be) composed of any kind of positive activity, because the relationship is quite opposite. only freedom allows positive activity - freedom comes first, and only then is positive activity possible. but, positive activity is not necessary to say that there is freedom. there could be absolutely no creativity and no production and freedom would still exist, though it would be notably more boring.

    now pulling my own thoughts back to software...

    since activity/creativity is caused by freedom, and is not an element necessary to constitute freedom, it is therefore not necessarily true that GPL is more free than BSD. and, in fact, in the negative-rights view, the BSD is more free than GPL.

    BUT licensing software under GPL will, using the logic above, lead to more creativity and productivity. however, as most people in business are aware of, people are not always interested in creativity - they are interested in profiting. thus, the most acceptable use of software, for themselves, could very well be to close it up under a BSD license.

    but people who are not making their profits on software alone more than likely want software to become as creative and productive as possible - license it under GPL.

    if you want your software to be loved by all, license it under both, and let people pick the terms under which they will participate. this is assumming you wrote all the code yourself. if you're modifying GPL code, you're stuck to that license, as I understand.

    By Blogger luke, at 8:12 AM  

  • I'll comment just a bit on the philosophy; mostly i want to talk about software.

    The bribery&violence examples are nothing more than a technique. I don't suggest that any individual libertarians condone those actions, only that a weak understanding of natural rights might lead to positions like that.

    A strong understanding of natural rights is what I'm trying to get. Naturally, you can speak and write whatever, and this includes infringing copyrights -- since doing so does not invade another's person or property. Copyright -- which has, at least so far, an unreproachable record w/r/t promoting science and the useful arts -- accomplishes this because copyright has a longer view of What Societies Do than individual speaking/writing/copying acts.

    It's a statement to the potential copier that "yes, you are naturally free to do this, but we've done some research and that hurts the progress of society, so we're forbidding it because we want to encourage a certain kind of society." It imposes, for lack of a better word, a longer-term view on the short-term action.

    As an element in the negative definition of freedom, the government should stay out until needed. As an element in the positive definition, it should use the public square to talk about and define the kind of society it wants to be. This is engagement with political reality, and I think too much libertarianism is about disengagement.

    As for limitations on corporate action, it's not disagreeability that I propose as the criterion -- the criterion should be, on libertarian grounds whether or not the action has the effect of enshackling people. This is sometimes harder to see than at other times, and I don't propose that the default value be set to "No, you can't"

    Well, maybe what I want to say about software can just be inferred from the above, but:
    -If you GPL software, you may lose out on some profit. Maybe it won't be loved by all. Maybe. Study your situation.
    -Doing this has a longer-term, wider effect from which you derive a benefit. Computable solutions, in general and everywhere, get easier to obtain the more free software is out there. Comes in handy when you have computable problems later.
    -Doing this is a way of defining yourself as a contributor with -- yes -- some basic financial/nutritional needs, but also with ideals.

    Is "ideals" a distasteful word? I don't see any other grounding from which "natural rights" can be defined.

    By Blogger Matt Crouch, at 9:32 AM  

  • as I see it, something that is copyrighted is property. if something is physical enough that a message of copyright can be attached to it, then it is physical enough to stand as a piece property. this is why I think patents are invalid, because they are legally enforced ownsership of ideas, which by their very intangible nature, are not ownable by anyone. that Rothbard piece has a good analysis of the nature of property.

    I don't pretend to offer any utilitarian justification for copyright, because utilitarian justifications are incompatible with natural rights. rather, a copyright creates ownership by NATURAL right of a thing AND the copies of that thing. but, for copyleft to be sound, it must also be based on a natural right of ownership, and not on utilitarian theory. if someone can own the code, they can give that ownership to everyone. period. otherwise, a copylefted object would only have to be shown to be less productive than a proprietary counterpart, and utilitarian theory would mandate that the copyleft object should be disallowed.

    so natural rights justify both the existence of copyright and copyleft.

    government engagement.

    libertarianism proudly speaks only of disengagement by government, and based almost entirely on this single fact: government has a monopoly on the legal use of physical force. in other words, government is the only entity that can legally physically enforce its desires. (again, Rothbard says it much better than I do.) based on that reality, libertarianism proposes that government NOT use its force for any purpose, other than protecting the rights of its citizens. a society is only made up of (and therefore defined by) the individuals in it interacting in the ways they want to interact.

    corporate behavior.

    more than likely, the fuzzines in determining whether a corporate action "enshackles" people stems from the fuzziness used in the terminology to describe the violation. so, for libertarianism, a violation of natural rights exists when an action denies a person the right to ownership of their person or property. done. if some corporate action does this directly, the corporation is responsible, liable, and criminal. if a corporation does an activity that causes someone else to violate those rights, it is the responsibility and fault of the agent violating. even if that agent is that same person.

    back to software property.

    ideals is most certainly not a distasteful word, (except to utilitarians, in some cases)...but it is certainly a loaded word. what is honorable or worthy to one person may be completely distasteful to another. the only exceptions being those same natural rights that are both morally and pragmatically universal.

    someone may have also an ideal of maximizing their wealth beyond basic financial/nutritional needs. then that ideal might go against the GPL, not with it. perhaps, by their own judgement, a person determines that they will lose considerable profits using the GPL, and will benefit only very little from the long-term effect. the rational choice for them to live up to their ideal is then to NOT use the GPL, but to use something else.

    (the history of humanity tends to favor the idea that the majority of humans are more interested in the personal maximization of wealth ideal than they are in the collective advancement of socially public resources ideal.)

    a BSD-style license allows the use of a piece of software towards the achievement of all kinds of ideals. it does not force a person into any certain ideal. whether or not the ramifications of the GPL on a particular piece of software match up with the developer's ideals is a judgement to be made by the developer. or, they might pick more than one.

    By Blogger luke, at 2:14 PM  

  • Is this right? You feel that the concept of intellectual property has its ground in natural rights?

    If so, then geez. Never mind I guess. You're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about.

    (If I read that wrong, clear it up. You said "natural rights justify both the existence of copyright and copyleft.")

    By Blogger Matt Crouch, at 6:21 PM  

  • no, the concept of intellectual property, which itself is an oxymoron, is not sound, and is also not based on natural rights. an elaboration of "intellectual things": thoughts, ideas, theories, and other non-manifest, non-physical labors. the nature of those things is such that they cannot be the property of any person.

    BUT, as I said, if an idea or theory or thought has been put into a physical form, and by that I mean a form physical enough that it can contain a self-evident notice of ownership (ie, digital objects with copyrights), then ownership of that particular object IS valid, and is valid by the natural right of a person to own things that they produce with their own labor. and only that natural right allows a person to give away that ownership as well - free of charge, or otherwise.

    if that right of ownership is only based on utilitarian theory, it only needs to be shown (in court, God forbid) that not giving ownership away freely would lead to a more productive outcome, and utilitarian theory would have that right revoked.

    ie, it would only need to be shown that more music albums are produced and consumed under copyrights than are produced and consumed under copyleft - that is, that copyright is more productive than copyleft. utilitarian theory would suggest the repeal of the ability to apply copyleft. this is just the same argument going against copyrights, but in the opposite direction. the point, however, is not which side is right, it is that the basis of that argument is bunk. no rights should be based on utilitarian theory, only on natural rights.

    So maybe yes, I'm wondering what you're talking about, because my original assumption was that you were explaining that the existence of copyright to date has been only on a utilitarian basis, and not a natural rights basis. I tried to explain why natural rights are the only viable basis to confer ownership of objects (both digital and non-digital) to their creators, who are then free to do with that ownership whatever they please. Rothbard does a much better job debunking the utilitarian theory of rights than I do, so you should read his pieces for more on that. I don't think you read it wrong, I just put it down wrong, and may have done so this time as well, so give Rothbard a try.

    so then, the correct system is one in which both copyright and copyleft exist, using natural rights as justification for both. now, what I feel, or maybe believe, is that copyLEFT is superior in the sense that it will lend itself to more innovation, more community, more openness, more knowledge, better products, better technology. but I do not suppose that because I believe that, copyRIGHT is therefore invalid.

    copyRIGHT can exist, and is existing along with copyleft, and things are shaping up such that the power of copyleft is being shown greater than the power of copyright, and I don't really care what causes that. I only assert that natural rights alone confer the principle of ownership to all goods, and therefore are the sole justification of the existence of copyright and copyleft.

    By Blogger luke, at 2:51 PM  

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