Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ayn Rand on the patent system

As a quick follow-up to my feelings on the essential romanticism of a lot of the supposedly hard-nosed individualist views of the right, I was interested to discover that Ayn Rand herself declared, in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal that "patents are the heart and core of property rights, and once they are destroyed, the destruction of all other property rights will follow automatically, as a brief postscript."

Apart from the fact that history had already proved her wrong on this point - quite a few European countries have gone without patent systems at one time or another without an accompanying class revolution (Switzerland, for example, had no patent system when Nestle was founded) - this bit of rhetorical posturing seems to me terribly revealing, given her claim to a Lockean view of property. This essentially holds that things become property when we mix our labour with them (an apple's mine if I pick it, etc.). Patents are presumably raised to pride of place in the property pantheon because we see them as bearing the stamp of their inventor's personality. Other property follows. The fact that property rights embody fundamental aspects of personality, and that you can trade these things against each other on a market means that the market in some sense becomes an arbiter of some value a bit more transcendental than price - it becomes a way of elevating those aspects of personality, and hence those individuals, that society values. This, at least, is what I took to be the message of film of The Fountainhead.

It's worth noting just how nutty this idea is, because I think it's the idea that underpins a lot of market fundamentalism, and intellectual property fundamentalism in particular: that we need super-strong rights to protect inventors, not because it's efficient, but because the market should pay them what their idea is worth (in the transcendental aspect-of-their-personality sense).


Post a Comment

<< Home

Support the Open Rights Group Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.