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September 06, 2009


Alasdair King

"Massachusetts allows non-compete clauses in workers’ contracts whilst California doesn’t, so workers’ property rights are fuller in the latter."

Other way round, surely? In Massachusetts you can freely sign away your future activity, and in California the state stops you from doing so. That's a restriction on your property rights. Not that I don't agree with it...


No, because non-compete clauses are a way for employers to alienate workers from the economic value of their own expertise. It's one step down from indenture.


"However, the fact that lots of music is still made despite the growth of file-sharing suggests that we don’t need to enforce existing copyrights strenuously in order to maintain creativity."

Or it could be that music is made because copyrights are still enforced.

Or it could be that the vast majority of the population doesn't know what P2P is.

You're arguing from a static point in time. Give it time, and you'll see music sales really dwindle. Particularly as my generation start having children and grandchildren.

Without some mechanism to allow artists to make money from their work, sales will fall, and there will be less reason for all but the greatest lovers of music to make music. For the last 300 years, that mechanism has been copyright, but it is clear that mechanism is unenforceable is this age. So we need a new mechanism. What about this:



Interesting that you don't mention SelfOwnsership, Freedom and Equality in this post, given that you close with:

"If you’re going to argue that the case for property rights rests only upon consequentialist arguments - do they encourage creators? - then the difference between classical liberals and revolutionary Marxists such as myself comes down largely to merely empirical questions. Is this really the case?"

In that Cohen was extremely agitated by the fact that Nozickean self-ownership contentions really rubbed up against Marxist thinking (as you highlight) and consequently was perceived as much more threatening by Marxists than by most liberals whom Nozick originally targetted.

However, your contention is interesting for specifically this reason: I take many consequentialist libertarians to be such because Cohen demolished the basis for deontological libertarianism: the notion of libertarianism as the advocacy of equal liberties for all, based on equal property rights (with the stuff about owning the produce of labour following yada yada).

Some crazy deontological libertarians - and they are crazy, because holding all that stuff about absolute rights and just steps in the face of the real world is bonkers, especially post-Cohen demolition of the freedom arguments - still remain, but most have moved to the consequentialist position for obvious reasons.

If you're right, and the result is still that Marxist and Libertarians end up in the same place because of thoughts about self ownership, well maybe that says something about what's going wrong with both...


Paul - I have been giving Cohen fairly close reading and find this "demolition" rather lacking, with straw Nozick's abound and some very poor claims about rational choice. Tom Palmer produced a pretty good response which he believes Cohen lobbied to have supressed from the mainstream academic journals: http://tomgpalmer.com/wp-content/uploads/papers/palmer-cohen-cr-v12n3.pdf

Having said that, I am not a deontological libertarian and think of that as more of a strategic response to Rawls. Deontology always tends to involve writing epistemological cheques that no one can cash.

I think there is a key concept which transcends restricted/unrestricted property but which interacts with notions of property. That is the rule of law - the idea that the state itself must be bound by predictable rules. Both Sweden and the US have a reasonably strong measure of that, and I don't think you can have economic growth (or any real civil liberties) without it either. Incidentally, I am told that Sweden also has a higher proportion of private land than the US (with its highly acquisitive federal government).

Traditionally, many Marxists tend to sniff at the notion of the rule of law, if they understand its significance at all. But I am sure you, Chris, are not one of those which is why I think you may fit more easily into a left libertarian camp. Having said that, I have noticed some left libertarians who barely no what it involves either.

With that particular limit on government action, rather than the necessary size of government, accepted, then I think you are right that radical Marxists and radical libertarians do not have all that much substantially different in their philosophies.



I've never been impressed by that Palmer piece, at all.

Furthermore, my imperssion of the man is that he has an odd persecution complex attached directly to the figure of Cohen personally. See, for example, the very nasty post he wrote about Cohen just after he died.

I was taught at University by peolpe who were really interested in intellectual arguments in pol philosophy, and who took Nozick very, very seriously indeed. I find it very hard to believe that the only reasons they continue to rate Cohen over Palmer is that either the latter was "suppressed" or that they are all stuck in their own liberal prejudices. Frankly, there were too many people with brains too bright and desire for the best arguments too powerful for those explanations to wash.

That, combined with my own lack of enthusiasm for the Palmer piece, leads me to think that it's just not that good, and that Cohen was right.


Sorry, to counter a justifiable objection:

the reason I've never been impressed with Palmer's piece is that it zeros in on Cohen's claims about how selfownership can/should lead to communism as oppose to libertarianism.

I'm not really interested in those claims, because I'm more of a liberal egalitarian than a marxist (and certainly not a libertarian).

What I think is primarily important in Cohen's analysis is not the stuff about self-ownership leading to communism not libertarianism, but the demonstration that you can't ground libertarianism in deontological thoughts about freedom. And I just don't think Palmer can refute that charge; i'm fairly ambivalent about the Marxist-Libertarian fight about self ownership and its consequences that his paper is preoccupied with.


Your view of academia is charming, but not the whole truth.


"No, because non-compete clauses are a way for employers to alienate workers from the economic value of their own expertise. It's one step down from indenture."

All the same, there are cases where I might sign a non-compete if it meant I got a better salary or other advantages. And where the government limits my right to sign such a contract *if I so choose*, it infringes my property rights.

To argue otherwise is to assume that workers are dupes and fools who will sign away their rights without considering the consequences. This is, alas, a fairly common view.

Tim Worstall

"Nor is it the case that Tim and Peter’s argument suffices to rule out further changes in property rights. For example, Tim says: “creators have rights over their creations because we want to encourage the next creator to create.”"

I wouldn't try and argue that it does. Nor am I trying to look at philosophic reasons as to why property rights exist (or should not, to taste).

My point was and is to try and provide a purely consequentialist point about how we should evaluate the extant and/or proposed rights to property that we grant through both the law and societal means.

I have, for example, argued in the past that copyright on music was a reasonable structure at a certain stage of technology. It might be less so now in a digital age. It could be for example that the new cheapness of creating and distributing music means that we no longer need to assign a property right to the sound recording because we'll still get the new music making for reasons of ego, delight, to get the girls, whatever.

But we should evaluate such changes by, at least I am arguing that we should, by looking at whether the new rules still incentivise creators sufficiently for them to create as we all desire they should continue to do so.

The same point can be made on a larger scale. Why allow dividends to be paid at all, why not insist that profits be either reinvested or taxed? Because we'd rather like people to carry on investing in new businesses in the hope of gaining dividends in the future.


What I think is primarily important in Cohen's analysis is not the stuff about self-ownership leading to communism not libertarianism, but the demonstration that you can't ground libertarianism in deontological thoughts about freedom.

Trouble is, it's at best a tendentious and at worst a seriously defective 'demonstration.' I like Leif Wenar's response to Cohen: http://wenar.info/media/Wenar_Meanings_of_Freedom.pdf

Peter Risdon

I argued that there *are* natural property rights, Tim took the consequentialist approach, which I don't really like.

I didn't say there's a simple dichotomy between full property rights and totalitarianism, but rather that when there have been *radical* attempts to remove property rights, horrors have followed.


investment property rental mortgage advice

Until now, there are still conflicts about property rights. I agree with Dan the important on his analysis is the demonstration that you can't ground libertarianism in deontological thoughts about freedom.


rolex gmt

And a lot of it reflects a switch from bank deposits to securities; foreigners “other investments” in the UK, http://www.watchgy.com/ mostly bank deposits, fell by £143.2bn in Q1. And of course there’s no guarantee such buying will continue.

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