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Friedrich Hayek.

Friedrich Hayek, author of “Law, Legislation and Liberty” and “The Road to Serfdom.”

If you are familiar with Hayek’s political thought, you might have noticed that one of his steadily recurring themes is the need for general rules, as opposed to mere legislations. In fact, he seems to be 100% convinced that once all rules favoring minorities at the expense of the rest of the population, the resulting order must be a classically liberal one. Strip off all the privileges, subsidies and discriminatory regulation, and the content of the law will almost miraculously align with the conduct of a free society.

Hayek is known for his theory of spontaneous order, as opposed to order imposed by government agents, which arises, in his words, out of a “legal framework of general and abstract rules” – the nomos. The three volumes of his Law, Legislation and Liberty deal with the question in detail, but one can find his ideas (in less extended form, but sufficient for our purposes) already in earlier works. For example, in The Road To Serfdom, Hayek states:

“The state should confine itself to establishing rules applying to general types of situations and should allow the individuals freedom in everything which depends on the circumstances of time and place, because only the individuals concerned in each instance can fully know these circumstances and adapt their actions to them. If the individuals are able to use their knowledge effectively in making plans, they must be able to predict actions of the state which may affect these plans. But if the actions of the state are to be predictable, they must be determined by rules fixed independently of the concrete circumstances which can be neither foreseen nor taken into account beforehand; and the particular effects of such actions will be unpredictable.”

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Intellectual property tends to be a very divisive topic of debate for libertarians. Some, following figures like Ayn Rand, are firm supporters of IP as indispensable to the libertarian conception of property. Others, following figures like Tom G. Palmer, Stephan Kinsella, Roderick T. Long and others, argue that IP is a very problematic and unjustifiable concept. In this two-part series, I will try to argue for the latter position and offer a simple introduction to some of the biggest problems with intellectual property from a strictly libertarian point of view basing myself on the works of Palmer, Kinsella and Long.

Intellectual property is a somewhat broad legal term which refers to several types of legally recognized rights to creations of the human mind, i.e. to ideas. Tom Palmer summarizes all the various types of IP in this way:Intellectual property rights are rights in ideal objects, which are distinguished from the material substrata in which they are instantiated.

Let’s make it clear what this means in practice. Actual property rights, the ones which exist without government decrees, provide ownership in a given quantity of units of a good. What IP does, is that it in effect secures someone the right to a good in general for a given period, not just to certain units of a good in someone’s possession, but to all possible units of that good. For instance, let’s say that I invent a new sort of potatoes and I go to my State Department and patent this invention. This means that I own this new sort of potatoes in general, not simply the potatoes of that sort that I’ve grown or have paid some workers to grow for me, but all potatoes of that sort that anyone grows for the duration of my patent. I am the only one legally allowed to make and sell this new sort of potatoes. Similar logic applies to copyright.

So what are the problems with this concept?

First of all, intellectual property rights do not make sense economically. One fundamental prerequisite for a good to be considered “economic” (or worthy of economizing) is scarcity. To have exclusive property rights in goods only makes sense when those goods are economic, i.e. scarce and not available in abundance. Hans-Hermann Hoppe in his “A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism” writes:

Only because scarcity exists is there even a problem of formulating moral laws; insofar as goods are superabundant (“free” goods), no conflict over the use of goods is possible and no action-coordination is needed. Hence, it follows that any ethic, correctly conceived, must be formulated as a theory of property, i.e., a theory of the assignment of rights of exclusive control over scarce means. Because only then does it become possible to avoid otherwise inescapable and unresolvable conflict.

(For a more detailed definition of what an economic good is, and why scarcity is a necessary prerequisite, take a look at Chapter 2 of Carl Menger’s classic “Principles of Economics” here)

 

If a good is available in virtually unlimited quantities then there is no reason for it to be economized and made someone’s exclusive private property, because no conflict can ever arise over its use – everyone can consume as much of that good as he wants, without hurting anyone else’s chances to do so as well. As Kinsella notes in his famous paper against IP, if someone invents a new, say, technique of harvesting cotton, and someone else copies that technique and uses it in his own harvesting activities, that does not in any way take away the technique from the original user. That is because the technique itself is not a tangible physical good – it is a concept, an idea, and those by definition cannot be scarce. There can technically be as many copies of an idea as there are humans in existence.

Intellectual property not only disregards the fundamental prerequisite of scarcity in order for a good to be considered economic, but it in fact turns it on its head, and creates scarcity where previously there was none! This is most obvious in the case of digital products subject to copyright. Nowadays, any digitalized good, such as ebooks, articles, songs, etc. could effectively be reproduced infinitely in their digital form. But with copyright, only the possessor of this legal right is allowed to make copies of these digital files, thus he is the one who decides their total quantity in existence. This creates an artificial scarcity, which wouldn’t be there without the state enforcing IP law, and this allows the possessor of the copyright to profit from the scarcity thus artificially created. Without IP, ideas could technically be copied and applied to everyone’s tangible property. As already mentioned ideas do not suffer any material restrictions of scarcity, because a single idea can be part of everyone’s knowledge! The whole point of economizing activity is to make scarce goods more easily available, human economy is a constant striving to achieve relative abundance. Yet, the enforcement of intellectual property has exactly the opposite economic effect of increasing scarcity!

It is perhaps unsurprising then, that the origin of modern IP law historically lies in monopoly privilege and censorship instituted by the State. Palmer writes:
Patents for new inventions were issued by the English Crown with the aim of raising funds through the granting of monopolies or of securing control over industries perceived to be of political importance, while copyrights functioned to ensure governmental control over the press in a time of great religious and political dissent. Monopoly privilege and censorship lie at the historical root of patent and copyright”

As we can clearly see, in economic terms intellectual property seems an entirely nonsensical and potentially harmful concept. Economically speaking, trying to establish exclusive private property in ideas is completely unnecessary as those do not even qualify as economic goods proper, and such an attempt is actually quite harmful as it creates a new level of artificial scarcity, where there previously hasn’t been any. And this will of course necessarily lead to a decrease in overall utility.

In the next part we are going to expand on the economic argument and discuss why intellectual property is problematic from an ethical point of view as well.

Greta Kasatkina introduces the International Women for Liberty panel discussion at ISFLC 2015 in Washington D.C. Photo: Judd Weiss.

Greta Kasatkina introduces the International Women for Liberty panel discussion at ISFLC 2015 in Washington D.C. Photo: Judd Weiss.

A few weeks ago I attended the largest libertarian student conference ever in history – the 2015 International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C. It was an amazing experience with multiple great events – a chance to hear the legendary Ron Paul comment on how he is challenged by being preceded by Edward Snowden’s address via Skype, and find new stuff through talking with other liberty-minded individuals (and the crazy Texas party – you had to be there, sorry). One of the sessions I attended was a Women for Liberty session with a panel of international libertarian women activists.

The speakers for this panel came from around the world – included were Senior Campus Coordinator Suzanne Schaefer from Students For Liberty in North America, Executive Board Member of African Students for Liberty Linda Kavuka, International Executive Board Member Victoria Ramírez, Regional Leader Yavnika Khanna from Students for Liberty South Asia, Local Coordinator Caroline Devine from European Students for Liberty and European Women for Liberty founder Greta Kasatkina.

I was happy to see how much Students for Liberty has grown and reached various points of the globe, but it was the first time that I heard of the Women for Liberty movement. I was intrigued and curious to hear why would a group of women, sitting under a banner titled “Women for Liberty”, want to speak about certain issues?

“The African societies are rooted deep in cultural practices and religion; the negative and extreme aspects of these are used to make women submissive.” said Kavuka. “Women thus do not realise that they have individual liberties, and fail to make individual choices touching on their personal lives. We have a people who live in fear, and live according to societies standards and expectations. I think that we should not just be fighting for equality but rather we should treat each other like people, with respect and without discrimination.” (more…)

If you prepare to graduate from university you surely have many questions to answer and challenges to overcome. Fortunately Alumni For Liberty will be at the European Students For Liberty Conference to help you do just that.afl-banner

Alumni For Liberty is a global network of pro-liberty who support each other and the student movement for liberty.

On Friday we will be hosting an Alumni For Liberty breakout session on Taking The Next Step. The panel will feature accomplished professionals who will discuss the steps you should be taking now to prepare for life after graduation:

  • Matej Ogorevc – Former ESFL Exec Board member & co-owner and co-director of Lango
  • Maria Semykoz – AFL member and Consultant at Gallup
  • Clark Ruper – Outgoing Vice President of Students For Liberty and entering Director of Development for the Atlas Network

Join us on Friday April 10 at 16:00 at the ESFLC to learn how to take the next step (see your program booklet for the room number).

Normally membership in AFL costs $10 per month, all of which goes to supporting the next generation of student leaders. But now through the Senior Gift Drive you can get a full year of AFL membership for just one $10 contribution (9.2 euro).

AFL members receive a number of valuable perks upon joining such as invitations to SFL donor events, free drinks at AFL networking happy hours, and free registration at next year’s ESFLC. That already makes it too good of a deal to pass up.

Plus if you join the Senior Gift Drive for just one 9.2 donation you will receive  an extra drink ticket at the Saturday Night ESFLC Social.

I look forward to meeting you at the ESFLC and discussing how Alumni For Liberty can help you take the next step.

Sincerely & For Liberty,
Clark Ruper

Last April I lived in Texas. How did I become a Local Coordinator in Europe? I would not be a student leader in Belgium if it were not for the 2014 European Students for Liberty Conference.

“Peace, Love, Liberty”: The beauty of ideas

Highlights of my 2014 ESFLC included the keynote by Tom G. Palmer in which he explained that violence is actually decreasing worldwide, that peace is an achievable goal and that war is not inevitable. This is the first time I’d heard such strong, data-based arguments for peace in one talk. The atmosphere throughout the entire conference – from the talks themselves to the laughter, love and dancing at the evening socials – upheld the promise of last year’s book, “Peace, Love, Liberty,” edited by Palmer. It was also a fitting celebration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall to hear Palmer devote so much time and attention to making rational arguments for peace as an achievable goal.

Also memorable was a charged panel discussion moderated by Eglė Markevičiūtė and featuring Cathy Reisenwitz, Eirik Aaserød and Carrie Lukas that included passionate arguments about feminism vs. individualism. It is interesting for me to reflect on this panel one year later and see how listening to the speakers served as a stepping stone in my path toward being able to work with Greta Kasatkina, Ana Jakšić, Nur Baysal and Johanna Lönn to launch European Women for Liberty. We will hold the inaugural European Women for Liberty luncheon in less than a week.

In addition to listening to Marco Ricco’s very interesting talk on hacktivism, I also attended a talk by Vera Kichanova who is a journalist hero and fearless champion of liberty in Russia. I remember watching Kichanova speak after reading her biography on the speakers list and thinking, “She is so much braver than I am.” She is also very humble and kind. Vera inspired me personally to take a more active role in exercising my right to free speech.

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ESFLCWickr

It’s our great pleasure to announce Wickr, the free messaging app enabling anyone to send top-secret messages that self-destruct, as the official messaging app of the 2015 European Students For Liberty Conference.

As the primary users of technological devices, young people are especially aware of the importance of privacy in the face of mounting government surveillance. That’s why they’ve adopted tools and apps such as Wickr to help them stay free and independent while staying in communication with their friends and family, without fear of having their messages and data collected by government agencies.

Wickr promises to allow individuals to message without them ever knowing the content of what is written, providing an encrypted platform that also self-destructs messages after a determined amount of time.

Such advancements are precisely why ESFL is proud to have Wickr as a Silver Sponsor and the Offical Messaging App for the 2015 ESFLC, to be held at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany on April 10-12.

Representatives from Wickr will be present at Saturday’s Liberty Fair to give more information on the advantages and new advancements to come for the app.

They’ll also be holding a special giveaway for students who download the app and use it to communicate, so stay tuned for more news to win prizes!

sell-esflc-2015

On the Saturday April 11 at 17:15, Wickr’s CEO Nico Sell will give a presentation entitled “Private Conversations — Enabling Evolution Instead of Revolution,” to explore this topic more in depth.

 

ESFL-2015-rotator
So you’ve noticed, on Facebook, Twitter, a blog or through a friend, that European Students For Liberty is hosting the biggest libertarian conference in Europe so far in Berlin on April 10-12. You’re curious about what’s going on there and have already an idea about the issues we’re promoting. Still, you’re hesitating. You’ve probably never been to a comparable event before, you don’t know the other attendees, or some of the speakers from the line-up sound completely unfamiliar to you. So you’re switching back and forth between deciding to go there and declining the opportunity. What should you do? I promise ESFLC is an inspiring and sometimes life-changing experience, but certainly one you’re not gonna forget so quickly. In this post I’ll introduce Pierre Bessard, one of our speakers and how he inspired me to become more involved in libertarian organizing. (more…)

Bryan Caplan claims that “the precautionary principle is too absurd to apply to more than a few hand-picked scapegoats“. I would go further: the precautionary principle is not merely wrong, but meaningless. The idea that it constitutes a rule for making decisions is an illusion created by poor  framing of choices.

Before we get going: what is the Precautionary Principle? Interpretations vary, but roughly it means that “If an action has a risk of harming people, then in the face of uncertainty we should err on the side of not taking the action.” The problem with this, as I shall show, is that in any purported case where this principle might apply, either side can equally validly be construed as risking harm to people. For this reason, the Precautionary Principle is useless as a decision rule.

It is well established that the way options are presented has a large effect upon the way we think about them. For example, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman famously asked people to choose between treatments for a disease affecting 600 people. Treatment (a) would lead to 200 survivors and 400 deaths, while treatment (b) had a 33% chance of saving everyone and a 67% chance of leading to all 600 people dying. Tversky and Kahneman found that, depending upon how they presented the options, as many as 72% or as few as 22% of people asked would express support for treatment (a). In other words, fully half of the people surveyed had their minds made up for them by the way the question was asked. (This work went on to win Kahneman a Nobel Prize for Economics).

The Precautionary Principle is a particularly well-entrenched way of presenting options. Suppose we have a choice of two policies: policy A will lead to the economy continuing on track normally, while policy B has a 67% chance of benefiting us by £50m every year from now on and a 33% chance of costing us £80m every year from now on. The Precautionary Principle seems to speak in favour of policy A: sure, on average policy B will leave us better off, but B also takes the risk of leaving us worse off!

Except, the comparison to our current level isn’t the relevant comparison for what we mean by “worse off”. Think about it this way: there are two possible states of the world, α and β, and we don’t know which we are in but think that there is a two-thirds chance that we are in state α.

 

Adopting policy B does indeed risk losing £80m every year if we turn out to be in world β. But policy A is not taking a “neutral” attitude to risk: it is risking being £50m worse off every year if we turn out to be in world α. It is every bit as valid to consider this a loss as it would be to consider the £80m a loss if we chose policy B and happened to be unlucky. The purported difference in risk is a complete illusion created by the way the scenario was presented.

What are the political implications of this? Firstly, all the governmental organisations which have adopted the precautionary principle, including the European Commission and the United Nations, ought to hang their heads in shame and get this out of their books. Secondly, we should be rather more suspicious of all kinds of regulations couched in the Precautionary Principle – people, government agents included, have irrational biases which lead them to avoid the more visible risk of a new product turning out to hurt people while neglecting to avoid the equally present risk of turning down the great benefits of new technologies. (And in case you think that “the benefit of new technologies” pales in comparison to the risk of harm to the consumer: imagine that the new technology in question is a more effective medical drug. The people denied this drug by regulation are killed, just as surely as anyone who might have been killed by Dr. Snakeoil’s Sulphuric Acid Drink).

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.

ESFL-2015-rotatorAnnouncing the 2015 European Students For Liberty Conference in Berlin!

Meet Danish Journalist and Mohammad cartoon publisher Flemming Rose, MEP Daniel Hannan, Russian Oppositional Vera Kichanova, former German Bundestag member Frank Schäffler, and social entrepreneur Christopher Catrambone at #ESFLC15!

Berlin, Germany  —  Aiming to make their presence known in the capital of Germany, the grassroots student-driven organization European Students For Liberty is holding its 4th annual conference at Humboldt University on the 10-12th of April, 2015.

The conference will feature three intense days of speeches, debates, panel sessions and networking which will bring together hundreds of liberty advocates in the spirit of promoting a free society in Europe and across the world.

It is expected to be the largest pro-liberty conference in all of Europe, uniting students and young people with a keen interest in the fundamentals of liberty. More than 700 students are expected to make their way to Berlin from over 45 different countries across the world, each paying their own way to be present alongside their fellow activists.

Headlining the event will be journalist Flemming Rose, original publisher of the Danish Mohammad cartoons, and Member of European Parliament Daniel Hannan of the British Conservative Party, as well as Christopher Catrambone, CEO of Tangier Group and founder of Migrant Offshore Aid Station (moas.eu), an NGO dedicated to saving lives at sea using a 40-metre boat called Phoenix.

The other keynote speeches will be given by Tom Palmer, vice president of the Atlas Network, former German Bundestag member and Frei Democratic Party representative Frank Schäffler, and Nico Sell, CEO of Wickr, a free messaging app enabling anyone to send top-secret messages that self-destruct, the official messaging app of #ESFLC15.

Joining them will be 30 other speakers from a variety of backgrounds, professions, and countries, each with their own perspective on how to achieve a freer, more prosperous society and to actively encourage young people to make these changes possible.

The theme this year will be that of “Open Borders,” recognizing that this generation of young people in Europe can be counted amongst one of the freest generations in the history of the world.

The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago united east and west and ushered in a great number of freedoms now enjoyed by millions of people in the former Soviet bloc. Thankfully, that wall which symbolized the harshest of borders and one of the most repressive economic systems ever imagined has been eliminated, along with all the terrible ideas which were its glue for so long.

A paper by the University of Wisconsin’s John Kennan finds that lifting migratory restrictions would have significant economic benefits as well, more than doubling the income of newly arrived immigrants and providing a significant boon to domestic economies.

That’s what drives so many pro-liberty student activists to advocate for the idea of open borders. They advocate for the idea that borders, created and enforced by man, are not the only means through which we can proclaim identity and meaning, certainly not if it means stripping so many people of their dignity and denying them opportunity. They advocate for the idea that we can become richer and more prosperous by opening our borders and allowing access to our markets.

Open borders means free movement of people and free trade. There is no more humane position than allowing people to freely cross borders to improve their situation and to vote with their feet. It is the position that most favors individual liberty and deserves our support. This will be the underlying theme of the 2015 European Students For Liberty Conference in Berlin, Germany.

Platinum Sponsors for the event are The Atlas Network and Saxo Bank.

The conference’s Gold Sponsors are Imperial Tobacco, Friedrich A. von Hayek-Gesellschaft, Ayn Rand Institute, and the Cato Institute. The Silver Sponsors are the Institute of Economic Affairs, Liberales Institut, energ.my, Wickr, Prometheus Institute, and the Institute for Economics Studies-Europe. Bronze Sponsors for the ESFLC will be the Acton Institute, Business and Information Technology School Berlin, Free State Project, Roland Baader, Institut für Wertewirtschaft, and the International Alliance of Libertarian Parties.

________

European Students For Liberty is the first major international development of Students For Liberty. ESFL exists to provide support for pro-liberty students and student groups in Europe and empower the next generation of leaders in the global liberty movement.

At present, ESFL boasts an expansive network of over 260 groups across the European continent, and just completed 16 regional conferences in major European cities in the fall of 2014, in addition to the first-ever ESFL Ukraine Summit in Kiev, with over 540 attendees, and the National ESFL Conference in Athens, Greece with over 220 participants.

ESFL’s activities help students generate the skills, momentum, and connections necessary to effectively advance the pro-liberty movement within Europe and abroad.

For information, visit esflc.org.

# # # #

For more information on the European Students For Liberty Conference and to register, please visit ESFLC.org.

Any other concerns, please contact ESFL Programs Director Yaël Ossowski, email: yossowski@studentsforliberty.org.

After a long wait, we’re excited to release the complete schedule for the 2015 European Students For Liberty Conference!

The schedule is jam-packed with over 36 speakers from 18 countries, highlighting topics including from Islam and the Free Market, Bitcoin, privacy on the Internet, saving migrants at sea, the fundamentals of liberalism, the EU, the Eurocrisis, Objectivism, GMOs, Euroscepticism, free speech, the crisis in Ukraine, Open Borders, our conference theme, and much more.

Every person who is interested in the ideas of liberty will find something to enjoy at the conference, whether it’s finding the opportunity to meet and network with hundreds of other students, interacting with our many sponsor and partner organizations, or having a great time at our evening socials.

The conclusion of each day’s session will be following with a dinner and social at the conference venue, along with a special jazz performance we’ve arranged for all attendees.

This is a conference to not miss! Be sure to take advantage of our special deal now on ESFLC.org to register and join the largest pro-liberty conference to ever take place on the European continent!

The complete schedule is available for download here.