26 January 2012

Greg Mankiw: Ignoramus or Liar?

How else to explain this nonsense:

The anti-SOPA crowd argues that this is a matter of basic liberty.  But it's not.  In a free society, you don't have the freedom to steal your neighbor's property.  And that should include intellectual property.  Moreover, it is the function of the state to enforce those rights.  We don't leave it up to civil litigation to protect property rights (although that is part of the solution).  We give the state substantial powers to stop theft.  Just as owners of tangible personal property have good cause to call for a police force and a system of criminal courts, owners of intellectual property have good cause to ask the state to stop those who would infringe on their rights.

It’s like he doesn’t understand the difference between copying and theft.  If I have a book and someone copies it, they do not deprive me of the book (except for the time spent copying it). If they steal the book, I never see it again.  If I write a song and someone decides to copy it, they do not deprive me of my ability to play it.  On the other hand, if I have an apple and someone takes it, then they deprive me of what belongs to me.  As Thomas Jefferson once said, “He who receives an idea from me receives it without lessening me, as he who lights his candle at mine receives light without darkening me.

Also note that the supreme law of the land (the constitution, for MIT economics professors too stupid to familiarize themselves of the law under which they live) never refers to intellectual property in terms of theft.  In fact, they refer to it primarily in terms of special monopoly privilege.  Incidentally, this is why the constitution prescribes “exclusive Right” for authors and inventors for “limited times.”  The founders never believed thoughts were real property, which is why they allowed these rights to expire.

Thus, Mankiw’s assertion, which is nothing more than pious posturing, is verifiably false.  SOPA is not a matter of preventing theft or protecting property rights.  It is, like all other forms of intellectual property law, just another form of government-enforced monopoly.  And like all other monopolies before it, it is just another way to reduce freedom.