Category Archives: Political Theory

Poll: Is Copyright/Patent Violation Theft?

One issue that I’ve thought about recently is copyright and patent law.  Both subsets of law deal with the same issue of intellectual property.  Within the free market community, there’s a pretty substantial difference of opinion regarding the ethical issues related to intellectual property and related laws.  I’ve developed my own opinion, but I am curious as to what the opinion is of those who read this blog.   I’ve thought about writing a post in IP, but I would like to first gauge my audience…and if enough interest is generated, I will consider writing more about the issue of whether or not IP laws are justified.

Thus, I have constructed a poll.  Please vote, share, and comment with your thoughts!  I say a lot on this blog, but I would like to hear from you on this issue, particularly if you feel strongly one way or the other.  In fact, ideally I would love for this to perhaps spark a (respectful) comment debate if enough people weigh in.


Profit: The Human Side of the Free Market

[To see why Christians especially have an obligation to be value creators and to promote profit within an economic system, read the “Parable of the Talents,” in Matthew 25:14-30.”  Notice that the master in the parable heaps reward upon the men who created value with the money that he entrusted to them instead of redistributing it to the other man who merely hid his talent in the ground.]

Something that really annoys me is when people talk about how the free market “dehumanizes” individuals.  Often, you’ll hear people complain that capitalism has turned everything into a commercial.  All of life is subject to the forces of profit.  Sure, we are richer, but in the process we’re turned into programmed robots that evaluate life through a series of formulae that center around the ever-elusive variable M: money.   Wouldn’t it be nice if we all were more in touch with ourselves and each other instead of scrambling madly through the rat race of life?

This all sounds great.  Most importantly, it connects with people’s experiences.  We’ve all (presumably) been in that situation where a friend is not paying attention because they’re texting someone else.  We all know people who are addicted to social networking.  We all have probably reproached ourselves many times for our overconsumption of technology.

But, if this is our attitude, the problem is that we’ve got everything upset down!

No other economic system provides a way for millions of complete strangers to provide for each other’s needs and wants in a way that incentivizes service in return for profit.  I was reminded of this today when I forgot to take my lunch to work.  I had cooked some pasta for dinner yesterday night and I put the leftovers in the refrigerator to take to work today.  Unfortunately, I packed my sides and my drink without actually packing the pasta!  So when lunchtime came, to my chagrin, I opened my lunch bag to find out I only had a few snacks, but no real meal.

So, I decided to go grab something cheap that could serve as a main course for my lunch.  In order to make sure that I accomplished my goal in the most “human” and invigorating way possible, I tore up the brick sidewalk next to the building where I work and planted some grain.   While I waited for it to grow, with all the skill of Katniss Everdeen, Hawkeye, and Legolas combined, I shot a rabbit with a bow and arrow.  I returned to work with a full belly and a triumphant feeling that I had completely provided for my own lunch myself.  It was amazing…

Actually, the story is not so enthralling.  When all was said and done, I merely took the elevator downstairs, trudged down the street a few blocks, walked into Wendy’s, and bought a couple of burgers off of their value menu.

But I was hit with a startling realization as I was standing in line at Wendy’s.  In a non-capitalist system, I would have had to take a much more drastic measure to guarantee the satisfaction of my lunchtime hunger.  I would have had to rely on someone to hand me food out of the goodness of their heart or I would have had to shoot a rabbit for myself.

But because of the possibility of profit under a free price system, I was able to walk down the street into a building run by total strangers, ask for some food, and have it given to me.  In exchange, I merely handed over a couple of dollars.  In the end, we both benefitted.  My money goes towards Wendy’s revenue, which is dispersed back through its CEO, its store managers, and its laborers (and unfortunately, to the parasite known as the government, but that’s outside of the scope of this post).  I didn’t plan for my lunch not to be packed and nobody at Wendy’s ever planned to serve me specifically because I forgot my lunch.

Yet, it was there when I needed it because the possibility of serving me and others like me produces profits for Wendy’s.  No central planner determined that there needed to be a restaurant near where I work, but Wendy’s (and many others) have figured out a way to make a profit by satisfying consumer needs and wants.

This is how a market economy works.  It takes total strangers who never knew each other, who probably have different religious, political, and ethnic backgrounds, and causes them to serve each other.  There is no political solution, no central plan, no government mandate that can provide this kind of alliance between people to help each other combat the dangers and uncertainties of life’s hardships.

At this point, some would say that socialism could do that for us.  If we would all be willing to live for the community instead of for our own personal profit (an allegedly poisonous “bourgeoise” concept), then we all could progress toward social betterment as one whole.  Life would not be a blazing race for profit.  People would not be slaves of their budgets, their money, and their scarce time.   Technology would not displace the worker, would not displace face-to-face interactions, and would not displace our very souls.   It would be more human and our wants would be satisfied.

“Every day that we delay the extrication of our country from the wretched maze into which an aberration of mind has led it, takes us nearer and nearer to the abyss. Hence I say, ‘Down with the socialistic jail regime! Long live Liberty.’” – Eugen Richter, “Pictures of a Socialistic Future”

But that’s just the problem: to deny people their right (indeed, their very nature) to take satisfaction in the fruits of their labor is to dehumanize them.  It is to view them as a means to an end.  Instead of being viewed as people with souls that have the ability to freely create value, they are viewed as sheep that need to be led from pasture to pasture, as beings who do not deserve to think and provide for themselves.   When you outlaw the profit motive, you outlaw one of the very things that makes us human…you further outlaw the source of social cooperation.

And that’s when people really start to hate each other.  That’s when things become political and life becomes not about serving others but about getting the law to make others serve me.  That’s when starving masses get into line in order to just have a chance to get a half bowl of soup from the government’s kitchen service.  That’s when guns are used to keep people from escaping the country.   Slavery does not return humanity back to its “human-ness,” it destroys it.  If you don’t think this is the case, read Eugen Richter’s Pictures of a Socialist Future, a book that was written in the late 19th century prior to the rise of national socialism in Germany and the eventual domination of East Germany by the Soviets.  It’s chilling predictions became the dehumanizing reality for millions of Europeans, Russians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and more.

Sure, the free market isn’t perfect.  There are days when we’re tired and stressed.  There are days when we’re overburdened with commercials and technological gadgets.  There are days when we just want to lie in bed and not do anything.  There are days where we just want to go on a canoe trip or hike in the mountains.  These challenges are a part of being human…we cannot simply wish them away by turning our lives over to the benevolence of central planners.

But then, there are the days when we forget lunch.  When a tire on our car is blown.  When we’re glad we have the finances to pay for a good education.  When we get our checks on payday.

Then, we don’t rail against capitalism and property rights.   Curious, is it not?

So, for those days that you want to take off, work hard now–don’t think of the capitalist system as dehumanizing.  It’s easy to call something dehumanizing because it requires you to work hard and take responsibility for yourself.  Instead of complaining about the imperfections of a system that daily provides you with thousands of services made possible by millions of people on a global scale, be grateful that you have the opportunity to make an honest living by creating value for others.  If you’re annoyed by some of those services, don’t use them.  Turn them off.  But don’t demand that others around you be held to the same standard that you hold for yourself.

And in the meantime, build up some savings.  Provide for your financial security.  Then, when you can afford it, go on a vacation.  Turn off your laptop.  Enjoy yourself.  Work hard at serving others and then you can reward yourself.  After all, you earned it.

That’s the message of a free market economy.  That’s the message of liberty.  That’s the message of social cooperation.

Anything else is slavery.

A Political Thought From H.G. Wells (with a footnote from Tocqueville)

I have thoroughly enjoyed three of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novels in the past few weeks: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and just today, I was completely enraptured by his telling of The Time Machine.  Admittedly, there’s some decidedly communistic analysis of both present and future conditions in The Time Machine that frankly is just wrong.  However, I think Wells himself was somewhat disenfranchised with the Communist/Socialist utopia embodied by many intellectuals of his day.  I gathered this from the insights of the Time Traveler regarding his experience with human civilization in the year 802,701 A.D.

During that year, (spoiler alert), the Time Traveler finds two classes of men co-existing.   One class, the Eloi, live in a naive and childlike daze above ground.  They frolic in the daylight sun, eat fruit off the trees, bathe in sparkling streams of water, and have no economic, rational, or otherwise laborious concerns that would cause stress.   The other class, the Morlocks, lives in a brutal sub-world underneath the earth’s surface.  Their lives are run by machines and they are scared and bedazzled whenever confronted with light.  Their long existence underneath the earth has transformed them into hideous and bleached creatures with enormous and dilated eyes.   Nevertheless, they are humans–degenerate, ugly, and barbaric–but still humans.

As the Time Traveler spends his first days in this future world, he theorizes that the Eloi are in a state of communist perfection (not knowing of the existence of the terrible Morlocks yet).  To him, the Eloi live a life of no worries, no labor, and no danger, just perfection and utopia.  However, when he discovers the existence of the Morlocks, he hypothesizes that the Eloi are remnants of the capitalist overlords, which is why they live in wealth.  Meanwhile, the Morlocks are leftovers of the proletariat, living in misery.  But when the Time Traveler actually descends into the nest of the Morlocks, he discovers that it is they that hold the power over the Eloi.  They make everything above the world easy and peaceful for the Eloi until the time comes to eat.  At that point, the Morlocks capture and kill the fatted Eloi that they’ve been harvesting for the purposes of consumption all along.  In other words, the human race has degenerated into two groups–one that is lazy, non-intelligent, frivolous, and cripplingly innocent; and the other that is savage, brutal, and cannibalistic.  I truly appreciated this because it seemed to me to show that that Wells, at least at the time of this writing, might have believed there was a pitfall behind the coming revolution of the proletariat as predicted by Marx and other communists.  Wells seemed to acknowledge that such a revolution would create an illusion of utopia, but otherwise continue to perpetuate the use of force by one group to dominate another group.

And so, in chapter 10, the Time Traveller takes time to contemplate this miserable state of the human condition in the year 802,701.  His thoughts were to me extremely prophetic, and at the same time, highly sobering.  Although we do not face a future tomorrow of barbaric Under-World Morlocks and idiotic Upper-World Eloi, it is the kind of direction we should not want to take.  We obviously don’t want to be like the Morlocks, but just as importantly, we do not want to be like the Eloi.  At this, let’s see what Wells had to say through the eyes of the Time Traveller as he gazes over this new world (with my emphasis added):

“Here was the same beautiful scene, the same abundant foliage, the same splendid palaces and magnificent ruins, the same silver river running between its fertile banks. The gay robes of the beautiful people moved hither and thither among the trees. Some were bathing in exactly the place where I had saved Weena, and that suddenly gave me a keen stab of pain. And like blots upon the landscape rose the cupolas above the ways to the Under-world. I understood now what all the beauty of the Over- world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same.

I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes – to come to this at last. Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed problem, no social question left unsolved. And a great quiet had followed.

To me, these are clearly the words of a man who recognizes that, despite the wonderful predictions of a utopia brought about through the overthrow of the capitalists, there is something more sinister in its victory than anything that the previous civilizations had to offer: the death of the intellect and the nullification of the human soul.

I end this with (as the title of this post promised) a footnote from Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America.   Tocqueville’s greatest fear for the future of America was that it would turn into a nation of sheep, governed by shepherds who only pretend to care about the sheep on the outside.  So Tocqueville feared that they would keep the sheep very happy and content with themselves, allowing the shepherds to do as they would in the shadows (sounds just a bit like the Morlocks and the Eloi, doesn’t it?).  The nature of this power is that it,

“does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.” (Democracy in America, p. 662, Mansfield and Winthrop translation)

So it appears to me that Wells’ Morlocks and Eloi, upon closer examination, are just Tocqueville’s concerns carried to very extreme conclusions.  However, the principle is the same.

Tomorrow, we will not literally be the Eloi cattle to feed the Morlocks, but I ask you: are we becoming the timid and industrious animals that are content to allow our political masters to make us fat and happy while they work their schemes and systems upon society?  Are we becoming like the Eloi in that we don’t know (and don’t care) about the fundamental things of life and the expansion of our intellectual capacity and the strengthening of our moral fibers?  Do we just want comfort and ease under a seemingly benign slavery to bureaucrats, congressmen, and presidents,  or do we want to hardship, sacrifice, endurance, and liberty under the sovereignty of God’s power?

Just a thought from my reading of H.G. Wells (with a footnote from Tocqueville).

"Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same." - H.G. Wells, "The Time Machine"