Capitalism & Idea Ownership

Ian Goddard (
Sat, 09 Jan 1999 15:57:30 -0500

At 02:30 PM 1/9/99 -0400, David A. Kekich wrote:

>> There is no certainty that a purely capitalistic economy would
>> have enriched Einstein. Perhaps he would have found it easier
>> to make lots of money. Producing "good stuff" isn't enough --
>> you have to get other people to pay you for your stuff.
>> Discoveries in theoretical physics are pretty hard to leverage
>> into a really large fortune.
> Under pure capitalism, use of ideas without compensation would be
>theft. Einstein would have eventually prospered.

IAN: Not necessarily. There's a school of thought that argues from libertarian axioms (or purports to do so) that copyright, patents, and trademarks are artificial-government-fiat monopolies that are contrary to strict property rights. For example, this libertarian school argues that to copyright your book decrees that I can't arrange my property (ink and paper) in a given way, and telling that to me is a violation of my property rights. I'm not an advocate but an opponent of that school, and am just noting its existence for the record.

Suppose that a person invented (or "discovered") an equation that resulted in fusion energy, would they properly have a right to claim a fee from any who profited from that equation? Maybe not. Which is not to say it wouldn't be appalling if the guy enriched many others and died a pauper.

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