Re: Coase's Theorem and Intellectual Property

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Thu, 24 Dec 1998 11:39:50 -0600

I think that both consequentialist and axiomatic analyses should be performed on any proposal. If the consequentialist outcome claims a positive and axiomatic analysis claims a negative, then don't do it. If the consequentialist claims a negative and the axiomatic analyses claims a positive, then obviously don't do it. This is the translation of two simple rules that have been justified by experience:

  1. The ends don't justify the means. This rule is forced on us by our inability to correctly evaluate the value or probability of the ends.
  2. Don't be impractical. Too many people have followed their principles off a cliff.

One last word remains, about the difference between "negative" and
"positive". People continuing to be poor is not a negative, especially
if there's no consequentially valid way to make them rich. People becoming poorer is a negative. Violating property rights is an axiomatic negative.

Libertarianism has the tremendous advantage that axiomatic analyses can produce negative or neutral results but not positive results, since people have violable freedoms but not fulfilable entitlements. Libertarians thus don't need to worry about so much about rule B. This is why libertarianism works so well compared to most other systems.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.