Tucker and Kinsella (T&K) argue that “ideas are not scarce.”

That is nonsense. Air is (for all intents and purposes) not scarce but in Rothbard’s terms is a “general condition of human welfare.”

Ideas are all too scarce, because ideas do not float in the air, super-abundant, ready to be caught by anyone. People must come up with them, and there are far too few geniuses to justify calling good ideas “not scarce.”

Good ideas are not “a dime a dozen”; they are “few and far between.”

What T&K probably mean is that ideas feature non-rivalrous consumption. That I am contemplating an idea does not prevent other people from doing the same. That I am enjoying a radio broadcast is no obstacle to other people’s listening to it, too.

In other words, T&K suggest effectively that IP, regarding its production, is a public good in the technical economic sense.

But non-rivalrous consumption is just one of the two conditions for a good being public, and the less important one at that. The second condition is non-excludability. A radio station cannot restrict access to its broadcast to paying customers only. Yet if I am mulling over an idea, then I am free to keep it secret in my mind. Ideas consumption is non-rivalrous, but an idea is eminently excludable. Only God knows secret thoughts, after all.

I therefore interpret T&K as making two arguments: (1) consumption of a book or music file is non-rivalrous; therefore it is also non-excludable; (2) if all former IP becomes a public good, society will benefit.

Now I don’t know the answer to (2). Maybe the digital age has changed a few things. Maybe T&K are visionaries who see farther than other libertarians. I personally have followed Tucker’s exhortation and published my book under Creative Commons.

But (1) is surely a non sequitur, because allocation of printed or digital data is to an extent physically excludable by force of law. Therefore, a lot of IP cannot be classified as a public good. I agree that an argument can be made that it should be. But that is not self-evident and is precisely what opponents of “IP communism” contest.

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