Ideas kept under lock and key are much less useful than those that are freely available. So we find Africans dying of AIDS because they cannot afford to pay monopoly prices to patent holders of certain drugs. Or, at a more mundane level, we cannot legally watch movies on our new Android phones because "rights holders" do not wish us to.Levine and Boldrin do not like the fact that they can't do what they want without restriction. They don't like the idea that AIDS drugs or movies are not freely available, like manna from heaven. They don't like the fact that those who created these values--the "rights holders"--properly want control over their creation and want to be paid for their creations. The authors regard this as "monopolistic".
Such attacks are common among Libertarians, those alleged defenders of liberty who believe that any restrictions on their unbridled whims constitutes an attack on their freedom. I won't address their full argument against intellectual property rights--Greg Perkins has done an excellent job of this at NoodleFood--but I will address one specific point made in the article:
It is common to argue that intellectual property (IP) in the form of copyrights and patents is crucial for the creation of innovative ideas and inventions such as machines, drugs, software, books, and music. Proponents argue that IP is just like ordinary property in houses and cars. In fact, empirical evidence shows that IP does not promote innovation and that, unlike ordinary property, it is detrimental to the social good.To Levine and Boldrin, the standard to be used is the "social good". Rights are not a requirement of man's nature, but a social convention that can be granted or withdrawn according to the "social good". When the alleged "social good" demands, the individual must sacrifice his creations and his judgment to others. The individual has no right to live for himself; he has no right to think and work for his own benefit. His work and his life may be disposed of by society. Having declared morality (and philosophy in general) irrelevant to politics, this is the inevitable result of Libertarianism.
While allegedly embracing free markets, Libertarians reject free minds. But free markets cannot exist without free minds--indeed, free markets are the social consequence of free minds. Free markets are the social implementation of an individual's right to act according to his own rational judgment--the right to trade the products of his mind without interference from others.
Without an explicit moral foundation, Libertarians can only embrace the dominant morality in the culture--altruism. They can only accept the premise that the standard of morality is service to others, that the "social good" supersedes the individual, that the individual must place the welfare and interests of others--including "society"--before his own. They can only accept the premise that the need for AIDS drugs or the desire to watch a movie is a claim on those who have created these values.
Absent a rational moral foundation based on man's nature, rights are disposable when they do not serve some "practical" good. And the "practical" is determined by the morality that is accepted. According to altruism, it is not practical to withhold AIDS drugs from those who need them; it is not practical to withhold movies from those who desire to view them; it is not practical to withhold one's ideas or creations from others because they have needs and desires that you have a moral duty to fulfill.
According to altruism, those who do not "voluntarily" sacrifice for others may properly be forced to do so. Those who selfishly withhold their creations from others may properly have those creations seized. This is where altruism--and Libertarianism--must lead.