Ideas Not Economic Quantities

Ideas Not Economic Quantities.

To the Editor of Liberty:

In Liberty, No. 184, there are two arguments side by side: one by Mr. Yarros on Land and Ideas as Property, and the other against Copyright by John Beverley Robinson. The argument by Mr. Yarros is stated as follows: It is assumed, without inquiry and without reason, that the same natural obstacles and difficulties which, in the case of land, constrain us to rest satisfied with the occupying ownership plan as the nearest approximation to equal liberty possible, exert and operate in the realm of ideas and abstract truths, and necessitate the same compromises. But the truth is that there is absolutely no reason for applying the principle of occupying ownership to the sphere of ideas. In the ownership and control of ideas equal liberty neither requires nor countenances any restrictions.

In the next column Mr. Robinson says: The idea is the intellectual exertion made in producing, and, as such, is a part of the body of the producer. The working of the mind cannot be sold; only the material of nature, transformed by labor, whether mental or physical, can be dealt in commercially.

Both of these opposing thinkers are in the right. But each is discussing different premises, and, while they reason [6] logically, each necessarily comes to different conclusions. Consequently there is no agreement.

There is no correlation between equal liberty in occupying ownership of land and the ownership and control of ideas. No one can rightfully own land. But everyone necessarily owns his ideas. Land is not a human product; ideas are. He who conceives an idea has it in his own right. It is his property; but it is non-transferable. No conceiver of an idea can transfer it bodily from his own brain to that of another, and thus deprive himself of it. Hence it is not a merchantable or economic quantity. Economics is the science of exchange. But since ideas cannot be bodily transferred, they are necessarily outside the realm of Economics. Therefore, it is only embodied ideas that are exchangeable.

Mr. Yarros fails to see this vital fact in Economics. The editor of Liberty, Mr. Robinson, Tak Kak, myself, and others do see it. Hence the difference between us.

William Hanson.

[While I am with Mr. Hanson in thinking that ideas are not properly economic quantities, it must not be inferred that I endorse his statements that there is no correlation between occupying ownership of land and ownership and control of ideas, that no one can rightfully own land, and that ideas are human products.Editor Liberty.]