Friday, November 8, 2013

Protecting Capitalism

I’m a little puzzled by one thing in the current kerfuffle with Paul Ryan about his using material without giving proper attribution, more commonly called plagiarism.  Isn’t Paul Ryan a capitalist?  Isn’t one of his common refrains about how great capitalism is and how it can solve all problems?  If so, why does it appear that he is opposed to intellectual property rights?

Shouldn’t he be strenuously defending intellectual property, which includes the written word, as one of the key tenants of capitalism?  Some people have even claimed that the creation and protection of intellectual property rights is what has made capitalism possible. Indeed, without intellectual property rights few of some of the major corporations could exist, from publishers, to software, to big-pharm, even the financial industry giants use proprietary algorithms, and all that is protected under intellectual property rights.

I just started reading Average is Over by economist Tyler Cowen, and he says that “In today’s global economy here is what is scarce: 1. Quality land and natural resources 2. Intellectual property, or good ideas about what should be produced 3. Quality labor with unique skills” (Emphasis mine, p 19.)  What Cowen then argues is that people will chase after these things that are scarce, and that is where “most of the benefits will go.”

As a pastor, every week I work at delivering a message and sometimes in delivery I will slip up and not say who said something I am quoting, although it’s almost always in my manuscript, so I can understand the occasional slip of the tongue and will give him some leeway there.  But when you quote more than 1300 words in a book without noting it, that’s way past a slip-up.  That, in fact, is a violation of federal copy right law, which are set up to protect intellectual property rights. (That would also get you a failing grade in any school in the country)

According to a Washington Post article, Ryan wants to make a distinction between “sloppiness” and “dishonesty,” claiming that he is practicing the first and not the second.  There are two problems here.  The first is that his sloppiness is leading to dishonesty, intentional or not, although I think its the former.  And the second is that it doesn’t matter; one supports capitalism and intellectual property rights, and the second ignores them.

So rather than attacking the “haters” and “footnote police” shouldn’t Paul Ryan instead be apologizing and talking about how important protecting intellectual property rights are for capitalism?  If Paul Ryan is a capitalist, and wants to support capitalism, it would appear that he is on the wrong side of this argument, and I think it’s time that someone pointed that out to him.

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