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Ayn Rand and Austrian economics

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The difference between patents and copyrights is that the value of the subject matter of patents is the function performed (functional), while the value of copyrighted matter is entirely within the form of expression (formal). Simply prohibiting copies of identical machines would be useless. A copyright system that could effectively protect patents by protecting functions would also have to apply to the meanings of sentences. Patents and copyrights are necessarily different.

Hold on though. Copyrights also apply to parts of the copyrighted material, as well as, more particularly, a thing which is almost identical but isn't quite. For example, If I changed the names of everyone in AS, but kept everything, including Galt's speech, intact, then while the book isn't the same, I would still be prevented from publishing (or be sued) because of a violation of property right. So you couldn't, for instance, make the same machine but paint it a different color, or add a useless piece just to change the design a teensy bit so it isn't identical. You'd have to make it a good deal different, using, say, all different components, and perhaps arranging them differently, etc., in which case you would have quite a different thing on your hands than the original machine, even if they end up doing the same thing by the same broadly defined method (say, reducing noise on your tv screen).

Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like, with the "minor meaningless detail" changes also protected by a copyright, you would have to make some important change to the machine in order to avoid violating the copyright, in which case you would almost certainly be able to get a patent on the machine anyway, right?

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Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like, with the "minor meaningless detail" changes also protected by a copyright, you would have to make some important change to the machine in order to avoid violating the copyright, in which case you would almost certainly be able to get a patent on the machine anyway, right?

Just what exactly constitutes the difference between a "minor meaningless detail" and "an important change"? Patents differ from copyrights in spelling out exactly what is claimed to be protected so it is possible to answer that question. An infringement has the features claimed. Meaningless details are not claimed. Copyrights have had to have a lot of judicially created folklore employed to draw boundaries between works that are similar and works that are not. For example, why does a translation of a work into a different language such that every word is necessarily replaced constitute an infringement of copyright? The article Successfully Defending Copyright Infringement Suits introduces two legal principles: the legal doctrine of de minimis non curat lex and scènes à faire. Copyrights are less objective than patents in the borderline cases, therefore it would not be an improvement to rely on the copyright model generally.

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Also notice how Galt segues straight into virtue after value. If 'virtue' is the action by which one gains and keeps a value, and values proper include irrational values, then there are virtues for obtaining irrational values. There are certainly means to obtain irrational values, but it makes no sense to describe those means as virtues.

I got my lecture series Unity in Ethics and Epistemology in the mail yesterday, so I've learned I have to retract this. Virtue can be construed simply as 'means' because there exists the idiomatic phrase by (or in) virtue of meaning On the grounds or basis of; by reason of: well-off by virtue of a large inheritance. example drawn from Answers.com

Overall my argument that economics would be improved by economists being pro-wealth in the same way physicians are expected to be pro-health remains, but it turns out both definitions of value are necessary to make sense of the field, nor can it be said that one definition is better than the other.

There is more come from me on this "two definitions" business, which bears directly on several of the major debates I've been involved with here on OO.net.

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I listened to an explanation on the meaning of "value-free" as positive rather than normative from Thomas E Woods in a recent speech, and it makes sense to me. Is there anything that you can find a problem with in here, Grames? I think the second paragraph is more like the analogy of the economist as doctor diagnosing a patient, but even that seems utilitarian and not egoistic.

Finally, Austrian economics is value-free. We say that it's value-free. That means that Austrian economics, strictly speaking, is purely scientific. It is positive rather than normative. And all that means is that it's descriptive rather than prescriptive. It explains to you how the world works. It does not say to you, “Therefore you should do A, B, C, and D.” It simply describes how the world works, strictly speaking. Now, as a human being, who also happens to be an Austrian economist, you can then turn around and say, “Oh by the way, as a human being, I think we should do this, and we shouldn't do that.” But strictly speaking as an Austrian economist, all you're doing is describing the likely consequences.

But we can move from the one to the other, because we realize, when we study Austrian economics we come face to face with this natural order. We come face to face with the theory of it, and we perceive it in our daily lives, in reality. And we realize that when we work to undermine it, we bring about impoverishment. When we allow it to occur, to take place unhampered, we get wealth and prosperity. And so, since we don't hate the human race, and we want wealth and prosperity, therefore we do favor these various things, we do favor free exchange among people and so on and so forth. So what we learn from Austrian economics, even though the discipline itself is value-free, can influence our values.

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I listened to an explanation on the meaning of "value-free" as positive rather than normative from Thomas E Woods in a recent speech, and it makes sense to me. Is there anything that you can find a problem with in here, Grames? I think the second paragraph is more like the analogy of the economist as doctor diagnosing a patient, but even that seems utilitarian and not egoistic.

The paragraph implies that is possible to hate the human race and value impoverishment over wealth while being an Austrian economist. I can accept that as true using their definition. But then, as a human being why should I or anyone have any use for Austrian economists? Two Austrian economists using the same methods can come to opposite conclusions. In order to decide between the two, any person who is not a professional economist must learn enough economics to come to his own decision, rendering the actual economists redundant. The Austrian economists are not helping anyone's productivity by performing a division of labor if their labor must be duplicated by others.

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The paragraph implies that is possible to hate the human race and value impoverishment over wealth while being an Austrian economist. I can accept that as true using their definition. But then, as a human being why should I or anyone have any use for Austrian economists? Two Austrian economists using the same methods can come to opposite conclusions. In order to decide between the two, any person who is not a professional economist must learn enough economics to come to his own decision, rendering the actual economists redundant. The Austrian economists are not helping anyone's productivity by performing a division of labor if their labor must be duplicated by others.

No, you are incorrect in your assessment. They will say "If you do A then B, if C then D." And then perhaps one will say "so do A" and the other will say "so do C." But since they already told you the consequences of A and C were going to be, you can choose for yourself between the courses of action. An Austrian economist (as an economist) does not make recommendations. An Austrian economist, as a citizen/human being, does. And often times they make it clear that they are writing about their opinion, or a fact of economic science. They aren't using the same methods if they come to opposite conclusions. Economics stops with "if A then B, if C then D." Then, they use different methods (their ethical systems) to choose between them. If you give them a goal, for example, making the economy serve people as well as possible, then they can give you recommendations based on your stated goals, no different then any other consultant, whom you must give a goal for them to figure out the mens to attain.

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The paragraph implies that is possible to hate the human race and value impoverishment over wealth while being an Austrian economist. I can accept that as true using their definition. But then, as a human being why should I or anyone have any use for Austrian economists? Two Austrian economists using the same methods can come to opposite conclusions.

Only when stepping beyond the boundaries of economics. Two Austrian economists who have different views on whether impoverishment or wealth is a better state will recommend opposite policy actions, to be sure, but both should agree upon which course leads to wealth and which course leads to impoverishment. In short, so long as they have employed the methods of Austrian economics validly, they will come to the same conclusions about the facts of wealth creation; that is, about strictly economic matters. Their disagreement will only be in the realm of values, and you don't need to know economics to decide, if both agree that a market economy generates the greatest amount of wealth but only one advocates a market economy, which one you agree with.

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Only when stepping beyond the boundaries of economics. Two Austrian economists who have different views on whether impoverishment or wealth is a better state will recommend opposite policy actions, to be sure, but both should agree upon which course leads to wealth and which course leads to impoverishment. In short, so long as they have employed the methods of Austrian economics validly, they will come to the same conclusions about the facts of wealth creation; that is, about strictly economic matters. Their disagreement will only be in the realm of values, and you don't need to know economics to decide, if both agree that a market economy generates the greatest amount of wealth but only one advocates a market economy, which one you agree with.

A doctor understands a certain medication causes vasodilation and a subsequent loss of blood pressure. The patient already has an alarmingly low blood pressure. Does he need to go beyond the bounds of medicine to decide not to administer that medication?

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A doctor understands a certain medication causes vasodilation and a subsequent loss of blood pressure. The patient already has an alarmingly low blood pressure. Does he need to go beyond the bounds of medicine to decide not to administer that medication?

Yes.

The doctor may choose to not administer the medication and keep the patient alive, or he may choose to administer it and kill the patient. The choice of whether to save or kill a fellow human being is not a medical choice - it is a moral choice.

Knowledge is insuficient to determine action, judgment is necessary. You must act to an end, and any choice of ends is a moral - not merely scientific - choice.

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Knowledge is insuficient to determine action, judgment is necessary. You must act to an end, and any choice of ends is a moral - not merely scientific - choice.

I understand the logic, but do not yet agree that it is applicable here. A medical doctor is not a "mere" scientist, compartmentalizing his scientific training away from his ethical decision making. If the doctor in the example chooses to administer the drug that is not practicing medicine. Following the first rule of the medical profession "first, do no harm" by keeping the patient alive is an objective standard distinguishing doctors from witch doctors, quacks, torturers and assassins. The ethical standard is integral to the practice; choosing to be unethical is what takes a doctor beyond medicine and makes him no longer a doctor.

Medicine is one of a whole set of professions which do not merely take humanity as an abstract subject of study but also act upon them. Those professions are defined by the ethical character of the actions taken, so an ethical standard is not a option. What distinguishes a soldier from a murderer is a professional ethics. Perhaps those two are the only easy examples because they deal directly with life and death, and other professions such as economics and engineering face this issue in an attenuated form because their customers have free will and thus are partly complicit in adverse outcomes (caveat emptor).

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Medicine is one of a whole set of professions which do not merely take humanity as an abstract subject of study but also act upon them. Those professions are defined by the ethical character of the actions taken, so an ethical standard is not a option. What distinguishes a soldier from a murderer is a professional ethics. Perhaps those two are the only easy examples because they deal directly with life and death, and other professions such as economics and engineering face this issue in an attenuated form because their customers have free will and thus are partly complicit in adverse outcomes (caveat emptor).

Economics is not medicine, nor engineering. The field of economics is the study of human action in the face of scarcity (roughly speaking), and only seeks to describe behavior. It is fundamentally different than engineering or medicine, which always have a particular end built into the field, either saving the patient or enabling someone to do something (through a machine for example). Economics, psychology (the scientific half of it, not therapy/counseling), biology, chemistry, physics, sociology (to whatever extent it is a science, even though it seems to go about things the wrong way 90% of the time), all are studies of what is, of nature, but explicitly not about ethics. The economics-ey area akin to engineering would be "public policy", i.e. public policy analysis (or perhaps, on the micro-scale, business, though less so). We have a "public policy" department at my school, and they analyze public policies and tell what their consequences will be, and make recommendations, and craft public policy to meet certain goals, etc. Economics informs that field, but it is not actually that field. Economics is simply a system of knowledge. You give it an input- What maximizes the attainment of value (either definition you choose)?- and it gives you an output -laissez-faire capitalism. It does not tell you whether that is a good or bad thing, ethics does.

Economics is properly a body of knowledge which you employ in decision making, not something which necessitates decisions by itself. Economists aren't doctors, they do not, from within their field alone, need to make moral pronouncements or even any sort of recommendation as to what to do, just as a physicist or biologist cannot make a moral pronouncement from within their field about electrons or amoebas. I think that is a crucial difference. If you say economics is a science, then it is value free, in the sense that it does not pass judgment on people's actions. If you say it is an application of science (such as medicine or engineering), it is not. I think it is properly a science.

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Economics is ...

Why are you now referring to economics without a qualifier, instead of Austrian economics? You only need to look at the headlines for the last year or so to see how Keynesian economics leads directly to an outrageously profligate fiscal policy in application. Other schools of economics are not at all hesitant to get their hands dirty with applications, so the Austrian style claim that economics is a pure science is not true.

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Why are you now referring to economics without a qualifier, instead of Austrian economics? You only need to look at the headlines for the last year or so to see how Keynesian economics leads directly to an outrageously profligate fiscal policy in application. Other schools of economics are not at all hesitant to get their hands dirty with applications, so the Austrian style claim that economics is a pure science is not true.

I was describing the proper position of economics. Economists of non-Austrian schools claim to be acting as economists while making public policy pronouncements like the need for universal health care, government regulation, etc. In doing so they are attempting to lend the certainty the populace ascribes to proper science (which proper economics- essentially the Austrian School- indeed is) to their arbitrary/irrational claims in the field of ethics, without having to go through the trouble of logical argumentation or justifying their claims against objective fact. It is a ploy which is disingenuous and corrupt.

Also, Keynesian economics, in terms of the theory (as far as it exists), does not in and of itself create those fiscal policy applications. It requires people to say "wealth and employment good, poverty and recession bad". That is a statement from ethics, not economics proper. In any case, if they wish to blur the lines and pretend to still be scientists, they are contradicting themselves. Scientists make no ethical judgments from within the field of science (excluding ethicists, as ethics is somewhat different from the other fields of science), precisely because science is about describing how the world is, not how it should be. So to make public policy pronouncements beyond "your policy does/does not meet the stated goals of the policy" is to step outside the bounds of the science of economics and into ethics. And if they wish to do that, then they must justify the ethical principles they are applying; they don't do this, as a result they cannot claim to be operating as scientists.

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