Beverly Garside

Even Objectivists Need Government Bureaucrats

     Deep in the bowels of Washington D.C. bureaucrats in two federal agencies toil tirelessly under mountains of documents, regulating industry. They are not on the glamorous front lines of federal service - fighting fires in national parks, controlling air traffic over the skies or rescuing flood victims in helicopters. They sit at desks pushing paperwork through mazes of regulations, laws and bureaucracy. The Pavlovian response of the Right, including libertarians and objectivists, is to demonize this type of bureaucrats as the enemy: of the people, of the economy, and of the industries and entrepreneurs they regulate.
     Those industries and entrepreneurs, however, take a different view of these government agencies, because they know that without the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, their industries would be finished. And responsible economists and politicians know that these two Government Agencies uphold the success of the entire U.S. cultural and innovation economy. Just ask any Hollywood film production company CEO if they would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a movie that every Tom, Dick and Harry had to right to sell or show as their own. Piracy is already a problem for the movie and music industries, robbing both the production companies and artists of millions of dollars. Trademark piracy is another global menace, especially to fashion and accessory designers, whose trademark labels are sewn into imitation products on a massive scale, especially in China.
     What would happen if all this piracy became legal, if those evil government regulators finally got out of the way of  business? Would Apple produce the next big i-phone or tablet if anyone and everyone had the right to sell it as their own, or to reverse engineer it and use the technology for their own product? Hardly. If it weren't for U.S. patent, trademark, and copyright laws, and the FBI, which enforces them, the U.S. economy would suck itself into a black hole, taking the rest of the world with it.
   But the Right, objectivists included, seems reluctant to admit the lynchpin role of these regulatory government bureaucracies in safeguarding industry and the economy. Both the Copyright Office and the Patent and Trademark Office, as well as the FBI, were largely closed during the government shutdown. After the shutdown, Red State posted articles decrying how the lazy and useless federal government employees would return to their non-essential jobs and receive back pay for the days they were furloughed. Some readers pontificated on how the shutdown should actually help the economy because it had received a holiday from government oversight.
     Now the Right and objectivism overlap, but are not identical. I have not read all of Ayn Rand's books, nor all of objectivist literature. So I can only postulate the objectivist position on government copyright and patent laws from Atlas Shrugged. And from the novel, the issue of patent is glaring only in its absence. There is no mention of Hank Rearden securing a government patent on Rearden Metal. I find this omission singular. In the story, Rearden loses his invention and his factory when the government tries to force him to surrender all rights to it, allowing everyone and anyone to manufacture it. Here a patent is implied, but not stated, and it's not even definitively implied. It could be that rather than having secured a patent, Rearden simply kept the formula and production process for his new metal a secret.  We may never know.
    What we do know, however, is that even if the government had not moved to steal his invention, Rearden would have lost it without a patent. A competitor could have simply removed a piece of it, reverse engineered it, and/or sent an industrial spy into the factory to observe the manufacturing process. Ayn Rand, then, was dishonest in her portrayal of the government's role in the fate of Rearen Metal. Atlas Shrugged describes how a communist takeover of Rearden's steel mill would go down. This story has its own problems, being that there has never been a communist or government takeover of any factory or any industry in the U.S., but that is not the point here. The point is that Rearden could not have secured his right to the exclusive benefits of Rearden Metal without the full law, force, and protection of the U.S. Government.
     As I have stated before, I am not an objectivist. There is one objectivist assertion, however, that I support 100 percent - that an artist, inventor, or production company should have exclusive benefit of the fruits of their creation. Ayn Rand demonstrated her support for this principle when she copyrighted Atlas Shrugged in 1957. Without the protection of the government bureaucrats she so demonized, Rand could not have secured the fruits of her creation, or protected her right to exclusive ownership of her intellectual property. If the copyright laws and bureaucracy had not existed, would she even have written her signature work? What if  any Tom, Dick or Harry could have copied it, printed it, and legally sold it as his own?
     There is a lot of dishonesty on the Right and within objectivism on the issue of government and individual rights. Government is always portrayed as the enemy of individuals and their rights. Reality shows us that this is not the case. Individual rights are also not possible without government, and government bureaucracies, to protect them. It would be nice if  objectivists and Right leaning politicians would be honest and acknowledge this fact.

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