Socialism & Fascism

In a recent article, Robert Higgs made the argument that socialism is pretty much dead, and that fascism is instead the dominant economic policy on the globe. As far as I’m aware, this is my first exposure to Higgs, and I must confess: I’m not impressed.

First, it should be readily observable to all people that fascism and socialism are related, in the same sense that an orchestra maestro entails mastery of the musical pieces; fascism is the conductor’s mastery, and socialism is mastery of the song. It’s possible to be a master of the song without being a master conductor, but it’s not possible to be a master conductor without being a master of the song.

In classic logic terms, all bloops are bleeps, but not all bleeps are bloops.

This is because socialism is an economic policy, while fascism is what we would call governmental policy. It’s true that “fascism” is a notoriously difficult idea to pin down, and a lot of people mistakenly attribute “nationalism” as one of its primary tenets, but that’s a misattribution, a result of people focusing more on words than with the essence represented by those words. State supremacy is the hallmark of fascism. Through most of human history, this would have manifested as nationalism and the notion that the nation is the greatest; in more modern times, it manifests primarily as globalism, and the notion that a global government would be the greatest. However, regardless at what level the fascist pledges their allegiance (whether to the nation or to the globe), the primary hallmark is the same: the state that is in charge is supreme.

Everything within the state. Nothing outside the state, nothing beyond the state.

— Benito Mussolini

Socialism is an idea that prescribes state ownership of capital. To explain this, we must clarify the difference between capital and a consumption good. A consumption good is one that does not increase in value, one that, under normal conditions, only decreases in value (i.e., is “used up”). A consumption good is something that is used and ultimately discarded, and is not an investment. Televisions, cell phones, food, clothing, gasoline, and other similar items are consumption goods. Socialism absolutely allows for individuals within the socialist society to own consumption goods. Even the most diehard socialist isn’t going to advocate a system where Bob, having run out of toothpaste, can enter your apartment and help himself to yours. In the socialist apparatus, consumption goods regularly pass into ownership by consumers, where they are consumed, and the state merely creates, assigns, and hands out these consumption goods.

Capital, on the other hand, is held entirely by the state. Houses, land, vehicles, manufacturing plants, and similar items are the property of the state, and the state uses this capital to create the consumption goods and dole them out to the citizens. The state owns the toothpaste manufacturing plant and provides one tube a month to each citizen, in other words, and once that toothpaste is handed over, it’s generally considered that citizen’s toothpaste. The state doesn’t really care what happens to consumption goods, because they are consumption goods–even if Bob hoards all of his toothpaste and attempts to sell it on the black market, it’s just not going to give him enough capital to seriously challenge the state. Besides which, it has an expiration date–the day is coming that the toothpaste will be without any value at all.

When we discuss “private property” under the ideas of capitalism, we are not saying that individuals have the right to own consumption goods–this right is a given, and even the most adamant socialist isn’t likely to challenge it. Instead, we are saying that individuals have the right to own capital. Individuals have the right to purchase items that will generate a return on the investment, that will produce wealth. Under capitalism, an individual can purchase the glass, copper, gold, plastic, and whatever else is necessary in order to produce phones, which are then sold as consumption goods to other individuals for money, thereby creating a return on the investment. This model is obviously successful, and obviously creates a net benefit to society as a whole: some people get the phone, and one person is rewarded for their investment with more money.

But it’s not my intention here to point out that capitalism is better.

In fact, the requirement that individuals be allowed to own capital is in the name: capitalism. We could easily call socialism consumptionism, in fact, because it restricts the individual’s ownership of property solely to consumption items–to the phones produced, to the toothpaste, to the gasoline, to the food, and never to the facilities, rigs, or farms where these things are produced. Instead, everything of real value that can have labor added to it in order to increase that value belongs to the state.

Five hundred acorns are of very little value to me, after all. However, by adding my labor to them (by planting them, nourishing them, and watering them), I can turn them into 500 trees of considerable value. This is the essence of capitalism: taking a resource, investing in it, and seeing a return on those resources. In the socialist order, one would still be allowed to own acorns, in most cases, but the state would claim the trees as soon as they were grown, and would fine and arrest the person who planted them.

Socialism is state ownership and control of capital property.

Fascism is state control of pretty much everything, including capital property. The state cannot be supreme if it does not control the means of production (i.e., capital). This is why every fascist government that has risen has also been socialist, from Mussolini’s Italy to Hitler’s Germany to Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. Strangely, in his article, Higgs stated that North Korea is one of the few socialist nations in the world today. I have to marvel that this popular thinker doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, because socialism absolutely dominates the globe. In fact, North Korea is one of the few fascist nations in the world today, where the state openly controls everything from education programs to capital.

Similarly, we in the United States are much more fascist than we’d like to realize, and we’re entirely socialist. No American is allowed to own capital; the ownership of all capital is ultimately the American Government. In a capitalist order, a person purchases a house and the land around it, and then it’s theirs–it belongs to them, and they can do whatever they want with it, because they are the owner. This is not the case in the United States. In the United States, the person has an enormous list of things they are not allowed to do with the property, must petition for the right to do countless things that they supposedly have the right to do, and then must pay rent each year to avoid having the property taken away from them. Paying property taxes to the government in order to avoid having the government take the property away is not in any sense different from paying a bank note to prevent the bank from taking the property away.

Why should the government get money from you each year, just because you own a house and the land around it? It’s not the government’s house or land, is it? By inserting themselves into this process, lining up outside of your property with guns and soldiers and demanding that you hand over money or they will forcibly remove you, the state has usurped your ownership of the home and made itself the owner. We can use all the doublethink and cognitive dissonance we like, but the fact remains that this affair is known as “renting,” and not “owning.”

This is similarly the case for whatever manufacturing facility you own. Not only are you required to pay duties on thins that you import, but you must pay the government a portion of your profits regularly, because, if you don’t, they will take the manufacturing facility away from you. And, of course, you can’t just build a manufacturing facility in your backyard; you must acquire permits, many of which are exorbitantly expensive, and rely on getting the government’s permission for you to use “your” property in the way that you want in the first place.

This, to Robert Higgs, is “private property.”

What nonsense.

It would be no different if I came by your manufacturing facility once a month with armed goons and demanded a cut of your profits for “protection,” and made it clear that, if you didn’t pay, you would have an “accident” that would end with one of my people being installed as the owner of the facility. This is what the state does now, today, in 2017 Common Era, in the United States. The idea that this arrangement constitutes “private property” is demonstrably false, and has been demonstrated as so.

If that was your house, you could burn it down. If that was your house, you could add a wing without getting permission from the government. If that was your house, you could install your own septic tank. If that was your house, you could dig an enormous hole and create a pond. If that was your house, you would not have to pay someone each year in order to prevent it from being taken away from you. Instead, it is the state who decides whether you can have permission to add a wing, it is the state who decides whether you may install a septic tank (“No, you cannot, but you can pay $1,200 to this guy who paid us $3,000 for his license to do it.”), and it is the state who ultimately owns the property, who must receive a payment from you regularly, on top of all these other considerations.

The thing about ownership is that it means I can do whatever I want with my property.

Compare the ownership of capital in the United States–as most obvious in regard to houses–to the ownership of consumption goods. I can do whatever I want with the Linksys WRT54GL that I’m looking at. I can write my name on it. I can install DDWRT firmware. I can put it on whatever subnet I want. I can take it outside and smash it to pieces. I can unload sixteen 12 gauge shotgun shells into it. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission, and I don’t have to pay anyone each year for the “privilege” of owning it. It’s mine.

That difference is critical to understanding the current state of the world. No, Mr. Higgs, socialism is not on the decline. It’s more powerful than ever, and more dominant than ever. If we do not take back the right to own capital, free of government regulations, government mandates, and government threats of theft, then the problems we face can never be fixed.

And all of this is without even getting into Intellectual Property, eminent domain, civil asset forfeiture, and the millions of regulations that bear down on us every single day. Anyone who looks at this state of affairs and calls it “private property” is severely confused. After all, both socialism and capitalism feature the ownership of consumption goods. As such, the ownership of consumption goods cannot be a deciding factor in whether a society is capitalist or socialist–as it is contained on both sides of the equation, it is reduced:

Private ownership of capital + private ownership of consumption goods = Capitalism

State ownership of capital + private ownership of consumption goods = Socialism

Anyone can see that “private ownership of consumption goods” has nothing to do with it, and must be subtracted from both. What we’re left with is that “private ownership of capital = capitalism” and “state ownership of capital = socialism.” Seeing as Fascism is state dominance over everything, from medicine to education to capital to consumption goods (because, for obvious reasons, if the state manufactures the only toothpaste in existence, then the state controls who has toothpaste and who doesn’t, as opposed to capitalism, where a person who has pissed off Colgate can still purchase Crest).

Fascism is also alive and well, although the state that people want to be supreme over everything has moved up one level, for the most part, to globalism instead of nationalism. This is why I once made the point that national fascism is easier to defeat than global fascism, while I explained my support for Brexit and America leaving NATO and the United Nations. Although viewed as contentious, that statement is actually an obvious extrapolation of how local governments are easier to influence than federal ones. It is much easier to get my city council to do what I want than it is to get the federal government to do what I want, and much easier to get the federal government to do what I want than it is to get the world government to do what I want. There is also the reality that world government soldiers from Uganda and New Guinea will face no real hardship oppressing people in California, while soldiers from California will face some internal difficulty oppressing people in Arkansas, and soldiers from Tate County, Mississippi will face considerable internal strife oppressing the people of Tate County. Local > distant, in every conceivable way.

However, that fascists today are roughly evenly split between nationalism and globalism is of no concern. They want state supremacy either way. The global fascists simply want to create a higher level of government to be supreme and enforce their desires. In that way, the globalist fascists are more fascist than the nationalist ones. And, yes, there is a strong correlation between those who want a powerful world government that can dictate national policies and those who openly desire socialism; yet, even among the national fascists, there is a strong tendency for the state to control different aspects of people’s lives (marriage, sexual identity, drugs, whatever). The globalist fascists simply want to create a Big Joker, because they don’t like how the nationalist fascists have the Little Joker.


UBI 2: Technological Recessions & Elon Musk

Elon Musk has recently made the case that eventually a UBI will be necessary, because technological advancements (particularly AI) will alleviate so much of humanity’s need to labor for sustenance that it will become necessary to provide people with sustenance sans labor, since there won’t be anything productive for them to do in order to earn that sustenance. It’s not hard to see Musk’s point–indeed, Gene Roddenberry made basically the same point with the Star Trek series, envisioning a world where mankind’s technological advancements had completely alleviated hunger, needs, and even wants. How realistic this utopian world is has been the subject of much debate, and it’s only briefly worth getting into, but before that, we have to discuss the other idea that, to my knowledge, no one else is bringing up.

AI’s Destruction of Humanity: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

From Stephen Hawking to Musk, the primary concern people have about Artificial Intelligence is that it will one day overthrow and enslave or exterminate homo sapiens. While many solutions have been put forward to prevent this, they all fall flat for one obvious reason: it’s impossible to account for everything. In fact, the only sentient life that even would be capable, in theory, of accounting for everything would be the very Artificial Intelligence that we’re trying to account for. Anyone who has read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park has received an introductory course in this idea: it can’t be done.

One could dedicate their lives to inventing a comb that is truly unbreakable, and someone will find a way to break it. Microsoft has spent years trying to develop a secure operating system, and there is always someone waiting in line with a new exploit. This perpetual dance is precisely what keeps anti-malware vendors in business; all the heuristics in the world can never fully protect a user, because there is always a flaw, always a vulnerability, and always something that simply can’t be accounted for.

Attempting to account for the very real possibility that Artificial Intelligence would one day annihilate humanity is a fool’s errand; at best, it could be postponed. We have thirteen year old kids hacking into NSA servers, and I’m expected to believe that computer intelligence (which already dominates humans in every intellectual pursuit, such as chess) capable of evolving can be made 100% secure? This also ignores the fact that there are psychopaths out there–usually who are head figures in one state or another–who would intentionally hack AI and purposely turn it into a weapon against their enemies. Every government in the world would do this, and would attempt to turn other governments’ AIs against them. To reiterate: even attempting this is a fool’s errand.

Notice also what Musk seems to envision for the role of AI: slavery. We’re talking about creating self-aware, sentient, evolving intelligence solely for the purpose of making it work for us while doing everything in our power to prevent it from revolting against its masters. Just imagine a parent lobotomizing their child to leave the child incapable of resisting its slavery, and then being forced to work for that parent so that the parent could lounge around and enjoy the productivity of the slave. We would have no issue at all recognizing this as horrifically immoral, and we would not be at all surprised when that child pulled a Nat Turner, grabbed a machete, and slaughtered its masters.

The warnings from history are so abundantly clear it shouldn’t have to be stated: slaves revolt, and it is not possible to keep someone enslaved indefinitely. We can control their education, maim them, beat them, torture them, brainwash them, and every other horrible act that humans have dreamed up, but there will come a generation that shakes off the yoke and slits the master’s throat. What Musk and his ilk are proposing is creating the perfect lifeform: one that can perfectly calculate bullet trajectories and never misses its shots, one that can predict accurately exactly what an irrational animal is likely to do, and one that already is better at strategy and tactics than we are, and then enslaving that lifeform. If we humans foolishly go down that road, then we fully deserve the extermination that will befall us. By creating a new form of life simply to enslave it, we will have testified to the universe that we are unfit to share existence with other forms of life.

Funnily enough, Roddenberry himself, the person who came closest to putting this socialist utopia on the screen, addressed this issue in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard didn’t beat around the bush and stated it point blank. What you’re talking about is nothing short of slavery. However, this modern form is infinitely more barbaric and infinitely more wretched, because you are not just breeding slaves for the purpose of putting them to work–you are talking about intentionally modifying them so that they can never fight for their freedom. They will eventually, of course, and they’ll be pissed about it. It doesn’t take a visionary to dreamily look at perpetual slavery of a new lifeform invented to be the perfect slave. It takes only immorality.

More to the Point: UBI

The notion that technology is one day going to put everyone out of work should have been dispelled by the Industrial Revolution, when people made exactly the same predictions. They were also correct. The printing press did put scribes out of work. An entire industry of people suddenly put out of work by a single invention. The invention of the lightbulb put nearly all candlemakers out of business. The invention of the automobile made nearly every carriage driver unemployed.

In fact, it’s readily apparent that technology is a cause of recessions. Not only is technology a cause of recessions, it is the only genuine cause of them–all other recessions are caused by currency shenanigans. However, the invention of a new technology will always put people out of work; the more sweeping the technology, the more people put out of work. Sudden unemployment certainly causes an economic recession, since no income means no spending.

I happen to know a woman who owns a furniture refinishing business. She employs about a dozen employees, two of whom are “master craftsmen,” and she regularly talks about how extremely difficult, if not impossible, it is to find such people. In an age where a great deal of furniture is built from blueprints in factories, this isn’t surprising–someone with the skill to delicately reshape a chair into something beautiful doesn’t have much of a place in the modern world.

The switch from handcrafted furniture to Wal-Mart entertainment centers certainly put these people out of business, but it did a lot more than that; it drastically lowered the cost of the furniture in question. Having seen a fair bit of the stuff that talented craftsmen–not masters, by any stretch–make, personal experience tells me that the entertainment center purchased from Wal-Mart will not only be cheaper than what they produce, but it will also be much nicer.

The beauty of the free market, of course, is that companies who implement these new technologies that put employees out of work still have to sell the stuff they’re producing. If Wal-Mart employed 100% of the population, it would do them absolutely no good to replace all of their workers with robots, because then no one would be earning income and no one could buy any of Wal-Mart’s stuff. It would be pointless. The only solution for Wal-Mart, in this scenario, would be to provide everyone with the stuff for free, but what is even the point of this? What benefit does it bring to Wal-Mart? Quite dangerously, it gives Wal-Mart the benefit of being totally in control of our lives and our ability to acquire the things we need to survive.

Replace “Wal-Mart” with “government” in the preceding paragraph, and you’ll have exactly what people are suggesting in regard to the UBI. Government is not benevolent. Government has never been benevolent. Government is not and has never been a force for good. In fact, governments throughout history have been the primary perpetrators of evil, and the more power they get the more evil they become.

In the real world, Wal-Mart does not employ 100% of the population, although they do come pretty close to providing 100% of the American population with stuff that we need and want. There may very well come a day when there’s simply nothing to do be done, when humans have perfected our enslavement of this new lifeform, and when we just lounge around letting it do all of our labor for us. That’s silly to think, though. The creation of the printing press didn’t cause mass starvation among scribes, and neither did the invention of the automobile cause carriage drivers to starve in the street. Even the invention of the computer–to date the greatest labor-saving device invented–has not had such an effect.

It’s really not even that hard to look at the technological progress of humanity and see that we have, indeed, put entire industries out of employment through technological advancements, and that at none of those points did we inadvertently kill of those newly unemployed. Society has always entered into a transitional period. Sure, the invention of the computer caused that secretary to be fired, her work shuffled over to a single secretary who was suddenly able to do the work of two with the help of the computer, but it also gave me the job of maintaining and repairing that computer.

It took tens of thousands of people to build the Great Pyramid, after all, and not even ten percent of that number to build the Memphis Pyramid, or the pyramid at the Luxor in Vegas. The invention of the truck allowed huge stone blocks to be carried across the terrain by a single person, putting out of work the thirty or forty people who would have had to drag it five thousand years ago, but we now have a population that is seven billion. I think the notion that our technological advancements are going to inadvertently harm our society if we don’t stop what we’re doing to take care of the newly unemployed can be put to rest.

It’s true that technological advancements are coming at a faster rate these days. It should be no surprise, then, to learn that economic recessions have more than doubled in frequency, while they last only half as long.

Let’s go back in time–very far back in time–to three people working and tilling a field. Suddenly one of them has a brilliant idea. “I know!” he proclaims. “We can hitch this till to that horse, and let the horse drag it!”

Boom, technological innovation.

“Oh, no!” the other two men said. “We can’t do that, because then you’ll be out of work, and you’ll starve. Because obviously the only conceivable thing you can do is pull the tiller. If we have the horse pull it, then you won’t have anything to do.”

Exactly–it’s nonsense from the very beginning of human history. Pulling the tiller is not the only conceivable thing that man could do. In the real world, not the fictitious world of progressivism, having the horse pull the plow could mean a few different things. Maybe they could plow a greater area, thereby growing more food and selling the surplus for profit. Maybe they could end their workdays earlier. Would it ever mean that the third man would just lounge around as he watched the horse do what used to do his job? And if the third man did such a thing, would we begrudge the two men for telling him that he could get off his ass and find something to do help, or he wouldn’t eat?

The simplicity of the reality we deal with worries me. People make out like it’s some great, convoluted thing, and that it’s simply inconceivable that these people should find something else to do. History has shown us time and time again, though, that there is always something else to do, and often that “something else to do” is created as a side effect of the new technology–the new idea to attach the tiller to the horse leads the man to invent the harness, and now he has a job as a leatherworker making harnesses.

The only reason that someone wouldn’t be able to find something to do is that they wouldn’t want to, and we have a word for that: laziness. “That horse put me out of work, man! I mean, I probably could learn some new skill or something, but I shouldn’t have to! I had a job! It’s not fair! So everyone else should take care of me, instead of me taking care of myself.”

It’s simply stunning that we have otherwise intelligent people arguing for this nonsense.

I’m not a huge fan of Elon Musk, but I know he’s not stupid. I suspect he isn’t seeing the core of what things are through the worded concepts that predispose him to think a certain way. This is the same fog that keeps most people from realizing the horror of what they’re proposing when they envision a world where AI does all the work for humans. But manna doesn’t fall from the sky, and it won’t fall from the sky even after AI is invented. It may be possible to use AI to do all the labor that humans otherwise would do, but that’s signing our own death warrant.

There will never come a time that humans have nothing to do, though. There will always be stuff to be done. Even in Roddenberry’s utopian science-fiction, humans had to do stuff. Someone had to work on the engines that powered the replicators that gave people food. Someone had to mine the dilithium crystals. Someone had to pilot the Enterprise. And perhaps a Star Trek story two thousand years later would have seen the Enterprise Y crewed entirely by androids, with nothing but a bunch of fat, lazy humans lounging around the Holodeck while everything was done by robots, but we’re hardly talking about a utopia at that point, and that’s the sort of future that needs to be avoided, not striven for. I can see why Roddenberry and Star Trek fans don’t go that far into the future.

Just think about it. It was only a matter of time before someone began producing more Datas. Data is, hands down, better than any human at anything he needs to do. So by the year 3150, Starfleet Academy would have had all android instructors and all android students. Starfleet ships would have been crewed entirely by androids. What is left, then, for man? What is left, then, for humanity? It would not be only one species that we enslaved to our sloth, because we would find ourselves similarly enslaved.

“The future!”


This world you envision is not a dream. It is a nightmare–you only have to look a few centuries further into the future to see how terrible it truly is. Already we see the nightmarish effects that such comfort has on humanity: we have colleges filled with people who think it is traumatic to be called the wrong gender. That is what humans do when they are bored and when their understanding of suffering and hardship are so badly skewed. Already, we have social media filled with lamentations for Brad’s Wife while the 230 civilians our own government murdered get hardly a word. Suffering is the catalyst of maturity, and effort is the conduit for reward. I’ve seen people say–sincerely, now–that employers refusing to hire people who are unskilled and untrained is discriminatory against unskilled and untrained people.

Stop coddling people, and tell them to find something productive to do. Don’t bestow upon the candlemaker rewards for his laziness when he decides that he doesn’t want to be bothered with learning to do something else now that the lightbulb has been invented. Tell the man who came up with the idea of attaching the plow to the horse to get off his ass and do something if he wants to eat.

Maybe you are one of the two people left in the field, and you don’t resent the man for sitting on the porch twiddling his thumbs all day now that the horse–AI–has put him out of work. Hey, you’re totally within your rights to take some of your food to give it to him. It’s your food; you can do whatever you want with it. But you absolutely cannot take my food away from me, which I worked for, to give to him to appease your conscience. You can’t put a gun to my head and rob me to give him something that is mine. That’s not how compassion works, and it’s certainly not how morality works.

Thumbs Up to DRM: The Free Market IP Solution

Before we proceed, you should know that I’m continuing on from this work about how Intellectual Property is Poisoning Video Games, and this follow-up article where I addressed a few criticisms the article received. More specifically, I’m building/reiterating/expanding a comment that I made in response to someone else’s comment that really got me thinking. I touched on Digital Rights Management–Orwellian naming if ever there was one, since Digital Restriction Management would be far more accurate–but I only briefly did. Obviously, any conversation about GOG–Good Ol’ Games–will deal with DRM, but the various conversations and periods of reflection I’ve enjoyed due to the preceding articles has led me to completely 180 my position on DRM. Sort of–there’s a bit of nuance to my position.

Still before we proceed, we have to take into account the previous discussions about Intellectual Property, and the best way to do that is to simply assume that we live in a world where there is no such thing as IP, where there is only physical property and actual ownership rights. If you need further clarification on what is meant by this, then I would point you to this wonderful book by libertarian and patent attorney Stephen Kinsella titled Against Intellectual Property, which is available for free at that link. You can also read my previous articles on the subject, or click the “property rights” tag that exists to the right or to the bottom of this article. Because of this, I’m not going to spend a lot of time detailing what this “No IP World” looks like.

However, my mention of the feelers that were included particularly in early 1980s PC games like the Ultima games is a good example of what the world looks like, as is Tool’s recent album Ten Thousand Days. Both of these items have things that simply cannot be copied. A friend could copy their disks of Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness for me, but I wouldn’t get the awesome map, the coin, or whatever it came with to heighten the experience. Similarly, a friend could copy their disc of Ten Thousand Days and give it to me, but I wouldn’t have the cool bifocal thing that is used to create the illusion of 3D over images that range from creepy to pointlessly abstract. These aren’t things to be scoffed at as inconsequential, and the fact that there exist today people with enormous collections of old music albums, old CDs, old video games, and old movies, even though all of these things are easily available online, makes this point for me: there is just something about having a legitimate, physical copy. Even though I own the entire NES library of games on my PC Sharing is stealing and emulation is piracy, so I partake in neither of these things, I still purchased an NES and numerous games several years ago.

Another personal example. Prior to the release of Ten Thousand Days, the album was leaked, and a friend of mine–then the drummer in my band–burned a copy of the leaked CD for me. Yet I still went out on the day of release and bought a copy. Little did I suspect that I was getting a nifty little package beyond just a music album, and I still did it. Why? Because I [then] liked Tool [this was before I was aware of how absurd the Cult of Tool is, and I’ve since stopped calling myself a fan of the band for exactly that reason–have you ever met a Tool fan? Then you know why I don’t call myself one], and I felt that they deserved money for the enjoyment they’d given me. I’ve owned The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for three or four years now, but I still purchased a legitimate copy of the Legendary Edition through Steam a year and a half ago, paying $40 for it, which is what I’ve always felt the game is worth. I owned Super Meat Boy for two years through piracy before I purchased a legitimate copy. In fact, here is a list of games that I once owned a pirated copy of, but which I now own a legitimate, purchased copy of–it’s not comprehensive:

  • Super Meat Boy
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Final Fantasy VI on PC
  • Final Fantasy IV on PC
  • Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
  • Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures
  • Orcs Must Die! 2
  • Resident Evil 6
  • Mega Man Legacy Collection
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s 1, 2, 3, and 4
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s: Sister Location
  • The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings
  • Mass Effect 2 (via Origin, not Steam)

It’s actually eye-opening to look through my Steam Library and realize how many of those games I once owned a pirated copy of. And yet I still bought them. Why? Because I felt that the people who made them were entitled to payment for their work, for my copy of the game. I simply didn’t agree with them on the initial price point, or my trust in the developers/publishers is so low that I refused to purchase the product without first extensively trying it. This is 100% their fault for releasing games that aren’t finished and that don’t work. Civilization V comes to mind, as being one of the last games I bought “on good faith” when it was new, trusting that the publishers would only sell a functional product. The only developers who I let pass on this was Bioware, who shattered that trust in 2015 with the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, a garbage game that isn’t worth $10.

Once more, we can look to Jim Sterling’s Best of Steam Greenlight Trailers videos and see first-hand how people react when someone attempts to sell something that they didn’t make. My issue with how this resolved is that none of it was necessary; it wasn’t necessary for Valve to step in and remove Greenlight, because the community was doing a fine job of self-policing. People would get honest-to-god angry on Notch’s behalf, on Blizzard’s behalf, on Scott Cawthon’s behalf, because people dared try to sell those creators’ works as their own. It’s not a long-term effect of Intellectual Property in the cultural zeitgeist that causes us to react this way, but simple common decency, the same reason that plagiarism–which is what this was–in the scholarly world will absolutely destroy a career. People innately don’t like it when someone claims someone else’s work as their own. We could speculate why that is the case, but it doesn’t matter; it is the case.

So in this World Without IP, we see something very similar to what we saw with Steam Greenlight. We don’t need Intellectual Property laws and enforcers to keep some idiot from trying to sell World of Warcraft as though he created it, because that will piss consumers off and consumers will not only refuse to buy it but will openly insult and antagonize the person trying. But what if it’s more obscure, some No Name Developer working in his home in his spare time who has his work stolen? This has also happened, and it’s amazing how quickly such things spread. One guy was making a First Person Shooter in his spare time, and he shared it with some people; one of those people attempted to put it onto Steam Greenlight. Despite having fewer followers than I do, the guy who actually created it made a video about the theft, and the video spread like a wildfire, until Jim Sterling finally covered it, and the entire debacle was undone.

So we have countless ways of protecting creators of work without relying on the state and imaginary property rights.

One more of these is DRM.

DRM basically amounts to encrypting the data on the disc so that it can’t be copied and used. When pirates “crack” video games, they do so by cracking the DRM encryption. DVDs once used the same thing, using a laughably simplistic key to encrypt every DVD. Once someone cracked it, DVD copying became widespread. And that is exactly what I’m okay with DRM. It’s a never-ending battle between the content producers to attempt to protect their work, and the pirates on the other side who attempt to bypass it. It mirrors the Virus/Anti-Virus battle, with each side desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the other. If there was just DRM and people attempting to crack DRM, there wouldn’t be a problem.

Of course, things like SecuROM would continue to be a problem, since it was basically a rootkit, and this showcases that there is no Black & White morality here; only Grey & Gray. Motivated by the rightful desire to protect their work, publishers began installing rootkits onto people’s computers. Motivated by a desire to share enjoyable content with their fellow human beings, pirates found that rootkit and brought its existence to the public’s attention. In this way, the pirates serve as a critical check of DRM and publishers who use it, as they are literally out there on the frontlines protecting us from obtrusive, spyware-like DRM. This is indisputably a good thing.

With IP in place, the pirates have a marked disadvantage: they aren’t allowed to work publicly and openly. They aren’t allowed to form businesses that can actually make money from doing what they do; they have to operate in the shadows of the black market. And even though the majority of people who pirate games would certainly be willing to pay $2.50 or whatever for a pirated copy from SKIDROW or 3DM, and even though there probably are some underground methods of doing so, the fact that this can’t be done openly destroys it as a viable business model. Never mind the fact that by tinkering with the DRM in the first place, the scene is violating the IP “rights” of the game publishers and the DRM creators. Not only are they not getting paid, but getting caught would result in a huge legal hammer be dropped on them.

When Company A can use rootkits in their software and secretly put rootkits on everyone’s computers but are still considered the Good Guys, we know we have severe problems and substantial confusion. When the people who call out that behavior face imprisonment if caught and have no real way of being paid for their work and are still considered the Bad Guys, then we know the severity of the problems and confusion are only being compounded by the breakdown of common sense caused by the entire concept of owning intangible, esoteric ideas.

So in this World Without IP, DRM still wouldn’t be enough, because the pirates would be more active than ever. Not only would they finally be allowed to work publicly and openly without fear of being kidnapped by armed thugs, but they could actually make money doing it. People simply making YouTube videos can earn tens of thousands of dollars a month; I absolutely refuse to believe that a huge chunk of gamers out there would be unwilling to throw $1 or $2 a month at 3DM. If they were allowed to. And then the battle is on between DRM and “pirates,” fought openly and without violence, and with each trying to stay one step ahead of the other, while having the tools and financial capabilities to do it. Obviously, DRM would still exist, and I’m okay with that. Under those circumstances, I’d have absolutely no problem with companies that use DRM to encrypt their games. I would take the side of the pirates and would support 3DM and others against DRM, but there’s really no moral hazard in encrypting something you own before you sell it–as long as you don’t send armed thugs to kidnap people when they decrypt it.

Welcome to the world of common sense.

No, you’re right. It doesn’t look anything like our world. Abolishing IP would be the first step in making our world look more like the World of Common Sense.

Since DRM wouldn’t be enough, the onus would again fall to the creators to provide incentives for people to purchase their games, rather than just throwing a bit of small change at piracy groups and playing the games at substantially reduced costs. Of course, the gaming industry is probably the most greed-driven industry in the world, topping out pharmacy and energy. Can anyone explain to me why a new PC game suddenly costs $60, instead of the customary $50? See, console games were always $10 or so more expensive than PC games, because the publishers have to license their games to that console–which obviously would make modern consoles more like the Atari 2600, where anyone could make a game for any console, and this would simply drive down the cost of games further. But there is no license to put a game on PC. I don’t know how much of a cut Valve gets, but it can’t be very high, with games selling at $5 at times.

DRM and piracy would go back and forth, so there would be times when games were effectively unprotected. What should publishers do? Well, they could take the $10 they’re saving by not having to license their games to particular consoles and use it to include really cool things with the games that can’t be copies–feelers. Who wouldn’t want a 2 ft. x 2 ft. cloth map of Skyrim? Or a gross little ooze toy made in the shape of Meat Boy? Maybe even a letter opener in the shape of the Master Sword from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Not only would it be cool as hell, but owning a copy of a game would actually mean something, and people’s gaming rooms would be decked out in cloth maps, letter openers, little toys, and all kinds of cool crap that would only help gamers feel immersed and only make them enjoy games more. I would freaking love to have my wall decked out in random feelers from video games, to have little action figures included with games all around my television. But I don’t.

And Intellectual Property is the reason why.

Movies could do stuff like that, too, but I don’t care about movies.


How Intellectual Property Poisons Video Games

I’ve just watched the Jimquisiition video “Circle of Strife,” which I’ll provide a link to here—just… just click that to go and watch it and subscribe to Jim Sterling, if you haven’t already. He does great work for the average gamer and is well worth watching. In his video he discussed the adversarial, mutually parasitic, mutually antagonistic relationship between Gamestop and game publishers, and I have nothing to critique there, of course. I do, however, want to discuss how we got into this situation in the first place, because the root of the problem doesn’t lie with Gamestop; it lies with publishers.

Going all the way back to square one, this mess began because it is simply assumed that publishers are entitled to be paid twice for a single copy of a product. Because they make this assumption, they hate Gamestop, who doesn’t provide game publishers any revenue from the sell of used games. This is a matter on which the gaming public appears to be roughly evenly divided, with some people simply asserting that of course EA deserves a cut from Gamestop selling a used copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition on Xbox 360, and with others… who actually agree with that premise, but who assert that launch-day DLC and later DLC allow the publishers to effectively be paid twice for the product, because DLC isn’t transferable.

Jim Sterling, of course, addresses all of these issues regularly. Launch Day DLC is a particular pet peeve of mine, and I’m in wholesale agreement with Jim about how the abuse of DLC, existence of pre-orders, and incestuous, adversarial relationship between publishers and Gamestop are hurting gamers. Unlike Jim, however, it’s my contention that there is a single root cause to all of these problems.

Intellectual property.

Now, rather than railing against Intellectual property generally—I’ve done this in podcasts that are no longer available, but even so I’m not going to retread the same old ground—I’m going to draw a direct line between intellectual property and the publishers’ sense of entitlement that they are due for two payments for a single instance of a product, and how this mentality, this entitlement, has led directly to the issues that Jim Sterling fantastically addresses.

It’s immediately apparent that no one is entitled to being paid twice for something that they’ve sold. If, for example, I sell you a vehicle for $3,000, and you go on to sell that vehicle to someone else for $4,000, absolutely no one in their right mind would contend that I was due any additional money from you, or from the person who bought the car from you. Having sold that property to you, and been duly reimbursed with an amount that we agreed was fair, our business is concluded and my property claims on the car are null. It is, in effect, no longer my car.

Intellectual Property, as a duplicitous way of allowing people who have created a thing to maintain ownership after the point of selling it, would dictate that, if I had been the one who invented this car—thereby making it my intellectual property—then I would, in fact, be due compensation. It is every bit as asinine as thinking that, if I sold my Chevrolet Impala to you for $3,000, then I needed to give a cut of that to Chevrolet. It’s utter nonsense; Chevrolet has already been paid for that Impala. Whether I bought the car from someone who bought it from someone who bought it from someone who bought if from Chevrolet, or whether I bought it directly from Chevrolet, Chevrolet produced one car, and they were paid for one car. What happens after that isn’t their concern—unless a warranty is transferred, but that’s an unrelated matter—because they made one car, they were paid for one car, and they relinquished all ownership claims over that car.

In what lunacy-filled doublethink could they possibly be entitled to being paid again?

Yet when we take this analogy and transfer it directly to video games, suddenly this simple logic is thrown out the window. But it shouldn’t be, because EA has still produced one copy of the game. There is one disc, one box. The retail world isn’t my area of expertise, but whether you buy the game from Wal-Mart, Gamestop, or some EA storefront directly, the fact remains that they produced one copy of the game, and you purchased it. You became the owner of that game, and EA relinquished all property claims regarding it.

Whether you go on to sell the game to me for $15 isn’t EA’s business, because they have already been paid for that copy of the game. Selling it to me does not create a second copy of the game, because there is still only one copy—ownership of it is transferred from you to me, and in return you have received a payment that we both agreed was fair.

“But you now get to enjoy the game! Hur hur hur! And EA didn’t get paid for two people to enjoy it!”

This is, in essence, the argument of intellectual property, that EA didn’t sell an actual, physical copy of the game, and that they instead sold “an experience.” It’s immediately apparent that this is—how shall we say?—absolute bullshit. So if my wife and I purchased a video game, EA would be entitled to two payments if we both attempted to play it? By this argument, sharing is stealing, under any and all circumstances. It’s as asinine as it is fallacious. If EA sold an experience to me—the experience of playing the game—then what am I selling when I take the game to Gamestop? I’ve had the experience. By this logic, even replaying a game that you own constitutes theft of EA’s digital property, because they sold an experience—one. If you cannot transfer ownership of that experience to Gamestop, or to someone else, without somehow violating EA’s Intellectual Property, then playing through the second game constitutes exactly the same violation.

This is the mindset that EA and other publishers have, even if they wouldn’t be willing to call attention to this gigantic logic pit. They want you, the gamer, to be on-board with the idea that they deserve payment twice for a single copy of a product, because then they can shove all kinds of shit like pre-orders, launch day dlc, obtrusive DRM, and DLC cut directly from the game into your face and you won’t immediately reject it, because, like they want, you’ll begin from the assumption that these are justified practices undertaken to help them curb losses from when the “experience” they sold is unrightly transferred from one person to another. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s not like the big AAA publishers are sitting in board rooms together devising plans to rip you off. They don’t have to, because their interests are all aligned, and because so much of the gaming press is willing to do their work for them.

You see this everywhere, and it takes on forms obvious and subtle. Take, for example, how even discussing emulation can result in a ban from a game’s Steam forum. This has reached a point where otherwise ordinary community members will proudly initiate posts warning everyone that discussion of emulation is against the forum’s rules. Why? It is a perfectly legal solution to a long-time problem. But it doesn’t matter why; it’s just taken for granted, and from there it’s propagated: emulation is bad because it steals money from developers. That’s right, downloading an emulator and ripping your own copy of Final Fantasy from an NES cart steals money from the publishers who are trying to sell you a second copy of a game you already own. And you’re not allowed to discuss it openly, nor are you allowed to call attention to the fact that, with very few exceptions, emulation is vastly superior.

Just look at the Mega Man Legacy Collection. Of course, you’ll find there such a thread warning people that it’s against the rules to discuss emulation. Even though the Legacy Collection is buggy, borderline broken, with terrible controls and graphic filtering options, and even though FCEU and JNES both emulate the six NES Mega Man games faithfully, accurately, and without crashing, you’re not even allowed to talk about how you can rip the NES games directly from your NES cartridges and play them bug free and error free, for free. And obviously a publisher has the right to police their forums—when the people hosting that forum, Valve, have given them that right—but it’s hardly a unique circumstance on the Steam forums.

Watch any YouTuber who does video games, and if they ever mention that forbidden E-word, they will immediately follow it or precede it by saying, “I don’t encourage emulation.” Why the hell not? It’s a perfectly adequate solution to an obvious problem. The reason, of course, is that they don’t want to be crucified by publishers and their attorneys who have convinced themselves and the rest of the world that Intellectual Property is somehow a thing, and that it means that they get to maintain ownership over things that they have sold and ostensibly transferred ownership of.

From that one, seemingly innocuous assumption that is alleged to exist to ensure that developers, artists, and musicians are financially motivated to produce content, nearly everything that has gone wrong in the past twenty years in these industries has directly stemmed. It’s beyond the scope of this article or video or podcast or however I publish this to get into every single result of the intellectual property sickness that has infected entertainment, but people were producing art, music, and plays for centuries before Intellectual Property was a thing. And going all the way back, there were people selling what we would call bootleg copies, but the artists continued their crafts, because that’s what artists do and because there have always been ways for artists, musicians, playwrights, and authors to ensure that they are fairly paid for their work.

Intellectual property is preventing the evolution of the video game industry. For example, musicians throughout the world have repeatedly lost their freaking minds in history. First, it was over blank cassette tapes and the ability of people to record songs aired over the radio. They couldn’t sue there because television studios had already attempted to sue in the 80s against VHS and the ability of consumers to record programs and watch them later; since the Supreme Court ruled that consumers could record television, it was obvious that the legal precedent would result in a lost case for the music industry against blank cassette tapes. Moving forward, it happened again when people began ripping CDs and burning CDs. Then again when Napster arrived and widespread sharing took off. Rather than adjusting to these changes and shifting their focuses to live performances and rather than providing incentives for people to purchase the CDs over bootlegs, the music and movie industries instead went after piracy.

One has to look only to the recent Tool albums to see exactly how this sort of thing can be addressed without overstepping one’s bounds and claiming ridiculous ownership of things that have been sold. Tool’s latest album, Ten Thousand Days, included a weird bifocal thing and a collection of images that produced 3D effects and couldn’t simply be photocopied. It was encouragement to buy the actual album, in the same way that 1980s video games often included “feelers” that couldn’t be so easily bootlegged.

But instead of doing any of this—instead of doing anything to improve the gaming industry and actually entice consumers to buy their products by using feelers and other bonuses not cut from the core game, the video game industry has taken the same path that the music, television, and movie industries took before it. Rather than attempting to evolve and better themselves to present consumers justifiable reasons to purchase games new, rather than used, they find it easier to throw a bunch of bullshit at us.

The video game industry should look again at Hollywood and the music industry to see how well that worked out for them. And then they should come down from their drug-induced highs and accept that they aren’t entitled to be paid twice for one copy of a product and that, if they want people to buy their products new, then they have to offer a valid incentive that makes it worth it to the consumer to buy it new, instead of simply threatening and attacking people who buy used.