Joseph Galambos and Intellectual Property

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 \PM\.\Wed\.

A few years back I read a fascinating book on the history of libertarianism in America called Radicals for Capitalism. Of the many colorful characters in the book, one of my favorites was Joseph Galambos, an astrophysicist-turned-libertarian-guru who took a very stringent view of intellectual property rights. Galambos’ students were forbidden even to mention or paraphrase his ideas with anyone who hadn’t paid for his lecture course (which may help explain why you’ve never heard of him before). One libertarian in the book gives the following humorous account of how a conversation with a Galambosian might go:

“There are five legitimate functions of government,” said the Galambosian.
“No kidding. What are they?”
“I am not at liberty to say. The theory was originated by Andy Galambos and it is his primary property.”
“If the rest of us were free to discuss his ideas,” said the Galambosian, “there is no question in my mind that Galambosianism would spread throughout the whole world like wildfire.”

Wikipedia reports that:

Since his father’s name was Joseph Andrew Galambos, Galambos changed his name from Joseph Andrew Galambos, Jr., to Andrew Joseph Galambos, so that he wouldn’t infringe on his father’s property right in the name Joseph Andrew Galambos.

Galambos also dropped a nickel into a fund box every time he said the word “Liberty,” as a royalty to the descendants of Thomas Paine, who invented the term.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Galambos was kind of nuts. Yet his views are little more than the logical workings out of the idea that intellectual property is a matter of moral right.

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