Monday, March 08, 2010

Get Rich Quick?

I've been wondering lately why it is assumed that someone who comes up with a good idea or invents the "next great thing", no matter how small, is somehow entitled to get rich from it. This theme seems to run through all the debates I've had with others about "intellectual property" (IP), even if it's not articulated as such. Pro-IP folks vehemently defend the inventor's "right" to profit from his or her idea, claiming that someone else using another person's idea to make a profit is somehow "stealing" from the original inventor.

Inventors and innovators are definitely important for human progress, as without them technology would stagnate, and we wouldn't have many of the amazing devices and technologies we have today. But does creating something new really entitle you to a profit windfall? As a capitalist pig, I certainly believe that everyone has the right to exchange goods and services with others to make a profit, but why should inventors and innovators be given special treatment?

Many Pro-IP folks would probably say that if we didn't reward inventors handsomely we'd never have any new inventions, but I think that's hogwash. If nothing else, it ignores the fact that good ideas and useful inventions generate lots of profits for lots of people over long periods of time...not just at first or only for the inventor. Thus, it's silly to think that no one would ever invent anything if they couldn't be assured of getting rich from it within a short period of time. A good idea can make one rich without monopoly protection, maybe just not as quickly.

But I think there's something much more human that makes most people think that the market (or government or society or whatever) should make inventors rich. I'll call it the "It Could Be Me!" (ICBM, lol) principle. See, coming up with a great idea or a new useful gadget represents to most people the simplest, quickest way to "strike it rich." Potentially anyone can have a sudden flash of insight that leads to the next great thing and make a bundle...and it could be me! It's a way to make a bunch of money and live the life you've always wanted without saving and investing more of your earnings than you spend, being a real entrepreneur and starting your own business, or showing a ton of initiative and ambition and working your way up the ladder.

It's the everyman dream of success. It's hope that I could be the next one to get rich by hatching the plans for a better mousetrap. So if we got rid of patents, copyrights, and other IP monopoly protection, we would destroy the hopes of millions of people hanging onto that glimmer of hope...the hope that It Could Be Me! Who could possibly be so callous as to want to dash all those hopes and dreams?

No comments: