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Paul Graham on the Benefits of Competing Jurisdictions

March 13, 2012

Ultimately it comes down to common sense. When you’re abusing the legal system by trying to use mass lawsuits against randomly chosen people as a form of exemplary punishment, or lobbying for laws that would break the Internet if they passed, that’s ipso facto evidence you’re using a definition of property that doesn’t work.

This is where it’s helpful to have working democracies and multiple sovereign countries. If the world had a single, autocratic government, the labels and studios could buy laws making the definition of property be whatever they wanted. But fortunately there are still some countries that are not copyright colonies of the US, and even in the US, politicians still seem to be afraid of actual voters, in sufficient numbers.

The people running the US may not like it when voters or other countries refuse to bend to their will, but ultimately it’s in all our interest that there’s not a single point of attack for people trying to warp the law to serve their own purposes.

Whole thing here. David Hume noticed the same beneficial effects competing sovereigns gave to the inventors of Europe. When an invention was banned in one country, entrepreneurs were welcomed by a competitor. Vested interests had less power to thwart progress. As Hume wrote in 1742:

Nothing is more favourable to the rise of politeness and learning, than a number of neighbouring and independent states, connected together by commerce and policy. The emulation, which naturally arises among those neighbouring states, is an obvious source of improvement: But what I would chiefly insist on is the stop, which such limited territories give both to power and to authority…where a number of neighbouring states have a great intercourse of arts and commerce, their mutual jealousy keeps them from receiving too lightly the law from each other

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