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Stephen Davies on consistent libertarianism versus consistent authoritarianism

As Perry de Havilland has just said, there is to be a Stephen Davies talk organised by Libertarian Home next Monday (June 17th), As Perry also said, several Samizdatistas will be attending, definitely including me.

By way of a further teaser, here is an interesting titbit of verbiage that I rather laboriously typed out recently, from an earlier talk that Davies gave, last October, at Essex University. I did Sociology at Essex University in the early 1970s, and I recently learned that there is now an Essex University Liberty League, who organised this Davies talk. We never had that in my day.

The complete talk lasts 46 minutes. Here, at 41:00, is what Davies says about how politics now is currently in a process of realignment. I don’t know if I entirely agree with him about this, but it certainly is an interesting idea:

I think that what we’re seeing at the moment is a major realignment in politics. We’re in the early stages of it, but I think it will be completed within the next decade or less.

For the last thirty or forty years, politics has essentially been about an argument between two large blocks, if you will, of voters and the politicians who represent them. On the one side you have people who combine social conservatism and traditionalism with free markets and support for limited government. Their opponents are typically people who are their mirror image. They are in favour of individual liberty in the social area, but they favour government activism in the economic area. What I think is happening – and this is not only happening in the UK; it’s happening is several other countries, in some it has already been realised, like Poland – what we’re seeing is a shift towards a different polarity underlying our politics, between on the one side more consistent libertarians – people who are consistently pro-liberty in the way that perhaps they were in the early to late nineteenth century, against government intervention in the economy but also in favour of individual liberty in other regards, and opposed also to aggressive state action at the global or international level, and on the other side people who are consistent authoritarians – people who favour large scale government intervention in the economy, and industrial policy for example, protectionism, things of that sort, a heavy degree of economic planning by the state, but who are also nationalistic and strongly socially conservative.

Watch, as they say, the whole thing. If you can’t watch the whole thing, at least watch from 41:00 to the end. Or not, as you please. It is, after all, about liberty.

If I know Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home, which I do, this Stephen Davies talk next Monday will, like that Essex University Liberty League talk, be videoed. And if I know Stephen Davies, which I do, this talk next Monday will be a fascinating and excellent performance.

I’m guessing that the new talk may be covering similar ground to the one at Essex University, but for me this is a feature not a bug. I generally have to read or listen to things several times in order to absorb them properly. (Which is another reason why I am such a particular fan of repetition.)

63 comments to Stephen Davies on consistent libertarianism versus consistent authoritarianism

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Their opponents are typically people who are their mirror image. They are in favour of individual liberty in the social area,

    No they aren’t. They favour people being allowed to do things they approve of, which often includes several things which may not be considered either acceptable or even legal by society as it currently stands. But don’t mistake their iconoclasm for being genuinely “socially liberal”.

    In fact, with the exception of the odd “burn the gays” crank, conservatives tend to be more socially liberal than “liberals”. They generally don’t much care what other people do, they usually just want the right to call it abhorrent. Their “conservatism” tends to express itself primarily in a desire to avoid preferred victim status being conferred on what they perceive as their enemies, or at worst they want to stop you from being able teach children in state schools about your preferred brand of “perversity”.

    Even so, compared to “liberals” your average Conservative tends to be positively Libertine in comparison with regards to social permissiveness.

    The whole “social liberals and social conservatives are mirror images of one another” thing is a myth, pure and simple.

    Conservatives tend to be permissive economically, and bloody opinionated and vociferous socially, but not usually all that authoritarian. Hardly any of them want to outlaw buggery for example, even though many find it objectionable.

    “Liberals” on the other hand tend to be authoritarian through and through. They don’t believe in economic freedom full stop, and they believe what social freedom there is exists solely to further a particular sociological agenda. Where a social freedom clashes with their ideological objectives they tend to support brutal state sanctions. Free speech being the most notable social freedom they oppose, but free association and any pro-male (e.g. paternity) rights would be other good examples.

  • @Brian Glad you are coming and you are very welcome. Visitors should please RSVP not least because if they do I can feed them (courtesy of the Pro Liberty Party).

  • Tedd

    Good point, Jaded.

    Here in Canada, I often find that people I know who vote for the Liberal Party (federally) have quite socially conservative views — compared to mine, at least. Statist macroeconomic policy has become the status quo, and soft left parties have been fairly skillful at leaning toward social liberty without offending “middle class” voters, so those parties have scooped up many voters who are actually conservative, philosophically.

  • SC

    > I did Sociology at Essex University in the early 1970s

    I amazed that you did that and emerged so sane.

    (Oh, and JV is right, I think.)

  • Mike

    Sorry, but your assumption that liberal socialists are not “consistent” is wrong. Our viewpoints are fully consistent, they are just different.

    Ultimately, the fundamental definition of individual liberty is the right for an individual to do whatever they like provided it doesn’t harm others. I believe in that as much as you do. However, where we disagree is on what counts as “harm”. To me, stealing food to feed your starving family is not harming anyone, because the person you’re stealing it from is not losing anything they actually need.

    In other words, liberal socialists are only inconsistent if they accept as a matter of fundamental principle the concept that private property is an absolute right. To me, there is no reason to believe it is, and therefore no reason to believe that depriving someone of it is automatically an infringement of their liberty.

    Further, to me, the converse is true. Whilst you might claim that a libertarian society is free, to me it is only free if you are rich. Can you honestly claim that someone who is given the choice between signing away their rights to a corporation in return for payment or starvation is free? Or, worse, someone who is given the choice between paying a fee to the company that owns the roads around their house or starvation. Oppression by invididuals in the name of property rights is every bit as bad as oppression by the government.

    Additionally, such property rights only exist if the government or some equivalent enforces them. If you give people a choice between stealing food and starving then they will steal the food every time, and the only way to prevent it is to use force on them, which to me is a violation of the principle that you cannot harm others.

    That is not to say that your opinions are not consistent, but mine certainly are. They’re just based on a different concept of what is a fundamental right. And, unless you can justify objectively why private property should be respected in all cases (and I don’t mean by appealing to practicality, because on a practical level pure anarcho-capitalism would fail horrendously due to the level of inequality and issues with externalities and natural monopolies), your views are no more consistent than mine are.

    I cannot, of course, speak for all liberals, and nor do I think that everyone who calls theirself a “liberal” in the US is actually one. But, in my case at least, my views are perfectly consistent, they just rely on a different definition of “freedom”.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    As somebody on Reddit said recently: “It’s not left vs. right. It’s top vs. bottom.”

  • Sorry, but your assumption that liberal socialists are not “consistent” is wrong. Our viewpoints are fully consistent, they are just different.

    I agree, although I think to describe any ilk of socialist as ‘liberal’ strips the word of any meaning.

    Ultimately, the fundamental definition of individual liberty is the right for an individual to do whatever they like provided it doesn’t harm others. I believe in that as much as you do. However, where we disagree is on what counts as “harm”. To me, stealing food to feed your starving family is not harming anyone, because the person you’re stealing it from is not losing anything they actually need.

    I agree… to a point. And where that point is tends to be the crux of the matter. Paul Coulam calls it “the propertarian absurdity”… the notion that property rights trump all other considerations when making moral theories. My view is that both strict propertarian libertarians and socialists often make the same error, each from the opposite direction. To a propertarian, there is no ‘lifeboat logic’. The same rules apply in relative abundance as they do in life threatening emergency… you cannot trespass on my property to escape a fire. You cannot take a bottle of water from my side of the lifeboat to stop yourself dying unless I say you can even if there may be enough to keep us both alive.

    The socialist often makes the same error… if you can take some of my water in a lifeboat, well you can also take my bottle of St. Emilion in a restaurant or my Rolls Royce because I do not ‘need’ it. They think ‘inequality’ rather than survival can define ‘need’ in any way that justify taking from another by force without prior consent. The “freedom” offered by a socialist is the “freedom” to take by force to satisfy “wants”, which are redefined as “needs”, as if there is no difference between a lifeboat and a market economy.

    It is actually a very similar error.

  • Midwesterner

    Mike,

    Your construct ignores out one deadly flaw. Either you must endorse everybody’s right to decide for himself what he may justly take from others for the benefit of himself and his family (which is violent anarchy) or you must trust politicians with the power to take and to give. No system in history has proven able to resist being infiltrated by self serving predators. We are now collapsing into the end state of that pattern being demonstrated yet again.

    To follow on Perry’s point, if I am in a lifeboat and think I need to steal your water to save my own life, then I will think little of the civil penalties for the theft of the water (which assumes my act doesn’t cause Perry to lose his life). And Perry, with the surplus water, has to weigh the social consequences he will face after we are rescued if he refuses to share water for no other reason than “mine’!” The social consequences could carry financial penalties far beyond anything a civil prosecution might levy on me for stealing a bottle of his water.

    The essence of libertarian individualism is that we each hold each other accountable by withholding the benefits of our cooperation rather than a bunch of us get together and choose somebody to wave a gun and swing a club while divvying out the goods.

    Cliches usually get that way because they contain an essential truth. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on the dinner menu.

  • Andrew

    because on a practical level pure anarcho-capitalism would fail horrendously due to the level of inequality and issues with externalities and natural monopolies

    Simple-minded nonsense that’s about 180 degrees from reality:

    Inequalities – you mean like one small group of people being able to tell everyone else what to do? For every other type, the market creates the most level playing field, while government can accommodate any bias because of its complete lack of accountability.

    Externalities – handled by private property infinitely better than government can.

    Monopoly – again, like a small group of people being able to tell everyone else what to do? In business, as we’ve seen time and time again, for any sort of monopoly/cartel to survive it needs government backing.

  • Mike

    Perry: The problem is that you’re applying your own definition of “force” here, and also, even, of property. If I steal your car or your water when you are not using it, I am not using force on you, all I am doing is breaking open a lock. Therefore, your logic only applies if you assume that private property is an extension of yourself.

    Further, I don’t see any reason why private property automatically has to trump all things I want, regardless of how much benefit I will gain from it as opposed to you. In particular, I don’t need freedom to live, and therefore under your logic private property rights trump freedom.

    To me, I believe fundamentally that everyone has the right to be free, and I do not consider absolute private property to be compatible with that, because it allows you to impose restrictions on my movement and other actions by virtue of an employment contract or ownership of resources I don’t strictly need to survive, but which I do need to have any reasonable quality of life or freedom.

    My views are not an “error”, they are simply different. I do not consider private property to be absolute, or even to trump my own desires. If

    Also, why do you consider socialism and liberalism to be incompatible? Liberalism as a concept doesn’t say anything about the economy, it just supports freedom. Therefore, I see no fundamental incompatibility.

    Andrew: How does the market reduce inequality? The rich have everything and take even more, the poor have nothing and lose even what they have. Also, how does the market deal with externalities?

    And, whilst the government definitely can prop-up monopolies, there are certain services that do naturally tend towards monopolies, because they rely on infrastructure that it is inefficient to duplicate, or provide services that are so essential that people will just take whoever arrives first (e.g. emergency services). Further, there are other services where the person paying for the service isn’t the person actually affected by it (for example, the police, justice and prison services), and the person affected has no choice in the matter, which makes it difficult to provide such services fairly in a non-communal manner.

  • Mike

    Oh, and in response to Midwesterner, Anarcho-capitalism has the exact same problem. Either you allow people to arbitrarily decide “this is my property” and enforce that with violence if necessary, or else you have a government to enforce it for them.

    The problem with your viewpoint is that it assumes that the government enforcing property rights is not in itself making a choice about how you define “property”, which it must by necessity do. Otherwise there is nothing to prevent me making a claim on something that you also claim to be yours.

    Sure, socialism is open to abuse by politicians, but so is capitalism. You only have to look at how intellectual property rights are handled to see that.

  • Therefore, your logic only applies if you assume that private property is an extension of yourself.

    Which of course it is.

    Further, I don’t see any reason why private property automatically has to trump all things I want, regardless of how much benefit I will gain from it as opposed to you. In particular, I don’t need freedom to live, and therefore under your logic private property rights trump freedom.

    Your freedom to take my property? Yes, my property rights do indeed trump that. Why? Because ultimately I am prepared to kill you over that just as you are prepared to kill me to take my property: Mao and I are as one on that issue. Break the lock on my house and enter and I will assume you mean to do me violence and I will react accordingly. It really does come down to that and that notion is the very bedrock of civilisation itself.

  • Mike

    Which of course it is.

    How is it? Do you have computers growing out of your arms?

    That is an obviously ridiculous statement.

    Your freedom to take my property? Yes, my property rights do indeed trump that. Why? because ultimately I am prepared to kill you over that just as you are prepared to kill me to take my property: Mao and I are as one on that issue. Break the lock on my house and enter and I will assume you mean to do me violence and I will react accordingly. It really does come down to that and that notion is the very bedrock of civilisation itself.

    I am prepared to kill in self-defence, yes. And, if you attack me because I broke down a door then I am acting in self-defence. Further, you may not even be in the house at the time (indeed, if I am smart you will not be).

    But, in the end, argument by “I’ll beat you up” is not a moral argument and, further, imposing your morality by force is the exact opposite of freedom. Ultimately, what you are advocating is just what the government does, and I see no reason why you are in any way better than them.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    You know, for a long time, especially when I was unemployed, I felt very hard done by.

    “Some folk have all the luck” I used to say. “Rich people don’t work harder than me, they just have had better opportunities. Would it really be so bad for them to have to give me a little something. They can afford it after all – it’s nothing to them, and they never really earned it anyway”

    Although I never fully internalised them, looking back I can see the seeds of these ideas in my thinking back then. But you know what? Now as I approach the end of a PhD, with the prospect of actually making some real money for the first time in my life, I have come to a realisation. Even when a degree of luck, or an act of kindness, sets you on the road to success, it is still bloody hard work. If I ever do finish this PhD, I will have earned it irrespective of the fact that I was both lucky and had some people looking out for me.

    And what’s more I will be rather more suspicious of the 25 year old version of myself when he comes along with his entitlement mentality demanding a share of my property because he’s under the impression I owe him!

  • Mike

    I’m not saying that all rich people don’t earn what they have. However, one thing that is abundantly clear to me is that many poor people work just as hard, and simply do not get the opportunities.

    Further, you are talking as someone who lives in a fundamentally socialist society, in at least some aspects. In a pure anarcho-capitalist society it would be extremely difficult for the very poor to get anywhere, because they would have low-quality education (if any) and would find it difficult to get into universities. It wouldn’t necessarily be impossible, but it would be a hell of a lot more difficult, and no amount of hard work can make up for the fact that you don’t get given the chance, especially for young people.

    And, regardless, it is still a moral issue. What gives you the right to claim ownership of a particular piece of property? Even if you can legitimately say “I worked hard to get where I am”, there are many people who work just as hard and, even, who do things that are more important to society as a whole, and yet they earn less money. The whole system is fundamentally arbitrary, and no amount of “well, I worked hard” will change that.

  • Andrew

    How does the market reduce inequality? The rich have everything and take even more, the poor have nothing and lose even what they have.

    It provides the most level playing field. While government regulations, subsidies, tarifs, etc. distort the playing field in favour of the already successful.

    (And if the rich have “everything” then there is nothing more for them to take, and vice-versa with the poor – it’s nothing more than feel-good, brain-dead, bumper sticker propaganda.)

    Also, how does the market deal with externalities?

    Through enforcing private property.

    And, whilst the government definitely can prop-up monopolies

    It’s not “can”, it’s “currently does”. I believe an example for both the USA and the UK is the postal service.

    And of course government itself is not only a monopoly, but as history has shown, the most dangerous monopoly on the planet.

    …there are certain services that do naturally tend towards monopolies, because they rely on infrastructure that it is inefficient to duplicate, or provide services that are so essential that people will just take whoever arrives first (e.g. emergency services). Further, there are other services where the person paying for the service isn’t the person actually affected by it (for example, the police, justice and prison services), and the person affected has no choice in the matter, which makes it difficult to provide such services fairly in a non-communal manner.

    So what? None of that justifies using violence to force people to use only one service provider.

    And saying (you believe) some services tend towards monopoly, therefore you’re going to enforce a monopoly is nothing short of insanity. Especially when we can see the results of government monopoly: high cost, low quality, inadequate supply.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Mike you’ve got it backwards. Our fundamentally socialist society has made my life infinitely harder. That’s another realisation I came to. It would not have been nearly so hard to find a job were it not for something governments specialise in called “barriers to entry”. In the UK we are relatively fortunate in that the government actively bans you from doing very little. They do, however, make many things considerably harder to do.

    Setting up a business and hiring a staff is one of those things. I can do a profit/loss calculation. I can set a budget. I could even work out the tax on a simple profit. But when you add in NI contributions, business rates, health and safety legislation, criminal background checks, immigration law, planning law and the rest of it quite frankly it all becomes rather beyond me. And I’m a educated man so imagine how difficult it must be for everyone else. Were it not for burdensome laws I could be out running a business and giving people employment right now. The same is true of a great many people in my area, many of whom I would have been delighted to work for.

    Were it not for our oh so beneficent state I would never have had to go back to Uni because I would have found a job during that time of unemployment. The government itself created the shortage of jobs in my area.

    As to the “well I worked hard” argument, well I worked hard for this thing here. You may have worked hard for another thing. But how does my thing being bigger or better than your thing make it any less mine? Should you be allowed to cash in on my PhD certificate when I get it because a qualification is property and property is bad?

  • Mike

    It provides the most level playing field. While government regulations, subsidies, tarifs, etc. distort the playing field in favour of the already successful.

    Whilst that is true in the US, it is not true in many other countries (much of Europe, for example).

    Through enforcing private property.

    How does that help deal with externalities?

    It’s not “can”, it’s “currently does”. I believe an example for both the USA and the UK is the postal service.

    Sure.

    Although, I’m not sure how you could have a universal postal service that was profitable and not excessively expensive for those in rural areas.

    And of course government itself is not only a monopoly, but as history has shown, the most dangerous monopoly on the planet.

    Well, indeed….

    So what? None of that justifies using violence to force people to use only one service provider.

    I never said it did.

    And saying (you believe) some services tend towards monopoly, therefore you’re going to enforce a monopoly is nothing short of insanity.

    Just because the government provides a service that does not mean it has to outlaw all other providers.

    Especially when we can see the results of government monopoly: high cost, low quality, inadequate supply.

    Go look at the UK healthcare system as compared to the US one, and see which is better value for money….

    Mike you’ve got it backwards. Our fundamentally socialist society has made my life infinitely harder. That’s another realisation I came to. It would not have been nearly so hard to find a job were it not for something governments specialise in called “barriers to entry”. In the UK we are relatively fortunate in that the government actively bans you from doing very little. They do, however, make many things considerably harder to do.

    Perhaps it has made yours harder, but it has definitely made mine a hell of a lot easier. I would not be where I am now were it not for the public education system and, in particular, the publicly-funded nature of our universities.

    Setting up a business and hiring a staff is one of those things. I can do a profit/loss calculation. I can set a budget. I could even work out the tax on a simple profit. But when you add in NI contributions, business rates, health and safety legislation, criminal background checks, immigration law, planning law and the rest of it quite frankly it all becomes rather beyond me. And I’m a educated man so imagine how difficult it must be for everyone else. Were it not for burdensome laws I could be out running a business and giving people employment right now. The same is true of a great many people in my area, many of whom I would have been delighted to work for.

    Were it not for our oh so beneficent state I would never have had to go back to Uni because I would have found a job during that time of unemployment. The government itself created the shortage of jobs in my area.

    You seem to be forgetting that I am also anarchistic, even if my viewpoints differ from yours. I don’t particularly like the government either, I just do not trust a society run on the basis of the free market to be any better.

    You’re making the error of conflating a dislike of the concept of absolute private property with a support for powerful government.

    As to the “well I worked hard” argument, well I worked hard for this thing here. You may have worked hard for another thing. But how does my thing being bigger or better than your thing make it any less mine? Should you be allowed to cash in on my PhD certificate when I get it because a qualification is property and property is bad?

    A qualification is not “property” in that sense, because it’s something that is personally connected to your own achievements and which is a demonstration of something you yourself can do (incidentally, I already have a PhD). It would be nonsense for me to say “I have a PhD” on the basis of taking your certificate because that certificate is a proof that I did something.

    I don’t actually believe that private property should never be respected, I just don’t see it as an absolute thing which you have the right to in all circumstances, however much it might infringe on the freedom of others.

  • Midwesterner

    Either you allow people to arbitrarily decide “this is my property” and enforce that with violence if necessary, or else you have a government to enforce it for them.

    Removing property from the sphere of the individual directly compels violent assignment of property either by government agents with weapons or through an unfettered brawl over goods, everybody defining “just” for himself.

    In philosophical AKA civil anarchy (I don’t like the term “capitalism” as it is an ambiguous modifier), individuals negotiate the boundaries between each other. These are the only three choices there are. Either there are no boundaries negotiated or otherwise (a recipe for continual violence), or there are boundaries chosen by whoever can capture control of the government, or there are boundaries negotiated between individuals in search of beneficial terms.

    The first and highest level of being is the individual’s life.

    Without liberty, an individual has forfeited as much of their life as the liberty they have lost.

    Without property, an individual has forfeited as much of their liberty as the time they spent creating property or the means to purchase it.

    The individual right to property is inextricable from the individual right to life.

    In the absence of individual property, distribution of goods including things individuals have created by their own hand and mind or exchanged and bartered for, can only be assigned to a collective authority to possess or hand out by means of political and military power. I’ve seen no collective authority that escapes my definition of hell.

    Philosophical anarchy is founded on accepting individuals’ right to have boundaries between themselves; to retain their individual identity. The only way individual identity can be retained is by allowing individuals to negotiate with other individuals the boundaries that divide them. But there must be boundaries. As I describe above, property, liberty and life are inextricable.

    I will always prefer my chances dealing with a “greedy business owner” over a “civic minded bureaucrat”. There are no other “civic minded bureaucrats” that I can go to if the one available is bent on committing harm to me. On the other hand, in a civil anarchy or minarchy, there will always be competition for my business.

    Simply look throughout history, hell just look at the 20th Century, and you will see that the well being of the poorest members of any given society directly correlates in a positive way with that society’s respect for individual property. Even the socialist societies of Scandinavia have very strong property rights. As property rights deteriorate, it should be no surprise that the poorest suffer first and worst. The “People’s Paradises” where property rights are assigned for the greatest goods eventually achieve genocidal killing machine status. It is not a miscarriage of collectivism, murdering the non-contributors is an inescapable required function for collectives to survive.

    I’ll reiterate: These are the only three choices there are. Either there are no boundaries negotiated or otherwise (a recipe for continual violence), or there are boundaries chosen by whoever can capture control of the government, or there are boundaries negotiated between individuals in search of beneficial terms.

    and: The individual right to property is inextricable from the individual right to life.

  • Mike

    Individuals can negotiate boundaries, yes, but that is not what you are saying. You are saying that you can unilaterally say “this is mine” and can impose that on me regardless of what effect that might have. That is not negotiation, that is imposition on your part.

    Further, whilst I can accept some right to own property, I do not accept an absolute right to say “this is mine” and expect me to go along with that regardless of the consequences. You have no right to impose such a belief on me, especially when you cannot justify why you own that property in the first place.

    What you are saying is basically valid, but it does not in any way support anarcho-capitalism, because, as you say, the boundaries can only be decided by negotiation, and I would certainly not be willing to accept you arbitrarily saying “this is mine, you have to work for me for £1 and hour or you’ll starve”. Indeed, your very own argument proves my point, because you point at socialist societies like Scandinavia and say “they uphold property rights”.

    Also, it is not entirely true that Scandinavia upholds property rights. Scandinavians do have to pay tax, after all, and can be subject to confiscation of private property in certain circumstances. Scandinavia is far closer to my belief on private property (which is that it can exist, but is not an absolute right that trumps all others) than your own.

  • Andrew

    Whilst that is true in the US, it is not true in many other countries (much of Europe, for example).

    I’m in Europe (the UK) and not even looking at individual government’s policies, the EU alone proves your statement false (huge bailouts, massive subsidies, protectionist tariffs, heavy regulation, etc.)

    How does that help deal with externalities?

    ??

    As far as I’m aware, an externality is a breach of property rights – it’s when one party’s actions affect another party. So enforcing property rights directly impacts externalities.

    Although, I’m not sure how you could have a universal postal service that was profitable and not excessively expensive for those in rural areas.

    Neither am I. But then seeing as I know absolutely nothing at all about the postal service that’s hardly surprising.

    Just because the government provides a service that does not mean it has to outlaw all other providers.

    But those other providers are competing on what’s almost a vertical playing field. And because everyone’s forced to pay for the government services whether they want them or not, you discriminate against the poor – forcing them to use the sub-standard state services (helping create the inequality you’re apparently against).

    Go look at the UK healthcare system as compared to the US one, and see which is better value for money….

    According to Wikipedia, 60%-65% of healthcare provision and spending in the US is through government programs…

    You don’t have to be an economist or intellectual of any sort to see the more control the state has over an industry, the worse that industry will be.

  • Midwesterner

    You are saying that you can unilaterally say “this is mine” and can impose that on me regardless of what effect that might have.

    Huh? Citation, please.

    You have no right to impose such a belief on me, especially when you cannot justify why you own that property in the first place.

    You are consistently declaring your unilateral right to decide what I may possess while denying me any role at all in deciding what you may possess. In a civil anarchy, we would be discussing the matter and reaching a compromise. Only if we are completely unable to reach a compromise would either the violence of government power or violence of self defense be invoked.

    the boundaries can only be decided by negotiation, and I would certainly not be willing to accept you arbitrarily saying “this is mine, you have to work for me for £1 and hour or you’ll starve”.

    Again, huh? I think we have very different ideas of what “decided by negotiation” means.

    But more tellingly, “you arbitrarily saying “this is mine, you have to work for me for £1 and hour or you’ll starve” you are assuming a single entity calling the shots. For the situation to be as you describe, I would have to be the last person excepting you still in existence. Either that or I would have to be a collectivist authority. The behavior you project on me is in fact that actual behavior of collective authorities everywhere. In a civil anarchy, you would quite appropriately respond to my demand with “bugger this” and go ring the next doorbell. If I am building some great project and I see you working for penury for somebody else, I will sure make you a better offer and keep raising my offer until I am outbid. It is only in a single authority system that you can be compelled (Soviet style) to accept a one and only offer.

    I notice you continually are ascribing to me that property rights are “an absolute right that trumps all others”. Clearly not. The individual right to life is “an absolute right that trumps all others”. Liberty and property are supportive rights.

    Where you and I differ is your faith in the ability of collective choice and collectively administered authority to protect the individual right to life. Cliches again – power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I have no pretense of building a utopia. Such efforts inevitably turn into nightmares.

    I simply do not believe that anybody can be trusted with power over anybody else. History supports my opinion. When government becomes worse than what it replaces, then it is time to dismantle it. Government power must always be held under great suspicion. Any administration of property that relies on anything resembling a government must be presumed to be a predator in waiting if not yet in fact.

  • Mike

    Midwesterner, again, you’re assuming things about my beliefs that are simply not true. I do not trust governments or “collectively administered authority”, I just do not share your interpretation of property rights, or believe that private property in any way enhances freedom.

    Indeed, I have had to deal with authoritarianism in the context of things that are “private property” (such as internet forums), where the real ownership and the governance are somewhat loosely connected, but the people in charge still claim “well, we own it, so we can do whatever we like”, even though in reality the forum belongs to everyone involved, since it would simply not exist otherwise. Which demonstrates quite conclusively that private property does not prevent tyranny, it merely privatises it. People have to live and work somewhere, and therefore they will always be subject to rules imposed unilaterally by other people unless they are rich enough to be able to work for theirselves and live on their own land.

    As for the whole “work for £1 an hour or you starve” thing I am not assuming only one entity is calling the shots, I am merely using the general fact that every company will set conditions like that, and that it is not in their interests not to, at least for low-value jobs. I do not believe that the market will automatically result in everyone earning enough to live any kind of decent life.

    And, sure we can negotiate, but by saying “if we can’t agree, then I will use my right to self-defence” you are implicitly imposing your morals on me before we start the negotiation. You are saying “if we can’t come to an agreement I’ll force you to follow my viewpoint”, which means the negotiations are likely to fail because you have little to gain from compromise.

    I don’t disagree with you on the idea of negotiation, but where we do disagree is in what happens if we can not agree. You would argue that your property should therefore be protected, whereas I would argue that, in the absence of any agreement on my part (and I mean a freely-negotiated agreement that was not made under duress) you have no right to claim ownership of anything you do not have in your physical possession. There is no reason your viewpoint is any more valid than mine.

  • Midwesterner

    You are making a staggering pile of assumptions which are not supported by history. For just one example,

    As for the whole “work for £1 an hour or you starve” thing I am not assuming only one entity is calling the shots, I am merely using the general fact that every company will set conditions like that, and that it is not in their interests not to, at least for low-value jobs.

    That only works if they can capture government in the form of licensing or other government powered barriers to entry. Whenever the barriers to entry are removed, non-members of the cartel will move in to capture the margin.

    Your statement -

    I do not trust governments or “collectively administered authority”, I just do not share your interpretation of property rights, or believe that private property in any way enhances freedom.

    never exactly gets around to telling us how you will enforce your interpretation of property rights. What you are ignoring is that property exists. Full-stop, property exists. Property will be assigned to various individuals or gangs/collectives. There are only two ways you and I can assign the same custodian to the same piece of property. We can either reach a mutually consensual arrangement (which will probably not please either one of us entirely) or whoever is “right” can violently distribute the property as they see fit.

    Regardless of whether you christen your enforcement mechanism “The Government” or “my Homies and me”, you will resort to violence. You, to borrow your earlier example, have decided you need my food more than I do. What if I decide I need your extra, superfluous kidney more than you do? I’ll christen my posse “The Government” and we take it?

    The biggest difference between you and me is I want to try to negotiate a mutually tolerable arrangement and you want to skip that first step and get straight to the guns and clubs. After all, you are “right” and all who disagree with you are “wrong”.

  • Midwesterner:

    In the absence of individual property, distribution of goods including things individuals have created by their own hand and mind or exchanged and bartered for, can only be assigned to a collective authority to possess or hand out by means of political and military power.

    That’s a false dichotomy. Individual property rights and state property rights are not the only possible options. A situation with no property rights is also possible.

  • Mike

    That only works if they can capture government in the form of licensing or other government powered barriers to entry. Whenever the barriers to entry are removed, non-members of the cartel will move in to capture the margin.

    The problem is that your argument only works if there exist more suitable jobs than there do workers. As long as there are people for whom jobs do not exist (or exist only in highly inconvenient locations), there will always be someone who will take advantage of that by paying them very little.

    never exactly gets around to telling us how you will enforce your interpretation of property rights. What you are ignoring is that property exists. Full-stop, property exists. Property will be assigned to various individuals or gangs/collectives. There are only two ways you and I can assign the same custodian to the same piece of property. We can either reach a mutually consensual arrangement (which will probably not please either one of us entirely) or whoever is “right” can violently distribute the property as they see fit.

    Property exists, yes, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to claim ownership of it. I agree it does have to be done by mutual consent, the problem is that you can’t start a discussion from “this is mine but I’m willing to negotiate it”.

    Regardless of whether you christen your enforcement mechanism “The Government” or “my Homies and me”, you will resort to violence. You, to borrow your earlier example, have decided you need my food more than I do. What if I decide I need your extra, superfluous kidney more than you do? I’ll christen my posse “The Government” and we take it?

    Parts of the body do not count as “property”…..

    The biggest difference between you and me is I want to try to negotiate a mutually tolerable arrangement and you want to skip that first step and get straight to the guns and clubs. After all, you are “right” and all who disagree with you are “wrong”.

    No, I am entirely willing to negotiate a mutually tolerable arrangement. However, that can only work if you don’t start from the assumption of “this property is mine and I will defend it”. If you start from that then no solution is possible because you’ve already decided it is yours.

    Fundamentally, I think we agree on the concept that it should be voluntary as far as possible, but what we don’t agree on is what happens when two people can’t agree. You seem to be starting from the belief that “this is mine, you can’t have it unless I say you can”, whereas I start from a more equitable viewpoint of “whoever needs it the most should have it”.

    Ultimately, I think there is a certain amount of logic in the argument that all anarchistic societies would fundamentally be the same. After all, without anyone to enforce rules, people have to agree amongst theirselves, and your private property doesn’t mean anything unless I agree that it does, or unless you defend it. Everything has to be done voluntarily, whether that be collectivisation or assertion of private property.

  • Mike

    And, yeah, what Paul said. We don’t have to have property rights, it is possible to envision a society where, aside from things in your direct possession, everyone is assumed to have the right to use anything they like.

    Indeed, that is basically what I am advocating. A society in which property rights do not exist aside from by mutual consent. I.e., if I can get people to agree that my computer is mine and no-one else can use it, then fine, but otherwise I have no right to assert that.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Mike you’re a rubbish socialist. What you’re proposing is that only those rich enough to hire armed guards have any right to hold onto their stuff. For everyone else, as soon as their backs are turned, it becomes fair game.

    Oh and by the way, I need your kidney more than you. We can do this the easy way or the hard way.

  • Mike:

    Fundamentally, I think we agree on the concept that it should be voluntary as far as possible, but what we don’t agree on is what happens when two people can’t agree. You seem to be starting from the belief that “this is mine, you can’t have it unless I say you can”, whereas I start from a more equitable viewpoint of “whoever needs it the most should have it”.

    Putting aside that the definition of “need” tends to vary from person to person, the problem with assigning ownership to “whoever needs it” might work well in the short term, but, in the longer term, production will fall (assuming no compulsion to produce) which will result in a sub-optimal outcome for all concerned.

  • How is it? Do you have computers growing out of your arms? That is an obviously ridiculous statement.

    Not at all… and indeed I would argue you do not even regard me as owning myself if you do not think I can own, say, the food I intend to eat in my refrigerator. I am a order-able labour unit to someone like you. Self-ownership as the underpinning axiom for all morality. The initial property I own is me.

    That is why I am willing, indeed happy, to use force against you. You break into my house to take what is mine, I will use whatever force is required to remove you as a threat. Any other position is both foolish and immoral.

    But, in the end, argument by “I’ll beat you up” is not a moral argument and, further, imposing your morality by force is the exact opposite of freedom. Ultimately, what you are advocating is just what the government does, and I see no reason why you are in any way better than them.

    I am not an anarchist, I am a minarchist and the main job of my ideal minimal state would be using force against folks such as yourself. I do not have a problem with ‘the state’ so much as ‘large intrusive interventionist states’. If all the state did was prevent people helping themselves to other people’s stuff, be they individual thieves, gangs of thieves, companies of thieves or gangs of socialists, I would be happy to wave that state’s flag.

    No, I am entirely willing to negotiate a mutually tolerable arrangement.

    I’d rather just use force against you actually. It is foolish in the extreme to think this kind of a difference of opinion can be ‘negotiated’.

  • Midwesterner

    Paul,

    Individual property rights and state property rights are not the only possible options. A situation with no property rights is also possible.

    So how does this relate to your superfluous kidney? I’m guessing you claim property rights, just less than most people.

    Mike,

    Parts of the body do not count as “property”…..

    Really? Why not? You need your kidney far less than I need to eat to survive. Yet you explicitly claim the authority to decide how much food I need survive. Why can’t I decide how many kidneys you need? It is a distinction without a difference.

    However, that can only work if you don’t start from the assumption of “this property is mine and I will defend it”. If you start from that then no solution is possible because you’ve already decided it is yours.

    As you have already decided it is yours according to your rules. We both are starting from assumption. Your opening position is to say I have to accept yours and are forbidden to have my own.

    You seem to be starting from the belief that “this is mine, you can’t have it unless I say you can”, whereas I start from a more equitable viewpoint of “whoever needs it the most should have it”.

    Yet again, huh? I am starting from the position that you and I negotiate to try and reach mutually tolerable terms for who gets what. You are starting from the postion that “whoever I say needs it the most should have it”. There fixed that for you.

    Ultimately, I think there is a certain amount of logic in the argument that all anarchistic societies would fundamentally be the same. After all, without anyone to enforce rules, people have to agree amongst theirselves, and your private property doesn’t mean anything unless I agree that it does, or unless you defend it. Everything has to be done voluntarily, whether that be collectivisation or assertion of private property.

    And at the end, I think we may be agreeing on something important. I hold, contrary to many libertarians, that rights are something that, as a matter of fact, can only be extended to others, never claimed as ones own. If you must use force to claim it, it isn’t a “right” it is an authority. I prefer to offer rights to others in exchange for the rights they offer me.

  • Midwesterner

    With of course the caveat that I reserve the authority to reject proposal being offered.

  • Midwesterner:

    So how does this relate to your superfluous kidney? I’m guessing you claim property rights, just less than most people.

    What?

  • You are saying “if we can’t come to an agreement I’ll force you to follow my viewpoint”

    Well, yes, if you are trying to rob me or kill me, and we can’t come to an agreement on whether or not you should do that, then in fact I very much will force you to follow my viewpoint (which just happens to be opposed to your robbing or killing me).

  • Midwesterner

    You don’t claim your kidney as your own property? OK. Curious.

  • Midwesterner:

    Really? Why not? You need your kidney far less than I need to eat to survive. Yet you explicitly claim the authority to decide how much food I need survive. Why can’t I decide how many kidneys you need? It is a distinction without a difference.

    This is an argument that rests on the concept of “self-ownership,” something which has never really made a lot of sense to me. It seems fairly self-evident that I don’t own me, I AM me. If you try to cut my kidney out, you aren’t infringing on my property rights, you are infringing on my liberty.

  • Midwesterner:

    You don’t claim your kidney as your own property? OK. Curious.

    I’m not sure who that was directed at, but from my perspective, no, I don’t view the component parts of my body as mere property. For instance, I wouldn’t tolerate them being treated as my property and taken to settle a debt, should I fall into bankruptcy.

    The idea that you can reduce everything to property rights might sound appealing to those whose arguments are supported by that approach, but it doesn’t really work.

  • Midwesterner

    Not at all. As soon as we’ve got yer kidney, we’ll turn ya loose. You’ll miss it a whole lot less than I’ll miss the ten years of my life I spent building the business that you say I don’t own. You want my heart and soul (not to mention ten years of my life), all I want is one little old kidney.

    In a more serious tone, if your flesh and bone is you, then why should I treat you differently than a chimpanzee of a dairy cow? If you claim that it is because the repository of your mind, then you lose your claim to your kidney.

    It is your mind and what you do with it that is “you”. Your body is simply an ancillary support system not philosophically different than other forms of property. I know many people missing many body parts that get along without them just fine. I’m not asking for your left frontal cortex.

  • Midwesterner

    The idea that you can reduce everything to property rights might sound appealing to those whose arguments are supported by that approach, but it doesn’t really work.

    It is you who are reducing everything to property. I have made the case that property is an inextricable piece, along with liberty, of the right to one’s own life. It is the individual right to one’s own life that is irreducible.

  • Midwesterner:

    Not at all. As soon as we’ve got yer kidney, we’ll turn ya loose.

    Your need to use the qualifier “As soon as” should have alerted you to the fact that they argument you were attempting to construct was a non-starter. Essentially, your argument is that you wouldn’t be infringing my liberty, because, after you’d finish infringing my liberty, you’d stop infringing my liberty.

    You’ll miss it a whole lot less than I’ll miss the ten years of my life I spent building the business that you say I don’t own.

    I’ve not said you don’t own anything. You’ve just constructed a straw man argument in your head, without any involvement from me.

    You want my heart and soul (not to mention ten years of my life), all I want is one little old kidney.

    I can quite honestly say I want nothing from you.

    a more serious tone, if your flesh and bone is you, then why should I treat you differently than a chimpanzee of a dairy cow?

    Those of us who believe in liberty assert that liberty should be respected. If you choose not to, I would resort to force to prevent you. I would also hope that you would not want the treatment you would attempt to dish out to others reciprocated.

  • Midwesterner:

    It is you who are reducing everything to property.

    You appear to be a bit confused about who you are and who I am.

    You are Midwesterner. You have been arguing that a person’s right not to have their kidney removed is because they have property rights over the kidney.

    I am Paul. I have been arguing that a person’s right not to have their kidney removed is because forcibly violating their bodily integrity involes an infringement of liberty.

  • Midwesterner

    Paul,

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding you. I took your statement “Individual property rights and state property rights are not the only possible options. A situation with no property rights is also possible” to be an advocacy for that position. A subsequent statement by you does leave room for doubt on that point.

    But if you are advocating against property rights, just because you are not claiming my property, in this case a business, for yourself, you are still demanding that I give it up because property is immoral or something. It makes no difference to me as the loser of the property, what the rationalization for taking it is.

    As for the kidney argument, you appear to be making a case for the value of your time. The time you lose giving up a kidney is nothing to the time I lose giving up a business. Both arguments make the case that time and property correlate.

    Your appear to be making the case that owning property is immoral and must be prevented. You make that argument the core of everything at least in this thread. I make the case that property is essential to the exercise of individual life and liberty. Property is ancillary, a servant, to liberty and life. I also leave the terms and boundaries of property to be negotiated between the parties. You preemptively demand its outright prohibition. So yes, it is your argument that revolves around property (and the prohibition thereof), not mine.

    I don’t have time to continue this discussion which appears to have reached the point of repetition so am signing off for now.

  • Mike

    Jaded: The thing with hiring armed guards to protect your property is that there isn’t anything to protect it from the armed guards….

    Perry: No, you don’t “own” yourself, because that would imply that people are property which can theoretically be owned by someone else, and I do not accept that. No person is owned by anyone, including theirselves.

    However, they do have rights, like the right not to be harmed by others. The two are not the same thing.

    And, frankly, your sort of “minarchist” state would be the most oppressive government possible. Its sole purpose is to enforce your morality on me, and to force me to work under whatever conditions rich corporations decree I must or, else, starve. Further, with government protection existing mainly for the rich, they will invariably use their wealth to impose their views on the world, through false information, bribery and physical violence.

    I fail to see how that is any better than the most oppressive governments around. The only difference is that, instead of the government doing the oppression with the support of big business, as in the US currently. big business will do the oppression with the support of the government.

    Indeed, the fact that you are threatening me with violence because I don’t share your beliefs proves my point. Your society would be every bit as oppressive as every other government ever, if not worse. The oppression would just be outsourced.

    Midwesterner: Yes, I do actually accept property rights to some extent, I just don’t consider them absolutely unviolatable. However, I do not consider body parts to be “property”, and even if they were there is no way to obtain them without causing harm to me.

    Other than that, though, I do agree with you on a fundamental level. The whole point of anarchism is that it has to be voluntary, otherwise you’re just imposing a government on people. Where we don’t agree, however, is on what the result of such negotiation should be, and if we were in such a society I don’t know if we would be able to come to an agreement on that.

    Which, I think, is a fundamental issue with anarchism in general. It’s possible to have different forms of anarchism living side-by-side to some extent, but there will always be some tensions over things like natural resources. An anarcho-socialist will say that natural resources should be exploitable by everyone, whereas an anarcho-capitalist would say “I own the land, you have to pay me for it”, and I’m not sure how easy it is to reconcile those beliefs.

  • Midwesterner:

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding you. I took your statement “Individual property rights and state property rights are not the only possible options. A situation with no property rights is also possible” to be an advocacy for that position.

    There is clearly nothing in there that reads as advocacy. It is very clearly presented as a statment of fact with no sense of advocacy.

    What I actually think (you may well not want me to say, as it may make your construction of straw men even more absurd, but I think it needs to be said for clarity) is that all three approaches have a place in a rational arrangement. When it comes to the atoms of oxygen in the air, I think a system of non-ownership makes more sense than either state or private ownership. When it comes to scarce tangible items, I think private property rights work best, however, I don’t have a problem with the state also asserting ownership of some items, such as the surface material of public footpaths.

    Your appear to be making the case that owning property is immoral and must be prevented

    No, I don’t and it is pitiful for you to make that claim. I’d like to know what you thought put you in a position to make such a ridiculous claim.

    You make that argument the core of everything at least in this thread.

    Except I haven’t. I’ve never made that argument. It was a straw man you conjured up.

    You preemptively demand its outright prohibition.

    What utter, utter gibberish.

  • Mid, as someone who shares your semantic discomfort with the term ‘capitalism’, can you give me a semantic justification for your choice of alternative terms – i.e. ‘philosophical’/’civil’ anarchism?

  • Mike

    The problem I see with his definition is that I am also a philosophical anarchist, and yet I do not share his viewpoint on private property. There is nothing in the definition of anarchy that implies private property must exist because, as Paul said, it is possible to have a system in which there is no concept of ownership by either people or a state.

    Anarchism, as a philosophy, is one in which there is no government to enforce how society should be. It doesn’t in itself define the nature of that society beyond that there should be no arbitrary authority (i.e. any leadership that does exist is purely voluntary and you can refuse to obey them).

  • Midwesterner

    Philosophical anarchism is an already labeled subset of anarchist thought. Perhaps the most famous holder of the philosophical anarchy position, Tolkien, said that his views: “lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)—or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy.” I lean toward a posteriori philosophical anarchism.

    The “property is theft” school of anarchism (Proudhon), the ones that Tolkien called “whiskered men with bombs”, is an entirely different school of thought that was looked on favorably by Karl Marx until he decided the word “theft” granted legitimacy to the concept of property and the phrase was not useful.

    I hold that the voluntary institutions of civil society are necessary in the absence of laws and governments. Further, I think the institution of individual property is an inextricable component of individual liberty and individual life and that this relationship has been logically demonstrated and is inviolable. Sans individual property = sans individual life.

    Banning the institution of individual property as Marx and Proudhon advocate can only create an unlimited scope of collectivism. Marx and Proudhon tend to focus on the material realm and how to “justly” allocate it. I prefer to focus on the nature of humans in society, whether they are subject to a collective society or are free to cooperate (or not) as individuals. Without the right to individual property, they are compelled to supplicate to the greater society for their continued existence. “From each … to each …” Horrifying.

    I have a full day and will be very hit and miss but I’ll try to follow the thread when I can.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Mid, I did not know Tolkien was an Anarchist. I’m delighted because it only improves my opinion of someone who I already held in high regard.

    I’m one of those for whom people many of their friends are all long dead and known only through books. CS Lewis and Tolkien and two of my best friends.

  • Laird

    Mike, you began this discussion by claiming the moral right to “steal food to feed your starving family” (a proposition with which no one here objected; most have agreed that human life is the ultimate good), but then it quickly descended into “resources I don’t strictly need to survive, but which I do need to have any reasonable quality of life or freedom” and then to “earning enough to live any kind of decent life.” That’s the moral sinkhole you socialists always fall into: people will forgive actions taken for pure survival (although you may reasonably be expected to pay for the costs later), but then you move onto asserting some moral claim on others’ property for purely subjective ends (a “decent life”). I don’t accept that.

    I accept property rights as nearly absolute (subject only to the human right to physically survive) because fundamentally all property is acquired through one’s labor (either currently or previously performed); it is the product of your muscles and your time, i.e., it is a piece of your life. You claim to believe that one’s body isn’t “property”, yet your philosophy attempts to justify the taking of the product of that body. Essentially, you advocate slavery: you claim a “right” to appropriate a part of my life for your own purposes. I find that morally offensive.

    Your most common refrain is “You seem to be starting from the belief that ‘this is mine, you can’t have it unless I say you can’, whereas I start from a more equitable viewpoint of ‘whoever needs it the most should have it’.” (You repeated variants on that theme several times). That is hardly a “more equitable” approach, because it simply substitutes your opinion of “whoever needs it the most” for the property owner’s opinion about how the product of his own labor should be applied. Except (conceivably) in the rare case of necessity for absolute survival you have no higher moral claim to make that decision than does he, and in fact I posit that you have a lesser moral claim.

  • Laird:

    Essentially, you advocate slavery: you claim a “right” to appropriate a part of my life for your own purposes.

    No, he doesn’t advocate slavery, or at least he hasn’t so far. You could argue that he is advocating theft if you wanted, but slavery implies the individual is being compelled to produce in a certain way by the slaveholder, something that he hasn’t thus far suggested.

    I accept property rights as nearly absolute (subject only to the human right to physically survive) because fundamentally all property is acquired through one’s labor (either currently or previously performed)

    The link between labour and property rights is actually a very weak one. The vast majority of labour does not give rise to any property rights.

  • Mike

    The link between labour and property rights is actually a very weak one. The vast majority of labour does not give rise to any property rights.

    Yeah, this.

    I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the argument “well, I made it, so I should have the right to it”, but how often is that actually the case? How much of your property did you create personally?

    Further, in most cases the person who does the actual work does not gain the majority of the profit for said work. Instead that profit goes to investors, who are often using wealth they inherited. Further, for many things (particularly land), that argument doesn’t have any logic whatsoever. Even if you can argue you own the fruits of your labour, it doesn’t imply that you own the land you worked on, particularly not in the case of natural resources.

    Honestly, I don’t oppose property rights in certain circumstances, but I do not generally support land ownership (aside from on a small scale, i.e. owning your own house), because ultimately it is entirely arbitrary.

  • Laird

    Paul, I carefully avoided using the word “theft” because theft implies ownership and Mike rejects the concept of property ownership. Oh, he may claim to accept it, but that is so qualified (by his assertion of others’ right to claim a “greater need” to the property than its owner) that it doesn’t constitute acceptance in any meaningful sense of the word. He asserts a claim to the time and labor (the life) of others, which is the essence of slavery.

    And as to your claim that “the vast majority of labour does not give rise to any property rights”, that’s simply incorrect. If I perform work for another in exchange for compensation (be that in the form of cash or something else of value to me) this is “property”. If I save some of my earnings and invest it at a profit, that profit is itself the indirect product of my labor (“previously performed” labor, as I carefully specified). And if someone chooses to give me property, or I inherit it, the labor of the donor is the source of that property, and no one other than he has any legitimate or moral claim to direct its disposition.

    Mike, nice attempt to divert attention by inserting that hoary old argument “the business owner didn’t do the work and so isn’t entitled to the profit.” Pure Marxism, which can be easily refuted and has been, repeatedly, over the last 150 years. It’s such a bad and thoroughly discredited argument that there is no point in refuting it here. But don’t think that I failed to notice that you tried to use such a patently transparent ruse to avoid responding to my real point: that you have no superior moral claim to someone else’s property than does the owner himself, and no basis for substituting your judgment of “fairness” for his.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Mike, in this ‘home’ that you’re allowing me to keep as my property, would I be able to do any productive work on it? Could I grow vegetables in the garden, and trade them if I wanted? In what way is this different to owning a factory or a farm?
    As for self-ownership- yes, I do own my own body parts! If I want to, I should have the right to sell some of them to be used to help other people. It should be my choice, no-one else’s.
    Nor does this automatically lead to slavery. If I voluntarily trade my liberty for some reason, I am free to negotiate with others for a better deal. We would have no state enforcing lifetime servitude, so escape, and renegotiation of contract, are always possible.

  • Laird:

    He asserts a claim to the time and labor (the life) of others, which is the essence of slavery.

    Most of your arguments seem to rely on first establishing a false equivalence between two separate concepts (copyright infringement is theft, theft is slavery, liberty is property, etc.).

    Slavery rest on the ability to take somebody’s liberty – to force them to produce in a certain way. Everything that Mike has talked about relates to the taking of the output after it has been produced, without any sense that the producer be forced to produce, so no, what he proposes is not the essence of slavery.

    And as to your claim that “the vast majority of labour does not give rise to any property rights”, that’s simply incorrect.

    No, it is simply correct. Let’s look at one for your favourite example to make it a bit clearer, the idea that “if I put my time, effort and skill, into making a chair, then it is legitimately mine alone.” A brief examination show that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. There are two basic situations which are possible, if we assume that we have meaningful property rights over material goods:

    1. I owned the wood which I made the chair from, in which case, I own the chair.

    2. I didn’t own the wood which I made the chair from, in which case, I do not own the chair, it belongs to the person who owned and continues to own the wood.

    Clearly, the time, effort and skill which goes into producing the chair has no bearing on who owns it, the only thing that is relevant is who owned the wood before it was shaped into a chair.

    The only labour which can legitimately be said to give rise to property rights is that involved in the first appropriation, where the raw materials are taken from an unowned “state of nature.” After that, labour may create value, but it does not create property.

    …this is “property”

    The fact that you felt the need to put the word “property” in quotes highlights my point.

  • Mike

    Paul, I carefully avoided using the word “theft” because theft implies ownership and Mike rejects the concept of property ownership. Oh, he may claim to accept it, but that is so qualified (by his assertion of others’ right to claim a “greater need” to the property than its owner) that it doesn’t constitute acceptance in any meaningful sense of the word. He asserts a claim to the time and labor (the life) of others, which is the essence of slavery.

    I don’t claim to accept property in general, I also do not claim that I have the right to the time and labour of others. Indeed, it is you who is making that claim, by asserting that things people produce do not necessarily belong to them just because some businessman owned the raw resources (even if said resources are worth far less than the finished product).

    Further, I find the argument that we own natural resources rather dubious to begin with. Sure, someone has to put the labour in to extract them, but it is rare that that is done by the businessman who profits from it, and there is no logical reason why the land on which the resources are located should be owned by anyone.

    I don’t disagree with the concept that people should own the results of their labour, but that is not what you are advocating. You are advocating ownership on the basis of who happened to dig some raw materials (which belong to no-one) out of the ground or, more likely, the person who “owns” the ground from which it was dug. I see no logic in that and, indeed, to me that is far closer to slavery than anything I am advocating.

    Nick: The major difference is when you get other people to do the work for you. Then it ceases to be solely your own labour, and thus I don’t see why you should be given exclusive rights to it. Further, there is a distinction between having somewhere to live and owning land you don’t need for that purpose solely in order to make money off the work of others.

    Well, yes, I guess it is true that you can consent to having your own body parts removed. Even so, I would not call that “property”, and even if it is it is impossible to take it from someone without harming them.

    Also, whilst contracts can be theoretically re-negotiated, unless you’re going to allow people to just unilaterally break contracts without consequence (which means that no-one can trust a contract since they could pay and then get nothing in return) that is not a sufficient protection, because why would the person who is benefitting bother to re-negotiate?

    Further, I don’t see “work for me or starve” as a voluntary trading of liberty. If I stick a gun to your head and tell you to work for me, that is slavery, I see no reason why this is any different.

    My personal beliefs are somewhere along the lines of Mutualism, I think. I don’t believe in forcing people to collectivise and I do think some things have legitimate private ownership, but I don’t accept someone sticking a flag in the ground and saying “this is mine”, or claiming ownership on the basis that they paid someone to dig something out of the ground that has a fraction of the value of the final product.

  • Mike

    Also, I do like how you directly contradict yourself in two subsequent posts.

    And as to your claim that “the vast majority of labour does not give rise to any property rights”, that’s simply incorrect. If I perform work for another in exchange for compensation (be that in the form of cash or something else of value to me) this is “property”. If I save some of my earnings and invest it at a profit, that profit is itself the indirect product of my labor (“previously performed” labor, as I carefully specified). And if someone chooses to give me property, or I inherit it, the labor of the donor is the source of that property, and no one other than he has any legitimate or moral claim to direct its disposition.

    The only labour which can legitimately be said to give rise to property rights is that involved in the first appropriation, where the raw materials are taken from an unowned “state of nature.” After that, labour may create value, but it does not create property.

    These two statements are fundamentally in disagreement. The only time property rights arise directly from labour is when you dig something out of the ground, by your own logic. In all other cases all you are getting is what the nominal “owner” decides to give you in return for what you do. There is no directy creation of property rights from that, at all. All there is is the owner paying you as little as they can get away with paying you to improve their own property.

  • Laird

    Mike, your last post contrasted a comment of mine with one of Paul’s. I agree that they are inconsistent, but it’s not my inconsistency.

    And even accepting arguendo your comments about the legitimacy of the ownership of land, raw materials, etc., you still have chosen to ignore my clear point that, whatever the legitimacy of the putative owner’s claim to the property he nominally “owns”, his claim to it is superior to any that you could possibly advance.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Paul, about that chair- you would also need to know where it was made, and if the tools ‘belonged’ to the owner, or not, but I agree with your general point. Here in Australia, one of the reasons that Aborigines didn’t advance was because the tribe owned everything collectively- and they thought that they really belonged to the land! I can’t help thinking that individual ownership over land is a big reason for progress, because an individual could take risks that would get bogged down in committees.

  • Mike

    Mike, your last post contrasted a comment of mine with one of Paul’s. I agree that they are inconsistent, but it’s not my inconsistency.

    Oh, OK, sorry.

    And even accepting arguendo your comments about the legitimacy of the ownership of land, raw materials, etc., you still have chosen to ignore my clear point that, whatever the legitimacy of the putative owner’s claim to the property he nominally “owns”, his claim to it is superior to any that you could possibly advance.

    Why do things have to be owned by anyone? Sure, he might have more of a claim to own it than I do, but it is possible that it can be owned by no-one.

    Also, whilst that is clearly true in some cases, it isn’t at all obvious in others, for example the case of a chair which was made by one person using raw materials provided by another.

    Here in Australia, one of the reasons that Aborigines didn’t advance was because the tribe owned everything collectively- and they thought that they really belonged to the land! I can’t help thinking that individual ownership over land is a big reason for progress, because an individual could take risks that would get bogged down in committees.

    I am not at all convinced of this, and you’ve provided no evidence for that statement. Further, the lack of ownership of land doesn’t prevent people doing things with that land, it simply prevents them from stopping other people from doing so.

  • Laird

    “Sure, he might have more of a claim to own it than I do, but it is possible that it can be owned by no-one.”

    It certainly is possible, but that doesn’t exactly advance your argument that you have a right to take it away from the “putative” owner on the basis of some entirely subjective claim of a need for a “reasonable quality of life”.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Actually, Aboriginal mythology ruled every important aspect of their lives, and land ‘usage’ was part of that mythology. Many factors held them back from developing a technological civilisation, such as the general dryness of the whole continent, the remoteness from other types of civilisations, and their own taboos. Many of their own speakers, like Mike Pearson, want individuals to be able to own land, and not the tribal councils- which baffles the local greenies, who want us all to revert back to tribalism! So local Aborigines recognise that lack of property is the problem.

  • Julie near Chicago

    JV: Bravo!

    Mid:

    The first and highest level of being is the individual’s life.

    Without liberty, an individual has forfeited as much of their life as the liberty they have lost.

    Without property, an individual has forfeited as much of their liberty as the time they spent creating property or the means to purchase it.

    The individual right to property is inextricable from the individual right to life.

    Bravo!

    Perry, further expanding on the “property as extension of one’s life”: Bravo!

    Paul L:

    “It seems fairly self-evident that I don’t own me, I AM me. If you try to cut my kidney out, you aren’t infringing on my property rights …”

    I agree that oneself is not in fact property, but is rather the logical antecedent of property. But:

    “If you try to cut my kidney out … you are infringing on my liberty.”

    True (unless you’ve given permission, or it’s an emergency operation undertaken to save your life or some such when you’re in coma or some such), but that’s a side-effect of the fact that it’s a direct act against the corporeality that gives rise to, or at least enables the existence in this world of, yourself.

    Liberty consists in the right of self-determination*; “property” is one class of results of the exercise of that right. (There are physical results which are not property, of course, such as the humming of a tune, or the embryo in the mother’s womb.)

    *That is, the right to do as one will providing that one recognizes that the other humans have the same right, and understands that it is not to be violated.

    To infringe upon someone’s right to property is to infringe upon his liberty, which is to infringe upon his right of self-determination, which is to deny him a part of himself. It’s also to appropriate the portions of his life which consisted in the time and effort (energy + attention) spent in acquiring the property.

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