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What our canine friends are owed, and what they’re not

“Your dog is alert, plucky and a fearsome guardian of your property. For all we know, without his services, you would have been burgled over and over again. Your belongings would be depleted and the utility you derived from your home would be much reduced. The difference between the actual value of your home and its unguarded value is the contribution of your dog, and so is the difference between the respective utilities or satisfactions you derive from it. We do not know the exact figure, but the main thing is that there is one.”

Anthony de Jasay, the late French political philosopher.

His essay addresses a form of argument one sometimes hears from communitarians of the Left and Right, as in the case of former President Barack Obama, who infamously told US entrepreneurs and other such movers and shakers that “you didn’t build that”. (Some people claim that Obama was quoted out of context, so in fairness here is a link to a discussion on that.) It is an argument – if we can dignify it with that word – used to undermine defences against tax and other State predations of private property.

On a related note, one of my least-favourite expressions is “giving back to society”. The term carries the implication that one took something, or rented it, from some sort of collective entity, and must return it to the rightful pool. Of course there can be genuine gratitude of living in a free, prosperous place and wanting to leave something even nicer for others. That’s totally fine. But the “giving back” expression, unless qualified and understood in context, carries a sort of embedded reproach. It’s a way of saying “nice piece of property you have there but don’t get too comfy and it would be a shame if anyone wanted to take it”. (Here is a related discussion about such attitudes.)

The point about people benefiting from what others have done is rarely considered the other way around when the costs are involved. We also inherit, or deal with, lots of bad things that others intentionally or unintentionally impose upon us, such as hostile attitudes towards those who are successful and so on. There are liabilities and costs imposed on us that we have no control over, and which are a burden to handle. So the “you didn’t build that” works in the other direction too.

Back to De Jasay’s point, he’s noting how the protection we are afforded by a guard (“woof!”) can and has been used to command political fidelity and support for all manner of State institutions. He brilliantly dissects this way of thinking. It is one of those essays that ought to be better known.

22 comments to What our canine friends are owed, and what they’re not

  • Paul Marks

    When someone says “I want to give back to society” they are indeed implying that that their wealth is unearned, that it is the result of political “pull”.

    In some cases that is TRUE – for example Mr Warren Buffett, who for many decades worked with the government and the Federal Reserve (the Credit Money people) to profit himself and his associates.

    But that does not mean one should obey the instructions of Mr Buffett (and Mr George Soros and other people who gained wealth by MANIPULATION rather than production) to increase taxes and so on – on the contrary one should reply as follows…..

    “Yes Sir, I agree – you are a crook. But that is NOT a good reason for following your political advice – if you feel shame over the corrupt way you made money, then hand yourself over for punishment, do NOT try and make yourself feel better by pretending that the wealth of everyone is the result of corruption .”

    Amazon and Google made a fortune from the “lockdowns” which closed down their small business competitors – so the executives make themselves feel better by attacking “White Supremacy” (those evil small store owners – they should be BURNED ALIVE so that Corporate executives can feel better about themselves), and the banks do the same (the bankers being the biggest welfare claimants in the world – but they do not call their welfare, welfare) – handing out money to BLM and other Marxist organisations to organise looting, burning and murdering.

    The big Corporations also support higher taxes (to fund the Frankfurt School influenced education system and-so-on) – which their executives will NOT pay, the taxes will hit their small business competitors.

    It is all rather vile.

  • Paul Marks

    Anthony De Jasay was a great man.

    His work “The State” is a classic – and some of his smaller works are also very important. I fondly remember “This Square Circle” – his refutation of “Market Socialism”.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    A burglar broke into a house when the owners were away one night, and was casually casing the lounge when he heard, “I can see you, and so can Jesus!”
    He hastily looked around for the speaker, and finally spotted a parrot in a cage. “What can you do? You’re only a bloody parrot!”
    “I may be only a bloody parrot, but Jesus is a bloody roitweller.”

  • bobby b

    I would rank “giving back to society” just one rung higher than the politician or government employee claiming that he engages in “public service”. A soldier gives public service. The others get serviced by the public.

  • John B

    ‘Giving back to society’ – aka ‘fair share’ – is the core of the two evil, ugly twins Socialism and Fascism whereby the individual is but a surf of the Collective, and whose duty is to provide their labour output for its benefit so they have no private property, all is owned by the Collective, and they get only what the Collective – as represented by the State and those who run it – decides.

  • Lee Moore

    My main concern is that de Jasay’s dog may start barking up a claim….and that it will be taken seriously.

  • Lee Moore

    I am feeling too stupid this morning to launch into a full diatribe on externalities, consumer surpluses, tax and so on. So y’all are (mostly) spared.

    I will merely mention the obvious point that one of “society’s” most obvious contributions to a successful person’s material success is the accumulation of human knowledge over the centuries. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants (and pygmies, and everything in between.) But these old giants etc are not compensatable by the present generation of successful people. Cos they’re dead. And also possibly foreign. And likewise, whatever extra shouldering modern successful people are generating, which may benefit future generations, is also going to go uncompensated. Cos they’ll be dead too.

    So the notion of “you didn’t build that” as spouted by the Obamas of the world runs into the problem of “neither did you.” So if it’s true that I’ve had a windfall from other people, a lot of those people are gone now, and handing money over to you, Mr O, would be “compensating” the wrong people.

    Furthermore, the laws of productivity being what they are, it is much more likely that modern successful people are generating consumer surpluses for modern unsuccessful people than t’other way round. So if there were any logic in redistributing for benefits the market fails to capture, I doubt Mr O would like the direction in which the cash would flow.

    And finally, I do have a bit of a worry that the modern explosion of intellectual property protection, and all the lawyering pertaining thereto, has the effect of capturing for the Tech Lords what in the olden days might have been a jolly old consumer surplus available to the commons.

  • William H. Stoddard

    I have been buying Apple products for decades now, mostly computers. They have enabled me to make money, they have provided me with entertainment, and they have given me access to online communities such as this one. Every one of them has been worth more to me than the money I paid for it (which I anticipated in the first place, or I wouldn’t have bought them!). So I never begrudged, for example, the part of Steve Jobs’s huge wealth that came from selling computers; I figured that for every million dollars of his personal wealth he had returned more than a million dollars to his customers in the value of what he sold them.

    (Apple’s dealings with the Chinese raise other questions, of course, but any debt that creates is owed to Chinese people rather than Americans.)

    And that reasoning applies to anyone engaged in legitimate trade and production. The question of “giving back” arises with robbers, thieves, and beneficiaries of state transfers, all of whom ought to give their proceeds back to their victims.

  • Lee Moore

    So I never begrudged, for example, the part of Steve Jobs’s huge wealth that came from selling computers; I figured that for every million dollars of his personal wealth he had returned more than a million dollars to his customers in the value of what he sold them.

    I recall somebody – might have been Edward Conard – tried to do this sum for Sam Walton. I think the conclusion was that for every dollar he saved his customers from their shopping costs, ie by being cheaper than the competition, he made about 3 cents for himself.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Just wanted to point out that Anthony de Jasay was actually Hungarian by birth and upbringing.

  • TimRulez

    President Barack Obama, who infamously told US entrepreneurs and other such movers and shakers that “you didn’t build that”.

    Hmmm …

    The greatest leader is unknown to the people,
    a good leader is known and beloved,
    an adequate leader is treated with respect,
    a poor leader is treated with disdain.

    Trust in oneself is not sufficient.
    Indeed, the leader is not worthy of such trust from others.

    Self-effacing, the leader is careful with words.
    Fulfilling duties and accomplishing works for all people,
    who then will say that they did it all themselves.

    Tao Te Ching, Ch. 17

  • Nathan

    There’s plenty of memes showing dogs aren’t always as useful as they’d appear to be

    <- Cat person.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes you are correct Snorri – he was indeed.

  • Paul Marks

    Lee Moore – intellectual property protection.

    Yes – such as the Disney, still living of the copyrights of Walt Disney (a man who died in 1966).

    They have a fanatical hatred of the work of Walt Disney who was from Missouri (boo-hiss) “this is wrong and it was wrong when it was made”, but they live off the copyrights of the man who they hate so much (and who they would “cancel” if he was still alive).

    Every time it looks like the copyrights are going to run out – Congress just changes the law.

    No wonder the Disney Corporation has a fanatical hatred of “capitalism” – to them “capitalism” means what goes on America now, and they know that is hopelessly corrupt (they know because they, the Disney Corporation, are handing out the bribes that create the laws).

  • Paul Marks

    It must be hard for Corporate managers to have any respect for “capitalism” – as they hand out bribes to politicians and officials, and themselves snuffle “cheap money” from the Federal Reserve the other Central Banks and the “pet” banks and finance houses.

    They think this corrupt mess is “capitalism” – so it is no wonder they want to destroy it and replace it with something else (as they were “educated” to do at school and university).

    The trouble is that what they want to replace this corrupt mess with, is WORSE than the corrupt mess that exists now.

  • Stonyground

    Throughout my working life I fixed machinery. Machinery that was used to make stuff. Over my lifetime I have paid roughly half of my hard earned income in tax. I think that I have more than held my end up with regard to the stuff that I supposedly didn’t build.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    I have thought that you could make a good movie, or tv series, about what dogs think is going on amongst their humans. The police dogs might think that the police want to monopolize all the drugs in the neighbourhood, so only the police, and their dogs, can use them. All the dogs might fear that bad dogs get turned into hot dogs. It could be called ‘Howlers!’

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Stonyground – you have.

    Mr Obama was “projecting” – it was he, himself, who was benefitting from a society he did not build. So is Mr Joseph Biden – a man who has got rich from CORRUPTION, not production. These people do nothing but harm.

    The left “project” – they accuse other people of what they, themselves, are guilty of.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Paul Marks: I’ve been struck more than once by the thought that charges of the inherently exploitative nature of labor resonate most strongly with people from an academic background—an intensely hierarchical milieu based on tenure, with ferocious competition for a small number of tenure track positions, and relentless exploitation of graduate students trapped by their hope of getting into those positions.

  • pete

    Dogs can reduce the value of other people’s property if they bark all the time.

    And reduce the enjoyment people get from their home.

    Many dog owners have no objectivity whatsoever about their beloved pets.

    They like them and that’s all they need to know.

    A bit like some people adore the free market because they are doing OK while failing to see why others might not like it so much.

  • Paul Marks


    If you think we have a free market (or anything even close to it) you are mistaken. For example…..

    Have you been asleep for the last year – did you miss the lockdowns? In many American States (although far from all) most business enterprises were shut down, and people were ordered about in every detail of their lives – sound like a “free market” to you?

    Even before the lockdowns – about half the economy in many Western nations was taken up by government spending, and the other half of the economy was riddled with regulations (thousands of pages of distortions).

    As for people supporting the free market because they are “doing O.K.” – many of the super rich hate, indeed detest, what little free market there is left. They are ardent supporters of Collectivism as they have shown in election campaign after election campaign (most recently by their support or Biden/Harris – look up the Senate voting records of this delightful duo) and there long term support of such Collectivist organisations as the World Economic Forum – or perhaps you think that Klaus Schwab is a supporter of the free market. Perhaps he “adores” the liberty he has devoted his life to wiping out.

    Sadly he is not the exception – he is the norm. A lot of the Corporate bureaucracy (as well as government bureaucracy) types have been “educated” the same way he has been. They regard what liberty that remains as a “problem” which they intend to “solve”.

    As for the banking and financial system – it is nothing much to do with Real Savings anymore, it depends on creating money from nothing (with the full backing of the government) and that destroys the basic principles of honest finance and a real economy.

    The Cantillon Effect has been known for 300 years – but never to this extreme.

  • sonny wayz

    “I have thought that you could make a good movie, or tv series, about what dogs think is going on amongst their humans.”

    There’s a series of private detective novels narrated by the detective’s dog. The dog was trained for police work, but on the day of his final exam, there was this squirrel…

    The dog understands English perfectly well, but doesn’t ‘get’idioms or puns. Hilarity ensues.

    Unfortunately, I can’t remember the author’s name. Any help out there?