July 17, 2003

Utility, Stacking the Deck, and Original Appropriation

I'm annoyed by people who claim that Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia presents a strong rights-based case for a minimal-state capitalist regime as moral, just, or in some sense defensible. Like almost all philosophers, Robert Nozick deals from a stacked deck. Let me briefly note one of several places in Nozick's argument where I noted that something was going on very different from Nozick's claim to present a rights-based argument for a minimal-state capitalist utopia:

The place is Nozick's justification for the appropriation and privatization of nature: the dividing-up of natural resources into individuals' private estates. In an original position in which the bounties of nature are unowned and open to all, how can private property possibly arise without violating somebody's rights? Nozick argues that it can, and in so arguing he stacks the deck twice.

The first deck-stacking comes with the replacement of one's natural right (i) to freely and fairly use the different kinds of objects that are the bounty of nature by the right (ii) not to have one's situation worsened by the appropriations of others. As Nozick writes (p. 175):

...an object's coming under one person's ownership changes the situation of all others. Whereas previously they were at liberty... to use the object, they now no longer are. This change in the situation of others... need not worsen their situation. If I appropriate a grain of sand from Coney Island, no one else may now do as they will with that grain of sand. But there are plenty of other grains of sand left for them to do the same with. Or if not grains of sand, then other things. Alternatively, the things I do with the grain of sand I appropriate might improve the position of others, counterbalancing their loss of the liberty to use that grain. The crucial point is whether appropriation of the unowned object worsens the situation of other. Locke's proviso that there be "enough and as good left in common for others" is meant to ensure that the situation of others is not worsened..."

But these two are not identical. The second is not the first. Locke's proviso is not there to make sure that "the situation of others is not worsened." Locke's proviso is there to respect others' rights to free and fair access to the bounties of nature. That violation of someone's rights may not be bad for them is not a valid reson to violate their rights. But Nozick has to pretend that it is, in order to get to his second deck-stacking.

The second deck-stacking comes with Nozick's claim that, even if all of nature is privatized and one has no access at all to its bounties, Locke's proviso has not really been violated: "Is the situation of persons who are unable to appropriate... worsened by a system allowing appropriation and permament property?" (p. 177). Their situations may or may not be worsened in a utilitarian sense. But why is that relevant? Their rights to nature's bounties have definitely been stolen from them. Whatever you decide, they may decide that their situation has indeed been "worsened"--and who are you to gainsay them? Perhaps they are not "worsened" by the fact that the Hetch Hetchy Valley was appropriated and turned into a reservoir. Perhaps they would rather have Hetch Hetchy Valley in its original condition, even if as a consequence they had to live as subsistence hunter-gatherers.

Only a utilitarian with a strong sense of what is the good for others can make such a judgment. I am such a utilitiarian. But Nozick isn't--or claims not to be.

And it is at this point in his argument that Nozick turns into a giant squid and floods the zone with inky blackness (p. 177): "familiar social considerations... private property... increases the social product... putting means of production in the hands of those who can use them most efficiently... experimentation... enables people to decide on... the risks they wish to bear... protects future persons by... futures markets... provides alternate sources of employment for unpopular persons... and so on." All not rights-based but utilitarian justifications: you should be glad that people have stolen your rights to freely use nature because it is good for you that they have done so.

Nozick hastens to claim otherwise (p. 177): "These considerations enter... to support the claim that appropriation of private property satisfies the intent behind the 'enough and as good left over' proviso, not as a utilitarian justification of property." But how can the total privatization of nature satisfy Locke's proviso? Not only is there not "enough, and as good" of nature to use, there is nothing left of one's right to the free and fair use of nature at all. The answer is that it doesn't satisfy Locke's proviso. It does satisfy Nozick's version of Locke's proviso--but only because Nozick has taken away the original natural right (to free and fair use of nature) and dropped in its place a utilitarian claim that one's situation not be "worsened" by the acts of appropriation. Your first-order rights have been replaced with second-order rights not to have your utility reduced.

Rights-based justification of original appropriation my foot. If we allow as a valid argumentative move that of taking a right and turning it into an instrumental way of satisfying a claim not to have one's utility reduced, nothing of Anarchy, State, and Utopia would remain standing.

Oh. You say this utilitarian line wobble in the justification of original appropriation is a one-time thing? And that only Nozick is allowed to do it? <sarcasm>That makes everything OK, then.</sarcasm>

Robert Nozick (1974), Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books: 0465097200).

Posted by DeLong at July 17, 2003 12:42 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Very good post. Nozick's reasoning should shock me, but it doesn't, because my impression is that many, perhaps most, libertarians are primarily interested in enabling a few private interests to collect rents (though they would never admit that). And what better way to do that than appropriating natural resources?

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on July 16, 2003 08:35 PM

Freshman year of college I titled my first major political philosophy essay, "Nozick is an @$$". I changed the title before turning it in, but it always remained in spirit. My T.A. and professor loved it.
I never found Nozick the slightest bit convincing. Aside from mentioning Nozick's failures to stick to the Rights philosophy, it's important to remember that Rights philosophy has to be justified. Why are Rights important? What are Rights? Should government be designed solely with the interests of maintaining Rights?
I have never considered the Right to Property as important as other personal Rights. I think Rawl's justification of Liberalism using the veil of ignorance far more convincing than Nozick's "property Rights because I like property Rights" argument.

Posted by: MDtoMN on July 16, 2003 08:54 PM

Anti-state libertarianism is to the 20th century what marxism was to the 19th century - a home for opposition to the prevailing trend of economics. In the 19th century, capitalization, in the form of industrialism, was the overwhelming economic imperative. Marxism, being the strongest critique of timocratic institutions masquerading as capitalism provided a framework for a religious anti-societal faith which, eventually, could take power.

Libertarianism is the same story to the progress of creation of a utilitarian state-market economy. As a result, while a healthy corrective in opposition - serving, in effect, as the burden of proof on the case of progress along a particular trend line - it is a disaster as the governing ideology.

How disasterous will only be appearant after the current run of megadeficit spending and the resulting de facto default on obligations by the US. This will be the third time that the US has defaulted on previous capital accumulation debts.

The first one was the Civil War, which liquidated the value stored in slaves, the second was the Great Depression, where gold debt was defaulted on.

Things are about to get very interesting, in a Chinese sort of way. Either the American electorate awakens from its stupor and evicts the Reactionary government in power, and engages in a Restoration, which while painful will allow correction without major civil trauma - or it will face, sooner rather than later, a Revolution, with all the uncertainties that Revolution entails.

The messianic quality of Libertarian writings, and the pervasive dishonesty which they engage in, is important. There are gods and there is the satan-stalin-state, the source of all evil. It is a direct attempt to destroy capitalism - which is an ergative theory of rights - and replace it with the historically normal timocratic theory of rights.

Posted by: Stirling S Newberry on July 17, 2003 12:48 AM

Anti-state libertarianism is to the 20th century what marxism was to the 19th century - a home for opposition to the prevailing trend of economics. In the 19th century, capitalization, in the form of industrialism, was the overwhelming economic imperative. Marxism, being the strongest critique of timocratic institutions masquerading as capitalism provided a framework for a religious anti-societal faith which, eventually, could take power.

Libertarianism is the same story to the progress of creation of a utilitarian state-market economy. As a result, while a healthy corrective in opposition - serving, in effect, as the burden of proof on the case of progress along a particular trend line - it is a disaster as the governing ideology.

How disasterous will only be appearant after the current run of megadeficit spending and the resulting de facto default on obligations by the US. This will be the third time that the US has defaulted on previous capital accumulation debts.

The first one was the Civil War, which liquidated the value stored in slaves, the second was the Great Depression, where gold debt was defaulted on.

Things are about to get very interesting, in a Chinese sort of way. Either the American electorate awakens from its stupor and evicts the Reactionary government in power, and engages in a Restoration, which while painful will allow correction without major civil trauma - or it will face, sooner rather than later, a Revolution, with all the uncertainties that Revolution entails.

The messianic quality of Libertarian writings, and the pervasive dishonesty which they engage in, is important. There are gods and there is the satan-stalin-state, the source of all evil. It is a direct attempt to destroy capitalism - which is an ergative theory of rights - and replace it with the historically normal timocratic theory of rights.

Posted by: Stirling S Newberry on July 17, 2003 12:49 AM

Not to defend Nozick or anything, but IIRC he modifies the Lockean Proviso in the face of what he calls the zipper problem. The zipper problem is a regress problem, it goes roughly like: If one is not allowed to remove any amount of a good if doing so would not leave "enough and as good" for others, then (at least for finite goods) there will be a point in the chain of appropriation (say with mister Z) where Z cannot appropriate any further, since that would remove too much of the good. But if Z cannot appropriate any of the good, then Y, the last to appropriate before that situation, caused Z to be left out of the appropriation game. As such, Y's appropriation was forbidden by the Proviso. But if Y's appropriation was so forbidden, so was X's, before him, etc. etc., on back to A. Thus the regress 'zips' back to the beginning, and no appropriation (at least of valuable finite goods) is allowed at all.

Since Nozick takes himself to have demonstrated the untenability of the Lockean version of the Proviso, he substitutes his own, which, as you point out, has a utilitarian flavour, in that it makes reference to the 'position' of the person, relative to some baseline (I think Nozick claims the baseline is one wherein no system of permanent property rights is in play), and this 'position' talk really seems to mean something like the 'utility' or 'happiness' the person has in the two arrangements. Of course, that isn't all there is to utilitarianism. Aside from some hedonistic measure of utility, you also need the maximising principle, and that is lacking here.

That being said, Nozick can still salvage the rights talk, by saying that some rights system is mandated by the utilitarian calculation at the bottom of his theory. This would, in some sense, make him a hedonist (depending on how he actually cashes out 'position' in the new Proviso) but not yet a utilitarian. He would not be claiming that relative utility is the moral measure of things, and that aggregate utility is the principle good. Rather he is saying something like: the ultimate grounding of moral talk (i.e. rights talk) lies in the utility such practice brings. But this justification is just that, a justification for the entire rights system, and not a recipe for making first-order moral decisions, or crafting principles for making such.

Of course, I don't think Nozick does any of this. As far as I can tell, he merely modifies his rights system by this hedonistic proviso, and says nothing at the meta-level much at all.

I'll tell you one way in which (as per above poster) Nozick is like Marx, that book of his has become the standard thesis stalking horse among the poli-philosophy/poli-sci set.

Posted by: epist on July 17, 2003 02:38 AM

I wonder when we'll see the requisite Lockean Founding Father quotes and solemn pledges of devotion?

Posted by: Stan on July 17, 2003 05:33 AM

So, Nozick recasts Locke's purely rights based Proviso into something loosely utilitarian because the rights-based version would undermine Nozick's attempt to make a rights based argument defending property rights and minimal government.

This sounds about right to me, as it closely reflects the intellectual coherence I've observed in most Libertarians I've met.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on July 17, 2003 05:47 AM

"... one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness ..."

Posted by: dsquared on July 17, 2003 06:07 AM

Brad: what was that crack about a "line wobble"? Is that a reference to something someone really said?

I've never read Nozick, but whenever I read his defenders, it always sounds like everything worthwhile in Nozick you can already find in Locke.

Posted by: Walt Pohl on July 17, 2003 06:59 AM

Brad: what was that crack about a "line wobble"? Is that a reference to something someone really said?

I've never read Nozick, but whenever I read his defenders, it always sounds like everything worthwhile in Nozick you can already find in Locke.

Posted by: Walt Pohl on July 17, 2003 07:01 AM

To the best of my knowledge, Brad got the term 'line wobble' from my novel The Cassini Division, and I got it from a small Trotskyist sect. It refers to a party spokesperson or party publication putting forward a position inconsistent with the agreed position ('line') of the party.

I wouldn't call Nozick's argument a line wobble, exactly. The move from 'property rights are sacrosanct' to ' ... but the expropriation of the commons (or the clearance of the peasants from the estates, etc) is for the greater good of all so get into the factory and shut the fuck up' is a major feature of right-libertarianism, and indeed of conservative rhetoric for the last couple of centuries.

Posted by: Ken MacLeod on July 17, 2003 08:14 AM

My reading of Nozick was long ago, but I remember being struck by his repeated use of the "rule of justice in transactions." He was never able to define this rule. On reflection, I came to see this as a fundamental flaw in the system. That is, a just transaction depends on a just society, not the other way around.
This probably implies that a lot of transactions are to some degree unjust (does justice come in degrees, or is it binary?). I have no problem with that.
I don't hold this view overly strongly, because 1) I don't have a proof, or even a well thought out arguement, and 2)I'm painfully aware of my ignorance of the whole area.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on July 17, 2003 08:30 AM

My reading of Nozick was long ago, but I remember being struck by his repeated use of the "rule of justice in transactions." He was never able to define this rule. On reflection, I came to see this as a fundamental flaw in the system. That is, a just transaction depends on a just society, not the other way around.
This probably implies that a lot of transactions are to some degree unjust (does justice come in degrees, or is it binary?). I have no problem with that.
I don't hold this view overly strongly, because 1) I don't have a proof, or even a well thought out arguement, and 2)I'm painfully aware of my ignorance of the whole area.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on July 17, 2003 08:35 AM

"Anti-state libertarianism is to the 20th century what marxism was to the 19th century - a home for opposition to the prevailing trend of economics."

Libertarianism is THE political trend of the 21st century. I'd be happy to bet you that 80%+ of the countries of the world will have smaller central governments (expressed as a percentage of GDP) in 2020 than they have today. And the trend will continue in the two decades after that, and the two decades after that.

"Libertarianism is the same story to the progress of creation of a utilitarian state-market economy. As a result, while a healthy corrective in opposition - serving, in effect, as the burden of proof on the case of progress along a particular trend line - it is a disaster as the governing ideology."

Complete BS. Countries are good places to live almost ***exactly in line*** with their degree of libertarianism. (Libertarianism = laws that only deal with physical harm or fraud; this translates to high levels of both economic and civil liberties freedom.)

This extends from the least libertarian countries of the world (e.g., North Korea, Cuba, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam Hussein) to the most libertarian countries (e.g., U.S., Ireland, Netherlands).

One can see this quantitatively, by constructing the following plot:

1) Rank all countries of the world, from 1 to 175 (or however many countries there are) on the basis of the average value of...

a) their Index of Economic Freedom (as determined by the Heritage Foundation/Cato Institute, et. al.), and

http://www.heritage.org/research/features/index/

b) their Index of Political/Civil freedom (as determined by Freedom House.

http://www.freedomhouse.org

That ranking (the average rank, including both economic and political/civil freedom) would be the X axis. Then, on the Y axis, plot the United Nations Human Development Index (which accounts for per capita income, life expectancy, and education):

http://65.109.106.110/hdr2003/pdf/presskit/HDR03_PKE_HDI.pdf

You'll find a direct correlation between the X-axis values representing the overall freedom ranking (political/civil plus economic)...which is equivalent to "degree of libertarianism"...and the Y-axis values of Human Development Index (not a perfect measure of quality of life, but at least a reasonable one).

"The messianic quality of Libertarian writings, and the pervasive dishonesty which they engage in, is important. There are gods and there is the satan-stalin-state, the source of all evil."

Bullshit. Libertarians are no more dishonest than Democrats, Republicans, or Greens.

"How disasterous will only be appearant after the current run of megadeficit spending and the resulting de facto default on obligations by the US."

Don't blame megadeficit spending on Libertarians! Blame it on Republicans and Democrats. Libertarians would cut federal spending by more than 3 times the projected deficit for FY 2003.

It's Republicans and Democrats that have U.S. troops stationed in 100 countries around the world (101, after they both agree to send U.S. troops to die in Liberia).

It's Democrats and Republicans who give prescription drug money to seniors...arguably the richest segment of U.S. society. (Of course, also the staunchest voters...which is why the Deocrats and Republicans give that money to seniors.)

It's Democrats and Republicans who give big subsidies to rich "farmers." (If one calls Archer Daniels Midland a "farmer.")

It's an utter crock to say that Libertarians (or the philosophy of libertarians) causes federal deficits.

"Either the American electorate awakens from its stupor and evicts the Reactionary government in power,..."

There is precisely ONE Libertarian in the U.S. federal government: Representative Ron Paul (R) of Texas.

The idea that the current government of the U.S. is Libertarian is laughable. The majority (50-80%) of the membership of the Libertarian Party opposed war in Iraq. Virtually every single member of the Libertarian Party opposes both Patriot Act I and II. Virtually every single member of the Libertarian Party opposes Medicare prescription drug benefits. Virtually every single member of the Libertarian Party opposes federal spending on education. Virtually every single member of the Libertarian Party opposed campaign finance reform (aka, the Incumbency Protection Act).

Neither G.W. Bush or Al Gore (or Ralph Nader, or Pat Buchanan) campaigned with libertarian positions on virtually any issue in 2000. It's a complete crock to say that Libertarians are responsible for the government in power in Washington.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 17, 2003 09:16 AM

One parachute for Nozick (a line used in moral theory by, I beleive, Gary Unger) is that Nozick is not being utilitarian, but consequentialist. That is, the consequences of an action justify (or fail to justify) an action. That way, Nozick is not tied to "happiness" as anything but a good amongst others.

As other have pointed out, one cannot say one's spade is turned at "rights"; those rights need a deeper justification. It is my fundamental problem with Kant: his steadfast refusal to JUSTIFY any of his so called "moral rules". How does one adjudicate between conflicting rules (or rights)?

Flaffer

Posted by: Flaffer on July 17, 2003 10:04 AM

Wait, Mark, I am confused. You say that

1) The United States is one of the most libertarian countries in the world

2) And that libertarians are not in power - "It's a complete crock to say that Libertarians are responsible for the government in power in Washington."

3) Nor are they in opposition: "There is precisely ONE Libertarian in the U.S. federal government: Representative Ron Paul (R) of Texas."

yet

4) "Libertarianism is THE political trend of the 21st century."

So how is it that in one of the 3 most libertarian countries in the world, only one out of 536 nationally elected leaders are Libertarian? Shouldn't the people who run on the tenets of "THE political trend of the 21st century" be able to win 1% of the vote in the Presidential election of one of the most libertarian countries in the world?

I am genuinely puzzled. It seems to me that either

a) libertarians overestimate their own importance

b) libertarians refuse to acknowledge that Democrats and Republicans have in fact co-opted the most attractive portions of their agenda

c)there is a large gulf between "libertarians" and "Libertarians" that your rant did not particularly spend much time dissecting

or
d) libertarians represent the 65% of the electorate that does not vote.

I look forward to your thoughts on resolving this conundrum.

Posted by: achilles on July 17, 2003 10:20 AM

"a) their Index of Economic Freedom (as determined by the Heritage Foundation/Cato Institute, et. al.), and"

I believe Daniel Davies was mocking this index earlier in the week.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on July 17, 2003 11:07 AM

"a) their Index of Economic Freedom (as determined by the Heritage Foundation/Cato Institute, et. al.), and"

I believe Daniel Davies was mocking this index earlier in the week.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on July 17, 2003 11:10 AM

Does anyone know what Nozzick would make of the analysis of property rights in "The Mystery of Capital". To me it seems to show that property rights are extremely hard to pin down even in the simplest cases and as such pretty hard to build a theory on. If property rights are hard to define, the evolving work of generations and indeed different in different places, how can they act as a universal trump card?

This is only a query about the foundations of the theory but if rights are fluid or protean, all that is left is some particular and not entirely well specified implementation of consequentialism. Maybe.

Posted by: Jack on July 17, 2003 11:13 AM

"Nozick is not being utilitarian, but consequentialist. That is, the consequences of an action justify (or fail to justify) an action."

Consequentialism. Isn't that similar to what Peirce said about his pragmatic theory of meaning having something to do with considering the consequences of our words. Maybe Nozick is using a pragmatic argument. I've noticed that many realists turn pragmatic in the breach of the argument.

"This is only a query about the foundations of the theory but if rights are fluid or protean, all that is left is some particular and not entirely well specified implementation of consequentialism."

Maybe Nozick is really a sophisticated Rortian neo-pragmatist. Doesn't that explain why most people are Libertarians? They like the vocabulary. "Oh and that Ayn Rand, shouldn't she have won a nobel prize in literature?"

Posted by: Steve on July 17, 2003 12:16 PM

> Like almost all philosophers, Robert Nozick deals from a stacked deck.

Well, since you said "almost", can you name one who doesn't?

Posted by: Bucky Dent on July 17, 2003 12:24 PM

I used to be a right-libertarian, and am now a left-libertarian. Some thoughts:

1. The move from right to left was slow and painful, because as good as many of the criticisms of libertarianism are, few addressed the main reason I felt tied to the ideology: coersion. The above criticisms demonstrate this: none acknowledges the fundimental truth that government is coersion, and that passing a law involves imposing the will of the powerful on an individual at the point of a gun.

2. The problem of the justness of the initial appropriation of property is the BIG GLARING HOLE in right-libertarian theory. This slid me from right to left. But I have a challenge for those who are no kind of libertarian: If you accept a more egalitarian redistribution of property, where else does Nosick's analysis fail? That is, except for distribution of property issues, when else can you justify bringing out the government's guns?

3. The question above about The Mystery of Capital is a good one. This book, whose cover contains many positive quotes of support from conservatives, but not libertarians, is an emperical death blow to the idea that private property can create a functioning capitalist ecconomy without the coersive intervention of the state.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 17, 2003 12:30 PM

I'll note that Mark has not responded to the basic philosophical errors with the "right" to property. He instead is arguing the minutia. Soon we'll have an oath of fealty to a quote by one of our founding fathers? It'll be touching!

Posted by: Stan on July 17, 2003 12:35 PM

Decnavda, are you asking if there are any problems with Libertarian ideal of non-intervention in external affairs (aka, the wait until the costs are much higher plan)?

Posted by: Stan on July 17, 2003 01:29 PM

Holy Crap!!

I just read read the post below re: Nosick & rectification. The quote from pp. 230-1 practically conceeds everythings to left-libertarians. My favorite is this:

The issues are very complex and are best left to a full treatment of the principle of rectification. In the absence of such a treatment... one cannot use the analysis and theory presented here to condemn any particular scheme of transfer payments....

Oh, and by the way, ingor everything in this book about property rights untill someone writes a book addressing this other topic.

So? Has Nosick or any other right-libertarian who quotes him ever done such a treatment?

Posted by: Decnavda on July 17, 2003 01:39 PM

Stan -
No. That's a Libertarian Party position re: foreign policy that does not neccesarily stem from libertarian philosophy and can be disputed among adherents, since the existence of other nations screws up any utopian philosophy.

I mean two things:

1. Freedom requires individual property rights, that is, to be free, I must have a place to act on my own free of coersive interference, and resources with which to act.

2. Once you have established the intial allocation of property (whether accepting the status quo, or allowing the government to collect rent taxes on wealth to be distributed equally to all individuals, or whatever you think just), what are the problems with Nosick's rights based justification for allowing free markets as simply consisting of free and just transfers?

Posted by: Decnavda on July 17, 2003 01:57 PM

"Wait, Mark, I am confused. You say that

1) The United States is one of the most libertarian countries in the world

2) And that libertarians are not in power - 'It's a complete crock to say that Libertarians are responsible for the government in power in Washington.'"

..."So how is it that in one of the 3 most libertarian countries in the world, only one out of 536 nationally elected leaders are Libertarian?"

It means that there is a long way to go, ****for all countries,**** to get to Libertarianism (i.e., only having laws that deal with physical force or fraud).

"Shouldn't the people who run on the tenets of "THE political trend of the 21st century" be able to win 1% of the vote in the Presidential election of one of the most libertarian countries in the world?"

Not necessarily. There are 3 reasons why that's not necessarily true: 1) Like I wrote, there's a long way to go for all countries, to get to completely Libertarian government, 2) the U.S. Libertarian Party has never had a Ross Perot, a Ralph Nader, or Jesse Ventura as a Presidential candidate (that is, someone who is already famous, or even better, RICH and famous, who argues well for Libertarian positions), and 3) Democrats and Republicans are quite good at writing laws and buying influence, in order to keep other parties out of political debate in the U.S.

"I am genuinely puzzled. It seems to me that either..."

"a) libertarians overestimate their own importance"

No. It's reasonable to say that socialism (including communism, and social democracy) was THE political/economic trend of the 20th century...at least until the end of the 20th century. But there were few, if any, socialists in any positions of power in 1903.

Socialism (including communism, and social democracy) will be replaced in the 21st century by libertarianism. This can be seen by:

1) the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Block, and the trends away from socialism in China and India,

2) the move away from government ownership of industries around the world,

3) the pruning back of the welfare state in the U.S. and Western Europe (e.g. Sweden has gone from government spending equal to 67% of GDP, down to about 50% of GDP, and

4) retirement privatization or partial privatization in Chile, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, and elsewhere.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/catosletters/cl-15.pdf

"b) libertarians refuse to acknowledge that Democrats and Republicans have in fact co-opted the most attractive portions of their agenda..."

No. Democrats and Republicans have co-opted virtually nothing of what Libertarians stand for:

1) Neither Democrats or Republicans have shown any inclination to end the illegal and immoral War on Some Drugs (including the Democrats' and Republicans' illegal and immoral War on Sick People exemplified by federal laws against medical marijuana),

2) Neither Democrats or Republicans have made any attempt to return the United States to a republic, from the empire it has become, by removing U.S. troops from the ~100 countries in which they are now stationed,

3) Neither Democrats or Republicans have made any attempts to reduce federal ownership of land, and

4) Neither Democrats or Republicans have made any attempt to substantially reduce federal government spending.

"c)there is a large gulf between "libertarians" and "Libertarians" that your rant did not particularly spend much time dissecting..."

Well, this is true to some extent. The Libertarian Party is PURE libertarianism...it supports essentially zero laws that do not protect people from violence or fraud. There are a fair number of libertarians who are (unnecessarily, in my opinion) troubled by eliminating ALL laws except those that involve violence or fraud. Many of these libertarians are also conservatives, in that they worry about the sudden shocks that would occur from a step change in immediately eliminating all laws, except those that deal with violence or fraud.

But another significant problem is that many libertarians are still extremely confused about voting in the United States. They think that if they don't vote for one of the two major parties that they are "throwing their vote away." In fact, the opposite is true (unless they live are voting for the U.S. House of Representatives, and live in Ron Paul's district). They are throwing their votes away if they vote anything OTHER THAN Libertarian, if they think the Libertarian candidate best represents their views.

SUMMARY: The 21st century is young, and all governments currently have a long way to go to be Libertarian (i.e., only having laws dealing with force and fraud). But the trend towards libertarianism, from WWII onward, is already clear.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 17, 2003 02:35 PM

Jason McCullough writes, ""I believe Daniel Davies was mocking this index (the Index of Economic Freedom) earlier in the week."

Yes, and Daniel Davies didn't know what he was talking about. That's a significant problem with Mr. Davies. He mocks people even when he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Mr. Davies attempted to make the claim that governments not inflating away private individuals' money, and governments protecting private individuals' property, was just a step towards the government actually GIVING private individuals money, or providing individuals with services. That was nonsense; it was only true in Mr. Davies' socialist dreams. There is a very clear difference--to everyone but Democrats and Greens--between not taking (e.g. inflating away) a person's money, and giving a person money.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 17, 2003 02:48 PM

Sorry, Mark, I still don't see how you can simultaneously claim that rich countries like the U.S. are libertarian ones while claiming that we don't yet have libertarian leaders because social democracy was the dominant political trend of the 20th century in these countries.

Surely then, the current wealth of the United States and Western Europe must more closely be attributed to social democracy (the dominant political movement that did exist) than to libertarianism (the wave of the future that according to you does not yet exist in these countries)?

Also, the arguments about "a long way to go before complete Libertarian government is achived" or the claims that the Libertarian party is just waiting for a charismatic knight in shiny armor are just cop-outs. If libertarianism is the dominant movement that will help (and has helped raise) all from poverty to prosperity should they not be able to get at least a few percentage points of the vote and get a few members elected to Congress? In other words, there is a rather large void between Harry Browne's vote totals and 'complete Libertarian government'.

So after reading all the tortured explanations about how libertarians don't vote for libertarians because they worry about throwing their vote away and how the two party system combines to keep you guys down, let me offer an alternative Occam's Razor based explanation:

True libertarians are just another crank extremist group with an overwhelming sense of self-importance who think they alone have the key to Utopia. They are justly relegated to the margins like any other fringe group in U.S. politics.

Posted by: achilles on July 17, 2003 02:51 PM

"I'll note that Mark has not responded to the basic philosophical errors with the "right" to property."

That's because Mark:

1) Doesn't have time, except at lunch and after work,

2) Doesn't particularly like to deal in abstractions, when specific positions on concrete issues are more important.

Now that I'm off work, I'll get down to responding to Dr. DeLong's analysis. (As best I can; part of the reason I don't like dealing with abstractions is that I don't think well, abstractly.) Let's take the land area that now makes up the continental United States, as that illustrates some considerations for property rights.

One can say that the Native Americans "owned" the entire continental United States. That is, maybe 5 million Native Americans owned all of the current 48 states. But it wasn't individual ownership.

Then the Europeans came. Sometimes they bought land from the Native Americans (e.g. Manhattan Island). Maybe the Native Americans didn't even understand that they were selling the land, so maybe the contracts for places like Manhattan Island weren't even valid.

Sometimes the Europeans simply arrived, and squatted on the land, and the Native Americans didn't have the military prowess to kick the Europeans out. Sometime the Europeans arrived, and the Native Americans didn't particularly mind if the Europeans squatted. Sometimes the Europeans arrived, and unknowingly gave Native Americans diseases for which the Native Americans had no immunity, thus killing off the Native Americans.

Whatever.

In any case, the Native Americans who were wronged, if any of them were, are long dead. Maybe their descendants are owed money for the land. Or maybe maybe not.

Whatever.

All these issues are of little interest to me. I attach little importance to them, regarding *my* life. What's important to **me** is that I own a townhome. I don't own the land around the townhome; my townhome owner's association does. That, in my mind, is the ONLY property I own in the whole world. I don't own any part of state or national forests, or any part of the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, or anywhere else on earth. Just my townhome.

Now, you can say that I really don't have a right to own the townhome that I own. You can say that anyone should be able to come and take it away from me. Well, if so, then I am going to take another townhome near me (a better one, hopefully) and live in that. Until, of course, I have to go to sleep, and someone comes and takes THAT townhome from me. In which case, I'll go get ANOTHER townhome.

Doesn't anybody see where this all leads?

If there are no property rights, then basically the people with who have the most powerful and accurate guns own whatever property they want...but only if they don't ever sleep (sort of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers). In PRACTICAL terms, this sort of situation can't possibly be economically or socially the best way to run things.

Yes, some Native Americans--maybe MOST Native Americans--got screwed at one time or another. They lost property that they morally had a right to. But I don't have a clue as to how to "make it right"...especially since those people who got screwed are long dead.

The only thing that seems important to me now is to make sure that no one else gets screwed, if at all possible. That means I keep my townhome. And that means Ted Turner keeps the millions of acres HE owns in New Mexico, and Montana, and whatever other states he owns property in. I won't take take Ted Turner's land, if he doesn't try to take my townhome. And I think the government should make sure neither situation occurs.

Oh, another thing:

The U.S. government now owns a shockingly large, immoral and illegal amount of land (roughly 1/3rd of the total land area of the U.S.). All of that should be transferred to private ownership.

Maybe it should be given to Native Americans. Maybe it should be given to State governments. Maybe it should be auctioned. I like that last idea, even though I don't quite understand it:

http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-363es.html

Note: Since one of the authors is a Nobel laureate in economics, I assume that the idea makes some sense, even if it isn't the best possible idea. It couldn't possibly be worse than the present immoral and illegal situation, where the U.S. government is owning land outside of Washington DC and military air bases (the only places the U.S. government can legally own land, according to the Constitution).

Those are Mark's thoughts on the issue of property rights. Mark is tired and hungry; so much so, that Mark is writing in the third person. Mark will get dinner now. ;-)


Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 17, 2003 03:31 PM

Mark Bahner-
Getting back to the original discussion...

Can YOU defend Nosick's, or any other right-libertarian's, acceptance of the status quo distribution of wealth? And if not (as Nosick actually admitted he could not), what plan of rectification would you precribe (as Nosick said was necessary)?

Posted by: Decnavda on July 17, 2003 03:38 PM

"Sorry, Mark, I still don't see how you can simultaneously claim that rich countries like the U.S. are libertarian ones while claiming that we don't yet have libertarian leaders because social democracy was the dominant political trend of the 20th century in these countries."

It's quite simple. On a scale from 0 (North Korea) to 100 (perfectly Libertarian society), the United States might be have averaged a "50" over the whole century 20th century.

Now, the U.S. per capita GDP growth during the 20th century averaged something like 2.8% per year. Well, if the U.S. had been a 100 percent Libertarian society, the U.S. per capita GDP growth would have been more like 5% per year. (On average...there would have been greater swings of boom and bust.)

In other words, we are rich because we're at least PARTLY libertarian...but we'd be much MORE rich if we'd been fully (100%) Libertarian.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 17, 2003 03:44 PM

"Mark Bahner-
Getting back to the original discussion...

Can YOU defend Nosick's, or any other right-libertarian's, acceptance of the status quo distribution of wealth?"

As I wrote, Mark Bahner is hungry. I shouldn't have even wrote that last post, but now I'll write this one:

I accept the present distribution of wealth, because I do not know how to "fix" it in a way that ALSO isn't unjust.

The only exceptions I have for this assessment (that I accept the present distribution of wealth) is where pickpockets currently have wallets belonging to other people, or con artists have little old ladies' houses, which the con artists have obtained by swindling.

I don't know how to address the Native Americans who were screwed hundreds of years ago. (Or the French government and French people, who got a really bad deal when they sold land in the Lousiana Purchase.) (Which wasn't their land, anyway, of course.) (Now I'm getting a headache from hunger and thought.)

G'night.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 17, 2003 03:54 PM

Man, I need to start using the preview button.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 17, 2003 03:59 PM

"I accept the present distribution of wealth, because I do not know how to "fix" it in a way that ALSO isn't unjust."

The world is unjust, and there is no way to make it just.

Honest. But not likely to win many converts.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 17, 2003 04:05 PM

"I accept the present distribution of wealth, because I do not know how to "fix" it in a way that ALSO isn't unjust."

The world is unjust, and there is no way to make it just.

Honest. But not likely to win many converts.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 17, 2003 04:11 PM

"In an original position in which the bounties of nature are unowned and open to all, how can private property possibly arise without violating somebody's rights?"

Easy - the Australian "Terra Nullius" way. The whole point of that is that you assert that "unowned" means that nobody has property rights in it. Then, just as "nemo dat quod non habet" (nobody can give what is not his), so also nobody can claim against you for doing something with what was not his.

Imagine someone taking a place on a beach; nobody else can object. Now imagine his refusing to get out without consideration; who else has the right to object? It is a mere private arrangement, in which the others have no standing - they had rights over what was not taken, but not over what was (if they had, that would have undercut their own rights to take). Nothing in the system imposes temporary taking, and more importantly, nobody has any standing to dispute the rights of the matter - there are no rights to lose, other than by the exercise of the same rights.

The Australian matter was not altered by denying the logic, but by asserting that there were in fact property rights before - which would in turn lead to there being prior rights which could be violated by later taking by others.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on July 17, 2003 04:31 PM

Decnavda - The current distribution of property is only slightly correlated with the distribution 50 years ago, and is completely uncorrelated with the distribution 500 years ago. Nozick's theory is concerned with the transition from the state of nature to the establishment of private property at the time agriculture was invented ~12,000 years ago. However arbitrary that initial property distribution may have been, it cannot be an injustice to anyone alive today, because it did not affect current property distributions. Thus there is no need for 'rectification' today.

Posted by: Paul Jaminet on July 17, 2003 06:12 PM

Another important point here: Nozick's argument is that any just initial situation that evolves through just actions/transactions must result in a just end situation. Thus, he wants to show that there could have been a series of just actions/transactions from the state of nature that would have led to a modern-day society like his night-watchman state. That existence theorem is important, because it mitigates certain objections ...

Now, that's not how history actually went: real life was full of unjust acts. But it's in the nature of injustice that there's no way to rectify it -- injustice is destructive, and because of the long train of destructive acts, there isn't enough wealth in the world today to make everyone whole for past injustices.

So, given past injustices, today's distribution is somewhat arbitrary. But we are free to mutually agree to accept today's distribution; in which case, Nozick argues, by limiting ourselves to just actions/transactions we can make sure that all future distributions are also just.

Posted by: Paul Jaminet on July 17, 2003 06:28 PM

Paul-
"But we are free to mutually agree to accept today's distribution;"

Um, are some individuals free NOT to agree to accept today's distribution? If not, is it really free? And given the electorial success of the Libertarian Party, how likely is it that everyone WILL mutually agree, assuming they are free to or not?

Posted by: Decnavda on July 17, 2003 07:54 PM

"Yes, and Daniel Davies didn't know what he was talking about. That's a significant problem with Mr. Davies. He mocks people even when he doesn't know what he's talking about."

That's one of his assets! I mean, this can sure be a humorless place, and we need people who will e.g. attack the USS Clueless for his choice (wrong, oh well) of car.

But as for "didn't know what he was talking about" in the instance cited, that's a genuine nearly spherical blob of scarab beetle food.

Posted by: Russell L. Carter on July 17, 2003 08:17 PM

"The world is unjust, and there is no way to make it just."

"Honest. But not likely to win many converts."

Converts?

You mean people who think I have no right to my townhome, because some white man forcibly appropriated the land on which my townhome rests, from Native Americans, over 250 years ago?

Or people who think I have no right to my townhome, because a white man who owned the land on which it rests owned slaves, over 150 years ago?

It seems to me that such potential "converts" have so little agreement with what I consider to be just, that I have little hope of "converting" them.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 17, 2003 08:46 PM

"Now, the U.S. per capita GDP growth during the 20th century averaged something like 2.8% per year. Well, if the U.S. had been a 100 percent Libertarian society, the U.S. per capita GDP growth would have been more like 5% per year."

Please. That would mean that the United States would have a per capita GDP level 8 times higher than what it is today - around $250,000 in fact.

If you think you have a set of policies that can make voters on average 8 times richer and yet end up winning less than 1% of the vote and onlly get 1 out of 536 nationally elected leaders into power then you are either
a) deluded
b) the worst communicator in the world

I am hoping that Mark is a fringe libertarian here and the rest of you are more sensible. If not, perhaps the libertarians should start running infomercials on weekend TV: certainly the claims sound no different than the spam that shows up in my mailbox promising similarly large increases or reductions in various body parts.

Posted by: achilles on July 17, 2003 08:58 PM

You can argue any position you want if you are allowed to stipulate "rights" at the outset. Since Nozick never provides any support for his rights in the first place, his entire argument is an exercise in spelling out the consequences of his initial assumptions. Boring.

Also, some of the above posts are right to ask about the justice of transactions. One implication of Nozick's theory is that eventually, as a result of many historically unjust transactions, (e.g. robbing, stealing, corporate fraud etc.) almost all transactions are ultimately tainted since there is an invidious multiplier effect.

Imagine that there is an unjust transaction: say person x steals some money. From that point on all future transactions involving that unjustly appropriated money are all tainted, and so on and so on, and... After enough history and enough unjust transactions, there will hardly be any possibility that any transactions will be entirely free of untainted money. Thus Nozick's argument is further reduced to absurdity.

Posted by: The Fool on July 17, 2003 09:49 PM

"If you think you have a set of policies that can make voters on average 8 times richer and yet end up winning less than 1% of the vote and onlly get 1 out of 536 nationally elected leaders into power then you are either
a) deluded
b) the worst communicator in the world"

~~~
It is readily visible that governments and politicians around the world pick their policies on the basis of many things other than optimizing economic growth -- and in fact are happy to sacrifice optimum growth for their own self interest. And their political success is proof that voters are happy to let them do it.

So what makes one think that voters would be impressed by a promise of mere 5% growth, even most eloquently stated?

"OK, you promise the nation 5% growth -- but I have to give up my rent control, my crop supports, the trade barriers that protect my job, my tax deductions, my mortgage interest deduction, my "can never be fired" protection with my government job, my transfer payments ... you're party is going right to Row Z"

Posted by: Jim Glass on July 17, 2003 09:55 PM

stirling newberry writes...."Anti-state libertarianism is to the 20th century what marxism was to the 19th century - a home for opposition to the prevailing trend of economics. In the 19th century, capitalization, in the form of industrialism, was the overwhelming economic imperative.".....I smell Larouche or 'resentiment'....nietzche, bawhahahah....can I scribble too?

Posted by: sko on July 17, 2003 11:02 PM

Mark Bahner wrote, "Or people who think I have no right to my townhome, because a white man who owned the land on which it rests owned slaves, over 150 years ago?"

No, the point is much deeper than your parody of the argument. Rather, why should some people be able to "own" land exclusively? That question can be put even in the absence of *other* past, historical injustices.

No one made land; it was bestowed, if you will, by the Creator.

Now, of course, it's reasonable to argue that for economically desirable outcomes, we should construct a notion of "ownership of land". But note that
(a) this notion is guaranteed by the State, and the State only;
(b) this notion is valid only as a *derived* principle, namely it gives rise to desirable outcomes---it has no a priori justification in and of itself.

But note that (b) demolishes the entire premise of libertarianism---which is that not only are certain rights likely to yield "good outcomes," these rights themselves are natural and just. In some sense that's the entire point of Brad's post, a point that libertarians cannot answer. (For further argument on this point, I suggest you google on "geolibertarians"---folks who are intellectually honest enough to deal with this point and go on from there.)

Furthermore:

(1) If we look at "derived principles," then pure libertarianism, at least, is a silly program, because it is anarchist, which (despite the rantings of anarcho-capitalists) is bound to lead to disaster.
(2) Even in the weaker case of derived principles, the notion of ownership of land is both unjust and economically inefficient unless government can recapture land rents. Libertarian rants about redistributionist welfare policies are silly, because they overlook the redistribution of the value of land rent to landlords, which some folks put at around 5% GDP per annum.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on July 18, 2003 04:42 AM

Jim Glass wrote, "OK, you promise the nation 5% growth -- but I have to give up my rent control, my crop supports, the trade barriers that protect my job, my tax deductions, my mortgage interest deduction, my "can never be fired" protection with my government job, my transfer payments ... you're party is going right to Row Z"

Jim, you forgot "my right to profit from pointless military weapons development and procurement, creation of professional barriers to entry like licensure of lawyers and physicians...my right to profit from land rent, itself a transfer payment that likely dwarfs those cited by right-wingers...my right to economic rents stemming from State-backed intellectual property rights guarantees...my right to reap pharmaceutical profits and in tandem my right to lower income taxes (which pay for the bulk of the pure biomedical research that make those profits possible)..."

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on July 18, 2003 04:53 AM

Jim, the delusional part of Mark's 5% growth statement is carried in the belief that we wouldn't have more rent seeking monopolization with the amount of wealth concentration radical right Libertarianism will lead to. Using his same worldwide guage on wealth distribution and democracy isn't very pretty. It is equally poor on growth. Liberty for the few. Yeah.

Posted by: Stan on July 18, 2003 05:45 AM

There are plenty of fringe political ideas that promise outrageous growth rates and social utopias: they are on the fringe for a reason.

If true libertarianism can deliver a country like the United States 5% growth for a century one has to have a compelling explanation for why such a movement still rests in the far wilderness of power. The argument that this movement is being held back by rent-seeking special interest groups would be a lot more compelling if it could muster up more votes than Pat Buchanan, a man who seems to run on the idea that what is holding us back are dirty, brown skinned foreigners.

So unless Mark can show example of countries outside the United States that have practiced this ideologically pure form of libertarianism and achieved the kind of outrageous economic growth figures he cliams it will bring, I would assert that this type of libertarian utopian fantasy - free of tyranny, full of prosperity sounds just as deluded as its ideological polar opposite: pure communism with its promise of equality for all.

Posted by: achilles on July 18, 2003 06:08 AM

Paul, the correlation is extremely high for longer than 500 years. Native Americans owned the entire continents of North and South America. What percentage do they now own? How about black Africans in Africa? Aboriginals in Australia? Whose families captured most of that property at transfer and how are they doing today?

"Nozick's theory is concerned with the transition from the state of nature to the establishment of private property at the time agriculture was invented ~12,000 years ago."

I believe that you are incorrect that it is a once off problem. I believe that logically the distribution occurs with every birth. For philosophical simplicity it is set as a once off problem so that a linkage of just transactions can be acheived.

"But it's in the nature of injustice that there's no way to rectify it -- injustice is destructive, and because of the long train of destructive acts, there isn't enough wealth in the world today to make everyone whole for past injustices.

So, given past injustices, today's distribution is somewhat arbitrary. But we are free to mutually agree to accept today's distribution."

We are also free to mutually agree that we should continually try to adjust for the arbitrary distribution in the interest of more important pursuits like life and liberty. The point is that it is a choice. There is no basic "natural right". It is a bestowed right.

Posted by: Stan on July 18, 2003 06:23 AM

Bestowed right, is right. In Britain we have a dreadful system of inheritence which means that land is not only unequally distributed (only 6,000 people own 66% of all the land - we have a population of nearly 60m) but that it tends to stay that way.

People often wonder how it is that the "Workshop of the World" and the greatest empire there ever was (apart from the current American one, obviously) came to fall apart. I would argue it was due to outrageous land prices, caused by unnatural scarcity. Caused, naturally enough, by the descendents of the Plantagenets.

So it really is the fault of the French, after all.

Posted by: Larry Lurex on July 18, 2003 06:56 AM

The Libertarian Party shouts and bellows and claws against Democratic Party policies it doesn't like, and it whispers against Republican Party policies it doesn't like. I know Harry Browne opposed Iraq, but I didn't see him among the protestors, nor any libertarians.

As long as the libertarian party pretends independence from the Republicans, but, in pragmatic political fact, support Republicanism by a constant barrage of anti-Democratic Party rhetoric and gatherings, the outside world will know the truth:

The Libertarian movement is a shill for Reactionary Republicanism that wants to deny linkage as a means of avoiding responsibility for the downside of their own policy regime and policy preferences. This pattern is common among zealots, it exists so that they can always claim that the problem is lack of purity, which leads to the conclusion that the solution is another round of revolution, or purge or whatever other anti-social mechanism the zealots perfer.

I would be very happy if the Libertarian Party would start running in elections, consistently, that cost Republicans seats, forcing the Republican party to protect this splinter of their support. This happened in 2002, so perhaps it is an encouraging sign that libertarianism is beginning to show some independence.

Would help if they stopped taking all the Republican contributions to think tanks too, but one step at a time.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on July 18, 2003 07:15 AM

I don't see why if 50 per cent libetarianism produces the rischest country in the world (apart from Luxemberg and Lichtenstein), 100 per cent would be better. It's never been tried and there's no reason to suppose that it would be any better than say either a 0 per cent or a 100 per cent tax rate would be. It is obviously useful rhetorically because there is always something to blame present woes on.

I will be more impressed by an argument that say 60 per cent libertarianism would be an improvement than by an argument of historical inevitability of a libertarian utopia.

Posted by: Jack on July 18, 2003 07:20 AM

Libertarianism is a baseless philosophy that depends entirely on a priori assumptions about ghostly "rights". If I am allowed to make whatever assumptions I want at the outset, I can prove anything I like. This is why, as DeLong points out, even Nozick finds it necessary to fall back on covert utilitarianism.

Posted by: The Fool on July 18, 2003 07:23 AM

Decnavda - "Acceptance" is what brings about social peace. Israelis and Palestinians are free to accept a peace settlement; they may not, and the consequences are continued fighting. Similarly, we could fight about which material possessions rightfully belong to whom. But it's more fruitful to accept some arrangement and move on to more productive activities.

Stan - Your point about Native Americans supports my argument that wealth is uncorrelated. (Rich then, poor now = uncorrelated or anti-correlated.) The African example doesn't touch the point without any evidence presenting distribution of income within African populations 500 years ago, distribution now, and showing that descendants of Africans rich 500 years ago are richer than descendants of Africans poor 500 years ago.

Perhaps you are confusing this issue with the question of whether the relative wealth of societies is correlated with those of societies 500 years ago.

"the distribution occurs with every birth" -- you seem to be imagining a situation in which infants gain property rights by virtue of being born. But since property is finite, this means it has to be taken away from someone. Who?

Interestingly, this is precisely what happens in the U.S. today. Parents have an obligation to care for their children; "deadbeat dads" are forced to give their possessions to their kids. Isn't it reasonable that parents should be the ones whose property is taken?

As far as the ability to mutually agree to redistribute property regularly, Nozick's theory of justice permits just that. What his theory objects to is redistribution without mutual consent. When redistribution occurs at gunpoint, without the consent of those whose property is taken, one can ask how it is distinct from theft. Given that we regard theft as wrong, this is a real problem.

Posted by: Paul Jaminet on July 18, 2003 07:26 AM

Paul, the points appear to have been missed:

Made poor by military conquest the groups I pointed out are still primarily dispossessed. Those who dispossessed them are still primarily in possession. The correlation is extremely high. Nearly 1 to 1. You have to assume individual rights to property to come to your conclusion.

The same is true with your problem of taking property from somebody to give to a baby. You seem to be imagining a situation in which fixed natural property rights exist. Why?

Just because somebody doesn't want to pay a tax, doesn't give them the "right" to not pay it. Why are we suddenly back to assuming a natural right to property?

It is only to the extent that somebody has "created" property that redistribution at gun point might equal theft. Under what terms does somebody create property? How are the rules determined? What compensation is valid? The whole edifice rests on nothing.

Posted by: Stan on July 18, 2003 08:30 AM

My last point should begin: Since we bestow property rights, "it is only to the extent that somebody has "created" property that redistribution at gun point might equal theft."

Posted by: Stan on July 18, 2003 08:38 AM

Stephen Fromm asks, "Rather, why should some people be able to "own" land exclusively?"

For exactly the reason I detailed in my "parody!" If my townhome owners' association does NOT own the land on which my townhome rests, then when I'm at work, someone can bulldoze down my townhome, and put in a parking lot. So, if the townhome owners' association does NOT own the land on which my townhome rests, that townhome is far less valuable to me. I'd be wise to buy a home where I (or someone whom I've contracted with, like the homeowners' association) DO own the land. And if there is NOWHERE where I own the land, I'll just get by through taking other peoples' lands by force. Exactly as I described in my "parody." (Which wasn't a "parody" at all.)

How is this complicated, or difficult to see?

"Now, of course, it's reasonable to argue that for economically desirable outcomes, we should construct a notion of "ownership of land"."

Yes, exactly as it's reasonable to argue that, for economically desirable outcomes, there is a "right to life." And exactly as it's reasonable to argue that, for economically desirable outcomes, there is a "right to liberty."

This demonstrates the foolishness of this whole debate. Of COURSE the "right to pursue property" is an artificial construct. Just like the "right to life" and the "right to liberty" are artifical constructs. And, in fact, history has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that ALL those "unalienable" rights can, in practice, be taken away. Jefferson was writing about what OUGHT TO BE, not what physically was. The fact that he owned slaves, who had neither liberty nor the ability to own property, demonstrates that quite clearly.

"But note that
(a) this notion (ownership of property) is guaranteed by the State, and the State only;..."

The right to own property is indeed secured by the State. But not by "the State only." Plenty of pieces of property are "protected by Smith & Wesson." Or look at the final scene of the movie, "The Witness" (with Harrison Ford and the stunning Kelly McGillis). The Amish kid rings a bell indicating distress, and all the Amish neighbors come running. None of them are armed (except maybe with pitchforks). None of them represent the government. The guy with the shotgun is left with the choice of killing them all, or deciding that enough people had already been killed. (Good movie.)

So you're absolutely wrong...the State is NOT the only way to secure the right of ownership of property. But it's a decent way.

"(b) this notion is valid only as a *derived* principle, namely it gives rise to desirable outcomes---it has no a priori justification in and of itself."

Yes, and my right to ownership of what's in my wallet is a "derived principle"...or what I previously called an "artificial construct."

And my right to life is an artificial construct. My "right to ownership of land" is no more artificial than my "right to life." This is demonstrated by the fact that the majority of human beings assign no "right to life" to any creatures but homo sapiens. The fact that most human beings assign a "right to life" ONLY to homo sapiens has "no a priori justification." If you cut off a man's arm, the law will punish you. But there are no laws against cutting the grass...cutting off all their little arms, while they scream in pain. There is no "a priori justification" for that.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 18, 2003 09:14 AM

Paul, all the non-correlations you mention happened because of transactions that are likely unjust. The difficulty and unintended consequences of unravelling all unjust transactions are a serious concern but surely these examples are enough to undermine the presumption that the status quo is fair.

It also does not follow that a series of just transactions results in a just outcome. Without broadening the concept of justice to the point of unintelligibiity it cannot include the transactions that didn't happen nor does it preclude the possibility that a redistribution is a just transaction. The whole concept is also highly susceptible to a no such animal objection.

Also it is accepted by many libertarians that there is a role for the state in preventing violence. The argument above suggests that the barrels of all guns are equal. That is a highly unnatural assumption, there is a big difference between the barrel of an accountable gun that is used in an orderly manner and the many freelnace gunpoints that might be the alternative.

There is even the argument that the state of nature has no normative value to begin with the idea of the naturalistic fallacy.

I have no argument with the idea that the government might be smaller and that coercion should be minimised but much libertarian rhetoric is as utopian and as unrealistically demanding of human nature as communism. As a result libertarians often seem to dismiss real problems as being hte result of too little of the good stuff. That is the seed of extremism.

In addition, strictly interpreted, it offers no guidance in just the sort of areas that a theory of its type ought to apply. I give the example of US squatters right and sweat equity vs British property law that appears in The Mystery of Capital as an example if others don't instantly spring to mind and the ones presented here do not suffice.

Posted by: Jack on July 18, 2003 09:24 AM

Mark Stephen's point is not that you shouldn't in practice have a right to your townhome, it is that the right is not unlimited, not "natural" and doesn't automatically trump other arguments. It becomes a pragmatic and one argument among many.

Also how is the state is surely the same sort of thing as the group action of the Amish. I think it is a term used sloppily by all sides.

Finally even stating with a right to ownership of land it is not totally clear what that might be. The objection here is to the priority of such rights.

Posted by: Jack on July 18, 2003 09:42 AM

This whole post and discussion makes me wonder what books of Julian Simon's that Dr. DeLong has read? "Things Are Getting Better All the Time," I know about.

But how about, "Ultimate Resource II?"

If Dr. DeLong has read "Ultimate Resource II," and agrees with the conclusion of the book, this whole obsession with who owns land seems pretty pointless.

As Julian Simon makes clear, what really creates wealth is free human minds, not land! In fact, this is amply demonstrated by looking at the Forbes 400 Richest People.

I'll bet that not a single one of those 400 people made a substantial fraction of their wealth (say, more than 50%) through ownership and sale of UNIMPROVED land.

I wouldn't be surprised if maybe 20 or so made their fortunes through *real estate*...but it's all real estate like Donald Trump's ownership of real estate in New York City.

In fact, if one looked at the top 1000 richest PRIVATE individuals in the world, I'll bet not a single one of them has even 50% of his or her wealth in the LAND that they own. (They might have 50% or more of their wealth in the buildings on their land.)

Land is nothing. Land isn't even a good investment. Human freedom is what generates wealth.

That's one reason why trying to figure out who stole land from whom 100s of years ago is so pointless. (The other reason is that trying to address the "theft" is so ridiculously complicated, and so fraught with the potential for creating new injustices.)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 18, 2003 09:50 AM

Yes and ownership of land restricts human freedom.

Posted by: Jack on July 18, 2003 10:02 AM

"Mark Stephen's point is not that you shouldn't in practice have a right to your townhome, it is that the right is not unlimited,..."

Well, Stephen needs to flesh out how he thinks my right is limited. If he thinks that he and his friends have a right to use my townhome when they're in my neighborhood, I don't agree. If he thinks it's appropriate for the government to tax the value of my townhome to give to the descendant of someone who used to own the land my townhome is on, then I'm willing to listen and consider it. But I'm pretty skeptical about that proposition, also.

"...not "natural"..."

As I pointed out, a "right to life" is not "natural," either. It's an artificial construct, generated by homo sapien minds. And in most homo sapiens' minds, it is only limited TO homo sapiens. (One doesn't see homo sapiens protestors chanting as a man pulls dandelions from his lawn. ;-))

"It becomes a pragmatic..."

Well, then the "right to life" is pragmatic, too. If the individuals in question are Jews or Shiites or Tutsis, they may be killed where it seems pragmatic.

"Finally even stating with a right to ownership of land it is not totally clear what that might be."

I don't see the right to ownership of land as being very different than the right to ownership of buildings or cars or money. About the only difference is that land has been around for a lot longer than buildings or cars or coins or cash.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 18, 2003 10:17 AM

This whole detailed debate is moot. Libertarianism is a baseless philosophy that makes large a priori assumptions at the outset and then ends up where those assumptions were designed to lead in the first place.

There is no more a natural right to property than than there is a friendly ghost named Casper.

Posted by: The Fool on July 18, 2003 10:35 AM

Mark Bahner-
You are now offically arguing on the wrong thread. Agreeing the property rights are a useful artificial construct, which I agree with, you are now defending them on utilitarian grounds. Brad's post adressed Nosick's arguement that property rights a "natural" (at least in a logical), and therefor absolute, and not utilitarian. You are defending property rights on utilitarian grounds: I actually agree wholehartedly.

"If he thinks it's appropriate for the government to tax the value of my townhome to give to the descendant of someone who used to own the land my townhome is on, then I'm willing to listen and consider it. But I'm pretty skeptical about that proposition, also."

This reminds me of the old joke of the man asking a woman for sex for a $million. She says yes, then he asks for sex fo $10. She asks what kind of woman he thinks she is, and he says that that is established, now we are haggling.

You are a right-libertarian, and I am a left-libertarian. But we seemed to have agreed that we are the same thing; now we're just haggling.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 11:00 AM

Paul, you got your lack of a correllation by picking the time frame of 500 years, just at the begining of a massive theft of the entire world by Europeans. If we pick 300 years ago, suddenly the correlation comes damn close to 1.

"As far as the ability to mutually agree to redistribute property regularly, Nozick's theory of justice permits just that. What his theory objects to is redistribution without mutual consent. When redistribution occurs at gunpoint, without the consent of those whose property is taken, one can ask how it is distinct from theft. Given that we regard theft as wrong, this is a real problem."

Whoooaaaa, there. First, you defended the current distribution of property on the contractualist position that we could mutually agree to accept it. When others of us pointed out that it would not be mutually accepted in reality, you did a 180 degree turn and said that we would need mutual agreement to redistribute property. This is fine, especially as it brings you back to a naturalist, rather than consequentualist, view of property rights, which is what this thread was about. But it still leaves you not having defended the status quo distribution of wealth, which you previously agreed was unjust and arbitrary.

Further, you are misstating Nosick. You said, "What his theory objects to is redistribution without mutual consent." Wrong. Remember what Brad quoted previously from ASU: "The issues are very complex and are best left to a full treatment of the principle of rectification. In the absence of such a treatment... one cannot use the analysis and theory presented here to condemn any particular scheme of transfer payments...."

You can defend Nosick, or you can defend the status quo distribution of wealth from coersive redistribution. But you cannot do both, because Nosick admited his theory does not defend the status quo distribution of wealth from coersive redistribution.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 11:22 AM

Decnavda - Restrict our pool to persons who didn't benefit or suffer from injustice, and you would find that their incomes today are uncorrelated with the incomes of their ancestors 500 years ago. And if 500 years is too short, some larger time frame will work.

This follows from basic arithmetic. As long as there's any migration in income and wealth, over long time frames it completely mixes up the distribution, just as sufficient shuffling of a deck of cards mixes up the deck.

It's appropriate to exclude coercive takings from the debate, because Nozick's theory excludes such takings. You can't argue against Nozick's theory by referring to the destructive effects of acts Nozick regards as unjust.

As for rectification, it's impossible unless the reparations required are small compared to total wealth. The reparations actually required to make people whole for injustices inflicted on their ancestors would far exceed the world's total wealth (by many orders of magnitude). Therefore, it's a moot point unless we're talking about minor injustices of the sort we might expect to occur in the future, after people have generally accepted Nozick's theory and some property distribution. (I'll leave aside the needlessly contentious issue of whether the current distribution would, in fact, be the one people would agree on. The key point is that people have to agree on some distribution if we are to live in peace.)

Posted by: Paul Jaminet on July 18, 2003 12:04 PM

Mark, you obviously cannot understand that your whole mental framework is built on a fallacy. You only have an ability to monopolize use of your townhome because the state points its guns at any who might infringe your use of it. The state does this not because you have any intrinsic right to it but instead because we as its citizens choose it to do so. Your ability to own property is granted by the state.

There is no direct moral imperative in your ability to monopolize property. The only possible moral imperatives for property ownership would be derived from other higher order imperatives such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In and of itself, property ownership is only defensible because of its relation to these other "rights". It is therefore very secondary.

Now for the really sad part. I personally have no inclination toward mass redistribution of wealth. I, like many Americans, much prefer increasing our overall economic efficiency to lift the wealth of all. My economic views seem to be much more similar to Jim Glass's than Brad DeLong's on how to acheive this. I'm just sick of the BS arguments about the immorality of taxes.

Posted by: Stan on July 18, 2003 12:04 PM

Stan - You seem to be under the misapprehension that private property's existence is an arbitrary choice of the State that could have been avoided. Property merely refers to rights of control. Insofar as property can be used at all -- insofar as food can be eaten, clothes worn, houses lived in -- some person or group of persons must have the power to decide how they are used (if a group, by some defined decision process). However it's done, there's property. Even if all property is held by the State (or in common), as soon as you introduce a decision-process to decide how it's used, you've introduced property rights, and the right to vote in referenda about property usage is a property right.

So there will be property, and in order for us to live in peace -- that is, not be beset by conflicts over who, in fact, has the right to decide how material things will be used -- there has to be social agreement on a distribution of property. That is a condition of social peace.

Now, some distributions work better than others. Holding referenda for decisions about the disposition of food, clothes, books, etc. would incur very large transaction costs. A good property distribution minimizes transaction costs. Private property does this. But there is nothing preventing people from voluntarily combining their property, if they wish.

All this is true even if there never was a State.

You argue that the power to hold property was granted by the State. But it could just as easily -- perhaps with more historical truth -- be argued that the State's power to defend property was delegated from the people, who held a prior natural right to defend their property. Indeed, for most of Anglo-American history this was the common law understanding, and it's why citizens had the same right to make a "citizen's arrest" that police had -- the police powers being derived from the powers of the citizenry.

Posted by: Paul Jaminet on July 18, 2003 12:21 PM

You don't have to be a utilitarian to observe the consequences of an action.

If original appropriation is positive-sum, you have satisfied the conditions to leave as good and as much for others (including those others to come in the future).

If private property enhances innovation and discovery, and hence new technologies, and the sum of total wealth is greater, those who come later are far better off. Would you rather live today or in the 13th century?

Today? But there was lots of opportunity for original appropriation back then! And you aren't worse off for it!

Locke requires a factual observation, and one can make that observation and having done so justify a rights-based account of original appropriation.

Funny how much easier it is to criticize Nozick now that he is no longer around to refute silly arguments...

Posted by: Gary on July 18, 2003 12:33 PM

Paul-
You love doing these 180s in your arguments while pretending you are making the same point.

Okay, the reason you made "lack of a correlation" claim was that you were trying to justify the status quo distribution of wealth because all of the various injustices that have occured have, in the long run, cancelled each other out, leaving a current distribution that is as essentually random as if no injustices had ever occured, so what's the difference?

When confronted with people you said, well, no, in reality, the decendents of the inhabitants of Africa, the Americas, SouthEast Asia, Austiala, ect. are essentually as realtively poor as there ancestors were 500 years ago, you now want to restrict your arguement to "...to persons who didn't benefit or suffer from injustice".

Okay, Paul, I conceed your new argument. As to the dozen or so people who didn't benefit or suffer from injustice, their wealth distribution IS random and essentually fair.

Now, returning to the other 6 billion people on the planet...

"(I'll leave aside the needlessly contentious issue of whether the current distribution would, in fact, be the one people would agree on. The key point is that people have to agree on some distribution if we are to live in peace.)"

Leave it aside? But justifying the CURRENT distribution was the whole point of Brad's post and this thread. If you will conceed that the current distribution may be changed, then I am at the same point with you that I am with Mark: We're just haggling.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 12:46 PM

Paul-
As to your arguement with Stan, I suggest you read DeSoto's The Mystery of Capital. He demonstrats empirically BOTH what you are arguing AND what Stan is arguing. That is, he showes that private property DOES, de facto, exist throughout history and the world WITHOUT state intervention or support, just local (community) acknowledgement, BUT it REQUIRES state support and recognition to turn private property into capital that can energize an ecconomy and provide an individual the opportuny to enhance their situation. Anarachist private property can and in fact does exist, but it requires the state to become capitalism.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 12:57 PM

Gary-
I am sure that people in Bejing are better off today than in the 13th century. I do not think that justifies the appropriation of all property in China by the government.

These arguments against the current distribution of wealth existed for decades before Nosick died, but he was never able to refute them. Indeed, as I have noted twice in the above thread, Nosick acknowledged this argument as a deal breaker in ASU but did not resolve it.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 01:05 PM

Decnavda -- Justifying the current distribution was hardly the point of the thread, and certainly not the point of Nozick's book. Nozick's book proposes a theory of justice which defines just mechanisms for social evolution from an acceptable starting state; there are various possible ways a starting state could be justified; Nozick is concerned to show that from a state of nature 20,000 years ago there could have been a just evolution (though of course there wasn't); given that there wasn't, a contractarian settlement may be the only Nozickian recourse available to us today.

The particular distribution that is settled on isn't that important. The important point is that, under Nozick's theory, we wouldn't need recurring acts of property redistribution. Once would do.

As for the De Soto point, you've fairly presented it up until you say that it requires the state to become capitalism. The ability to use property as capital depends on a social consensus, so that no one will take the property away after it's been committed to a long-term use. Obviously if a state exists, then it's an important player that has to be brought into the consensus -- that's De Soto's point. But Nozick imagines a case in which there is no state.

Posted by: Paul Jaminet on July 18, 2003 01:21 PM

Paul, I was trying to show you how you assumed individual control which led to your conclusions. I'll try again though I'm probably only further muddying the water.

Societies have existed for centuries with no greater concept of private property. Rationally it makes no sense to ignore their existence and assume that individual control of property is some sort of natural outcome. I think makes even less sense in determining correlations of property ownership after these very individuals were dispossessed by looking at individuals. Hence I pointed to families.

Likewise, if property isn't an individualized private right your question of taking property from someone to give it to a baby makes no sense. Without private control, property is only possessed collectively.

I'm fairly certain that distribution of property (actually lack thereof for the most part) occurs with each birth. Thus, distribution isn't a once off problem. I'll admit that I'm having a hard time thinking that part through.

None of this speaks against the utility of having private property. It only deals with the moral right of possession.

Posted by: Stan on July 18, 2003 01:37 PM

Gary, you remain utilitarian. Others may very well disagree with your positive-sum outcome.

Posted by: Stan on July 18, 2003 01:47 PM

Paul-
1. I will agree that justifying the current distribution was not the point of ASU, given that Nosick just breifly mentions that he is incapable of doing so.

2. Brad's post attacked Nosick's supposed rights-based justification for initial appropriation. In practical terms, this means justifying current property distribution since we cannot change the past.

3. "The particular distribution that is settled on isn't that important. The important point is that, under Nozick's theory, we wouldn't need recurring acts of property redistribution. Once would do."

Property right often come with duties ("covenants") embeded in the title. Could we maybe then agree to accept a property distribution scheme whereby all property carries a duty to pay 10% (or 1%, or 50%, or whatever) annually to an organization that will spend or distribute it according to the wishes of the majority? (For the sake of arguement, could we call this organization "the government"?)

4. "As for the De Soto point, you've fairly presented it up until you say that it requires the state to become capitalism."

So I was being fair when I used to support your position, but I twisted it when it went against you. Well, we are just going to have to agree to disagree about the thesis of DeSoto's book. The whole point of it was to call for state recognition of private property currently held extralegally by the poor. Establishing that the poor already have property was necessary before calling for state intervention and recognition. I thought he laid out a conviencing case that, empirically, capitalism had only ever flourished with state support. How you could read that book and not think that DeSoto believe that state intervention is necessary for capitalism to function is beyond me.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 01:57 PM

"Mark, you obviously cannot understand that your whole mental framework is built on a fallacy. You only have an ability to monopolize use of your townhome because the state points its guns at any who might infringe your use of it."

Ignoring the fact that my ability to monopolize my townhome does not ONLY depend on the state, but also depends on my and my neighbors' ability to protect my monopoly, I'll agree with you.

But then you must agree that my ability to stay alive exists only because the police and courts would arrest and imprison anyone who kills me when I fall asleep.

Do you dispute this?

"The state does this not because you have any intrinsic right to it (property) but instead because we as its citizens choose it to do so. Your ability to own property is granted by the state."

And my ability to stay alive is also "granted" by the state. But the proper word in both cases isn't "granted," in my opinion. The proper word is "secured." My right to keep my property is *secured* by the state, and my right to stay alive is *secured* by the state.

"Now for the really sad part. I personally have no inclination toward mass redistribution of wealth. I, like many Americans, much prefer increasing our overall economic efficiency to lift the wealth of all. My economic views seem to be much more similar to Jim Glass's than Brad DeLong's on how to acheive this. I'm just sick of the BS arguments about the immorality of taxes."

It isn't taxation, per se, that the vast majority of Libertarians argue is immoral. It is taxation that to take money from some people, to give directly to others, for no service rendered. The vast majority of Libertarians don't object to taxes to pay for police and courts, or taxes that are necessary for the national defense.

To decide whether taxes that take money from some people to give to others are immoral or not, look at the situation of whether it's immoral for your neighbors to vote to take your property. Not because they need to pay for police or anything, but just because they like the things you own. Is it morally OK for your neighbors to vote to take your property, to distribute among themselves?

If it is NOT morally OK for a group of your neighbors to vote to take your property to distribute among themselves, why is it OK if the number of people voting is extended to your town, or state, or country?

The argument that it's immoral to take money from one person to distribute among others is not BS. At least not to me. To me, it's every bit as morally valid as the 8th Commandment: "Thou shalt not steal."

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 18, 2003 02:10 PM

Mark, rational people may very well not want to monopolize property. Large parts of humanity have lived their lives without any thought of it at all.

Few would call rational those who don't want life, liberty, and happiness.

I'm sorry that you've missed entirely the point of this thread. In light of it all, your last post has no meaning. I'm not surprized. Sorry!

Posted by: Stan on July 18, 2003 02:31 PM

"If true libertarianism can deliver a country like the United States 5% growth for a century one has to have a compelling explanation for why such a movement still rests in the far wilderness of power."

The answer is as Jim Glass explained...politicians do not take act to maximize economic growth. Politicians act to maximize the chances of getting re-elected (e.g., providing Medicare prescription drug coverage, instituting a Ponzi scheme for retirement, waging a War on Some Drugs, banning therapeutic cloning, etc.)

The idea that the U.S. could have averaged per-capita economic growth of 5% per year during the 20th century, if government in the U.S. had been 100% Libertarian, is hardly radical or shocking.

From 1799 to 1970, the average U.S. economic growth rate was 49.12% per decade. In contrast, U.S. economic growth from 1970 to the present has been much lower...probably under 40% per decade:

http://www.house.gov/jec/growth/govtsize/fig-2.gif

Further, there is ample evidence from OECD countries that increasing the size of government decreases economic growth:

http://www.house.gov/jec/growth/function/exh-4.gif

That graph has the following correlation between total government spending (as a percentage of GDP) and economic growth:

Under 25% of GDP--->Economic growth of 6.6% per year.

25-29% of GDP--->Economic growth of 4.7% per year.

30-39% of GDP--->Economic growth of 3.8% per year.

So it's not at all unreasonable to think that, if all levels of the U.S. government were Libertarian...or even if only the FEDERAL government was Libertarian, the annual per capita GDP growth rate in the United States would have averaged 5% per year during the 20th century, rather than 2.8% per year. The difference between the two is "only" a gain of 2.2% per year.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 18, 2003 02:53 PM

"Mark, rational people may very well not want to monopolize property."

No, Stan, rational people throughout history have wanted to monopolize THEIR property. It's just OTHERS' property that they don't care about.

Exactly as rational people have not cared about defending the rights to life for Jews, Shiites, Tutsis, etc. etc. etc., throughout our long and bloody history.

In the immortal and chilling words of Pastor Martin Niemoller:

"When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church — and there was nobody left to be concerned."

"I'm sorry that you've missed entirely the point of this thread. In light of it all, your last post has no meaning. I'm not surprized. Sorry!"

I understand perfectly, Stan. You're looking for a way to morally justify your desire to take other people's property by force. You do that by rationalizing that people don't really have a right to their property. That's a story as old as humanity.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 18, 2003 03:04 PM

"If it is NOT morally OK for a group of your neighbors to vote to take your property to distribute among themselves, why is it OK if the number of people voting is extended to your town, or state, or country?"

Others have a moral right to vote to take your suff to the extent that it is imoral for you to deny them the right to use it. As you rightly pointed out above, for many practical reasons, there is great utility in the state recognising a socially constructed right for you to deny your property to others. But if society is constructing this right for utilitarian purposes, there is no reason it has to make such a right absolute.

"The argument that it's immoral to take money from one person to distribute among others is not BS. At least not to me. To me, it's every bit as morally valid as the 8th Commandment: "Thou shalt not steal.""

So now, after many posts admitting that property rights are not natural, but are artificial constructs, you have reverted to asserting property rights as natural and absolute. However, you have only asserted it. You have not argued it, or explained why you have dropped your previous, utilitarian, justification for property rights.

Try again.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 03:05 PM

"I understand perfectly, Stan. You're looking for a way to morally justify your desire to take other people's property by force. You do that by rationalizing that people don't really have a right to their property. That's a story as old as humanity."

This comment is a mirror to those who claim that the story of philosophy is just man's centuries long quest to provide a greater moral justification for selfishness. Sorry, but you have not provided a rationale (other than, as I admit, practical and non-absolute) for denying use of property you claim to others. Or a reason to shift the burden to us.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 03:16 PM

Decnavda - We're getting closer.

1. Good.

2. I'm afraid I don't follow. Nozick attempted to show how a just transformation was possible from a world of nomadic hunter-gatherers in 20,000 B.C. to a world of settled farmers in 9,000 B.C. DeLong criticizes his argument. Whichever is right, what relevance does it have to the justice of the current distribution? Since we all acknowledge that many injustices occurred after 9,000 B.C....

3. Yes, of course, people can agree to that and insofar as future income is dependent on ownership of covenanted property, then such payments will be made. You can call this "government," but it lacks a distinguishing feature of what Nozick would consider an unjust government -- a claim to a right to seize property at its discretion. Nozick would not object to the "government" of your example.

4. No developing country is about to do away with government. Given that government will exist, it has to be a participant in the development of the social consensus that capitalism depends on. This is a difference between practical philosophy a la DeSoto and theoretical philosophy a la Nozick. Empirically, there has never been a case of a society without a government (at least, we lack good records of such). So empirically capitalism can flourish only if the State is reconciled to it.

Posted by: Paul Jaminet on July 18, 2003 03:44 PM

Stan - You're missing certain key concepts. First, you need Ronald Coase's definition of property: "Property is the right to perform certain actions." All property can be represented as a bundle of such rights, and the rights can be unbundled and divided -- e.g. if you own a tract of land, you can sell mining rights, an easement to traverse it, the right to log trees, and so forth. Whenever anyone has a right to perform an action, he has property. If you have a right to breath, that's property; if you have a right to speak, that's property; if you have a right to vote, that's property.

Property is necessarily analyzable into individually-controlled elements, because ultimately it is individual human beings who have minds, can decide, and can act. You can speak of "collective property," but this will always turn out to be a bundle of personal properties. As soon as you define a decision-making process for deciding what actions will be taken, that process defines rights for each person participating in the process which count as their property.

Thus statements like "Without private control, property is only possessed collectively" are simply confused. Every possible society, including communist and socialist societies, is made up of some distribution of personal rights to take actions. Communism was a particularly vicious distribution because it concentrated those rights in the person of Stalin. You cannot define "collective" property that is not composed of some bundle of personal rights to take certain actions.

Posted by: Paul Jaminet on July 18, 2003 03:57 PM

Paul-
Wow. We managed to come to (almost) total agreement.

2. Maybe arguing current distribution would have been more appropriate on the thread following Brad's post re: "rectification". But I still think it's appropriate here. If you acknowledge that intervening injustices make Nosick's initial aquisition argument moot, and offer instead property rights as dirivitive contractualist principle to keep the peace, you have a good arguement, but it is NOT Nosick's.

3. Wow. So now we just haggle over the percentage? Cool. I think I like this society we are creating.

4. Okay. We are disagreeing over whether empirical realities can invalidate utopian philosophies. Actually, I am unsure here, and will need to think about it for a while.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 04:02 PM

Wow, Mark, where does one begin. Well I guess by not relying on Dick Armey for economic advice for starters I guess.

First of all, 5% GDP growth a year is not 50% a decade its more like 65% a decade. Second the difference between 5% growth and 2.8% growth (the 'mere 2.2% difference' you talk about) compounded over a hundred years means that real GDP per capita in the United States would have been about $250,000 today - nothing mere about that. Third, if you think that the size of government is the primary explanation for why the economy could grow at 5% a year for 100 years in 1799 but not in 1999, then I see no point in carrying on this conversation. [You should chart labor force growth over that period 1799-1999 just to see if anything interesting shows up.]

And as for that OECD graph, well let's try that again with the countries that were OECD memebers in 1960 (aka countries not named Korea) or if you want to keep Korea in there control for education and labor force growth and see what conclusions one will reach.

Let me say my piece again. If you have a set of policies that can make people 8 TIMES richer on average and you can get less than 1% of them to vote for you, you are either deluded or can't communicate.

The argument that politicians don't maximize consumer welfare can't explain why you can't get anyone to vote for you, it can only explain why cohesive interest groups exert disproportionate power over policy. If your policies can really deliver THE way to untold riches and prosperity, surely someone ought to believe it, right? If you guys are drawing 15%-20% of the popular vote then those arguments about two party systems and interest groups at least become more plausible.

Let me sum it up it this way, you are asking me to believe that the very same people who are smart, creative and talented enough to make themselves and their heirs 8 times richer than they would otherwise have been over the next 100 years if they elect you to power (so that you can eliminate government completely and let them do their work) are so obtuse and short-sighted that fewer than 1% vote for you to carry out these policies.

Hmm, a conundrum indeed.

Posted by: achilles on July 18, 2003 04:33 PM

Stirling Newberry wrote, "The Libertarian Party shouts and bellows and claws against Democratic Party policies it doesn't like, and it whispers against Republican Party policies it doesn't like. I know Harry Browne opposed Iraq, but I didn't see him among the protestors, nor any libertarians."

Right on! That's because libertarians' main concern is to secure the powers of the state for purposes they like (like collecting land rents, or monopoly rents from taxes), and they largely agree with the Republicans on those issues.

Though to be fair, some Libertarians *have* come out strongly against the war (though I have no idea if Mark Bahner's #s are accurate). Ron Paul often has posts at the excellent antiwar.com.

OTOH, Libertarians are pretty squishy about abortion (IIRC Ron Paul was against abortion rights at the time of his candidacy for President).

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on July 18, 2003 06:25 PM

Mark Bahner wrote, "And my ability to stay alive is also 'granted' by the state. But the proper word in both cases isn't 'granted,' in my opinion. The proper word is "secured." My right to keep my property is *secured* by the state, and my right to stay alive is 'secured' by the state."

Stan is right; you completely missed the point of the thread.

Aside from the initial distribution problem, *you have no intrinsic, prior right to ownership of land*. None. Zero. As a "natural right," ownership of the fruits of one's labor? Yes. Land? No.

If you seriously think that very little wealth is created by land ownership, you're dead wrong. Ask yourself how much of their income people usually spend on rent for an apartment or a mortgage for a home, then make reasonable assumptions on how much goes to paying for the right to the land versus the creation and upkeep of the domicile structure.

Finally, there is a *reasonable* solution to dealing with the problem of distribution---land rents should be taxed away. You can learn more from people who are probably otherwise ideologically similar to yourself (MB) by googling on "geolibertarian". For example, at
http://geolib.pair.com/welcome.html
you'll find this lead paragraph:
"We Geolibertarians distinguish ourselves from right-wing, 'royal' libertarians by our profound respect for the principle that one has private property in the fruits of one's labor. This includes the fruits of mental labor and the results of reinvestment of legitimate private property (capital) in future production. We remain consistent in that respect by recognizing, as did the classic liberals, that land and raw natural resources are not the fruits of labor, but a common heritage to be accessed on terms that are equal under the law for everyone. The statist system of land tenure empowers non-producing landlords to extract the fruits of tenants' labor."

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on July 18, 2003 06:39 PM

Mark I don't think anyone is saying your house should be open at all times or even just when you aren't there. Instead they are saying that your right to ownership is just one among many which may from time to time come into conflict and when there are conflicts it may not win.

So for example there is no special reason why the government might not levy an estate tax on it. At least it will take more than natural property rights to make the argument against.

Posted by: Jack on July 18, 2003 06:47 PM

This page, "A Geolibertarian FAQ,"
http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/tma68/geo-faq.htm
is really excellent...

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on July 18, 2003 07:05 PM

On the DeSoto point I agree that it is a fine illustration of the role of the state or the powers that be or the rule of law or whatever you want to call it in defining property but i also think it raises another with the idea of property rights as a natural phenomenon.
That is the sheer difficulty of getting the right correct, of knowing what the right is. In particular the case of squatters rights in the US. There well established British law was overruled in favour of some kind of "sweat equity". The problem this raises is that it is not obvious what that right is in exactly the situation where it could be expected to be decisive.
I also maintain that it is an ojection to the idea that freedom of contract covers everything.

Posted by: Jack on July 18, 2003 07:07 PM

It is not that I disagree with his points. But I am surprised that a practical, common-sense guy like BDl would even get suckered into a debate over "original appropriation."

I realize it is important for social cohesion that we have lullabies describing the distributive justice that held at the moment of capitalism's conception. After all, who would want to live under socialism or in any world where the average educated guy thinks the system was rigged from the get-go by thieves?

But just because society needs the myth doesn't mean that in-the-know types should actually take guys like N or Locke SERIOUSLY. As a good self-confessed libertarian or even arrogant conservative, Bdl should know that such right-based rationalizations are "nonsense on stilts." Those with the Guns Germs and Steel are the ones who got the land.

Or to put this in terms of a civics lesson, property rights were established by mixing the soil with blood, not labor. They still are. See Iraq, then or now.

Posted by: Gerard MacDonell on July 18, 2003 07:15 PM

It is not that I disagree with his points. But I am surprised that a practical, common-sense guy like BDl would even get suckered into a debate over "original appropriation."

I realize it is important for social cohesion that we have lullabies describing the distributive justice that held at the moment of capitalism's conception. After all, who would want to live under socialism or in any world where the average educated guy thinks the system was rigged from the get-go by thieves?

But just because society needs the myth doesn't mean that in-the-know types should actually take guys like N or Locke SERIOUSLY. As a good self-confessed libertarian or even arrogant conservative, Bdl should know that such right-based rationalizations are "nonsense on stilts." Those with the Guns Germs and Steel are the ones who got the land.

Or to put this in terms of a civics lesson, property rights were established by mixing the soil with blood, not labor. They still are. See Iraq, then or now.

Posted by: Gerard MacDonell on July 18, 2003 07:15 PM

Nosick and Locke make excellent points and many people agree with them. I tend to agree with 90-95% of what they say. (Probably more with Locke than with Nosick) Your point about mixing the land with blood, not labor is valid, and one I have essentially championed throughout this thread. But dissmissing their ideas without agruement leaves a lot of people succeptible to their ideas. I have been somewhat angry that it took me years to evolve from a right to left libertarian, only to discover that the reasons that made me evolve had been developed fairly well by others. (Although there has been great deal of advancement in these ideas the past decade.) If people who argued with me had taken me seriously enough to point me to geoliberarianism or other left-libertarian ideas earlier, I would not have spent so many years as a right-wing crazy.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 18, 2003 07:38 PM

Dear Decnavda:

If you were smart, you would keep on evolving right out of libertarianism all together. You can't just assume that there are natural rights to property just because it sounds like it would be kind of neat if there were.

Theories, like libertarianism, which are based on such flagrantly baseless a priori assumptions are no more persuasive than my 6-year old niece's theory about what happens to the teeth she puts under pillow.

Posted by: The Fool on July 19, 2003 01:05 PM

Fool-
If you had paid attention to my above posts, you would see that I have consistently attacked "natural rights" theories of property, what you seem to refer to as a priori theories.

However, the main problem with your comment is that all political theories and posistions require adherence to ethical commitments that have to be simply stated, or asserted, but can not really be proved. I strongly believe in self-ownership and I hate coersion. These commitments are "a priori" in the sense that I do not know how to justify them. I do not believe that self-ownership is good or that coersion is evil in a spiritual or Platonic sense: The material universe has not more concern for my self-ownership than it does the self-ownership of ants or black holes. Nonetheless, I believe in self-ownership and I hate coersion. I have come to believe that left-libertarianism is the best way to promote self-ownership and lessen coersion among the most number of individuals. Thus for me, libertarianism is a dirivative principle based either on untilitarianism of freedom or contractualism of individuals sharing the resources of the Earth. But I suppose that at the core I do rely on a priori assumptions that I cannot justify.

The emptiness of your attack lies in the fact that you provide no suggestions of where I can slide TO when I slide away from libertarianism. Can you suggest any political theory that does NOT rely on an unprovable ethical assumption? Strict utilitarianism? Why? Does the universe care any more for the overall good of humans, or any sentient creatures, than it does for the overall good of black holes? Rawls' MaxiMin principle? Again, why? Maybe I would agree to it if I was voting for a society from behind the veil of ignorance, (actually I would vote for MaxiMin Freedom rather than MaxiMin wealth or happiness) but I am not, so why should I care what happens to the many whose bad luck made them worse off than me? Does the universe care?

So tell me, Fool, where should I slide to? As far as I can see, if I remove all unprovable ethical considerations from my political theory, I am in the relm of Nietchze(sp?). I should either become an apolitical psychopath, or, if I randomly happen to like politics, I should become a fascist with the goal of increasing my own personal power.

I mean, believing that the universe gives a damn either way is no more than a fairy story, isn't it?

Posted by: Decnavda on July 19, 2003 04:23 PM

Sorry Decnavda. If that’s your position, then you have already left libertarianism behind (where it belongs). As long as your conception of self-ownership doesn’t involve some kind of covert natural right component, your position is indistinguishable from some form of utilitarianism or consequentialism, with an added emphasis on adequately accounting for the value of freedom from coercion in the moral calculus.

I was misled by your self-description as a “left libertarian” since libertarianism is normally understood to entail some form of deontology (i.e. rights) at its base. Not all ethical theories have to be a priori. I hold to a naturalistic ethics based on human thriving. This position starts -- not from an assumption -- but from recognition of the empirical fact that human beings like to be happy and are more likely to agree to a system that aims at increasing their own happiness and which is likely gain wider adherence by aiming at that same goal for everyone. It is possible to hold a consequentialist/utilitarian theory of rights, where those rights are derived from the more morally basic consideration of consequences (i.e. various forms of rule utilitarianism).

Posted by: The Fool on July 19, 2003 05:51 PM

Fool-
1. If you believe that libertarianism implies deontology, you have limited experience with libertarians. (Probably limited to followers of Nozick and Rand.)

2. You are still basing your theory on assumptions you can not prove. Even if it is true that everyone will agree to a system that will maximize everyone's happiness, can you prove that there is some metaphysical importance to the happiness or agreement of humans?

3. MY emperical observations are that most people THINK they know how to maximize the happiness of others, but that they are SURE that they alone know what is best for themselves, and that even the most oppressed persons in society will become little tyrants when put in charge of other people, even ones they love dearly, like their own children.

Posted by: Decnavda on July 19, 2003 06:20 PM

If you want to call yourself a libertarian feel free. You are wrong that when you say I need to show that happiness has "metaphysical" importance. My a posteriori naturalistic theory only requires that humans themselves value happiness -- a fact that only an idiot would deny. You may have point inj number 3, that is why I think liberal democracy is the best form of government.

Posted by: The Fool on July 19, 2003 06:44 PM

Speaking then from a 'Free' country (since New Zealand is equal to or ahead of the US in both the rankings of 'freedom' that Mark has referred to) it's odd that the countries which top those 'freedom' rankings tend to have laws that American Libertarians would not cope with - strict and rigid gun control, for example.

Don't confuse *real* measures of freedom with the US Libertarian agenda, since that agenda tends to focus on taking a few weird policy issues to extremes, instead of focussing on important freedoms.

Sean

Posted by: sean on July 19, 2003 08:50 PM

"Others have a moral right to vote to take your stuff to the extent that it is immoral for you to deny them the right to use it."

Well, that's the thing. I can't think of one single piece of "stuff" that I own, which is "immoral" for me to deny others the right to use it.

Let's start out with making sure we're all clear on what various words mean: when we write about "property" are we referring only to land, or to land and buildings, or to *everything* a person can own?

From my understanding of Nozick's book (which I haven't read), the discussion was limited to LAND. That's part of the reason I think the whole discussion is so pointless...land itself isn't worth squat.

If the discussion is about land ONLY, well, I don't own any land, as far as I know. I own the townhome; the homeowners' association owns the land on which the townhome sits.

On a highly related note:

http://geolib.pair.com/welcome.html

That site is well done. As a Libertarian, I don't see any problem with it, and I would be surprised if majority of other Libertarians would have a problem with it.

But one reason I have no problem with it is that the sums involved (rents on the LAND, not on the improvements made to the land, such as buildings) should be pretty darn small. Unimproved land just isn't worth much.


Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 21, 2003 09:50 AM

"Others have a moral right to vote to take your stuff to the extent that it is immoral for you to deny them the right to use it."

Well, that's the thing. I can't think of one single piece of "stuff" that I own, which is "immoral" for me to deny others the right to use it.

Let's start out with making sure we're all clear on what various words mean: when we write about "property" are we referring only to land, or to land and buildings, or to *everything* a person can own?

From my understanding of Nozick's book (which I haven't read), the discussion was limited to LAND. That's part of the reason I think the whole discussion is so pointless...land itself isn't worth squat.

If the discussion is about land ONLY, well, I don't own any land, as far as I know. I own the townhome; the homeowners' association owns the land on which the townhome sits.

On a highly related note:

http://geolib.pair.com/welcome.html

That site is well done. As a Libertarian, I don't see any problem with it, and I would be surprised if majority of other Libertarians would have a problem with it.

But one reason I have no problem with it is that the sums involved (rents on the LAND, not on the improvements made to the land, such as buildings) should be pretty darn small. Unimproved land just isn't worth much.


Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 21, 2003 09:58 AM

Sean writes, "Speaking then from a 'Free' country (since New Zealand is equal to or ahead of the US in both the rankings of 'freedom' that Mark has referred to) it's odd that the countries which top those 'freedom' rankings tend to have laws that American Libertarians would not cope with - strict and rigid gun control, for example."

1) There are Libertarians living in New York City, Washington DC, and other U.S. cities that have gun control laws that are probably of comparable strictness to New Zealand's.

2) In case you've never seen a world map showing New Zealand, y'all aren't exactly in the middle of things:

http://www.pacific-center.com/arbo/map.htm

Don't you think that your freedom, despite your having no guns, has something to do with the fact that: a) y'all are hundreds or thousands of miles from anywhere important, b) y'all have basically no natural resources, and c) y'all were a colony of what was the world's strongest Navy for much of your history?

It would be one thing if you were writing from...say, Switzerland...and said that guns weren't important. But the main things that have protected New Zealand's freedom*** have been the 3 items I mentioned above.

***"Freedom" being a relative word. Your freedom was to be a *colony* of Great Britain. Some of us don't like being colonized.

"Don't confuse *real* measures of freedom with the US Libertarian agenda, since that agenda tends to focus on taking a few weird policy issues to extremes, instead of focussing on important freedoms."

Well, go to the New Zealand Libertarian Party (aka "Libertarianz" :-)) website, and tell me what freedoms they focus on that are "unimportant." (I think their drive to ban the Green Party is pretty important. :-))

http://www.libertarianz.org.nz/

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 22, 2003 09:22 AM

Mark, you're not doing yourself any kind of positive service by continuing with your line of "reasoning". There is nothing remotely rational to your argument:

"Well, that's the thing. I can't think of one single piece of "stuff" that I own, which is "immoral" for me to deny others the right to use it."

Your inability to determine what you are immorally denying others is hardly a defense for your moral right to property ownership. First, your opinion doesn't matter if it is a moral question. That is the nature of the word moral. The only potential moral basis for your "owning" stuff lies in a mythical natural right to do so.

This entire thread was pointing out how mythical natural property rights are. You haven't come close to addressing the issue in even one of your posts. You should have stuck to genuflecting to quotes of our founding fathers.

Posted by: Stan on July 23, 2003 05:56 AM

Paul, I think we have missed each other again. From the start, you stated:

“Decnavda - The current distribution of property is only slightly correlated with the distribution 50 years ago, and is completely uncorrelated with the distribution 500 years ago.”

Both Decnavda and I pointed out the correlation for property distribution was in fact nearly 1 to 1 over the last 500 years. I was further trying to point out that only an individualistic assessment of property rights could have even led to an argument that there was no correlation.

You went on to say:

“Nozick's theory is concerned with the transition from the state of nature to the establishment of private property at the time agriculture was invented ~12,000 years ago. However arbitrary that initial property distribution may have been, it cannot be an injustice to anyone alive today, because it did not affect current property distributions. Thus there is no need for 'rectification' today.”

I tried to point out that just because Nozick’s theory is concerned with a particular time frame doesn’t mean that the world actually works that way. As you acknowledged:

“Nozick's argument is that any just initial situation that evolves through just actions/transactions must result in a just end situation. Thus, he wants to show that there could have been a series of just actions/transactions from the state of nature that would have led to a modern-day society like his night-watchman state. That existence theorem is important, because it mitigates certain objections ...”

Nozick set his theory in that specific time and place to defend a concept. Just because Nozick choose that time and place because it is the only way to build a case for moral right to property doesn’t mean is it accurate. There was no distinct point when distribution occurred because with every birth a brand new distribution occurs. Just because it is generally a lack of distribution due to ongoing monopolization by others does not mean that distribution is not occurring. If there is no moral justification for that monopolization then the lack of distribution is potentially immoral. Basically there is no reason to accept the framework laid out by Nozick as gospel.

You went on:

"the distribution occurs with every birth" -- you seem to be imagining a situation in which infants gain property rights by virtue of being born. But since property is finite, this means it has to be taken away from someone. Who?”

In this statement you assume that rights to property are somehow fixed and individualized. Logically and historically, it is not supportable. In many subsistence societies the “right” to monopolize a piece of land was limited to one or two growing seasons. The size and quality of land was determined by the number of people in the family. The “right” belonged to the family as a whole. An individual’s right were determined by the family at each meal or each exchange between families. In many pre-agricultural societies there is no concept of fixed distribution at all. The hunt belongs to the tribe. Fruits are collected and shared from plants which might provisionally be considered property of the tribe but individual rights are not necessarily known before or after each moment. Instead of acknowledging that individual rights might well be undetermined you switched gears and started talking about how property is determined.

“You seem to be under the misapprehension that private property's existence is an arbitrary choice of the State that could have been avoided. Property merely refers to rights of control. Insofar as property can be used at all -- insofar as food can be eaten, clothes worn, houses lived in -- some person or group of persons must have the power to decide how they are used (if a group, by some defined decision process). However it's done, there's property. Even if all property is held by the State (or in common), as soon as you introduce a decision-process to decide how it's used, you've introduced property rights, and the right to vote in referenda about property usage is a property right.”

You go further with Coases’ definition of property as the right to perform certain actions. Well my point was that in the few instances where rights exist for individuals within many societies they last for nanoseconds. Most of their individual rights are redefined daily, hourly or by the minute. I’m fairly certain that your fixed, individualistic mental framework is leading you to false conclusions.

Posted by: Stan on July 23, 2003 07:48 AM

"First, your opinion doesn't matter if it is a moral question. That is the nature of the word moral."

You've got that entirely turned around. MORAL questions are precisely where opinions are the ONLY thing that counts.

It doesn't matter what my opinion is, if I think that the earth is flat. My opinion is provably WRONG.

It DOES matter if my opinion is that there are Gods, and those Gods want us to behave in a certain way (e.g., that Gods don't want us to take property from others, or that Gods don't want us to take life from others). There is simply no way to disprove that.

I can say that the Gods wanted everyone in the world to have a first name of Mark, and that those Gods are really p@ssed that everyone doesn't have that first name, and that everyone without a first name of Mark is going straight to H@ll when they die. That's my moral opinion. And there is absolutely no way of your disproving that moral opinion.

"The only potential moral basis for your "owning" stuff lies in a mythical natural right to do so."

ALL rights are "mythical," Stan! That's what I've been trying to tell you and everyone else all along! I've now called them "mythical." I've called them "artificial constructs." I don't know how many other ways to say that ALL rights exist only because human minds believe they do.

You think some Higher Power thinks that all people should have a natural right to life. Well, the only way you can prove that is so, is to find that Higher Power, and have it come to my house, and tell me that you know what you're talking about. In the absence of such proof, *I* say a "right to life" is mythical, just like ALL rights. (And you say I'm wrong. But you can't prove I'm wrong. That's the way it is with MORAL questions.)

"This entire thread was pointing out how mythical natural property rights are."

Not ALL of this thread. I've been trying to point out that ALL rights are "mythical." But you haven't caught on. Or in any case, you haven't been able to prove that I'm wrong. And you never will.

"You should have stuck to genuflecting to quotes of our founding fathers."

OK, and YOU should stick to finding your Higher Power, who can tell me that a "right to life" is any LESS "mythical" than a "right to property."

Absent you bringing your Higher Power before me, you haven't made any legitimate argument that a "right to property" is any less "mythical" than a "right to life," or any other "natural right."

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 23, 2003 09:17 AM

Mark, I stand corrected. You are entirely correct. You can make your morals up as you see fit.

Posted by: Stan on July 23, 2003 01:55 PM

Mark, I stand corrected. You are making a perfectly logical argument. You can make your morals up as you see fit.

Posted by: Stan on July 23, 2003 02:19 PM

"You are making a perfectly logical argument. You can make your morals up as you see fit."

We ALL "make up morals as (we) see fit," Stan. It's just that apparently only *some* of us are intelligent and honest enough to admit it.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 23, 2003 02:51 PM

Mark, I am impressed that you admit that Libertarianism has no fixed moral basis.

Obviously, I'm not very bright for assuming that somebody calling himself a Libertarian would be a devout worshiper at the alter of Locke. You've never given any indication whatsoever that Locke's natural rights were your own basis of justification for your moral beliefs.

I should have recognized right away that Libertarian worship of small government for its pathetically thin utilitarian defenses is the rage among gifted individuals such as yourself.

I am also surely dishonest to myself as to the nature of my own moral beliefs. There can't be any historical reasons for using Locke's tenets as the basis of this argument.

Let me say again that I am impressed that you admit that Libertarianism has no fixed moral basis.

Posted by: Stan on July 24, 2003 09:02 AM

Mark, I am impressed that you admit that Libertarianism has no fixed moral basis.

Obviously, I'm not very bright for assuming that somebody calling himself a Libertarian would be a devout worshiper at the alter of Locke. Particularly since you've never given any indication whatsoever that Locke's natural rights were your own basis of justification for your moral beliefs. You've never once trotted out a couple of quotes by our founding fathers. I should have recognized right away that Libertarian worship of small government for its pathetically thin utilitarian defenses is the rage among gifted individuals such as yourself.

I am also surely dishonest to myself as to the nature of my own moral beliefs. There can't be any historical reasons for using Locke's tenets as the basis of this argument.

Let me say again that I am impressed that you admit that Libertarianism has no fixed moral basis.

Posted by: Stan on July 24, 2003 12:29 PM

You post it, wait a couple hours and still the server shows it only when you post it again!

Posted by: Stan on July 24, 2003 01:40 PM

This was written before Stan's post on the evening of July 23rd...

I wrote, "We ALL 'make up morals as (we) see fit,' Stan. It's just that apparently only *some* of us are intelligent and honest enough to admit it."

Having thought about it more, what I wrote was disparaging and wrong (of people who think their morals aren't 'made up').

Most of us have morals. *I* have them. Very few of us think that our morals are "made up."

It is neither unintelligent or dishonest to think that one's morals are NOT "made up." One can very honestly AND intelligently think that one's morals come from a Higher Power. This belief can be held both honestly AND intelligently, because no one could ever prove that one's morals DON'T come from a Higher Power.

But what *is* either dishonest or unintelligent is not to admit that one's morals are a matter of faith.

Stan apparently thinks that the right to life is a natural right, where the right to own property is a "mythical" right. (I'm not clear on whether, when he writes "property," he means just land, or land, automobiles, clothes, cash, etc.)

I really hadn't thought about this issue much before...other than I have absolutely no love of any particular piece of land. (Part of the reason the Israeli/Palestinian strife so boggles my mind.)

But, on the basis of very little thought, I see no particularly good reason why the right to ownership of land (or clothes or cars or cash) is any more "mythical" than a right to life.

So we have two beliefs that are in conflict. But both beliefs (that property rights are or are not "mythical") are based on faith (moral outlook). I don't see any way to rationally place one moral outlook above another. It's exactly as if Stan thought there was one God, and I thought there were many. We could both honestly and intelligently hold those views. And there would be no way to logically resolve the matter, short of multiple Gods stepping forward and convincing Stan that they were indeed all Gods. (Even if one God came forward, and said She was the only God, Stan couldn't persuade me that there weren't more Gods, unless we first agreed that a God never lies. ;-))

I hate philosophy! :-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 28, 2003 09:36 AM

Mark, just so you know. I don't believe in Locke. I do "believe" the U.S. Declaration of Independence makes a great moral basis for a system of government. I understand fully the personal bias inherent in this statement.

Posted by: Stan on July 31, 2003 11:54 AM

I never addressed this:

"Mark, I am impressed that you admit that Libertarianism has no fixed moral basis."

Sigh. Let's start out with what Libertarianism is. This statement, which is on the back of every Libertarian Party membership card, summarizes Libertarianism quite well:

"We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose."

This is frequently called the "non-aggression principle." Now, some Libertarians can and do hold this to be a statement of moral principle. It's essentially, "Live and let live" (at least with respect to other humans).

Other Libertarians could support this this simply because they think that governments set up according to this principle function "better" than other forms of government. Of course, "better" could also be a subjective judgement, or it could be rendered objective, by defining what is meant by "better."

For example, I could--and do!--say that a government set up according to the Libertarian "non-aggression" principle provides the absolutely highest rate of economic growth achievable, among all other competing forms of government. Therefore, Libertarianism could ALSO be justified strict on an amoral basis.

So it's a complete crock to write that Libertarianism "has no fixed moral basis." And it's even more of a crock to write that *I* "admit that." I do NOT admit that.

I fall at least partly into the first category of Libertarians...I DO think that the Libertarian non-aggression principle has a moral component. And I DO support that moral component.

The fact that I think government according to the Libertarian non-aggression principle would also produce the "best" (which I define by the richest, most generous, most tolerant, most diverse) country, of any form of government, merely adds icing to the moral cake.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 1, 2003 09:44 AM
Post a comment