Bryan Caplan  

EconLog Book Club: For a New Liberty, Chapter 2

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Timely? Temporary?... Singapore Fact of the Day...

Summary
In this chapter ("Property and Exchange"), Rothbard introduces the "non-aggression axiom," also often known as the "non-initiation of force axiom."  The intuition is simple enough: No one has the right to start using physical violence or the threat thereof against another person or his property. 

This is one of the first moral rules we learn as children - the kid who punches first is in the wrong, and you musn't take stuff that doesn't belong to you.  The distinctive feature of the libertarian position, Rothbard explains, is that it applies the same moral standard to government:

In contrast to all other thinkers, left, right, or in-between, the libertarian refuses to give the State the moral sanction to commit actions that almost everyone agrees would be immoral, illegal, and criminal if committed by any person or group in society. The libertarian, in short, insists on applying the general moral law to everyone, and makes no special exemp tions for any person or group. But if we look at the State naked, as it were, we see that it is universally allowed, and even encouraged, to commit all the acts which even non-libertarians concede are reprehensible crimes. The State habitually commits mass murder, which it calls "war," or sometimes "suppression of subversion"; the State engages in enslave ment into its military forces, which it calls "conscription"; and it lives and has its being in the practice of forcible theft, which it calls "taxation." The libertarian insists that whether or not such practices are supported by the majority of the population is not germane to their nature: that, regardless of popular sanction, War is Mass Murder, Conscription is Slavery, and Taxation is Robbery. The libertarian, in short, is almost completely the child in the fable, pointing out insistently that the emperor has no clothes.
Rothbard then discusses attempts to justify the non-aggression axiom.  He quickly disposes of the utilitarian rationale, then presents his own natural rights story.  Aside from some hand-waving about "the natural law of man's needs," he presents three alternative property theories (libertarian self-ownership, some sort of "natural slave" story, and "participatory communism"), and argues that the first is by far the most plausible. 

Next, Mr Libertarian highlights the important problem of initial acquisition:
Some libertarians attempt to resolve the problem by asserting that whoever the existing government decrees has the property title should be considered the just owner of the property. At this point, we have not yet delved deeply into the nature of government, but the anomaly here should be glaring enough: it is surely odd to find a group eternally suspicious of virtually any and all functions of government suddenly leaving it to government to define and apply the precious concept of property, the base and groundwork of the entire social order.
This leads directly to a review/defense of Locke's theory of initial acquisition, and a simple derivation of free exchange: If your own a thing, it follows that you've got a right to give it away, either gratis or in return for something else.  The chapter ends by explaining how libertarian property rights theory can be used to put vaguer notions of "human rights" on a more solid footing.  In a libertarian framework, you don't need to balance a "right of free speech" against the "public interest."  The person who shouts "fire" in a crowded theater is guilty of trespass if he's a customer, and fraud if he's the owner.

Critical Comments
As an ethical intuitionist, my main complaint about Rothbard's defense of libertarian rights is his obscurantism about what's "natural."
Natural law theory rests on the insight that we live in a world of more than one--in fact, a vast number--of entities, and that each entity has distinct and specific properties, a distinct "nature," which can be investigated by man's reason, by his sense perception and mental faculties.  Copper has a distinct nature and behaves in a certain way, and so do iron, salt, etc. The species man, therefore, has a specifiable nature, as does the world around him and the ways of interaction between them... Violent interference with a man's learning and choices is therefore profoundly "antihuman"; it violates the natural law of man's needs.
I object that anything that people do is ipso facto "natural," so there's no way you're going to get moral precepts out of this.  But in any case, all this talk violates the fundamental rule of philosophical reasoning (indeed, all reasoning): You don't use the obscure to argue for the obvious.  It's silly to say, "Murder violates man's nature, so murder is wrong," when you can just say, "Murder is wrong."

Rothbard's at his strongest when he points out that governments habitually perform actions which almost everyone would admit were wrong if they were committed by a private individual.  This, in my view, is real moral reasoning - instead of arguing for the obvious (murder is wrong because blah blah blah), he's arguing from the obvious (murder is wrong, so it's wrong when government does it, too).  His three property rights scenarios also have some probative value, since they help clarify moral intuitions, but of course ignore an infinity of hybrid scenarios.  Rothbard also deserves credit for emphasizing the need for an extra-governmental standard of just property acquisition.

One of the main highlights of this chapter, for me, is Rothbard's take on shouting "fire" in a crowded building.  It's easy to take this reduction for granted, but it was a revelation when I first read it.  The deep insight underlying this example is that property rights are, like Legos, incredibly flexible building blocks with which you can create almost any structure you can imagine: Marriages, corporations, malls, blogs, non-smoking sections, Facebook, you name it.

Finally, Rothbard's casual use of the term "absolute" is silly.  If my right of
self-ownership is "absolute," aren't you violating my rights merely by
breathing on me?  And in any case, exceptionless rights go beyond the common sense morality that libertarianism builds upon.  Yes, it's almost always wrong to throw the first punch or take someone's stuff, but if you can't think of plausible counter-examples, you aren't trying hard enough.

P.S. Since I teach Monday nights, I'm moving discussion of all future chapters to Tuesdays.


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (68 to date)
Franklin Harris writes:

"Finally, Rothbard's casual use of the term 'absolute' is silly."

This is where Rothbard the Libertarian forgets that he is also Rothbard the Economist. Even if Libertarian Rothbard believes ethical values are objective while Economist Rothbard believes economic valuations are subjective, it seems obvious that the law of diminishing marginal utility applies to both. Not even ethical values (nor, by extension, the "natural rights" that derive from them) can have infinite value. Yet Rothbard seems to believe, with Kant, in letting "justice" be done though the heavens fall. (Thus, it's no wonder Rothbard would later endorse Hans-Hermann Hoppe's gleefully anti-consequentialist rights theory.)

"Rothbard's at his strongest when he points out that governments habitually perform actions which almost everyone would admit were wrong if they were committed by a private individual."

I agree this is where Rothbard is at his strongest. It's also, unsurprisingly, the area were he has a lot of earlier libertarian, quasi-libertarian, and classical liberal thinkers from whom to draw. This is, essentially, a restatement of Bastiat's The Law and the thought of Auberon Herbert.

Lech Wilkiewicz writes:

"One of the main highlights of this chapter, for me, is Rothbard's take on shouting "fire" in a crowded building. It's easy to take this reduction for granted, but it was a revelation when I first read it."

This was also a real eye opener for me. This example has helped me in a lot of debates and it completely changed how I think about property rights and what can be done with them.

By the way, anyone willing to comment on the 'mixing labor' theory of acquisition and if you know of other justifications which you find more convincing? I am writing about Intellectual Property and want to compare and contrast IP versus corporeal property.

Kurbla writes:
    Rothbard: "Anyone who truly believes in the “voluntary” nature of taxation is invited to refuse to pay taxes and to see what then happens to him."

Paying taxes is like paying hotel bill for services you got. If you do not like it, leave the hotel/state, and you'll not have to pay it.


    Rothbard: Sculptor has placed the stamp of his person upon the raw material, by “mixing his labor” with the clay. Surely, it is a rare person who, with the case put thus, would say that the sculptor does not have the property right in his own product.

I know one lake, people use it for fishing, they use the water during drought. But no one mixes his work with lake. Yesterday I've thrown some bread into lake to feed fish. The lake is mine. No water in the case of drought any more, guys.

Came first, served first is the most practical if resources are not scarce, but it was never seen to be very just. Even if you wait in the bank, pregnant women have priority.


    Rothbard: "If Willie Stargell owns his labor and the money he earns from it, then he has the right to give that money to the baby Stargell."

No if hotel owner has his own rule that those who live in the hotel do not leave all money is left to children, and Mr. Stargell freely accepted that rule.


    Rothbard: About fire in theater ...

He has the right about that - many problems can be easily reduced on property rights.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

1. We quickly reach a place where many people have difficulty with a "pure" libertarian philosophy, e.g. one or more of: recreational drugs, protecting the young, a credible threat of war, sexual preference or unorthodoxy, many others. Also, most people accept *certain* controls, regs, subsidies, prohibitions etc, e.g. in the name of "protecting our food supply" or "medicine supply" or "energy supply", "children's education" etc.

2. Strong paragraph - the natures of the state are to: take, prohibit, regulate, intervene, conscript, enslave, kill etc, regardless of whether these acts are supported by the majority they are against "natural law".

3. Rothbard puts himself way out on the fringe with his damaging paragraph about Friedman. Merely Friedmanist policies would be a gigantic improvement over today's, and sometimes "better" is good enough. It would at least be a start. Rothbard seems to be arguing that it would not even be a start, or that whether it is a start is irrelevant because Friedman is too utilitarian for a return to total and righteous libertarianism. This is the same argument communists use against socialists - they are not radical enough.

4. The parable about executing redheads is such nonsense that I could not complete the argument.

5. Of course the Locke quotes are good.

6. He spends much effort explaining the difference between "society", the state and the individual. This is mostly self-evident and I found it hard to maintain my interest here.

7. The fire-in-the-theater example, he interprets cleverly as a property rights issue. Well done.

This chapter left me cold. In putting himself in opposition to personal favorites such as Friedman, he seems to emphasize the slightly nutty/utopian anarchism that libertarians are often identified with.

I think Rothbard wrote the book at the beginning of what he sensed was a new era of libertarianism. Ironically, in writing this "bible" on true libertarianism, he may have turned a lot of people off. Honestly, we don't have to start every discussion with "legalize pot". It is possible that many potential small-government voters did not make it beyond this chapter.

It left me thinking that libertarianism is not so much a goal as a direction. We are so far to the left (imo) that there is plenty of scope for unwinding big government without having to subscribe to some of the rather odd philosophy that Rothbard introduces in this chapter.

Hume writes:

"Paying taxes is like paying hotel bill for services you got. If you do not like it, leave the hotel/state, and you'll not have to pay it."

This is incorrect. A better analogy would be a hotel owner requiring you to stay in their room and subsequently declaring you owe them for services rendered.

Randy writes:

Kurbla,

"Paying taxes is like paying hotel bill for services you got."

The political class likes to think of the place I live as a hotel, a property they own, because their rationalizations depend on it.

The way I see, it is my home, and the political class has no more right to it than I do. They have more guns and so I make my decisions with that fact in mind. End of story.

Kurbla writes:

Randy, no, it is not end of the story.

Why do you believe you have ALL property rights? On the base of what? Have you seen the contract when you bought your home? Wasn't it written there something about US or whatever country law and local court sovereignty?

Were you forced to sign the contract?

So, what do you want now? You want something you didn't bought. Just like that, its mine. Strange.

Isaac K. writes:

@Randy, Hume, et al:
No one is forcing you to remain in your state, in your country (unless you are in violation or suspicion of violation of law).
Kurbla is correct: you have every right and ability to leave, should you choose.
The only thing making you stay is the sunk cost - your "roots" which you have already "put down."
I think most libertarians, given the opportunity, wouldn't leave this country, even for a "free market nation."

Note that Kurbla didn't say you rented a room - he said "paying hotel bill for services you got." Roads are a service, police, fire dept., water, electricity, military are all provided services.
Could they be supplied by a free market? Perhaps.
But you still used those services, so pay up.

The primary question I have (which I asked Lew Rockwell, who referred me to Rothbard's Manifesto, which didn't really help) is when do you differentiate between a free market autonomous collective providing for the needs of its members via a subscription and a fledgling "government?"
If I make a commitment to a person, or group of people, to collectively provide for the whole by contributing a portion of my income, even if I disagree with a particular decision, withdrawing from said agreement is a form of aggression against the multipartite collective.
On the other hand, the collective taking my income to pay for a service I don't use (nor wish to) is an aggression against myself.

At what point does it cease to be a rule by majority vote and transform into the anethmatic body politic of "government?"

Jacob Miller writes:

"Rothbard's at his strongest when he points out that governments habitually perform actions which almost everyone would admit were wrong if they were committed by a private individual."

Despite some misgivings in this chapter, I enjoyed this general point the most. A good reality check for me is to ask myself, "If I am not willing to force someone to comply, by what authority can I command someone else to force someone to comply?" Of course, if I have no morals and have no problems mugging people, this doesn't work out too well. :)

Hume writes:

To kurbla, Isaac K.:

When searching for the philosophical justifications for State power and/or the power to tax, it is fallacious to argue "you can leave if you dont like it." You are assuming the power of the state to do X (e.g., tax), when we are exploring this power in the first place. Moreover, you are assuming the State's sovereignty over the given area, when in fact this is exactly what is in question in the first place.

"Note that Kurbla didn't say you rented a room - he said "paying hotel bill for services you got." Roads are a service, police, fire dept., water, electricity, military are all provided services.
Could they be supplied by a free market? Perhaps.
But you still used those services, so pay up."

Note my proper analogy. The hotel is forcing you to stay in a room (i.e., providing you a service) and at the end of the stay is declaring "pay us for the service we provided you." You are assuming it is legitimate to force individuals to pay for services they either dont want or did not agree to a price. This needs justification.

Damien writes:

Tacit consent is a rather dangerous doctrine IMHO. Taken to its logical extreme, it implies that, should the mafia offer me "protection" in exchange for a small "contribution", my refusal to leave town somehow makes this behavior acceptable. The doctrine of tacit consent has the merit to expose the state for what it really is, a dignified band of robbers ("cough up or leave your life behind"). The real question is what gives the State the right to present this alternative to people in the first place.

To return to the hotel analogy:

a) what if the hotel in question forcibly took my shoes at night, polished them, and then demanded payment for this "service". True, I benefited from it (my shoes are now shiny), but I never requested that my shoes by shined in the first place!

b) what if all other hotels in towns not only polished your shoes against your will, but also ironed your clothes and charged you for it? You might choose the lesser evil and stay in the first hotel, but

c) unlike the hotel that "charges for services you got", the State charges us for services we don't (and never will) benefit from. If you only paid for what you received, it would eliminate the need for most governement programs in the first place, as it would be more efficient to simply let people spend their own money directly.

Blackadder writes:

Kurbla seems to be arguing for what you might call the squeegee man theory of government. You're at a stop light and a guy comes up and starts cleaning your windshield, then demands you pay him a fee. He did provide a service, but it wasn't one you asked for, nor was there any realistic way of avoiding it (saying "you could just leave the country" is like saying "you could just not drive" in this scenario).

Randy writes:

Issac K,

"No one is forcing you to remain in your state..."

Irrelevent. This is my home. A fact that takes precedence over any supposed "right" of the state.

"...for services you got..."

But not for services that I requested. If, without prior agreement, I paint your house while you're out, do you owe me? Even if I have a gun and demand payment? Even if I did a really good job?

"If I make a commitment....withdrawing from said agreement is a form of aggression against the multipartite collective."

That is Hobbes' point as well. But he doesn't prove that a commitment or agreement exists - he simply asserts it. In the end, Hobbes isn't saying "there is an agreement", but rather, "those who disagree are fair game". So again, the political class can save its breath with the propaganda. They've got lots of big guns. I understand.

Randy writes:

Blackadder,

Squeegee man is good, but its more like squeegee man with a gun.

Grant writes:

Kurbla,

The point is that states did not acquire their property in the same manner as hotels (which purchase it). With few exceptions they annexed or conquered their territory without the individual consent of the people who already used and owned the land (otherwise they'd never be able to get so large).

So while you're correct that even Rothbard would say something like "if you don't like it, you can live somewhere else" about a government that arose by legitimate means, today's states do not qualify as such.

Taimyoboi writes:

"The deep insight underlying this example is that property rights are, like Legos, incredibly flexible building blocks with which you can create almost any structure you can imagine: Marriages, corporations, malls, blogs, non-smoking sections, Facebook, you name it."

Is Rothbard also making the stronger claim that we should?

Blackadder writes:

Squeegee man is good, but its more like squeegee man with a gun.

With the squeegee men, as with the government, the threat of violence was usually left implicit. But it was always there.

Renato Drumond writes:

Gosh, I have so many problems with this chapter that I don't even know how to start. I'll post my criticism later.

I'd like to adress the question pointed by Kurbla and Isaac K.

Imagine, for the sake of argument, a purely libertarian society, based on property rights and without any government agency. Everyone agreed to live there and signed a contract. We can call this an 'artificial' city: each one of its citizens moved from 'natural' cities to there. They agreed with the rules and laws of the city.

Now, some of the citizens got pregnant and children were born. Suppose that some of them are homosexuals and homosexual acts are punished with prison.

The problem is: the homosexuals don't consent with the rules that punish them. Would you say that they suffer coercion? Nobody asked them if homosexualism should be punished, they were born on a society that already had that kind of rule.

A libertarian could say that, if the homosexuals are upset with that rule, they could simply move to other cities. But if you could use this argument to defend 'artificial' cities, you can't deny the use of it when it's used on the context of the natural ones.

You can, of course, reject the value of 'don't like it? move!' argument. But I don't see how this rejection endorses a purely libertarian society.

Political Observer writes:

It's not about paying for the services you got - it is about paying for all of the services that you don't want. In the socialized system we expect a larger portion of the population to not use the bulk of the services yet pay for them so others who do use these services don't have to pay their true cost. This can only come about because government through coercion compels some individuals to offset the cost of government sponsored services for the benefits of others. This also happens in the private sector - however one can voluntarily chose to participate based on their assessment of the benefits derived from the cost incurred.

Hume writes:

Drumond,

Your example does not exactly work the way you wish. Those entering into the agreement can only agree to be punished themselves for future homosexual acts. They could never bind anyone else to this agreement. Perhaps they could also bind their property with a clause "I shall not allow any homosexual acts on my property." Again, this binds no one else. If such conduct takes place, it is the individual who entered into the contract who may be punished, not those engaging in the homosexual act (note: this assumes that punishment is legitimate for breaking a contract; I am not making such an assertion).

dcpi writes:

Even if you move to another country you still owe US Federal taxes. Plus, you owe the new taxes for the new hotelier also.

Plus, starting Jan 1 next year, if you renounced your citizenship altogether you owe a special lump sum property tax.

So the hotelier is making you pay whether you stay with him or not.

Plus, the entire concept of "my way or move" is morally repugnant. It presumes that the speaker "my way" is superior to the dissenter in some way that forestalls debate.

Oil Shock writes:

They will charge you even if you leave the hotel. Some times the charges are higher.

Grant writes:

Anyone repeating the "if you don't like the state, you can live somewhere else" argument,

This has really been fleshed out more completely in other places. The issue is how the state came to exist, and how voluntary organizations come to exist. From a Rothbardian standpoint, a state is much different than a voluntary arrangement, because they come into being by different mechanisms: One by exchange, the other by conquest. The later is therefore legitimate, while the former is not.

I'm not Rothbardian, but I do recognize that an institutions which come into being by voluntary arrangements are much more likely to serve the interests of their participants than institutions imposed on those participants via force.

Of course, there is still the possibility of inter-generational conflict, such as a community forming anti-homosexual laws which that community's offspring do not agree with. However, Rothbard never claims property rights solve all problems, and more to the point, voluntary governments aren't likely to be nearly as large as modern states (greatly lowering the costs of leaving). They are also likely to have democratic processes, where appropriate (e.g., homeowner's associations).

Arare Litus writes:

Post chapter notes:

This section has left me deeply disappointed. Not only did I not get a clear crisp libertarian argument in support of property rights, but I am left with the impression that “finders keepers” is the state of the art in philosophical thought. This section, which details the core, the legitimacy, of libertarianism left me no more informed, or convinced, than before reading it. This, this, is the best arguments in play? How can Locke, Rothbard and others not ask the simple questions such as “what if two people saw the apple at the same time”? This seems a case of wanting to believe something and accepting weak “proof”. I am also disappointed because I have never gotten a clear idea of the underpinnings of “natural rights” – which seem to flow out of socially accepted norms – which makes them the rights we normally get, i.e. those supplied by the state. If Volitaire et al did not think twice about torture until a great awakening that, hey this is bad, it seems that “natural” is, at the very least, not obvious (Western society circa 21st Century also seems pretty happy to actively torture, or turn a blind eye). This lack of insight for me is retained on finishing this section. I had great hopes. They were dashed. I retain hope in the discussions and in the next chapters things become clearer.

Finders keepers doesn’t work in a crowded environment. Portioning land is a pragmatic solution. But extend the logic one step out, why does “finders keepers” hold for giving complete ownership rights over land? Necessity drives taking resources to live, and the resulting rush on resources demands parceling out land to individuals to steward – neither of these facts gives some sort of higher legitimacy and the right to completely exclude others. Further, a non-liberatarian argument that follows Rothbard’s logic could be given: we were developed and gained from a social system, and in a sense that social system “owns us” (much like Rothbard claims agent X owns resource Y by modifying it and adding value somehow) and it is legitimate to impose a tax on our success in order to support that social system. In the same way we are given the right to some property, and the majority of its fruits, but we gained from both this transfer of property by society and general mechanisms of society, and again a tax on subsequent success is a legitimate price to impose on us.

Post Dr. Caplan’s comments & discussion

Hotel, services, free to leave, etc: it is true that we often use services, but we have no choice in paying or not, and we do not pay on the amount we use – this effectively forces us to use the services foisted on us, since we must pay anyways. We do not make a “commitment” freely – we are given the terms, and the choice of acceptance or aggression against us. The question is one of choice. As for free to leave – how true is this? If each parcel of land is owned by a gang that imposes a tax, what option does one have? One could go to a place like Sudan (with a high transaction cost of travel, setup, etc.) with no stable top-level government (“gang”), but they instead have many local gangs. But the fact remains that we do benefit from some services provided by the state, or having them there when we might need them is useful: argue all you like about military usefulness, but if governments are effectively gangs then you can be sure they would like to shake down a undefended people nearby, or gangs will spontaneously form without effective policing. The question then becomes one of free-rider issues, can we have market-supplied security, or is monopoly on violence somehow optimal? But these points seem to be jumping the gun and convolute many issues together – the underlying problem seems to be one of legitimate full ownership of property. Does the libertarian claim, of free and clear ownership, hold up? If not then the clean axiomic base is tarnished, and all further developments are a nice limiting case, but hardly one can fully support and issues of how much, what services are reasonable, etc. are important (and Milton Friedman doesn’t come out a sellout, but rather prudent).

Randy writes:

Arare Litus,

"...the underlying problem seems to be one of legitimate full ownership of property."

Actually, I've wondering why this is an issue at all. Those who like the current distribution will rationalize its propriety, and those who dislike the current distribution will rationalize its impropriety. Neither set of rationalizations will ever be right or wrong, only enforceable or unenforceable. It seems to me that we can start there.

Arare Litus writes:

Randy,

""...the underlying problem seems to be one of legitimate full ownership of property."

Actually, I've wondering why this is an issue at all."

It is an issue if one is to believe in libertarian theory as truth, versus an interesting limiting case. Self serving justification will allows exist, and ones ability to enforce roots what will happen in practice, but the question of what is true is both important for coming up with consistent, "good", systems to strive for and in preventing our biases and self justifications from blinding us. It makes a difference, to me, if taxation is theft, or something that I truly owe to "society". If libertarianism is merely a interesting test case, that works in the limit of infinite resources, then it is useful, but one would have to modify all its prescriptions to take into account finite resources, and one would have to be careful that taking libertarianism on isn't a way to justify being selfish - taxes? No thanks - I'm libertarian! Basically, all the outcomes would be questionable - interesting to guide thought, but how should one account for biases, finite resources, etc?

So in practice, I agree with you - legitimacy is somewhat irrelevant, but in terms of what should be, and how I should think about things, this is crucial. I currently take libertarianism as a fundamentally flawed limiting case, but have not studied it very much, and I am interesting in how useful it is.

Those are the reasons I'm making such a big deal about this.

Randy writes:

Arare Litus,

"...and one would have to be careful that taking libertarianism on isn't a way to justify being selfish..."

It probably is... but then, so are pretty much all of the ism's... and government too.

As for "truth", to me its a watchword. It puts me in the same frame of mind as when the used car salesmen tells me he has to talk it over with his manager.

Arare Litus writes:

Randy,

“It [libertarianism] probably is... [a way to justify selfishness]”

That is the thing – if legitimate free and clear property ownership can be logically defended, or defended to an extent, then we can remove/reduce the “probably”. I had always thought libertarians would have a more solid argument of the philosophy, and maybe they do, but I’m left post chapter in the same place as pre-chapter: heuristic and empirical work, guided by logic and axioms, are the only way to go and libertarianism doesn’t have any clear application to the real world. It is a fatally flawed limiting case: of interest, of use, but not worthy of dedication as a philosophy. Yes, fighting words to invoke reaction from the libertarians: defend your axioms!

“As for "truth", to me its a watchword.”

I agree that fonts of truth are typically con artists, but I am a believer in The Truth (capital letters!). We are finite, have impartial and noisy data, have false facts (factoids) polluting our minds, biases, etc. But with effort we can get closer to the truth. I don’t care if others sell snake oil, I care if I do, I care if my friends and thinking people start preferring snake oil (not to imply those are mutually exclusive sets...).

Renato Drumond writes:

Rothbard says that:

"The right to self-ownership asserts the absolute right of each man, by virtue of his (or her) being a human being, to "own" his or her own body; that is, to control that body free of coercive interference."

The idea that everyone has a right to full self-ownership is contradictory. If you think that you have a right to make anything with your body, this includes the right to do anything with other person's bodies using your body. Although you don't have a right over other people's bodies, you have an absolute right to your own body. But if you have an absolute right, nobody has a right to stop you from doing anything you want. But if other persons have a right to their own bodies, they can't be stopped for stopping you from doing anything you want with your own body. You can only have a limited right over your own body.

This is what Herbert Spencer means when he affirms that "...every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man" So Rothbard can't exclude the second alternative("everyone has the right to own his own equal quotal share of everyone else"), because the libertarian position is a position of the second kind. The position of full self-ownership is simply indefensible.

Renato Drumond writes:

"Man, in other words, must own not only his own person, but also material objects for his control and use."

Yeah it's true that, to stay alive, man should have access to material objects. But it's not true that he must have access to material objects that are not necessary to mantain its own existence. He can't use the right to live to justify other property rather than the necessary to sustain a man alive.

For example, when he says:

"if every man has the right to own his own body, and if he must grapple with the material objects of the world in order to survive, then the sculptor has the right to own the product he has made"

Does the product made by the sculptor necessary to survive? I don't think it is. How this kind of property could be justified?

Kurbla writes:
  • "The point is that states did not acquire their property in the same manner as hotels (which purchase it). With few exceptions they annexed or conquered their territory without the individual consent of the people who already used and owned the land (otherwise they'd never be able to get so large)."

Do you want to say that if property is not "clean," that it shouldn't be respected? It is huge trouble for libertarians, because almost certainly as much as 100% of European private property is illegitimate. Maybe US and Australia as young states are slightly better, but for the rest of the world, it is stolen and stolen again who knows how many times.

Arare Litus writes:

Renato Drumond,

“The idea that everyone has a right to full self-ownership is contradictory. If you think that you have a right to make anything with your body, this includes the right to do anything with other person's bodies using your body.”

I believe the definition of full self-ownership is that – you decide on unions, exchanges, etc. with others who also agree i.e. you have full sovereignty over your body, others over their bodies. All must approve of any action “between” people. This is not the same as saying you have a right for “constraint free” action using your body, but instead that the constraint is that others cannot decide what to do with/to your body. The difference is between (A) sovereignty in accepting (or proposing) being the constraint, and (B) having no constraints on action; this is a huge difference. Having no constraints is a problem, as you detail.

I personally find full self-ownership to be self evident, in the sense that others have no right to acting on ones body without permission. I cannot think of when I would prefer others to limit my decisions, and I wouldn’t be comfortable in forcing or limiting action by others (that did not directly impinge on third parties). Any counter cases to legitimacy of self-ownership seem to just reinforce how robust it is – i.e. children need some help in making decision, etc.

“Does the product made by the sculptor necessary to survive? I don't think it is.”

It does, in that he exchanges his product for more edible (and hopefully more tasty) products. Everyone also gets ahead by division of labour, but that is a side point.

Kurbla writes:

People complain about

"you are free to go."

I know it is bitter. But you cannot do anything about that, even anarchocapitalist society must have such rules. If communist is born in anarchocapitalist society, and he tries to act like communist, only answer he can get is "obey private property or go somewhere else, Cuba for example."


Nathan Benedict writes:

Kurbla--a critical distinction is that the current owners of private property acquired it legally, even if, at some time in the past, possession passed through conquest rather than free exchange. By contrast, government property is still held by the same institution which acquired it unjustly.

If A buys from B, who bought from C, who bought from D, etc. it's highly inefficient to have a system in which A must learn of the lineage of a piece of property all the way to Z, or else live in perpetual fear of losing ownership to a descendant of the original, rightful owner.

Grant writes:

Kurbla,

Yes it is a problem, but not just for libertarians. No modern liberal or conservative would suggest the genocide of the American Indians was a just act. The criminals as well as their victims are long dead, so it follows that we should at the least try to prevent legitimizing such conquests in the future. As far as what else can be done, I don't know, I don't read much about libertarian ethics.

Arare Litus,

I believe a reasonable outlook is that Rothbard's flavor of libertarianism is limited in its scope. Obviously his philosophy holds up reasonably well for private goods (such as a rock; if I pick it up first, its mine) but less so for public ones (such as the atmosphere; if I breath it first, its still not mine). In their capacity as goods, the line between private and public is completely subjective, but in their capacity as physical objects it is not.

I'm personally no Rothbardian, and think that normative reasoning is usually a waste of time. However, it seems to me that some goods (such as bodies of water or the atmosphere) are used in common whether we wish them to be or not, and thus by Lockean homesteading principles must be owned in common. I think libertarianism can have a moral advantage (whatever thats worth) over democracy here as well, since democracy purports to establish ownership via a majority that may not have anything to do with the owned objects. Why, for example, should a vote from someone in Kansas have anything to do with how the bodies of water in Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico are used?

In any case, I don't believe initial homesteading of property is as important as allowance of market process pertaining to that property. A well-functioning economy will direct misallocated resources back towards more gainful uses. Of course, this is a consequentialist argument Rothbard would reject.

Arare Litus writes:

Grant,

"I believe a reasonable outlook is that Rothbard's flavor of libertarianism is limited in its scope. Obviously his philosophy holds up reasonably well for private goods (such as a rock; if I pick it up first, its mine) but less so for public ones (such as the atmosphere; if I breath it first, its still not mine)."

I completely agree on the limited scope, I am hoping that my opinion on just how limited libertarianism is modified by discussion. Rothbard didn't convince me, and if anything reduced it - as I had assumed some stronger arguments exist (though as you point out, Rothbard is a certain flavour, perhaps other arguments are stronger).

As for holding up for private goods, I am not even convinced of this - just by picking something up first you have complete rights over it? What if we both see a rock at the same time? In the limit of few resources the arguments become increasingly weak. Basically, if you remove the axiom of pure ownership there is nothing to distinguish libertarianism with other approaches - why would anyone "be" a libertarian?

James writes:

Kurbla,

Suppose I force you to choose between either paying a price I name for whatever services my employer felt like selling you, or leaving the country.

If you believe it is immoral for me to make this demand, then you are a libertarian.

If you believe it is moral, then get out your checkbook.

If you need to know whether or not I work for a government in order to know whether or not it is moral for me to make this demand, then your view of ethics treats government as exempt from the standards you apply to everyone else.

Grant writes:

Arare Litus,

There are certainly other flavors of libertarianism, such as consequentialism (which is a broad term in itself). Rothbard was a natural law libertarian (and would probably say that consequentialists aren't 'real' libertarians, but whatever). A consequentialist would say that the axiom of pure ownership is more a heuristic that generally produces good outcomes for everyone.

As for holding up for private goods, I am not even convinced of this - just by picking something up first you have complete rights over it? What if we both see a rock at the same time? In the limit of few resources the arguments become increasingly weak. Basically, if you remove the axiom of pure ownership there is nothing to distinguish libertarianism with other approaches - why would anyone "be" a libertarian?
Firstly I think its important to note that homesteading of unowned resources is rare in today's world, and most libertarians think about other things (like fractional reserve banking). As I don't find moral arguments compelling, let alone natural law arguments, I can't say how Rothbard would respond to your question (though you may be able to find his response to a similar criticism - I doubt you're the first to ask those questions).

I can answer your question of why anyone would want to be a libertarian. Putting aside the question of why people label themselves in the first place, I'm a libertarian because I believe following a non-aggression heuristic is the best way for mankind as a whole to enrich itself. As society grows more complex and inter-dependent, this heuristic becomes more important and more likely to be followed.

Going back to the rock, I think Hayek is a lot more enlightening here. What are the social norms of the two people involved? Do they accept a "finder's keepers" or "whomever sees it first" rights? An arbiter of their society would be the best, though still imperfect, means to deal with such a dispute. What if the two people have totally different norms? Since violence is costly and trade profitable, it is often in their best interest to establish some sort of understanding for this and future property claims. Since interpersonal utility comparisons are impossible, we as a third party cannot say how the rock should be distributed.

Of course, I think any two reasonable, peaceful societies will come to similar conclusions as Rothbard. If I mine a mountain and find gold, you hardly have much of a claim to that mountain after the fact, just because you may have seen it or set foot on it first. This may be the benefit of Rothbard's reasoning and natural law in general: a framework to deal with disputes where no explicit norms exist (think of how critical this is to society's functioning) which reasonable people could agree on. If explicit norms do exist, a natural rights libertarian may see these as contracts waving and trading certain rights.

Bill R writes:

Arare Litus writes: "Not only did I not get a clear crisp libertarian argument in support of property rights, but I am left with the impression that “finders keepers” is the state of the art in philosophical thought. This section, which details the core, the legitimacy, of libertarianism left me no more informed, or convinced, than before reading it. This, this, is the best arguments in play? How can Locke, Rothbard and others not ask the simple questions such as “what if two people saw the apple at the same time”?"

It's a little more than finders keepers and "seeing the apple at the same time”?, from FANL: Surely, if every man has the right to own his own body, and if he must grapple with the material
objects of the world in order to survive,...He has placed the stamp of his person upon the raw material, by “mixing his labor” with the clay, in the phrase of the great property theorist John Locke. And the product transformed by his own energy has become the material embodiment of the sculptor’s ideas and vision."

I would be difficult to envision a situation where someone homesteaded the apple at the exact same time as someone else(milliseconds count!). In that rare (if not impossible) circumstance would Person A grab one side and Person B grab the other? Even this may not be enough to established ownership because they would have to "transform it or mix their labor". But if somehow the apple didn't budge when jostled by the two and remained perfectly suspended in the air. Then Rothbard would be consistent in saying they'd each have homesteaded their "parcel" of the apple or rock. In more esoteric disputes most Rothbardians wouldn't mind any courts ruling as long as it was grounded in the logic of strict property rights.

In general I think you should heed your own call for a "clear application to the real world" in your counter examples.

I actually read Rothbard's Ethics of Liberty before FANL. Whereas FANL is a "Libertarian Manifesto"(231 pages dedicated to "libertarian applications to current problems"). As I revisit EOL (after about 3 years)...it's quite a bit more detailed and the "seeker of truth" will surely benefit. "Part I" is on Natural Law alone. Here's the link: http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/ethics.asp

As for Bryan Caplan's "breathing on me" "violation". I believe Rothbard would simply say that breathing is the part of each person's absolute right to ownership ie Natural Law. Now if they are huffing at you for no particular reason then it would indeed be an assault in a similar way that yelling fire would be out of bounds in your relationship with the movie theater owner. We'll probably have better insight when we get to the chapter on Conservation, Ecology, and Growth which discusses pollution.

Vangel writes:

"Paying taxes is like paying hotel bill for services you got. If you do not like it, leave the hotel/state, and you'll not have to pay it."

Nonsense. When you go to a hotel you agree to pay the rate and control which services you chose to order. This is not true in a nation state when the government forces people to pay for programs that they do not want to support. Why should a Christian who opposes abortion have his taxes diverted to fund them? Why should an atheist have his funds go to fund organizations that are affiliated with a particular religion? Why should a pacifist have his taxes used to buy tanks for Turkey, Egypt or Israel?

Arare Litus writes:

Grant,

I will have to look into consequentialist libertarianism more, the heuristic idea appeals to me (I might already be a consequentialist libertarian!) and taken as a “fast and frugal” scheme, I can see the utility – this approach to libertarianism I can’t really argue with, until now I would not have even thought this was libertarianism. Until you pointed this out I was under the impression that libertarians were staunch believers in the system, as being self-consistent and perfectly true (versus a good heuristic, versus a limit to consider), i.e. all natural law libertarians. Rothbard reinforced this misconception I had, in that he happens to be this type. The benefit to discussing the natural rights flavour is that this seems to be the (or one of the?) strongest version one can get.

“If I mine a mountain and find gold, you hardly have much of a claim to that mountain after the fact, just because you may have seen it or set foot on it first. This may be the benefit of Rothbard's reasoning and natural law in general: a framework to deal with disputes where no explicit norms exist (think of how critical this is to society's functioning) which reasonable people could agree on.”

I agree. However, what stops someone else from mining towards the ore from another direction in Rothbard’s universe? It seems like a tragedy of the commons must come out of a finders keepers rule, and that giving land title is a way to get around this. However, then a clear defense of land rights is needed, I didn’t think Rothbard did that.

Arare Litus writes:

Bill R.

“It's a little more than finders keepers and "seeing the apple at the same time”?, from FANL: Surely, if every man has the right to own his own body, and if he must grapple with the material objects of the world in order to survive,...He has placed the stamp of his person upon the raw material, by “mixing his labor” with the clay, in the phrase of the great property theorist John Locke. And the product transformed by his own energy has become the material embodiment of the sculptor’s ideas and vision."”

I also said:
“Necessity drives taking resources to live, and the resulting rush on resources demands parceling out land to individuals to steward – neither of these facts gives some sort of higher legitimacy and the right to completely exclude others.”

My point is that the initial claim to 100% full ownership is somewhat suspect, thus to completely exclude others from some of the value falls into question: you mixed your labour with something that is only yours to begin with if we accept finders keepers. Rothbard sweeps this under the rug by focusing on the beginning and end of this process, a need to survive and ownership of your own labour. But what if you can’t claim legitimate sole right over the resource you modified? And if milliseconds really count, doesn’t this imply that the rule of first taker is somewhat lacking?

“In general I think you should heed your own call for a "clear application to the real world" in your counter examples.”

I merely use “apple” as a placeholder, call it “precious resource A” if you prefer. As for application to the real world – how can this counter example get any more basic? If property rights are not absolute on a moral ground, and if others have some claim to that property, then one has a framework that is not “Rothbard” libertarian, but instead mainstream. If milliseconds really matter, then the finders keepers rule seems like it is wrong for scarce resource situations. Is a mad rush on resources actually the best we can do? The most moral thing we can do? So the clear application is this: either one has a legitimate 100% ownership, or not. If not, then a limited government framework makes as much sense as anything, and Rothbard’s stance is overstated, at best. If so, then government is a “pure evil”. To me, this is a huge difference. It seems to me (I may be assuming too much) that if one cannot justify pure & free ownership, then one cannot claim government is a pure evil. If others besides you have some common claim on resources, then you are stealing by retaining it all for yourself.

Bill R writes:

Arare Litus
"neither of these facts gives some sort of higher legitimacy and the right to completely exclude others.”

I have my own issues with Rothbard but I'll continue to play the court Rothbardian.

I see your point ... you're arguing that the need to gather resources may give the right to use the property but not to exclude others who also have the same need.

You may not think it's laudable in an "higher" ethical sense but it is moral and "self-consistent" for a person to be able to secure their own survival even to the exclusion of others if he does not commit violence in so doing. There is no other ethical way to divy up the resources to ensure survival if we accept the individual self ownership. "Forced Sharing" (by who...I don't know) may lead to his own death in an extreme case. So to remain consistent the individual must possess 100% rights in the property he homesteads. If there's only an apple on the table the person who gets the apple "even by a millisecond" gets to live (a little longer). That is at least one empirical certainty in rooted in "natural law".

As to whether it's "The most moral thing we can do?". According to Rothbard the answer would have to be yes because, as he argues, there is no other consistent way for one to obtain a 100% chance of survival without violating someone else's equal right to survivability. In the extreme cases you posit it really is that "bad". I now see why Rothbard devoted so much time to challenging the other systems as inconsistent. It was necessary to show why it was impossible to ethically have any other system.

As to the general thoughts about what consequences the Rothbardian system would lead to ie "a mad rush" etc. I still find it difficult/impossible for someone to believe that while one person is mixing his labor in the land that the other person has absolutely no chance to mix his labor 2 feet away. Also I think it goes without saying that the vast majority (I'd say 99%) would voluntary share their means with someone who was actually dying for lack of basic means. Also how would you divy up that apple? Two people dying at the same time instead of the one who spotted it first living? Then only to be forced to share it while they both die of starvation. And by what moral right? Can't we do better than that?

Nonetheless those are consequentialist arguments that have little bearing on the morality of the system itself. I would point you to David Friedman (anarchist son of Milton Friedman) for the consequentialist argument. Unfortunately I myself have yet to read his Machinery of Freedom...I believe Bryan Caplan is himself of this school of libertarianism.

Kurbla writes:

Arare Litus:

    As for free to leave – how true is this? If each parcel of land is owned by a gang that imposes a tax, what option does one have?

True - but same problem exists with private property - if you are born without land, it doesn't matter if whole world is already taken by state or private hotels. In state hotel one is at least something like shareholder. The hotel analogy transforms some libertarian arguments against state into communist arguments against private property.


James:

    Suppose I force you to choose between either paying a price I name for whatever services my employer felt like selling you, or leaving the country. If you believe it is immoral for me to make this demand, then you are a libertarian. If you believe it is moral, then get out your checkbook. If you need to know whether or not I work for a government in order to know whether or not it is moral for me to make this demand, then your view of ethics treats government as exempt from the standards you apply to everyone else.

I really treat government on different way. In the case of autocracy, yes, it is just that state has guns and your boss has not. If your boss is revolutionary leader, I might even support him, it is choice between two sets of guns. I support democracy because I think it is the best choice if people are "good enough." In that case, it is the people who collectively rule, government are only employees of the people. If my fellow citizens are Nazis, I'd support your boss revolutionary in despite of democracy. In that case I'd consider not only government, but people to be my enemy.

Nathan

    Kurbla--a critical distinction is that the current owners of private property acquired it legally, even if, at some time in the past, possession passed through conquest rather than free exchange. By contrast, government property is still held by the same institution which acquired it unjustly.

    States also change. In, say, Estonia, or "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", private property is longer in the possession of the same individual than state property in the possesion of the same state.


    Arare Litus writes:

    Bill R.

    “those are consequentialist arguments that have little bearing on the morality of the system itself”

    I agree those are consequentist arguments, however doesn’t Rothbard essentially argue from a consequentialist perspective plus sleight of hand? As a consequence of needing to survive I must take resources. He then asserts, with sleight of hand, that taking sole rights to something is also a moral action, but not only a moral action, but the only moral action. Our minds eye is then quickly diverted to a solid follow up: you own your own labour. The bookends are nice, but the book is lacking somewhat. The key point is the substitution of “the only” for “a”, without clear and detailed defense: everything that follows depends on this distinction, if we are to use constructionalist logic and reason and assert that all other systems are wrong on logical grounds. This is why I’m making such an issue over what seems a pretty minor point – it is a subtle, but deep, point. One that I do not have a good grasp of (clearly!). I have the feeling that Rothbard overextends his arguments validity and uses rhetorical tools to imply stronger and clearer underpinnings. When I read Paul Krugman I get this same feeling of being purposely manipulated.

    I have no argument that libertarianism is a plausible system, but a priori right? As an heuristic, a clean limiting case that works well in a sparsely populated world, or as a contender in the list of other options we can think of to expose to thought experiments and empirical findings – yes, I can get on board. I guess I am a consequentialist, I will have to read David Friedman, as you recommend, to see if I can be persuaded on consequentialist grounds (Grant-, I will put Ethics of Liberty on my possibility list, I am a slow reader so my opportunity cost of reading is somewhat higher than I would like…).

    Randy writes:

    Arare Litus,

    "I have no argument that libertarianism is a plausible system, but a priori right?"

    No system is a priori right - that is the essence of Libertarianism. The propaganda from the political class (billions of pages and growing) never ceases to expound on its supposed rights. News flash; they're not rights, they're privileges*, enforced at gunpoint.

    *Which brings to mind one of my favorite examples of convoluted propaganda; in which the truly privileged (the political class) demonize the population targeted for exploitation (the productive class) as "privileged".

    Isaac K. writes:

    I'm still waiting for a legitimate answer to my actual question:
    In a purely libertarian construct, an autonomous collective can and does form for preserving and furthering its own interests (example: the residents of a block hiring a security patrol).
    What happens when an individual violates his contract by refusing to pay for a specific service?
    Failing to fulfill an agreed-upon obligation is an aggression against the collective and its individuals, and the collective is "incapable" of forcibly taking resources from the dissident individual.

    More to the point: ASSUMING a satisfactory libertarian solution to the aforementioned problem exists, when does said collective cross the boundary into becoming a "government gang?"

    Randy writes:

    Isaac K,

    "Failing to fulfill an agreed-upon obligation is an aggression against the collective and its individuals..."

    No its not. Its a simple breach of contract. Only the political class and its propagandists see every minor infraction as an "act of aggression against the collective" (see Hobbes). If an individual doesn't pay for a specific service, he or she simply loses access to that specific service - and possibly other services as well depending on the terms of the real contract which he or she has actually signed.

    Arare Litus writes:

    Randy,

    "No system is a priori right - that is the essence of Libertarianism."

    As I understand it, natural law Libertarianism does make the claim that it stands on two axioms which are correct, and therefore all that flows from them is correct. i.e. a priori right, as opposed to a posteriori. It may be (one of the) essence(s) of consequentialist libertarianism that one must look at empirical evidence, but as I understand "Rothbardism" he is suggesting logical, and thus a priori, correctness.

    Randy writes:

    Arare Litus,

    Personally, I have no interest in dancing angels. Rothbard and Rothbardians can defend their claims if they choose.

    Arare Litus writes:

    "Personally, I have no interest in dancing angels. Rothbard and Rothbardians can defend their claims if they choose."

    If Rothbard speaks to this issue we will all have deep interest in dancing angels.

    While no axiom will be completely true, if a robust axiom can be defended one goes far beyond "dancing angels", one gets a scheme which is roughly correct and that can help interpret empirical observations, suggest good tests, etc. One can also figure out just when your beliefs will start to fail, and why. We all have "dancing angel" theories, in order to function as humans we must (and some appear to be built in, which allows use to learn language quickly, etc.), it is nice to know the limits of these theories, and exactly what we believe.

    Bill R writes:

    Arare Litus,

    "..however doesn’t Rothbard essentially argue from a consequentialist perspective"

    Not if you take survivability/self-ownership a priori. You cannot have the right to live and then say then say you cannot breathe. For the same reason you cannot say someone can live and then deny their access to resources. We've extended this to the scarce apple earlier and found the "finder" worthy of it. Roderick Long in a seminar gives more credit to the "divide" between consequentialism/natural law than I'm willing to allow... so you may find him worthwhile as well. Here is his great Foundations of Libertarian Ethics series(No more reading..Yay!)

    ..."He then asserts, with sleight of hand, that taking sole rights to something is also a moral action, but not only a moral action, but the only moral action" If the resource is scarce(which in our world almost all are ie natural law) again yes. There isn't any other way to claim the resource while accepting the self-ownership principle of survival. In a political philosophy then yes it is the only "moral" way to distribute the resource because "only" an individual that can claim with 100% ownership of the (*homesteaded*) scarce resource can live. No other approach exists that is consistent with self-ownership. Rothbard is also instructive in
    Ethics of Liberty:

    The error here on the part of the “contextualist” libertarians is to confuse the question of the moral course of action for the person in such a tragic situation with the totally separate question of whether or not his seizing of lifeboat or plank space by force constitutes an invasion of someone else’s property right. For we are not, in constructing a theory of liberty and property, i.e., a “political” ethic, concerned with all personal moral principles. We are not herewith concerned whether it is moral or immoral for someone to lie, to be a good person, to develop his faculties, or be kind or mean to his neighbors. We are concerned, in this sort of discussion, solely with such “political ethical” questions as the proper role of violence, the sphere of rights, or the definitions of criminality and aggression. Whether or not it is moral or immoral for “Smith”—the fellow excluded by the owner from the plank or the lifeboat—to force someone else out of the lifeboat, or whether he should die heroically instead, is not our concern, and not the proper concern of a theory of political ethics"

    And finally "...Our minds eye is then quickly diverted to a solid follow up: you own your own labour."

    This is a really good point that I'm not sure whether even Rothbard addresses. I'll try to bridge the "jump".

    If we grant that the individual has the right to survive by homesteading resources then shouldn't they also have the right to flourish? I don't see how one can grant survival and somehow cutoff(at what arbitrary point?) his right to flourish under the same construct necessary for survival. I believe Rothbard waters down(!) his case by seemingly suggesting that Person A's mixing of labor with the transformation of the resource as "imprinting himself" in the new acquisition.

    I'd simply argue that if a human has a right to live they have the right to live well (again without violating another's person or property). It also has the benefit of being a "cleaner axiomatic base"

    Bill writes:

    My opinion would be that an ultimate right to property can only be attained through defending the possession of that property against any and all potential takers. The fact that you would most likely lose if you had a fight with the government doesn't abrogate you're right in any way.

    Very losely quoting Starship Troopers the movie here: "Violence is the ultimate authority from which all other power and freedom is derived."

    The concept that you have a right to have property that you worked to get but are too lazy or weak (relatively speaking) to defend is a nice thought, but it is an idea that is just as arbitrary and made up as the idea that you have a right to health care, or a right to free speech, or a right to an education.

    Randy writes:

    Arare Litus,

    "While no axiom will be completely true, if a robust axiom can be defended..., one gets a scheme which is roughly correct..."

    Well, here's an axiom that can be easily defended. The political class imposes its will at the point of a gun. They can never prove that their "services" have value, as the need for the gun is constant evidence that they do not.

    You are here to defend the political class by disseminating its propaganda to those who see no value in its "services". Your method is obfuscation. I will not be put on the defensive by obfuscation. You have the gun. Use it... or go home.

    Arare Litus writes:

    Bill R,

    "because "only" an individual that can claim with 100% ownership of the (*homesteaded*) scarce resource can live"

    I read this as saying that in the extreme limit of live or die scarcity one has a right to all of a resource, in the sense of "need knows no morals". I have no argument that would add anything, other than the cynical thought that many tend to weaken this observation to "want needs no morals".

    "I'd simply argue that if a human has a right to live they have the right to live well"

    A good argument, but having, say, 90% ownership shouldn't preclude living well. The 10% tax may be an inconvenience, or empirically perhaps even too high and a hindrance, but a moral outrage? To classify the any and all government as a pure evil is a strong statement, perhaps true, but one which has stringent requirements. The 100% ownership (of self & property) can meet that requirement, as far as I can tell. Rothbard cuts to the core. I just wish he spent more time on this core.

    I take the self ownership pretty much as self evidence - does anyone have any arguments against this? I'm wondering if we may all see some things as "self evident" and are okay with them, and have issues with other items others see as "self evident", with difficulty in convincing each other. What would it take to get me to see limits on self ownership?

    There is something about the 100% property ownership that still bothers me, but I can't further articulate it beyond what I've said. I can see a majority ownership, but the full free and clear ownership? Something also bothers me about the extension from ownership from an item to land, though I'm not sure what is troubling me there (the possibility that Rothbard may be mixing in tragedy of the commons issues? the fact that one is getting something for all time, for what could be an essentially random beginning?).

    I'll have to think about these things some more to see if I can add anything else. I can't even think what it would take to convince me of the 100% property axiom, which shows how subtle I'm finding this problem.

    Arare Litus writes:

    Randy,

    ONAT!

    Randy writes:

    Off Network Access Trunk? ...or just more obfuscation. I'm guessing the latter.

    Bill R writes:

    "I'd simply argue that if a human has a right to live they have the right to live well"

    I guess my wording was a bit of rhetorical embellishment. The main point is that it could be argued that surviving and flourishing are one and the same or at least impossible to distinguish. Is one flourishing if he turns down (ala Titanic) the last floating piece of wood to save his beloved and he himself perishes? Or does he better flourish by selfishly taking the driftwood, letting her perish..perhaps he then lives a materially--even familial--prosperous life (and maybe, in his guilt, provides funding for malaria prevention and saves hundreds of lives). A utilitarian and even an Ayn Rand "Objectivist" may both (interestingly) find the latter case more "moral"... many(myself included) would still probably find it objectionable. I think it's fair to say the "benefit" of a choice can be realized only by an individual in his circumstances amongst other individuals in their circumstances.

    Flourishing may even be a even more uniquely human quality rather than just "beastly survival". Living--and the choice it requires--is 100% part and parcel of human existence and entitled to the 100% protections of self ownership.

    There is something about the 100% property ownership that still bothers me, but I can't further articulate it beyond what I've said."

    Fair enough. I just hope the discussion wasn't a total example of "arare litus"(apparently a Latin phrase indicating wasted labor). If it's still a problem with the "greater good" I would just reassert that the Rothbardian axiom of 100% possession is only applied in the homesteaded portion of the resource..and thus I still think it's literally impossible that one person can homestead two places at once i.e. if Person B is there at the exact time then while Person A is engaged in homesteading Person B has that exact opportunity to homestead an adjacent portion of the same resource. Also it's only "for all time" in the sense of a lifetime and that the heirs will most like dissipate the resources acquired (ie "Does Not Run in the Family")or let other "more interested" managers compensating them with a princely wage.

    "...for what could be an essentially random beginning?"

    Another (french)phrase is apropos: C'est la vie, Arare Litus, c'est la vie

    Arare Litus writes:

    Bill R,

    No, far from total arare litus: I have learned much from you and others already, both in direct discussion and reading other posts (and from the book of course!). I am quite happy that Bryan is hosting this, and very grateful to have stumbled across this opportunity.

    I am arguing from ignorance, in the hopes of clarification and insight. I am taking an artificially strong position regarding this chapter, as this is the "core" and I want to beat out as much resistance to the ideas, before soaking up the following arguments, as I can. I have learned lots, and expect to learn much, much more.

    Arare Litus writes:

    Randy,

    A tongue-in-cheek response.

    Regards,
    Arare

    Bill R writes:

    Arare Litus,

    Glad to hear it.

    While I'm pretty much in agreement with Rothbard on first principles I guess I have a similar stance when it comes to specific issues (if I remember his positions correctly) on abortion and foreign policy.

    I don't necessarily disagree but there may not be a "knockout punch" convincing enough for me to justify his position from first principles.

    I too look forward to the next chapters. Ironically though this is keeping me from Bryan Caplan's very own Myth of the Rational Voter!

    Randy writes:

    Arare Litus,

    "A tongue-in-cheek response."

    So I figured, and I should have avoided personalizing the point. But still, the point stands. What is the use of examining so-called "principles" when the issue has clearly been resolved by an application of power? More specifically, what's up with all the propaganda? My theory is that the political class is aware, if only in its subconscious, that it is an exploitative enterprise. And of course, that as an exploitative enterprise, it is also a dependent enterprise. This is why they perceive libertarian sentiment as a threat, and also why they cannot respond to it with the gun.

    Arare Litus writes:

    Randy,

    "I should have avoided personalizing the point."

    No offense was taken.

    "What is the use of examining so-called "principles" when the issue has clearly been resolved by an application of power? More specifically, what's up with all the propaganda? My theory is that the political class is aware, if only in its subconscious, that it is an exploitative enterprise. And of course, that as an exploitative enterprise, it is also a dependent enterprise"

    I see society from a Austrian-like viewpoint (my understanding of Austrian theory is very lacking, so I tack on the "-like"): the political class is a mixed bag of people. The majority sincerely believe in system as is, or in the direction they want to take it, but there are some insincere people trying to fleece others and gain as much as they can. Looking at "principles", and having solid arguments for them, can help sway the sincere people - the ones who have an subconscious feeling that things are exploitative, and can limit the extremes of the insincere and prevent them from usurping even more power and treasure.

    Personally, I also like to look at principles to make sure that I am not sincerely, but uncritically, accepting and promoting false views. The more my beliefs reflect "The Truth" the better even if cannot change outcomes.

    As for propaganda, most of it is very sincere - people really do think that their ideology will help society and others, and that to the extent that we do not implement ideology X society suffers.

    "This is why they perceive libertarian sentiment as a threat"

    True - it is quite uncomfortable to even consider that ones views are wrong, especially when you think you are crusading to improve the world: if you are wrong you are actually making the world worse, not a pretty thought. Add to that the fact that many will devote large amounts of their lives to ideas, and even obtain their livelihoods from holding such views, and the libertarian sentiment is a disturbing threat.

    "point of a gun"

    I am always surprised that people do not consider the logical possible outcome of imposing a law: at the end of the day you are saying that it is worth killing over. Most of our laws do not come close to the importance of such extreme action. I find most people really do not think about the fact the state lies one a base of violence (actual and implied), both because this is a thought they would not like, and because they live such a privileged life that they are just never exposed to conditions that would make them think about this. They are insulated from the hard truths.

    Arare Litus writes:

    Bill R,

    "I don't necessarily disagree but there may not be a "knockout punch" convincing enough for me to justify his position from first principles.

    I too look forward to the next chapters.
    Ironically though this is keeping me from Bryan Caplan's very own Myth of the Rational Voter!"

    This is fun.

    Bryan Caplan's book is what lead me to this blog; it is a good read on many levels. I want to reread it and have a closer look at his mathematical argument - it is a really neat piece of work...

    Randy writes:

    Arare Litus,

    Good answer. Well said.

    My take on "libertarians" is that they are generally people who believe that a line has been crossed. That is the problem, not only for libertarians but for the political class as well, because libertarian sentiment is not going to be changed with an explanation as to how the individual is not thinking "correctly". Libertarianism is not a failure to understand, but an understanding that a line has been crossed. Unfortunately, political classes have seldom (if ever) found it in themselves to back off unless forced to back off. Expansion is their nature, and the modern Progressive political class is no exception. Indeed, the word they use to describe themselves contains the reason they will eventually have to be overthrown.

    Tom G. Palmer writes:

    It's worth noting that Rothbard misstated Locke's theories on "how men might come to have a property in several parts of that which God gave to mankind in common, and that without any express compact of all the commoners." What Rothbard calls "the Lockean homesteading principle" is presented by Locke as one way to acquire property and to defeat Filmer's objection to the consent-based theories of property, but it was never described by Locke as the only way.

    In describing how one makes something one's property after one has "mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property," Locke was describing a sufficient condition for the acquisition of property, not a necessary condition. "He that is nourished by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself. No body can deny but the nourishment is his. I ask then, when did they begin to be his? when he digested? or when he eat? or when he boiled? or when he brought them home? or when he picked them up? and it is plain, if the first gathering made them not his, nothing else could." That describes a sufficient, but not a necessary condition, and elsewhere Locke describes other means to acquire "property in severalty." To rely on "homesteading" for all property is neither supported by Locke's texts (and it it were, so what?), nor by a sound understanding of how beneficial institutions such as several property emerge.

    Rothbard had his strong points, but he was frequently sloppy in his logic, carless in his reading of texts, and naïve in his understanding of the process of emergence of the institutions of the free society and the market economy.

    (All quotations from 2nd Treatise, Chapter V)

    Nichlemn writes:

    On the "you're free to leave" argument:

    - The fact that you may not have in fact signed an original contract really comes down to the rights of parents and children. If you voluntarily emigrate to a state, I see no more reason to complain about this than if you voluntarily joined a commune. The question is what you do with a child born in a commune or in a state. Can parents sign a child up, at least for a short time? If they can't, what exactly can parents do with their children?

    - In the case of existing states all being "bad", this is similar to market power. If the free market can apparently deal with monopolies and oligopolies, I don't see why it couldn't deal with them in the form of governments. If it can't, the proposed solution would be very non-libertarian.

    Brian Macker writes:

    "Murder is wrong" by definition. The hard part is distinguishing killing from murder.

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