Bryan Caplan  

Huemer's Moderation

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Mike Huemer, to repeat, is my favorite philosopher.  Here are some highlights from his recent working paper, "Is Wealth Redistribution a Rights Violation?" [footnotes omitted]


There are at least three broad views one might take concerning the foundation of
property rights:

a. The Extreme Realist View: Property rights are moral rights that individuals possess, which are in every aspect and detail independent of social conventions, laws, and the state.

b. The Extreme Legalist View: Property rights are in every aspect and detail dependent on government-created laws. (N.B., property rights are normally understood as not only legal but also moral rights; this is why theft is not just illegal but unethical. The Legalist View is not merely that certain legal rights are dependent on laws, but that the relevant moral rights are dependent on laws.)

c. The Moderate View: Certain broad aspects of property rights are natural, independent of conventions and laws; however, other aspects and details of property rights must be settled by conventions or laws.

Which of these views are plausible...?

The Extreme Realist View... [is] highly implausible on reflection. Consider an example from the economist David Friedman: if I fire a thousand megawatt laser at my neighbor's house, I thereby violate his property rights. On the other hand, if I turn on a lamp in my house, knowing that some photons will go out the window and hit my neighbor's house, I do not thereby violate his property rights. The only physical difference between these two actions lies in the number and energy levels of the photons that I send my neighbor's way. So there must be some principle governing the number and energy levels of photons that one may send onto another person's property (of course, the principle need not be formulated in those terms): there is some amount of light at which it first becomes a rights-violation. But it is not plausible that this is determined purely by natural law. We need some sort of convention or (human-made) law to settle the matter.

[...]

We might be tempted, then, by the Extreme Legalist View: perhaps all questions about property rights are to be settled by government-made laws. Again, the claim here would not be the trivial one that the legal questions are settled by laws, but the ambitious claim that the moral questions as to one's property rights are entirely settled by laws. This view can be broken into two component theses: (i) Laws that recognize a particular set of property rights are necessary for the existence of moral property rights; without legal rules governing property, there would be no property rights. (ii) Laws that recognize a particular set of property rights are sufficient for the existence of moral property rights; for example, the existence of such conventions or laws makes it pro tanto morally wrong to take, damage, or use an item that, according to the conventions, belongs to another person, without that person's permission.

But both theses are implausible. Begin with (i), the idea that laws are necessary for property rights. Suppose you are exploring a remote wilderness region outside the jurisdiction of any government, when you come upon a clearing containing a rude hut. The hut appears to have been built by a hermit, who is its only inhabitant. Since property rights depend entirely upon governmental laws, and none are in force here, you determine that the hermit does not own the hut. Over his vociferous protestations, you decide to spend the night in the hut, eat some of the food that the hermit has grown and gathered, and then paint the hut lime green. You don't need to do any of these things; you just do them for fun. If there really are no property rights in this situation, you have just as much right to do these things as the hermit does.  Notice that my claim is not that in this scenario, the hermit has the full set of property rights exactly as they would be if a U.S. citizen bought some land in the United States and built a house on it. My claim, in accordance with the Moderate View of property rights, is only that there is at least some elementary, core notion of property that applies in the scenario.

Now consider thesis (ii), that certain kinds of laws are sufficient for property rights to exist. In the pre-Civil War U.S., ownership of human beings was recognized in the southern states, both conventionally and legally. Thus, thesis (ii) would imply that a slave was genuine property of his master, in a morally loaded sense. This need not preclude the possibility of arguing that some other distribution of property would be preferable (perhaps one in which no one were assigned a property right in another human being). But, given the laws as they were, one would have to say that a master in fact had the moral rights regarding his slaves that go along with property - the right to determine how his slaves were used, to sell them, bequeath them, and so on. One would have to say that for a slave to escape from his master, or for a third party to help a slave to do so, was an act of theft. I find this, to say the least, implausible...

We might be tempted to simply postulate that there are certain moral constraints, independent of the actual laws, that the state must respect in order for its establishment of a given class of property rights to be legitimate (e.g., to succeed in generating moral obligations on the part of citizens to respect the property rights that the state purports to establish). One of these constraints would be that a person may not be the property of another person. Presumably, there would be other constraints as well. But at this point, we seem to have abandoned the central idea of the Legalist View, in favor of the Moderate View of the foundations of property rights. And if we are content to posit a constraint such as "a legitimate property rights regime may not assign ownership of a person to another person," it is unclear why we should not be equally content with such constraints as "a legitimate property rights regime must assign initial ownership of a person's labor to that person" and other norms of the sort that would define a traditional conception of natural property rights.

The upshot is that only the moderate view of property rights is plausible. On this view, the objective moral principles governing property leave certain matters unsettled - how much light one may shine at a neighbor's property, how high above someone else's land one may fly, and so on. It is for laws and conventions to settle those matters. But the laws and conventions are not completely unconstrained; they must respect certain broad normative truths about property.


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COMMENTS (24 to date)
benj writes:

Often, people lose personal possessions on the beach. Phones, jewellery, keys, wallets.

Say I bought a metal detector to recover these items to make a tidy profit. Every now and again, in a wallet say, there is clear indication of identity of the person who lost it.

So, should I give it back, or is it now mine?

The Law (at least in the UK) is clear. Lost is different from abandoned. So, finders keepers, does not apply. I would be breaking the law by not handing in and declaring any item I had found.

But is this fair? Surely I had engaged in search and discovery? Without which these item would have remained lost, and therefore valueless.

But say, for ten minutes work I found a cherished and valuable wedding ring, worth tens of thousands of pounds. I don't sell it, but give it to my girlfriend. Trouble is, she works for the woman who lost it the day before I found it. So, who's is it?

I would say, unless you have a contract with the person who lost the property and employed you to find it, no part of its value can morally be yours.

Do you agree with this Prof Caplan, or are you in the "finders keepers" camp?

BTW, in the case of shining the torch, The Extreme Realist View, is still tenable. Any unauthorised change in the state of one's property is an infringement. In this case, he has the option to sue for damages. To which, if I was a Judge, I would concur, and award him one cent.

vikingvista writes:

All of these property rights notions are problematic, because they focus on material property rather than the purposes and desires of the person who allegedly owns the property. The most primitive notion of rights, the basis of all concepts of rights, is that of agreement between two communicating choosing individual entities. Ownership has no meaning without purpose. And if one person isn't interfering in another person's purpose, there is no offense taken.

Firing a high powered laser at another person's property is not a rights violation because one person altered material within some geometric boundaries attributed as owned by another, it is a rights violation because it adversely affects the life as perceived by a choice-capable entity in a way that that entity established without such violations. Shining a few imperceptible photons into that person's realm doesn't affect that person's life, unless perhaps that person was conducting some particular physics experiment.

The same would be true of a homesteaded river. A homesteader may only be using a portion of the river to water crops, drink, and turn a mill, with no further plans beyond that. Those actions are what was homesteaded. Anything anyone later does upstream that doesn't affect those activities, is not a rights violation on the downstream homesteader. If the homesteader were reasonable, he'd admit as much, since nobody has adversely affected his peacefully established purposes.

The same is true of human-generated radio waves, which (at some frequencies at least) interact with the physical substance of every human being on earth.

In almost all cases of so-called "property rights", those rights are derivative of the nonaggression principle, with the geometry or physical substance around that person merely being an imprecise shorthand for rights calculations. The exception to this may perhaps be the ownership by an entity of his very immediate surroundings--in particular the biologic mass that is inseparable from his decision-making actions and to which no other person save his childhood guardian could possibly have a homestead claim.

Offense is a purposeful disturbance of another's inoffensive actions (actions which necessarily involve the material world). The fact that every action has some theoretical effect on nearly everything else in the universe does not turn every action into a property-rights violation. If there is no offense taken, there is no violation, regardless of whether or not an action somehow affects the fabric of space-time within the perimeter of that person or his realm.

Whatever the legal or other concocted rule-based shorthand, in all moral judgments regarding rights or conflict, it is the NAP that matters. Property is derivative.

Greg G writes:

vikingvista,

While the introduction of purposes into the discussion will clarify our thinking in some property rights disputes, it can muddy the waters in others.

Consider two neighbors, one who enjoys activities that make a lot of noise and another who prefers peace and quiet. We might not agree exactly when but I'm pretty sure we could agree that, if the noise got loud enough, it would eventually constitute aggression against the property rights of the quiet loving neighbor. Likewise we could also agree that no one is obligated to be completely silent on his own property. Note that the aggression here does not depend on any intention or desire to disturb the neighbor.

A similar issue would be driving while texting or after drinking. At some point, the dangerous driver becomes an aggressive threat to the life and property of others even if that is not his intent.

For a social species, the rules that govern such issues are chosen, not discovered. How they are chosen turns out to matter a lot.

Joe Teicher writes:

So, he starts by saying there are "at least" 3 views on the subject and then declares the 3rd one the winner because they other 2 are implausible? Not exactly a great moment in logic.

There are at least 3 views about what 1 + 1 is. -12, 69000 and 3. Well, -12 isn't plausible because if I have 1 donut and add in another donut, I still have some number of donuts. I don't have negative donuts. 69,000 isn't plausible because 69,000 donuts would probably fill the room I am in and the donuts I have fit comfortably on my desk. Therefore, the answer must be 3.

benj writes:
One would have to say that for a slave to escape from his master, or for a third party to help a slave to do so, was an act of theft. I find this, to say the least, implausible...

If we ever take the next evolutionary step up from our present mindset, I dare say we'll be saying the same thing regarding the ownership of land. Currently, some people justify the privatisation of land rents, for much the same reasons as slavers did slavery.

Paid out of earned capital, legal title, search and discovery costs, etc.

The point is, ownership of another human, was seen as natural a thing as breathing.

But things change. And so does our view on what constitutes even inalienable rights. As it does, our legal framework changes to accommodate these norms.

It's unfortunate, that due to the ideology of economists like Frank Knight our concept of property rights has taken a turn for the worse. A step backwards indeed. Didn't Knight say, that the abolition of slavery, without compensation to the slavers was the act of immorality?

The economic and social ills that still beset us can be traced back to the undue, malign influence of men like Knight.

RPLong writes:

Huemer's (and possibly Friedman's?) argument against the extreme realist view dates back to ancient Greece and is known as "The Paradox of the Heap." Known paradoxes are not typically considered valid counter-arguments.

But let's assume that it is a valid counter-argument. If so, it strikes me as being even more appropriate as a means to argue against the "Moderate View." Ironic.

Effem writes:

I find that this discussion can rarely be isolated from political biases.

For example, a majority of those who believe redistribution is wrong are also in favor of clawing back promises made about pensions, health coverage, etc. Is something property simply because you hold it today vs. promised it tomorrow? Logically, i think not.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

While it is not cited in the footnotes by Huemer:

The Ethics of Redistribution
by Bertrand de Jouvenel (1952)

Liberty Press Ed. 1990 (reprint)
Available at Liberty Fund Books

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Among the problems encountered in discussions of, and disquisitions on, property (or wealth consisting of accumulated property) Is the concept of "Property."

The concept of property is not confined to the occupation, possession of, or authority over some particular piece of land or material (including intellectual) substance.

A more concise concept of property is that of a relationship of an individual with something of a material or intellectual substance. The “right” in and to that **relationship** is contingent (not necessarily on laws enforced through governments -but) upon the commonality in a social order of the recognition, acceptance and performance of the obligations of all others in regard to that particular relationship of an individual with a material substance. The performance of the obligation is generally observed in constraints of conduct, basically “non-interference.”

magilson writes:

Effem:

I think you're right that it shows one's political bias, but I disagree with your implied direction of causality (at least for the folks I know personally).

For example, a majority of those who believe redistribution is wrong are also in favor of clawing back promises made about pensions, health coverage, etc. Is something property simply because you hold it today vs. promised it tomorrow? Logically, i think not.

May I assume you mean "public" employee pensions? Let's create an analogue with a private employee. The trouble with your point is that the contract for that future income was made based on the acquisition (we'll call it acquisition to be polite) of funds from others. If Acme Widget Maker, located in Gondwana, enters into contracts with employees regarding future income and they don't have those funds in the future what happens? What happens if Government Of Gondwana makes similar contracts about future payment to employees and doesn't have the money? Does Government of Gondwana enter into more voluntary, profitable exchanges in order to make those payments? Or do they render the same service level at greater expense? Is it morally the same that I must move from Gondwana in order to exit my contract with them as opposed to no longer buying more expensive products from Acme Widget Maker?

It's just not so simple as you imply. Those making the contracts for Government of Gondwana are doing so with Not Their Property or at the very least Not Their Future Property.

So it definitely reveals one's political bias. But these first principles don't tend to come from one's team affiliation. It's usually the other way round.

Thomas Sewell writes:

I tend to agree with vikingvista on most of his points, so I won't bother to repeat them.

However, I'd also add that it is in the process of preference discovery and negotiation where we typically find the answers to heap-style problems like the flashlight mentioned.

When the neighbors talk (either directly, or through representatives, or through social interaction creating known norms, or whatever) or react, they reveal their preferences to each other. At that point, the potential bounds of infringement are discovered by the participants and have been communicated. It's no longer a mystery where the line is to be drawn as the participants have indicated their preference of where to place the line.

You may argue that's a departure from the "The Extreme Realist View" because it explicitly takes into account social conventions, but I think it still ties into the same view.

Essentially, one is knowingly harming another at that point. Until then, you don't know that your neighbor is running a light-sensitive physics experiment, so assuming you've fulfilled your moral obligations to discover that sort of information, you have no moral obligation to not trespass with a little reflected light.

We don't talk about rocks rolling off a mountain from the wind and smashing a car, or unowned wild animals attacking a passerby as moral rights violations because without knowledge and intent(or at the very least willful and/or ignorance/negligence), there can be no moral trespass.

I realize it's difficult to show the moral intent of someone, and so as a practical matter we need to encode our trespass morality into laws, social norms and rules we (preferably) all agree on, but I don't think that practical side discounts the absolute moral truth at the heart of it all.

So I guess I'm somewhere between the described Extreme Realist and moderate views, but with a definite tendency to the extreme realist side.

vikingvista writes:

Greg G,

"How they are chosen turns out to matter a lot."

Not only how, but why. Rules aren't pulled from the chaos by some random number generator. There is a reason a rule maker chooses to make any rules at all, and there is reason why a rule maker chooses particular rules. Whether corrupted by ignorance, politics, or expedience, those reasons at least ostensibly still appeal to a higher law. Likewise, your ability to judge those rules (and we all judge them) requires some standard.

The distinction is between, e.g., legal rights and natural rights. The makers and judges of the former appeal to the latter. The very existence of the former is proof of the existence of the latter.

But a definition of property rights as applying to some geometric domain is both too inclusive and not inclusive enough, to make any logical sense. It is too inclusive, since it includes things that people don't even know about let alone care about (and rights are all about what people care about). It is not inclusive enough, because people's desires don't have geometric bounds. Whatever natural rights that some spacial legal property rights attempt to appeal to, is not going to be about geometry. Such legal rights are going to miss the point of rights, and any attempt to formulate a philosophy based upon those legal rights (rather than the natural rights from which they draw) are doomed to be absurd. This is the usual reason that people incorrectly argue that there are no natural rights or no property rights--because property rights advocates define them in arbitrary or ultimately absurd ways.

To say rules are chosen and not discovered is a peculiar distinction, since it is discovery that must inform and direct those choices.

Pajser writes:

As Huemer explicitly wrote that he is not interested in arguments that deny private property rights, I have little to add. I can, however, object that he ignores justification of tax as rent on the territory as national property, and that he ignores contribution to one's wealth through externalities. For instance, I think that large part of the value of Google's service is externality of the work of those who made web sites and who are not compensated by Google.

Greg G writes:

vikingvista,

I am not arguing that there are no natural rights or property rights. I am arguing that there is such a spectacular variety of ways that different people understand those concepts that they won't do the work you want them to do unless they are enshrined as legal rights and better defined.

No one worth arguing with thinks that human nature is infinitely plastic so any discussion of rights must consider the limits imposed by nature. But the interpretations of those limits are so varied that natural rights arguments were the main arguments used to argue in favor of slavery as well as against it.

How can the concept of natural rights decide the cases I referred to in my first comment?

I know you favor an anarcho-capitalist arrangement but it is a mystery to me how you think such a thing could ever come to be. Will you wait for universal voluntary consensus? Do you really think that is possible? Or will you seek to enshrine anarcho-capitalist principles in legislation and then watch the state "wither away." (Where have I heard that idea before?)

Either way you have a lot of work to do. Spell check still doesn't recognize "anarcho-capitalism" as a word and wants to auto correct to "anarchy-capitalism."

I do have to admit that, even though I think your ideas are wildly impractical, you are the best advocate for this point of view that I have come across. That makes it a pleasure discussing these ideas with you.

There is not "a rule maker" in a constitutional democracy. That process of rule making is bottom up and emergent. Again, it is relevant to ask where have I heard that concept (bottom up emergence) before?

magilson writes:

Pasjer:

I can, however, object that he ignores justification of tax as rent on the territory as national property, and that he ignores contribution to one's wealth through externalities. For instance, I think that large part of the value of Google's service is externality of the work of those who made web sites and who are not compensated by Google.

You can block Google's crawler quite easily. So it's an argument that reveals your ignorance of the technology involved. I guess it had always seemed obvious to me that the benefits were mutual between Google and the websites it indexes. Apparently that partnership has not occurred to you? Your point is as ridiculous as the idea I should pay a carpenter or millwright every time I step through a door.

As for "The Federal Government of The United States of America" owning the land I live on? Now that's fascinating. If corporations aren't people now suddenly a non-entity can own something for which I paid? I pay taxes for services rendered past/present/future. My acreage should relate only in how difficult it is to render equally those services. Or perhaps when debt collectors knock on The Government's Door we should fret The Government might terminate our lease and sell off what we're renting?

Pajser writes:

magilson:

The fact that one can block Google's crawler is not enough to conclude that their profit is not the result of externality. It only means that Google does not use externalities against explicitly expressed will of their producers. If you organize the concert in your backyard, and I listen the music on the street, I benefit from externalities. It is nice if I leave on demand, but it doesn't mean that I do not benefit from externalities if you do not complain.

Other interesting phenomenon happens in this case.

If owner of the web site doesn't know for Google or possibility to opt out; or he has no benefit or harm from Google service; or he breaks even; or he is harmed but not aware of harm; or harm is small and doesn't justify effort of opting out - in all these cases - owner of the web site has no motive to opt out, and Google continue to profit from externalities without compensation.

Reality is even worse. Web site owners are exposed to positive (exposure) and negative externalities (exposure of the competitors; reduced ads market) from Google. For many web site owners, negative externalities are likely larger. However, if one of these opts out, he loses all positive externalities, but very little of negative externalities. He is trapped in the tragedy of the commons.

Tax as rent is among my favorite topics, but I discussed it a lot recently, and Econlog comment rules forbid repeating the same argument again and again. At the moment, it is only appropriate to link some previous discussion.

vikingvista writes:

Greg G,

“I am not arguing that there are no natural rights or property rights.”

Then I don’t know what you mean by “rules that govern such issues are chosen, not discovered”.

“I am arguing that there is such a spectacular variety of ways that different people understand those concepts that they won't do the work you want them to do unless they are enshrined as legal rights and better defined.”

But that just evades the issue. Whether or not natural rights must be imperfectly codified to be useful, a philosophical understanding can only come from an assessment of those rights, never from the stipulated code. Basing a philosophy on the latter, e.g. defining property rights as stipulated code, leads almost immediately to absurdities. If you want to understand rights, you must examine the very same source examined by those who codify them. You simply cannot start with the code. You must first understand those individual human characteristics that are the cause for why anyone ever even thought of making a code.

And whether or not people have a good understanding of or agreement on what the natural law is, has nothing to do with the fact that natural law guides their behavior, and so must necessarily be the object of study.

“No one worth arguing with thinks that human nature is infinitely plastic so any discussion of rights must consider the limits imposed by nature. But the interpretations of those limits are so varied that natural rights arguments were the main arguments used to argue in favor of slavery as well as against it.”

And astronomers once thought the stars were embedded in a sphere rotating around the earth, but nobody is saying physics must be “chosen, not discovered”. Do you think universal omniscience is required in the social sciences? Why not accept that people can get things wrong in philosophy just as they do in other endeavors?

“How can the concept of natural rights decide the cases I referred to in my first comment?”

Your examples reveal no contradictions in the NAP, and I’m not sure why you think they might. If my neighbor chooses to introduce sounds that interfere with my life, and my sound-happy life was established free of caveats that would permit it, then there is no confusion about who the offender is. Likewise, if you are choosing to introduce risk of an event into the life of another who inoffensively established a life desiring to be free of such events, then you are choosing to take a certain risk of being an offender. I just don’t see where the philosophical difficulties lie, unless one insists that property rights are a spatial concept rather than a matter of human desires.

“I know you favor an anarcho-capitalist arrangement but it is a mystery to me how you think such a thing could ever come to be.”

You think I believe it might come to be? Or you think I believe there are no theoretical inconsistencies in the notion of stateless society where strictly voluntary actions are widely deemed legitimate? In either case, such considerations are just an intellectual curiosity to me. What really matters to me, in this regard, is how one person treats another. As tolerant as I might be regarding honest or even profoundly ignorant mistakes, I find the willful use of violence as a tool to influence peaceful people thoroughly distasteful and utterly unacceptable and contemptible. If sincerely held, that simple sentiment extrapolated to society at large necessarily makes anyone a voluntaryist of some sort.

“Will you wait for universal voluntary consensus?”

What do you mean by universal? If you are talking about my friends and I going to dinner, then of course there must be a universal consensus amongst those who eventually dine together. Do you think it would be appropriate to drag unwilling friends at gunpoint to dinner? The same is true of any other endeavers amongst any other groups.

“Do you really think that is possible?”

Do I think individuals can voluntarily form groups to pursue their common goals? Of course. Don’t you?

“Or will you seek to enshrine anarcho-capitalist principles in legislation and then watch the state "wither away." (Where have I heard that idea before?)”

I don’t seek to do anything with any state. Who do you think I am, Vikingvista the Great? Vikingvista Khan? Vikingvista Bonaparte? I’m merely telling you what I think of people who aggress against the innocent. Unless I approve of aggression against innocents, I couldn’t possibly approve of any state. Nobody could.

“Either way you have a lot of work to do.”

I have a lot of work to do, yes, but that is because I’m a father and a professional, not because I’m a megalomaniac (although I’m not denying the latter).

“There is not "a rule maker" in a constitutional democracy. That process of rule making is bottom up and emergent.”

Then you have missed my point. I use “rule maker” in the most general sense, whether it is a fishmonger making a spot decision on how to treat suppliers as part of a wider dynamic emergent order, or a totalitarian autocrat handing down decrees. Every rule maker’s rules are necessarily inspired by that which already exists, even when they get it horribly and tragically wrong.

But as an aside, it is child’s play to show that legislation in a large constitutional democracy is effectively as top down as any monarchy, from the perspective of nearly everyone upon whom such rules are being forced. But also, in any society, there are an abundance of decentralized emergent rules not codified by the overlords.

Greg G writes:

viking,

As always, it is your premises not your logic that I want to take issue with. But a few comments before we get to that:

I take your point that the expectation of the establishment of anarcho-capitalism throughout the land is not your reason for advocating it. Believing we can do better than we are doing and finding it a worthwhile intellectual exercise are plenty good enough reasons. Thanks for clarifying on that.

Your point that a bottom up emergent system of government will still feel top down to an individual is true but, if you want to emphasize that, you will find it is a double edged sword. Using the market to make decisions will often feel just as top down and oppressive to individuals.

Whether we are talking about the choices offered by the market or the choices offered by all the governments in human history, many will feel oppressed by, and dissatisfied with, the choices on offer - even some very successful people living in the most free and prosperous country in human history. Dissatisfied market participants are free not to trade and dissatisfied citizens are free to emigrate. In neither case is satisfaction guaranteed.

I certainly agree with you that any useful discussion of these issues must be grounded in some kind of shared understanding of human nature. For me, this starts with a belief that humans are the product of Darwinian natural selection. Unless you are a creationist, it follows that our rights have evolved and continue to evolve albeit often too slowly to see with the naked eye.

I am a pluralist. I think we do care, and should care, about a number of different rights and values and that these can often conflict with each other. I tend to see all these issues as existing along a spectrum where there are difficult tradeoffs. You are more inclined to see them as black and white and possible to solve with a single fundamental principle. I reject that idea but I do think that, if you are to persist with the unwise practice of using a single underlying principle to settle all disputes, the NAP is as good as you can do. In practice I don't find it much more useful than saying "Always do the right thing." In most disputes each side thinks the other is the aggressor and sometimes they are both right about that. It's not that I think there is a "contradiction" in the NAP. I just don't think it always trumps everything else even though we should care about it a lot.

The NAP will not tell us what blood alcohol is too high for driving or what speed is too fast. You will never get universal agreement on these issues. If you aren't willing to make rules on these issues and be willing to use force against those who violate those rules you will get an even worse result in terms of people having their rights violated by others. Most drunk drivers and speeders just want to be left alone. Most times they don't hurt anybody. Until they do. Even the safest driver can't venture out onto the roads without making them a little more dangerous than they would be if they had stayed home. We collectively make choices about which practices should be against the rules. If we are not willing to enforce those rules with force if necessary then they aren't rules at all. They are suggestions.

vikingvista writes:

Greg G,

“Your point that a bottom up emergent system of government will still feel top down to an individual”

That isn’t my point. If you think a constitutional republic is a bottom up emergent system of government, then you are are only correct in the natural law sense that I’ve been describing. Put another way, whether you are a king or an American Congressman, your dictates are necessarily inspired by the existing rules of society in which you live. However, Americans, all but a trivially small number, truly do receive imposed legislation in a way that is indistinguishable from what they would experience under a monarchy.

Your attempts to distinguish a constitutional democracy from a monarchy in this regard leads me to believe that you consider state democracy to be something it has never been or ever could be.

“Using the market to make decisions will often feel just as top down and oppressive to individuals.”

When I say “from the perspective of nearly everyone”, I’m referring to what truly and demonstrably is the case for those people, regardless of what they feel. I can’t account for feelings. But I can tell the difference between a someone giving me a choice (“you can trade with me”), and someone taking a choice away (“or else I’ll send armed thugs to deprive you of something“). The difference between voluntary (e.g. market) action and involuntary (e.g. state) action is not so hard to grasp in real life situations.

“In neither case is satisfaction guaranteed.”

Dissatisfaction is absolutely guaranteed with compulsive (state) action. That is what it means to be compulsive. Mutual satisfaction in an interaction is only ever possible with voluntary (e.g. market) interactions.

“The NAP will not tell us what blood alcohol is too high for driving or what speed is too fast.”

There exists no such level in either case. The NAP distinguishes the perpetrator from the victim in the case of an inoffensive driver being threatened or accosted for simply exceeding some arbitrary imposed number written on some piece of legislation.

“If you aren't willing to make rules on these issues and be willing to use force against those who violate those rules you will get an even worse result in terms of people having their rights violated by others.”

Your belief in the benefits of victimizing the innocent is one shared by far too many people. I understand the power of status quo bias, and I understand the seeming simplicity of proclaiming “there should be a law”, but I cannot understand how people commonly immediately leap to the violent “solution” when we are all just as awash in voluntary rules enforcement as we are in imposed ones. And our lives in the former is so much more satisfying and productive.

“Most drunk drivers and speeders just want to be left alone.”

If they truly are alone, what is the problem? If they aren’t alone, then they are subject to societal laws, simply by way of interacting with other people--people like family members, insurance adjusters, loan providers, employers, turnpike owners, body shop mechanics, physicians, etc.

“If we are not willing to enforce those rules with force if necessary then they aren't rules at all.”

That is so obviously false, I cannot understand you completing the thought without realizing it. Rules do not require aggression. Your everyday experience is awash in successful examples.

Greg G writes:

viking

A constitutional democracy is one more type of voluntary society. You are free to join or you are free to emigrate. Our constitutional democracy was "established" before you arrived.

Sure it's often difficult to emigrate, but not as difficult as living outside all those other voluntary societies if you don't like what's on offer there.

vikingvista writes:

"A constitutional democracy is one more type of voluntary society."

Are you being sarcastic, or do you really believe Congress has no intention on trying to carry out its threats? Have you yourself tried openly disobeying Congressional dictates to test if you are right? E.g., before you stop paying Federal taxes, mail the IRS a letter saying that you are no longer interested in participating in their program and wish for them to leave you alone from now on. Tell me how it goes.

But of course, a constitutional democracy is in no way a voluntary society. At least not any constitutional democracy that I am aware of. At best it is a relatively small involuntary invasion into an otherwise voluntary society.


"You are free to join or you are free to emigrate."

And if you don't like your neighborhood home invaders repeatedly pistol whipping you and shooting your dog, you are free to move from them too. Peculiar notion of "free" that you possess.


"Our constitutional democracy was "established" before you arrived."

And your home invaders are older than you, so they have every right to enter your house and take whatever they want any time they want. Now I understand you.

Greg G writes:

viking,

No I wasn't being sarcastic and, yes, I do understand that governments sometimes use force when their laws are violated.

I was pointing toward something different. We agree, I think, that this discussion needs to be grounded in some shared understandings about human nature. Well one of the most fundamental things to observe about that is that we are a social species through and through. We are born entirely helpless and dependent on others for years and many of us die that way too. In between we continue to be dependent on others in many ways. This creates very complex networks of rights and obligations. I understand the desire to cut the Gordian Knot and make that all simple and find a single formula to always get it right but I think that desire creates more problems than it solves.

You are always saying that because it works to solve most problems without government and through the market, that will be the best way to solve all problems. Even if that conclusion is true (which I certainly do not concede) that reasoning is a howling non sequitur.

My reference to the country being "established" before you got here was intended to point to some obvious problems with your reliance on the homesteading principle. With most significant types of property you don't have to trace the chain of custody back very far at all before you run into any number of illegitimate transfers of ownership. There are some very good practical reasons for this not causing us to always dispute ownership on these grounds but it makes a shaky foundation for a theory that claims to always be as fair to every individual as possible.

It is just as impossible to live outside of all the constraints of the "voluntary" associations you advocate (which do permit the violent enforcement of rules sometimes) as it is to live outside of the constraints governments (which also permit the violent enforcement of rules sometimes).

vikingvista writes:

“I do understand that governments sometimes use force when their laws are violated.”

You understand governments use involuntary compulsion, but you refer to that as “voluntary”?

“I understand the desire to cut the Gordian Knot and make that all simple and find a single formula to always get it right”

I don’t. The complexity is incomprehensible, and I don’t see why anyone should have a problem with that. But there truly are things in the world, amongst the incomprehensible, that are simple and undeniably comprehensible and irrefutable. Now, I understand the desire to obfuscate those simple things, so as to ignore certain realities that destroy a desired theory or ethic, but doing so creates more problems than it solves.

“You are always saying that because it works to solve most problems without government and through the market, that will be the best way to solve all problems.”

I am saying, that I oppose one person aggressing against another. I do not start from some broad vision of how a large complex society should look and derive the NAP from that. I’m telling you, that I cannot think of a likely theoretical argument about the future of a greater society that would convince me to inflict harm upon an innocent flesh and blood rights-observing person standing before me. Nor have I seen a real world example of such premeditated targeted one-on-one aggression (e.g. tax collection or 1st degree murder) where such theoretical prognostications persuaded me such victimization was necessary or good or desirable or anything but uncivil and disgusting.

“Even if that conclusion is true (which I certainly do not concede) that reasoning is a howling non sequitur.”

I don’t know if it is a non sequitur or not, but since it is you and not I who owns that reasoning, I will take your word for it.

“My reference to the country being "established" before you got here was intended to point to some obvious problems with your reliance on the homesteading principle.”

There is no problem with the homesteading principle. The principle is a reality. It is nothing more than the understanding of how an isolated human being establishes without aggression his particular set of actions in the world. If you grasp that an isolated human cannot, by definition, aggress (since aggression requires more than one party), and you grasp that humans must make use of the world around them, then there is no rationally denying the homesteading principle.

The homesteading principle does not say that people are omniscient, that people always agree, that facts cannot be forever lost--or temporarily lost and later recovered, that people cannot be mistaken, that relationships cannot be incomprehensibly complex, that everyone (or anyone) alive today homesteads anything, that the principle is not frequently ignored, or anything else that you think makes it problematic. One thing that the homesteading principle does do, being an irrefutable reality, is help discriminate between rational and irrational minds.

“With most significant types of property you don't have to trace the chain of custody back very far at all before you run into any number of illegitimate transfers of ownership.”

How would you know? On what basis do you call them “illegitimate”? You are discarding your ability to make such a judgment while retaining that judgement. Do you think that is rational?

“theory that claims to always be as fair to every individual as possible.”

What theory is that? The “theory” that aggressing against an innocent is despicable? Please explain.

“It is just as impossible to live outside of all the constraints of the "voluntary" associations you advocate (which do permit the violent enforcement of rules sometimes) as it is to live outside of the constraints governments (which also permit the violent enforcement of rules sometimes).”

Rather than engage in an Orwellian redefinition of words to their opposites, your statements would be much clearer and less bizarre if you would use “voluntary” and “involuntary” the way the rest of the English-speaking world does. Simply state that you believe it is right or good or necessary or desirable for innocents to frequently be the victims of aggression (by far the world’s most popular position, BTW), and then justify why you support such an INvoluntary society.

But you’ll not get far with thinking people by proclaiming that the imposition of involuntary compulsion into voluntary interactions is itself voluntary.

Greg G writes:

----"Rather than engage in an Orwellian redefinition of words to their opposites, your statements would be much clearer and less bizarre if you would use “voluntary” and “involuntary” the way the rest of the English-speaking world does. Simply state that you believe it is right or good or necessary or desirable for innocents to frequently be the victims of aggression (by far the world’s most popular position, BTW), and then justify why you support such an INvoluntary society."


That paragraph overflows with unintended irony. First of all, Orwell believed in democratic socialism. That should be your first clue that it is your use of language that is wildly out of step with the rest of the English speaking world.

The overwhelming majority of English speakers do not regard taxation as theft.

The overwhelming majority of English speakers do not regard the government enforcement of democratically enacted laws (taxation laws for example) as aggression.

The overwhelming majority of English speakers do NOT think they mean by their words that "it is right or good or necessary or desirable for innocents to frequently be the victims of aggression" even though you describe this as "by far the world's most popular position."

The overwhelming majority of English speakers think that someone refusing to pay taxes is trying to free ride and that that is a form of theft.

The overwhelming majority of English speaking people think they are "thinking people" and their views are a lot closer to mine than yours since you bring up the question of who will "get far" with thinking people.

Now these English speakers might be wrong about any or all of their political views but the majority of English speakers can't be wrong about the way they use their language because language is entirely conventional.

And do you know how these conventions are established? Wait for it... They are established through a bottom up process of emergence based on the voluntary choices of each speaker of the language.


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