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Private Property Explained

June 08, 2010 By: Phred Category: Uncategorized

Libertarians speak often of private property, but to people not educated in libertarian philosophy, this notion can be confusing and seemingly subjective.  In fact, the opposite is true: the concept of private property is objective and quite simple to understand.

Self Ownership

Before understanding man’s ability to own other objects, one must understand man’s ownership of himself (or herself).

Each human being is the sovereign owner of him or herself.  While this conclusion seems fairly obvious, we can arrive at it several ways. I will focus on the method used by Murray Rothbard and others below because I think that it is the easiest method for the common person to understand. For a more detailed and completely different approach, take a look at Ludwig von Mises’ “action axiom,” and Hans-Hermann-Hoppe’s “theory of argumentation.”  This piece by Gennady Stolyarov II also summarizes the point as well.

One way to prove self-ownership is by assessing three possibilities of who owns a person: that everyone in the world owns fractions of everyone else in the world, that some group of elites own everyone else, or that every person owns him or herself.

The first such possibility is that everybody has an equal claim to ownership over everyone else.  Murray Rothbard (page 36) explained that this scenario

“holds that every man should have the right to own his equal quotal share of everyone else. If there are two billion people in the world, then everyone has the right to own one two-billionth of every other person. In the first place, we can state that this ideal rests on an absurdity: proclaiming that every man is entitled to own a part of everyone
else, yet is not entitled to own himself. Secondly, we can picture the viability of such a world: a world in which no man is free to take any action whatever without prior approval or indeed command by everyone else in society. It should be clear that in that sort of. . .  world, no one would be able to do anything, and the human race would quickly perish.”

Thus, we are able to reject any notion that people can be co-owners of each other. Seeing that it is impossible for humans to all own equal shares in each other, we must now examine the notion that one group of people owns all of the rest of the people (page 28).

“a certain class of people, A, have the right to own another class, B…. Th[is] alternative implies that while Class A deserves the rights of being human, Class B is in reality subhuman and therefore deserves no such rights. But since they are indeed human beings, th[is] alternative contradicts itself in denying natural human rights to one set of humans. Moreover, as we shall see, allowing Class A to own Class B means that the former is allowed to exploit, and therefore to live parasitically, at the expense of the latter. But this parasitism itself violates the basic economic requirement for life: production and exchange.”

Thus, we are left with our third option, that every human is the sovereign owner of him or herself.

Acquiring Property

Property can be acquired in three different ways–two of the methods are just, while the third is unjust.

Homesteading

The concept of acquiring property through homesteading has a long philosophical tradition.  In 1690, John Locke famously wrote (page 71):

“Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a “property” in his own “person.” This nobody has any right to but himself. The “labour” of his body and the “work” of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.  It being by him removed from the common state nature has placed it in, it has by his labor something added to it that excludes the common right of other men. For this labor being the unquestionable property of the laborer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to…”

Under homesteading, a person who improves or makes use of a natural resource becomes the owner of that resource.  For example, if a person landed on an uninhabited island, and picked an apple off of a tree would become the obvious owner of that apple.  No one else could rightfully claim ownership to the apple.  Similarly, if this man were to cut down several trees on the island and use the lumber to build a home, this home and the land surrounding it would become his property.

Homesteading has its limits–one must improve or change the resource to be considered a just owner of that property.  For example, if a man were to simple build a large fence around an area the size of Texas, he could not seriously claim to be the owner of all land inside of the fence.  Similarly, if I were to claim ownership of the planet Saturn, I would be ridiculed, and when the time came that humans visited Saturn, my descendants could not expect to collect rent from these astronauts.

Murray Rothbard explains this concept (page 170):

“If Columbus lands on a new continent, is it legitimate for him to proclaim all the new continent his own, or even that sector ‘as far as his eye can see’? Clearly, this would not be the case in the free society that we are postulating. Columbus or Crusoe would have to use the land, to ‘cultivate’ it in some way, before he could be asserted to own it…. If there is more land than can be used by a limited labor supply, then the unused land must simply remain unowned until a first user arrives on the scene. Any attempt to claim a new resource that someone does not use would have to be considered invasive of the property right of whoever the first user will turn out to be.”

Voluntary Exchange

Under voluntary exchange, a person can trade any of their justly acquired resources with another person in exchange for some of that person’s justly acquired resources.  For example, the man above who took an apple off of an unowned apple tree could trade his apple with another person for a product of that person’s, as long as the trade was voluntary.

This right also derives from the right of self-ownership.  I own myself and I may sell my labor to another person for a wage or a product (I could sell 8 hours per day of my time to an employer for a fixed rate of $10 per hour).  At the end of the day, I now own the $80 (meaning that the employer no longer has any claim to this money), which I am able to trade with a different merchant for some of his products.

Thus, any resources which are acquired justly can be traded for any other resources that are acquired justly.  In completing such a transaction, original owners must completely give up their right to the property that they have sold.

Theft

Theft is taking things by force (including fraud or threat of violence).  Theft is immoral and unjust, and one who acquires resources by theft should not be considered to be the legitimate owner of that resource.

If I were to take $10 from a person without their permission, it is obvious that I have stolen from them.  If this person is paid $10 per hour by their employer for their labor, I have effectively stolen an hour of this person’s life.

Similarly, if a food merchant were to market a meal as “non fat,” knowing that the meal contained 10 grams of fat, he would have acquired the money from that trade through fraud. Thus, the person who purchased the meal would have a strong claim against the merchant and should be entitled to receive a refund or some form of compensation.

Additionally, if a man with a gun were to demand that unless you pay him 1/3 of your income he would lock you in a cage, he would be guilty of initiating the use of force with the intent of committing theft. It would not matter if the man promised to use this money to pay for a school for your children, for a new highway, or for a missile defense program. Taking things from a person without their permission is, by definition, theft.  Silver-tongued rhetoric may be employed to obscure this fact, but it cannot change it.

Taking something from another person without their permission is always theft and should be condemned as theft. It does not matter what the “reason” or “justification” for this action is.  It does not matter who committed this theft, what was stolen, or how many people told the aggressor to act.

People often use majority support as a justification for  increases in taxes, large new social programs, war, and government debt because “the people overwhelmingly support them.”

Rothbard (Pages 57-58) shoots this idea down as well.

“even if 90% of the people decided to murder or enslave the, other 10%, this would still be murder and slavery, and would not be voluntary suicide or enslavement on the part of the oppressed minority. Crime is crime, aggression against rights is aggression, no matter how many citizens agree to the oppression.  There is nothing sacrosanct about the majority; the lynch mob, too, is the majority in its own domain.”

Unfortunately, our current system does not always respect private property rights.   Remember, that property rights are inviolable, and that action taken against a person’s property without their permission is aggression.  It is a sad fact that property rights (often including the right to self ownership) are regularly discarded by the very government which was instituted to protect our liberties.

Also, check out this video for a great explanation of private property.

Americanly Yours,

Phred Barnet

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Liberal Economists Lining Up Against President Obama

March 31, 2009 By: Phred Category: Uncategorized

It has been common for conservatives and libertarians to criticize President Obama lately, especially for his economic policies.

The attacks from fiscal hawks (myself included) have been relentless.  But, what is becoming increasingly more common is to hear attacks on the President’s economic policies from the left.

I wrote earlier that Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz criticized the bailouts and argued that the type of government intervention proposed by President Obama could lower our standards of living for the next 20 years.  As I mentioned in that previous article, Joseph Stiglitz has advised both President Clinton and President Obama.  Interestingly enough, Joseph Stiglitz is a liberal who has been very critical of the free market and free market economists in the past.

Dr. Stiglitz is hardly the only liberal economist to criticize President Obama’s economic policies.  In fact, he is not even the only liberal Nobel Prize winning economist to criticize the President’s economic policies.  Recently, 2008 Nobel Prize in economics winner Paul Krugman has become a vocal critic of President Obama’s economic policies.

Paul Krugman is very much a liberal economist.  He is a strong advocate of European style “social democracy” as well as welfare programs, and the welfare state.  He even said of the welfare state:  “I was then and still am an unabashed defender of the welfare state, which I regard as the most decent social arrangement yet devised.

I dont agree with Krugman’s proposed solution–a nationalization of the banking industry, but I do agree that Mr. Obama’s plans will hurt the economy and the country in the long run and that his plans are the wrong way to go.  Here are a few articles written by Mr. Krugman criticizing the Administration’s plans.

2/22/09

3/8/09

3/29/09

In one of my classes this semester [right before the passage of the "stimulus" bill], we had a guest speaker who was a labor economist who eventually became an Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Jimmy Carter.  This man was very critical of Reagan, Republicans, and conservatives in general.  However, he came out strongly against the “stimulus” plan.  He complained that it was very expensive, that it was spending money too slow, and that it was spending money on things that wouldnt lead to job creation or real stimulus of the economy.  A similar argument can be found in this writing by Robert Samuelson.

As I said above, you can expect conservative and libertarian economists to oppose the President’s economic plans.  However, it is somewhat disturbing when prominent (Nobel Prize) winning liberal economists begin criticizing the President’s economic policies.  Even supporter Warren Buffet has criticized the President’s plans.  These liberal critics of the President’s policies, combined with the conservative and libertarian critics leads to an important question:  are there any prominent economists who are not a part of this administration who support President Obama’s economic policies?  I have yet to hear from any.

Americanly Yours,

Phred Barnet

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More “Stimulus” Stuff

February 07, 2009 By: Phred Category: Uncategorized

Sorry for the lack of updates. I have been sick most of the week and am just now starting to feel better…

The big news is the “stimulus” package that is about to be passed whether or not the American people want it to.

My friend Art sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal which talks about what all is included in the “stimulus.”  It is pretty ridiculous.

But on top of this, there are are some truly outrageous things in the bill.  Under the terms of the bill, illegal immigrants who have been working in this country illegally will be able to get a tax rebate check of $500 per person.  Seriously.

This bill also gives money to dairy farmers to take their dairy cows out of production in order to raise the price of milk and create a greater profit for the dairy industry.  This type of government intervention is not only wrong, it is very dangerous.  Remember that less that a year ago, there was a global “food crisis” going on in which hundreds of millions (if not billions) of people were on the verge of starving.  By paying farmers to not produce food and drink, our government is playing a very dangerous game.  But this is not a game.  This is real life.  If government intervention causes the price of food to go up, people could actually die.

Here is an interesting article from CNN that was sent to me by two of my friends, Squeak and Hawk (yes, I have a friend named Squeak and a friend named Hawk).  This talks about solutions that Libertarians have come up with to address the current [government manufactured] crisis.  I dont support all of them and there are at least two that I completely disagree with, but they are all better than what we are going to end up spending the money on.

I want to write more, but this is getting to be too long.  Ill have an article for yall tomorrow.

Americanly Yours,

Phred Barnet

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Ain’t No Party Like A Libertarian Party

January 14, 2009 By: americanlyyours Category: Uncategorized

I am leaving the Democratic Party to join the Libertarian Party. My fit with the Democratic Party has been less great in recent years, and I have got to the point where I no longer feel comfortable calling myself a Democrat. And, although I voted for John McCain, I cannot consider myself a Republican either. Even though I supported Senator McCain, I actually disagreed with him on more issues than I agreed with him. It wasn’t a “lesser of two evils” thing, it was just that at the time Senator’s McCain’s views were closest to mine.

Since the election, however, a wave of bailouts has swept aside our Capitalist system and has moved us towards a socialist system in which the government owns and directs the economic activities of large corporations. The government’s reaction to the recent economic crisis (which I blame on government intervention in the first place) has hardened my non-interventionist views.

I decided to join the Libertarian Party after these bailouts convinced me that I could not support the Democrats or the Republicans. I began looking at the party platforms for different parties and found that I agreed with most of the Libertarian Party’s platform. Sure, there are major areas where I disagree with them, but I feel great about joining the Libertarian Party.

Why did I join the Libertarian Party you ask? Well…

Who stood up to Republicans and opposed the Patriot Act?

Who stood up to Bush and defended the 4th Amendment to our Constitution after details of Bush’s warrantless wiretap program were revealed?

Who has stood up against the efforts of the Democratic Party to take away the rights given to Americans by the 2nd Amendment?

Who has opposed every government bailout?

Who has opposed the increasing governmental control over every part of your personal life, from how you educate your children, to what types of cars you drive, to what type of energy you use to heat your home?

Who has fought for the right of ailing patients to be allowed to use medicinal marijuana to soothe their pain?

Who has fought for an end to the immoral system of taxing human labor, investment, savings, and entrepreneurial activity?

Who is the only party that defends the Constitution, as written?

Who is the only party that promises to cut the fat from our bloated bureaucracy?

With both parties turning toward bailouts and excessive regulation, who is the only party left still advocating Capitalism?

Which party is a staunch supporter of Free Trade, knowing that it is the best way to create jobs, economic growth, and save consumers the most money?

And which party holds the fundamental belief that individual freedom and personal responsibility are natural rights which should not be abridged by government for any reason?

The Libertarian Party.

Do you get the point?  The Libertarian Party is the only American political party which advocates complete economic and political freedom.

Many people say that voting for a “3rd party” candidate is a “wasted vote.”  This is not true.  It is true that the odds of a Libertarian candidate being elected to National office in the next elections is small.

The Democratic and Republican Parties want you to think that your vote only matters if you vote for one of their candidates.  And, this is only true to the degree that you accept their argument.  If you want to vote for a candidate who supports Liberty, but you do not believe that he can win, so you vote for one of the candidates from the two major parties, you are wasting your vote.  You are making the Democrats and Republicans right in their assertion that a 3rd party candidate cannot win.

This is a democracy.  In a democracy, there are no wasted votes.  A vote for any candidate, be he Republican, Democrat, Communist, Libertarian, or a protest write-in vote for yourself is equally valid and is not a wasted vote, as long as you are voting for the candidate that you feel is the one most suited for the job.  A vote is wasted if you compromise your beliefs and vote for a candidate that you do not like over a candidate that you agree with because you assume that the candidate that you agree with has no realistic chance of winning.  Penn Jilette says that if you “keep voting for the lesser of two evils [you will] watch things get more evil.”

Additionally, a vote for a 3rd party candidate should be viewed as an investment in the future.  A candidate may get only 5% of the vote this time, but getting 5% could encourage more people to vote for him.  Maybe in the next election, he gets 10%.  And as this happens, we could see a Libertarian or other 3rd party candidate win. In Georgia in November, a statewide Libertarian candidate for Public Service Commissioner received over 1 million votes and received over 1/3 of the total votes cast for his position, even winning my county by over 37,000 votes. Maybe next time, he can win.

They say that “absolute power corrupts, absolutely.” Well, I say “absolute freedom enlightens, absolutely.”Libertarian

Americanly Yours,

Phred Barnet