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Monday, January 24, 2011

Reading Leeson, Part II

So, here is the main quote I want to take up in this installment of commenting on Pete Leeson's book, The Invisible Hook, because it expresses something that underlies a lot of "While [government] is based on force, the [condo association] is purely voluntary" (p. 51).

First of all, this ignores the distribution and rules of property that allow the founders of the association to set it up in the first place. I may agree to buy a condo from them, given that, somehow or other, I find them with lots of armed force behind them asserting they "own" that land. But no one alive today ever agreed to more than a tiny fraction of the tangled past of appropriation, theft, fraud, public domain seizures, etc., etc. that led to current property assignments. It's nice to dream of a world where all property titles are "clean," but that world never was and never will be.

What's more, setting aside the questions of ownership, let us consider a young Pete Leeson, growing up in Celebration, Florida. His parents, certainly, voluntarily agreed to the community rules, at least given the caveat noted above that they never agreed to the property distribution that gave Disney ownership of the land Celebration was built upon. So Pete grows up there, makes friend there, has other family there, goes to school there, and one day, turns eighteen. The next day, tragically, his parents drop dead, killed by the heart attacks they have when they realize he has gotten a supply-and-demand tattoo on his bicep.

Left his parents' condo in their will, Pete is now a property owner in Celebration. There is simply no sense in which Pete 'voluntarily' agreed to abide by Celebration's rules. I suggest the situation Pete would face is very much that of a current resident of the United States, who never voluntarily agreed to the rules that govern the US. Both are faced with the hard choice of abandoning the place they know, family, friends, a job, etc. and voting with their feet, or living with a set of rules that come to them 'from outside', as it were. This example demonstrates that even if the current US government were dissolved and its territory completely occupied by ancap communities, with the passing of the founding generation all of the communities would be back in the "non-voluntary" state of current governments.

But it is not just the children of the original members who would find themselves in such a state. Despite their initial agreement to all of the rules of the ancap community, the initial residents will as well, due to the fact that rules do not interpret themselves. It is a near certainty that any particular member, despite having agreed to live by a set of rules, will at some point find themselves in disagreement (perhaps profound disagreement) with how some rule or other is interpreted. For instance, she may have been happy agreeing to live by a rule that forbids "public nuisances" (with her contract giving examples such as public drunkenness). But when one day the community association decides tobacco smoking is a public nuisance, she is shocked and dismayed, and finds herself "coerced" to follow a rule to which she never agreed.

Another attempt in the book to clarify this distinction: "Voluntary choice requires that our options aren't framed under the threat of force" (p. 50). How many people would pay for their groceries if the grocer was just going to say, "Hey, you, come back here with that," when they walked out without paying, and never used the threat of (police) violence to stop them? So it turns out buying groceries is not voluntary.

10 comments:

  1. Gene, I think you are better off just saying that the newborn Peetey Leeson never agreed to wear diapers.

    Once you start talking about passing on property, then clearly Pete can refuse the property. If he accepts it, then clearly he can't inherit more than what his parents owned (volutnarily) in the first place.

    If my dad leaves me his 10 shares of a 100-share company, would you say, "Bob never agreed to only owning 10% of the company; he wants to run the show! So clearly this is force, as every libertarian will surely agree." ?

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  2. OK: So you agree that anyone who buys property in the US today has now voluntarily taken on the whole US government apparatus? Because no one has forced anyone else to buy here, right?

    Because what I was claiming is that Pete would be in the same position as someone born into the US. Whether you want to call both force or both voluntary is up to you.

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  3. No way Gene. Your analogy relies on the premise that inheriting property is the same thing as the State laying down rules on "the people."

    And then you conclude that private property rights are the same as the State laying down rules on the people.

    So yes, if your assumption is right, then your conclusion is right. But thinking about Leeson and his parents is a distraction. You think that your example is doing all the work, when it's not doing anything. You could have just said, "Pete's parents bought a condo. But who said that the 'owner' was really the owner?" There's nothing that the inheritance contributes to this. They could have given their property to an older person in their will; the fact that Pete was born into this world without asking anybody, is irrelevant. He's not forced to inherit his parents' property.

    But since you like Searle's Chinese Room Argument, you will be glad to know that I consider yours of equal caliber. :)

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  4. 'Your analogy relies on the premise that inheriting property is the same thing as the State laying down rules on "the people."'

    But I don't assume that, and my analogy in no way whatsoever relies upon that!

    "And then you conclude that private property rights are the same as the State laying down rules on the people."

    And I don't conclude that!

    What I do conclude is that the contention that the system of private property is "purely voluntary" is spurious, since no one alive today agreed to the existing pattern of ownership in full. That DOES NOT mean I regard private property as the SAME as state-made law!

    Your response is as if I noted that both wagons and jets are means of transport, and you declared "So Gene thinks wagons are the SAME as jets!"

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  5. "What I do conclude is that the contention that the system of private property is "purely voluntary" is spurious, since no one alive today agreed to the existing pattern of ownership in full."

    Is agreeing to the existing pattern of X a necessary condition for a system of X to be considered voluntary? (Where does this sort of standard stop? If only every being on the planet consents to the actions of every other being on the planet, past and present, could anything be considered voluntary? What? I sometimes see this made almost explicit by some anarchist types, only going the other way: only if everyone consents to everything everyone ever has done or is doing can anything be considered *not* forceful and coercive. It's pretty silly, no matter which side the coin lands.)

    Maybe I set my sights too low. I think "voluntary" applies simply by the absence of overt, immediate in-the-moment force or threat thereof. Who might have acquired what at gun or spear point, when, has nothing to do with it. It's if such methods are invoked in any given *now* by *particular actors* that makes it voluntary or not.

    Or, voluntary doesn't apply (or, doesn't *primarily* apply) to systems. It applies to the individuals/components that comprise the systems and to their particular actions *as* individuals. (And no one ever acts *as* anything else, although we can act on the *behalf* of others and *as part of* groups, of course.)

    Yes, no, yeah but, maybe, etc.?

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  6. 'I think "voluntary" applies simply by the absence of overt, immediate in-the-moment force or threat thereof.'

    Well, that a sensible enough criterion, but it will place most government activities on the 'voluntary' side of the ledger! (I've never been overtly threatened with force by a lifeguard at the beach, a sanitation worker, a census taker, or a public school teacher!)

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  7. Yes, readily granted. I never claimed otherwise. (Neither would la Boetie and many others, for that matter.)

    A farmer selling at a co-op might have a claim against the guy trying to abscond with his cukes, and acting on it wouldn't make for a precisely "voluntary" exchange. It wouldn't make it wrong necessarily, either. Not all things done voluntarily are good, and not all things done with some amount of force are bad. Generally, the more of the former and the less of the latter the better, but that's no good reason to declare "Oh, that was *justified force*, so it counts as voluntary."

    My gripe is with the part of government action that might be called the enforcement of stupid shit, the kind that does not fall on "the 'voluntary' side of the ledger"--but stupid shit can be enacted with or without states, and by state agents or not, sure. Let's just not give out free passes for those who *are* such agents, eh?

    There's a certain kind of "agreeing to be governed" which makes for dangerous neighbors; "I was only following orders" fails the agency test in a way that "I was only giving orders" does not. A congresswoman like Giffords doesn't deserve to get shot for participating in "the system" and giving out orders--not even close--but the policeman who's going to cage someone for unharmfully possessing a weed? Prudence might rule out resisting such attempts forcefully, but I don't want to say that *morality alone* rules it out. Do you?

    The less people there are willing to enforce such stupid shit in the first place, the better. The less laws there are directing such crap in the first place, the better. The less people are guided by laws or leaders *because* they are laws or leaders, the better. I can respect the person who says "This is just and right: let's make make note of it (i.e., let's make it the law). This person is just and good: let's make her our leader, so long as those qualities continue to manifest in her leadership." I cannot respect the person who puts the cart before the horse.

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  8. I have no problem with any of that, Nathan.

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  9. Cool. (And sorry if this is all unfashionably belated.)

    "How many people would pay for their groceries if the grocer was just going to say, "Hey, you, come back here with that," when they walked out without paying, and never used the threat of (police) violence to stop them?"

    I submit the answer to that would be revealing of no small part of a culture's health. [Without making any claims as to the primary cultivator of said health; in particular, without guessing as to whether a healthy majority who would still pay would still arise without at least a historical threat of violence for non-payers.]

    Isn't the closest we can get to a guarantor--or lack thereof--of our rights, liberty and property ultimately the way the majority of our neighbors and countrymen feel about the same?

    I'm not sure I'm so cynical as to say "Yes. And the only way anyone's going to respect any of that is if they have a healthy respect for the punishment that would befall them should they not." That *may* be the case, though, I dunno.

    Even if so, it's a separate claim to say that only a modern State could provide such a method and context of holding persons accountable for their actions.

    But I'm not really on about statism/anarchism, precisely. They're simply not "the thing," and I find that the more I use the terms the farther away from the whats I care about the words lead.

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  10. Again, Nathan, I find little to disagree with in your post. I do not claim only a modern state can provide a workable method of holding people accountable for their actions. In fact, I look forward to the day when we have something better. And I agree that a society is healthier the more people pay voluntarily for their groceries.

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