Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gus DiZerega on the incoherence of the libertarian view of property



  1. The libertarian view of property is incredibly frustrating, very annoying, and sloppy (i.e., ignorance of the distinction between chattel and real estate), but incoherent? On the contrary, libertarians seems to have come with an almost internally coherent structure that I'm having hard to time poking holes in. Perhaps what the author means is that, in these matters, libertarians are putting the cart before the horse, yes?

    1. If you accept homesteading as the basis both of what proprty rights should be and in fact are, then all is well. But when either is challenged, Rothbardians have no coherent response.
      Since homesteading is at best a partial basis for some limited theoretical cases, and laughable as a historical basis for asserting property claims, you might be making a distinction without a difference.

    2. But if you do accept homesteading as the basis for absolute property rights, look at the beautiful, consistent, and coherent system that emerges! I think that is why it is appealing to so many.

      One way to poke holes in this logical edifice is to present examples that yield ludicrous results when "the system" is applied to them. I don't think this works well because the allure of the system is so great that we can accept the unpleasantness of what appear to be a few difficult corner cases.

      Challenging the basis of property rights as DiZerega does is worthwhile, and I enjoyed the post, but I agree with Samson that he fails to demonstrate an incoherency in the libertarian position. The NAP is an ethical stance that one adopts because the conclusions are so logically appealing. It is not a claim to some sort of absolute or contingent truth.

      Specifically, DiZerega may be correct to claim that people need a voice in determining property rights to perceive outcomes as fair (although I'm not convinced that this is either a necessary or sufficient condition), but that is beside the point. Libertarians are out to convince everyone of what "property rights" and even "fair" ought to mean.

      IMO, the best way to shake people's faith in the NAP: you can't fully trust the logical conclusions you draw because the real world will refuse to perfectly fit your system. Much like an ideal triangle. It may be a good thing to push society in a more libertarian direction, but from where we stand today, claiming that we ought to abolish the state is like claiming that we ought to make the sums of the angles of all triangles exactly 180.

    3. the state seems to have 'homesteaded' various bits of land, such as roads for example, which are considered to be 'state property'.

      But the Libertarian/Ancap theory really goes way beyond the supposed 'homesteading' principle. They seem to claim that only individuals can homestead land, not communities.

    4. I think simply embracing such an arcane and archaic rule such as homesteading is enough to dismiss it as complete crankery. The way that they manage to reduce everything to property rights and/or contracts is most unnerving. Pollution as a violation of property rights? Eh, I think I'll keep criminal statutes logically separated. I mean, how on Earth can someone not see these things as separate charges. Murder can occur on someone private property or out in public. Why treat property lines as if they created some magical bubble?

    5. "But if you do accept homesteading as the basis for absolute property rights, look at the beautiful, consistent, and coherent system that emerges! I think that is why it is appealing to so many."

      Yes, the appeal of libertarianism is like the appeal of Marxism: once you accept a central fiction, everything else becomes systematic.

      "The NAP is an ethical stance that one adopts because the conclusions are so logically appealing."

      I'd say, "Because it makes everything so simple."

  2. Gene, how do you answer a typical ancap objection that goes like this:

    Take whatever argument the pro-State person uses to claim that anarchy vis-a-vis the households within a large city would not work. Use that same argument vis-a-vis different governments. So does the pro-State person pine for One World Government? Most do not.

    1. My first answer is "So what?" Simply because our cells combined to form multicellular organisms does not mean that all human bodies therefore "should" merge into one gigantic body!

      Also note: "anarchy" at the family level never existed. The smallest human grouping was bands. Human beings were political from day one. Our highest form of political organization so far is the state. Of course, anarchy doesn't "work" in international relations: see WWI and WWII. But for now, it is what we are stuck with.

    2. Bob, how do you answer this objection: why does "mixing your labor" with land stop at, say, an acre? Why not a hectare? Why not a square mile? Inconsistency!!1!11

      These arguments libertarians deploy using "consistency" as a basis are inane. IP does not conflict with physical property and having international "anarchy" (it's not anarchic to begin with) does not conflict with government.

    3. Most don't long for world government because of the risk of a really bad one. And in comparison to nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, Ancapistan is indeed appealling. But you expect modern westerners who live under mostly tamed Leviathans to prefer anarchy.

  3. I found two interesting replies to a Kinsella article here.

    Here is the first one:
    Thanks to Stephan Kinsella for questioning the justice of intellectual property (“Intellectual Property and Libertarianism,” December 2009). Like many libertarians, he posits property rights as the foundation of libertarian political theory, and suggests that because it is a derivative concept, we stop calling the nonaggression principle an “axiom.” So far so good. But Anthony de Jasay suggests that the concept of “property” itself should in turn be considered derivative, from the still more fundamental principle of liberty of contract. … Never mind that the concept of “self-ownership” has philosophical problems that Kinsella does need to take more seriously. I’ve been suspicious of “property rights reductionism” ever since I noticed that it led Rothbard to believe in his own IP rights as an author of copyrighted writings, even as he disparaged the IP rights of professional inventors. At least Kinsella avoids this inconsistency (if that’s what it is).

    This is an interesting one and the writer of it makes some good points about "property rights reductionism".

    Here is the second one:
    He also states that “We libertarians already realize that . . . the right to a reputation protected by defamation law” is illegitimate. This libertarian does not realize such illegitimacy. The libertarian principle is that no person has the right to initiate aggression against another. Spreading lies or untruths to destroy the reputation of another person is clearly within the definition of aggression.

    A dispute over what constitutes aggression. On libertarianism's own grounds.


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