Monday, February 23, 2015

Property is Aggression, Coercion, and Threats

An excellent analysis by Matt Bruenig who is now being added to my blog roll.  He describes property as "violence vouchers" provided by the state.

American Libertarians (also known as propertarians and glibertarians by people I like) have long claimed that a society based on property and the ability to make money from it is non-coercive.  Nothing could be further from the truth, which Matt Bruenig explains.

Matt further links to his previous essays on the failed philosophies of property rights, including those of libertarians, which are also worth reading.

I discovered Matt while starting to read excellent commentary on Property and Government at Crooked Timber.  This starts from Quiggen's point that property rights, often seen as antagonistic to government, actually come from government, and are best enforced by government, and you can't have property rights without government.

Certainly it's true that Property Rights are not part of any real natural law (actually the very concept of Natural Law, as Jeremy Bentham quipped, is nonsense on stilts).  The natural state of affairs for independent actors in nature is the Rule of the Jungle, aka Might Makes Right.  Under Might Makes Right, anyone's "property" is fair game to be taken by someone else more powerful, and so on without end.  So at minimum, property requires collectivism, as Sasha Clarkson says in comment 30:

Any “non might” based private property right requires social organisation and protection of that that right/privilege by collective recognition and enforcement: whether you choose to call that organisation a “state” or not is a matter of choice.
That's definitely too strong.  Many informed later commenters would say this was well put except instead of "state" she should have said "society."  Then it would be unequivocally correct, as many commenters note, all "rights" come from society.

I'd argue this: If they're not coming from society, they're not rights, they're obligations.

Locally, at some times and places in the distant past, a mutualism might have been sufficient.  That's unimaginable now.  But at the scale of bands, in which humans existed for most of their time on earth, up to the past 10,000 years, property generally doesn't exist either, but rather a sort of communism.  So something like modern property (with strong powers to exclude all others) appears at a fairly large scale of organization…certainly state-like if not state, and not in all of them even.  Native Americans had very sophisticated civilizations without it.

An excellent comment to Bruenig's blog points out that propertarian arguments were debunked long ago by Proudhon.   And that the commenter sees property as a government regulation, at least alleged if not believed to produce a better society.  Breunig said he agreed with this view of property as a government regulation (he describes property as "violence vouchers" provided by the government).  But then it would be entirely up to government to decide how it worked, including how much of the proceeds an owner could take, and how much for the government to take.  Or how much one person could have.  In that regards, taxation of property is not a taking, rather what the individual takes  beyond their immediate needs, as in a wonderful letter by Benjamin Franklin, is the people's prerogative to dispose of first.

Many lists of authoritative books on the very subject are listed.  David Woodruff lists some authoritative books in comment 43.  One of the best of the best books is Jeremy Waldron's The Right To Private Property, according to Harry in comment 54.

Scholars and lawyers can whine on and on, but many many in the general public don't get it, they believe in the idea of property as natural, god given, or something like that, laments one commenter.  We should be talking about how to get the message out, that property is a social regulation implemented through laws by governments.  At least one commenter noted there would be better alternatives in many circumstances.

Jake comments that property as stuff you carry on you is very old.  Property as land only came about after the agricultural revolution, and then the State came into existence to defend it.

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