Monday, January 5, 2009

Property Basics


In a hypothetical world without secure property rights, if you loaned a friend $40,000 — and he was universally seen as having a perfect right, legally and morally, to keep some of it if he thought he could put it to better use than you would — do you think your friend could come up with plausible reasons for keeping some of the money?  Maybe even all the money?

And what makes you think that we aren’t living in this disturbing world already, with the government (and all the activists with excuses for using government) simply serving as the conduit for the endlessly-rationalized relocations of cash?

I was accused during last month’s online spat about feminism of passing up the chance to build a “thicker” libertarianism that does not solely focus on property but on cultural issues.  I was reluctant to pick sides in the thick/thin divide, though.  That’s basically because in some sense I’m all for “thickening” libertarianism by fostering a culture conducive to liberty — but by that I mean surrounding property rights with the cultural cues necessary to property rights’ maintenance (encouraging the paying of one’s debts, etc.), not weighing the cause of property rights down with numerous tangential cultural side projects.

I can accept a thick libertarianism, in other words, but not the specific thick libertarianism that raises a certain vision of gender relations to the same level of significance as foundational property issues, nor any other form of thickness that treats dubious and endlessly-debatable cultural issues — about which even hardcore libertarians can easily differ without anyone violating anyone’s rights — as if they were basic rights issues.  That endless political wrangle is the statists’ way.

(That’s not to say there won’t be vigorous debate even among those focused on property rights — witness the debate I’m hosting this coming Wednesday, 8pm, at Lolita Bar.)


In this brief and somewhat tense Bush-Obama interregnum, with the financial fate of the world looking precarious, a period of robust dialogue about countless non-econ issues might be good for academics and welfare-statists, but I dare say it would not be so beneficial for humanity at large.  They can only be rescued from millennia of bloodshed and exploitation by the strong, unambiguous shield of property rights.  We have already seen where vaguer social-democratic dialogue and dialectical meanderings lead.

There is also the danger that endless philosophical dialogue and reformulations almost inevitably lead to welfare-statism.  Full-fledged socialists — as I warned in a Liberty article sixteen long years ago — need an ideology.  The welfare state does not, though.  The mixed economy does not.  If — as has been hastily announced in prior decades — we’ve reached a post-ideological age of sorts, or at least a period in which even the ideologues aren’t very ideological, aside from the Islamists, then the slow stagnation of the bureaucratic welfare state wins by default.

It may also win simply due to those who ought to be pro-property partisans being overly fascinated by ways in which their philosophy could be “blended” with countless variations upon welfare-statism and leftism.  Resist that “creative” temptation — or mush be our destiny.

1 comment:

dave said...

How about this sort of blending of philosophies: Using property rights as a tool for social change, in the form of a boycott, for example. Or by refusing to watch a movie that portrayed women in a certain way, or refusing to attend a university that didn’t have a particular ratio or teach certain courses.

It takes the goals of feminism and uses the free exchange of property to reach those goals.