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Freethought Arizona Message Board › Critical Thinking SIG: Libertarian Foundations of a Right to Private Property

Critical Thinking SIG: Libertarian Foundations of a Right to Private Property

John T.
user 5081321
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 41
OK, so I guess I was a surprised as anyone to discover that there is a Libertarian Left philosophy that rejects (or at least places limits on) the right to private property but there it is. (See­ for further discussion)

My question concerns “clear title” to private property. Let’s assume that a “free market” exists where the exchange of property and value can occur. How do I know (or argue) today, that the property anyone has was “originally” acquired fairly? Isn’t there a notion of “tainted” ownership of all property that exists today?

I don’t know if Sandel will deal with this in future lectures but, to me, this presents a serious barrier to advocating the Libertarian Right view of absolute private property rights today (as opposed to an abstract notion). How do those of the Libertarian Right persuasion address this?

Having said all this, I still think I own my house but I did buy title insurance (yes for me not for a bank) when I purchased it.
A former member
Post #: 6
Stefan Molyneux does an excellent job of tackling this issue in one of his free, downloadable ebooks on his website FreeDomainRadio. I think I have read all of them (at least the non-fiction ones), and I thought I could locate the one that deals specifically with property ownership as the basis for all moral human relationships, but I was wrong. At least I couldn't find it from skimming through. But I suspect you will find any of them interesting, and once you get started you may run across what I was looking for yourself.

The one I was looking for starts with the principle of the ownership of one's own body as its axiom, pointing out that not accepting that proposition is equivalent to endorsing slavery--which proposition only works if one imagines oneself to be the slave owner and not the slave. The same starting point as the article you were reading, except minus the scholastic turgidity.

Anyway, I'll leave the exploration to you. I've found him to be perhaps the most insightful and stimulating thinker in the contemporary world.
user 5111324
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 7
I think the left vs. right (no property rights in natural resources vs. property rights in natural resources) question has to be addressed first, then the question of fairness in allocation.

As I stated at yesterday's discussion, I think the first question is an empirical one to be judged by the utilitarian standard. In other words:
Does the available evidence lead to the conclusion that the greatest good (specifically, long term material human progress) is served by a society recognizing property rights in natural resources, or by not recognizing property rights in natural resources? My read on the available evidence says rather clearly that the greatest good is served by having property rights in natural resources, though as all scientific questions this one is certainly open for debate and the presentation of new evidence. My position technically puts me in the "Libertarian Right" category, however I differ from most others in that category in my concurrent position that the cost of protecting those property rights ought rightly be charged directly to the owner in proportion to the value of the property owned (effectively a wealth tax), or if the owner does not choose to pay then there is to be no protection of the property right.

Assuming I'm correct and the greatest long term good is served by having property rights, then we can turn to the question of how those rights are allocated. This is trickier because in my estimation we have two valid but conflicting principles at work:

(1) The certain knowledge that the existing allocation of property in aggregate is not, and can never be, shown to be fair - owing to the enormous number of past aggressions and disputes and simple lack of data (Meaning: it is impossible to prove and unreasonable to assert that almost any house in the world is entirely fairly owned. Original acquisition and all subsequent transactions cannot be shown to be absolutely fair in almost all cases, and in many cases the allocation can be decisively shown to have been at one time or another unfairly transferred.)

(2) The certain knowledge that wholesale property re-allocation without specific judicial findings merely constitutes another unfair transfer for some or all of the existing property owners. We cannot rightly correct one set of injustices by promulgating a whole new set of injustices. This leads to the practical necessity of treating the existing allocation of property in any specific instance as fair, until and unless it is specifically proven to be less fair than some alternate specific allocation (Meaning: you should be presumed to own your house, until and unless someone can specifically prove to have a more justified claim to your house than you do).

To put this in more common sense terms, it seems to me that my mother was right: life isn't fair. :-) Ownership is, as you say, "tainted". It seems to me that anyone arguing otherwise would have to be willfully ignorant of history. However, the alternative of not having property rights having been rejected, the practical alternative we seem to be left with is accepting principle #1 as unchangeable and acting according to principle #2. If there is some other practical alternative, I have yet to hear it although I would certainly be open to it. BTW - my own parents almost never owned real property - I lived in rented housing for all but a handful of years of my childhood and even when they did nominally "own" the house they mostly rented it for interest payments to the bank. So I'm not trying to justify some inherited legacy property of my own - everything I own I had to work to pay for. Is it fair that other Americans inherited large amounts of property, much of it unfairly expropriated from Native Americans? Of course it isn't fair, but I see no better alternative for dealing with the property as it exists today.

Another way I look at this question: Never mind your average middle class white citizen like you and me, a minority day laborer with little education and no property ownership at all has an objectively measurable better life today (in terms of life expectancy, medical care, access to information, physical comfort, opportunity to travel, etc.) than a king or a feudal lord did 1000 years ago. That didn't happen because today's day laborer has been given a fair share of the property that the feudal lord's descendants had unfairly expropriated from the day laborer's ancestors. It happened because our knowledge, technology, and society have all progressed so tremendously, that even the lives of the most disadvantaged in today's society are better than the most privileged in the society of 1000 years ago. That progress happened in part because of, rather than in spite of, property rights (again, my interpretation of the available evidence). I'm sure you'll agree it also happened in large measure because of a significant decrease in thinking based on faith and authority and a concurrent increase in thinking based on reason and the scientific method.

While I would never advocate that we deliberately allocate property unfairly, or that we fail to address specific injustices that it is practically possible to address, my primary focus as a humanist is squarely on promoting social systems that are likely to maximize future human progress. I am very interested in making sure that even if my descendants are the equivalent of a day laborers 1000 years from now they will live better lives than Bill Gates does today. That level of human progress is eminently possible if the forces of faith and ignorance and authoritarian thinking are halted in their current resurgence. I am not interested in what in my estimation would be futile and counterproductive wholesale attempts at wringing out the unfairness that exists today because of countless past injustices, in an attempt to insure that my descendants somehow inherit a "fair share" of today's wealth.

I see a very real tension between focusing on past wrongs and present allocations vs. focusing on future progress. That's why I'm willing to acknowledge and live with the fact that the property allocation we have today did not come about fairly, so long as we address specific injustices based on specific evidence and make the rules of transfer going forward as fair as possible for everyone. People have what they have. I say, charge people for protecting property rights based on what they *own* rather than on what they *make*, enforce fair rules of transfer, and over time the trend will be towards justice and progress as the least productive property allocations will not even be able to cover the cost of protecting those rights.
Duncan S.
user 13683957
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 1
paulhdavis says

"the principle of the ownership of one's own body as its axiom, pointing out that not accepting that proposition is equivalent to endorsing slavery--which proposition only works if one imagines oneself to be the slave owner and not the slave. The same starting point as the article you were reading, except minus the scholastic turgidity."

This would seem to be true only if ownership of any kind is accepted. Is there not a position in which there is no ownership, but only tenancy.

Given the transient nature of both body and life this seems practical. Post tenancy bodies are not transferable but are reduced to molecular components. So, who owns the components? I would hold that the pink slip belongs to the same entity that owned the previous construction - nobody.

Ditto with ownership of property of any kind. Ownership is a fiction that we find useful, and as a fiction it can be written any way that we like; any way that we deem productive.

John T.
user 5081321
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 42
Thanks to everyone and especially Paul for the link to Free Domain Radio. This is in my bookmarks file now. Unfortunately I was not able to locate the item mentioned that discusses the rational basis for the principle of a private property right but will continue to look. I did find several discussions where some contributors poked some pretty large holes in the notion, however. The responses were more emotional than illuminating. I am still looking for the light although the heat is welcome given is has been in the mid-20s at my house all week.

Tucson, AZ
Post #: 14
I know this is long dead, but... I found it odd that no one mentioned that the natives and tribals of old all around the world did not believe they owned land--the land was never theirs--neither is it yours'.
For them, the crops, their shelter, their carryable and usable belongings were theirs'--but even then it was only by the law of war which silently states if you are not willing to fight kill and die for your perceived freedoms, liberties, rights, or property then it will not be yours'.
For you--us--you do not own the land, you own the title (short for entitlement) to use it in the specified fashion. These used t be charters, ehich you had to have to use or do or go anywhere anything at anytime--permition. These are rights granted--in writing-- by an overlord which you cow to, and accept to serve wholly in their interests which may help you; these overlords are most often vampires, cannibals, and werewolf jackals whom will torture and kill you if you do not feed them and worship theirinterests.

oops--how could I forget the dread-lich priests, especially if you were one of their undead hordes.
John T.
user 5081321
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 60
No topic like this is ever dead! So, in the spirit of undead philosophy, I offer this opinion piece motivated by the silliness in Oregon:­.

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