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January 06, 2005

How not to complain about taxes (1)

Anderson on Political Economy, Anderson on Taxes, Elizabeth Anderson: January 6, 2005

"Governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who enjoys his share of the protection, should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it."

That's John Locke, the great defender of private property, writing (Second Treatise of Government, ch.  XI, par. 140).  It pays for defenders of private property to listen to Locke, so as to avoid silly complaints about taxation.  Here's one common one I hear:  that government, in taxing my property, is taking away what is really mine.  This complaint is often conjoined with the accusation that liberals, in order to justify taxation, must believe that the government owns all property to begin with and by rights could confiscate it all.  Two points should put these fallacies to rest.

First, a technical point:  the fact that some property is mine does not entail that other people do not have rightful claims to some portion of it.  I am entitled to my salary; it's mine.  But my children have a rightful claim to support from my income.  In some states, such as California, I have a legal obligation to support my parents out of my income, if they cannot support themselves.  I have to pay my bills out of my income.  If I negligently injure someone, I am liable to pay them damages from my income.  The fact that this income is mine does not settle anything about who else might have legitimate claims to some portion of it, and on what grounds.  Note also that I did not have to give my personal consent for some of these others to have a claim on it.

So far, I've just been talking about property as a legal institution.  But perhaps the complaint I am criticizing is talking about supposed "natural" property rights, following theorists such as Locke. So here's my second point:  unless one is a bomb-throwing anarchist, an advocate of natural property rights must concede the legitimacy and indeed necessity of a state, at least as an institution for collective protection and impartial adjudication of claims--the so-called "minimal state."  And such a state will have a legitimate claim on every member's property, to the extent necessary for everyone to pay their fair share for its maintenance, as Locke rightly insisted.  Even in a minimal state, the fact that my income is mine does not constitute an argument against the taxation necessary to support the state.

In fact, Locke himself went much further than this minimal claim. In the Lockean mythology loved by libertarians, it is supposed that individuals, upon joining a minimal state, retain full claim to all of their natural property rights, except to the small extent needed to support a minimal state.   The fallacy here is to suppose that, when people join together to form a state for the protection of their property, they are concerned only to protect their property from the encroachment of others.  According to Locke, however, individuals form a state not just for protection against violations of their negative liberties but for the preservation of their lives (which are part of their property):

"the first and fundamental natural law, which is to govern even the legislature itself, is the preservation of society, and (as far as will consist with the public good) of every person in it." (Locke, Second Treatise, ch. 11, par. 134)

Unless one could show, contrary to fact, that death rates under publicly funded health care systems are higher than under systems that leave people to pay for their health care with whatever resources are at their disposal, some kind of publicly funded health insurance entitlements are compatible with, and may even be required by, Locke's theory of natural property rights.  Moreover, Locke insists on our obligation to provide for the poor:

God hath not left one man so to the mercy of another, that he may starve him if he please: God the Lord and Father of all, has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods; so that it cannot justly be denied him, when his pressing wants call for it. . . .  As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another's plenty, as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise: and a man can no more justly make use of another's necessity to force him to become his vassal, by with-holding that relief God requires him to afford to the wants of his brother, than he that has more strength can seize upon a weaker, master him to his obedience, and with a dagger at his throat, offer his death or slavery. (First Treatise, ch. 4, par. 42, emphasis mine)

Locke's point is not just that some kind of entitlement-based welfare system is required by morality and built into the structure of natural property rights (the poor have a title to what they need).  It's also that, to prevent a free property system from degenerating into feudalism, constraints on freedom of contract are required.  Just as contracts into slavery are invalid, contracts into vassalage are.  People are not entitled to use their superior bargaining power to drive others to the wall, or into subjection. 

So, you can't get an argument against a welfare state from Locke's theory of natural property rights.  I won't pretend that Locke was as generous as modern welfare states; his preferred system of provision for the poor was in fact very harsh.  And, given the primitive state of medicine in his day, no one at the time imagined it would have done much good to universalize access to it.  But nothing in his system  prevents a more generous welfare state.

In fact, given the wide scope of the legislature to pass laws for the common good of society (Second Treatise, ch. 11, par. 135), it isn't even clear that the distribution of natural property before people joined a state provides a constraint on the legislative power.  Locke insists that any just government establish some system of private property or other.  But there is no indication that it must mirror the distribution of property people brought with them into civil society.  He never says that people in civil society have a right to the goods which were theirs in the state of nature.  Rather, he says "they have such a right to the goods, which by         the law of the community are their’s" (Second Treatise, ch. 11, par. 138, emphasis mine).

Does it follow that Locke, in accepting the legitimacy of taxation to promote the general welfare, including the establishment of welfare entitlements, really believes that the government owns everything and so could by rights dispose of all property arbitrarily?  Of course not.  He lays out the following constraints on legitimate taxation in ch. 11 of the Second Treatise:

1. It must be consistent with some system of private property or other (par. 138).
2. It cannot confiscate people's private property arbitrarily, but only in accordance with duly passed laws (par. 135-8).
3. The people must consent to these laws, not in the sense that they must obtain the personal consent of each individual, but in the sense that they have the consent of the majority of representatives in the legislature (taxation "must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them") (par. 140).
4. The laws must be for the common good of society, and in particular, promote the preservation of each member in it (par. 134-5).
5. The level of taxation cannot be so great as to reduce anyone to poverty or subjection ("It [the legislative power] . . . can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects" par. 135).

Although I'm no Lockean, I'm happy with these constraints, as I think all liberals are. (Personally, I would add another constraint, that requires the distribution of tax burdens to be fair.  Locke may also implicitly be insisting on fairness in the quote that opens this post.)

So please, stop the silly rhetoric that liberals suppose that the government owns everything already.  Stop the silly rhetoric that supposes that the fact that some property is mine offers any argument whatsoever against the legitimacy of taxing it.

I hasten to add that this still leaves plenty of room for reasonable dispute about proper levels of taxation.  For all I've said so far, it's fine to argue that current levels of government spending are excessive, so that the levels of taxation required to support those levels are unjustified.  It's fine to argue that the tax system we have unfairly distributes its burdens on the rich (I'll be posting later on that subject).  It's fine to argue that our tax system stupidly rigs incentives in unproductive ways.   It's even fine to argue that government welfare entitlements are illegitimate in principle, and hence that taxation to support them is unjust.  (For my point here is narrow:  merely that one can't get any support from Locke's theory of natural property rights, and hence not from the general idea of natural property rights, to argue this point.  I'll be posting later on why I reject theories of natural property rights.  My answer will surprise you.)  This post is simply a plea to focus on real arguments about taxation, not silly rhetoric.  But I wouldn't mind if you also learned a thing or two about Locke.

 

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Comments

Posted by: SamChevre

Interesting points! I believe the taxation=theft equivalence comes from Bastiat, whose rule was that governments had no legitimate right to do anything individuals could not. Given Locke’s statements, one might argue that individuals legitimately can take from others, by force, what they need for survival.

I think, though, that the above interpretation may be mistaken. Note Locke’s words:

“As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another's plenty, as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise.”

Many political scientists put justice as the only legitimate concern of government. Charity is a moral virtue, but governments cannot force people to be charitable; they can force them to act charitably, but that harms their ability to actually BE charitable. This point is very strongly argued by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn; I am not a sufficient scholar of Locke to know whether he made this distinction, but the idea that charity is not a proper concern of government is fairly old.

Posted by: SamChevre | Jan 6, 2005 9:15:59 AM


Posted by: Steve

I reject Locke's conception of property rights.

My conception of property rights is where property IS mine, and can't be taken away by the government.

Therefore, my arguments are no longer silly-right?

This argument seems to be saying "Locke had certain conceptions of property, therefore you (conservatives) must have the same conceptions of property, therefore many of your arguments against taxation are invalid." But if I reject Locke's original conception, I have rejected your whole argument, haven't I?

Steve

Posted by: Steve | Jan 6, 2005 9:18:43 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Oh dear. Where to begin? Okay, first, those of us who (1) are self-described libertarians, (2) acknowledge that some minimum state is required for civil society and (3) recognize that taxes of some sort are required to maintain that state are not thereby committed to (A) the notion that such taxation is justified in any sense whatsoever beyond whatever justification lies in the fact that it is necessary, (B) can with complete consistency acknowledge that property in any meaningful sense is a creature of the state and (C) might just have read enough Locke to disagree with him. Who, for example, other than whatever is left of the Marxist crowd still believes in a labor theory of value?

If Ms Anderson will cease implying that (all? most?) libertarians largely base their views on a naïve reading of Locke, I will refrain from implying that contemporary progressives largely base their views on a naïve reading of Marx. Yes, the woods are full of naïve libertarians (and naïve progressives), but libertarianism does not require for its defense any natural property rights argument at all. Locke also argues a social contract justification of the state with which I and many others disagree.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 6, 2005 10:06:25 AM


Posted by: David Velleman

Steve:

As Liz pointed out, Locke's theory of property rights is often embraced by libertarians and others who object to taxation, because Locke believed in natural property rights, which existed before the formation of civil society and which therefore placed restrictions on what sort of civil institutions could legitimately be formed. Locke is perceived by libertarians as their friend, and Liz is arguing that he is not so friendly to their complaints as they may think.

It's fine for you to reject Locke's theory of property rights. But then you will have to explain your alternative theory. And here is the real challenge for any theory of property rights -- the challenge with which Locke's discussion of property begins. Virtually all of your property is yours because you got it from someone else whose property it was antecedently: someone gave a piece of his property as a gift, or paid it to you in return for your labor, or exchanged it with you in trade. Your rights in that property are entirely dependent on that other person's property rights: if what he gave you or paid you with or exchanged with you wasn't his property to begin with, then it isn't yours now, after all. The right to transfer property to another owner is, in fact, one of the rights in the bundle that constitute property rights.

Now, where did that other person get his property? In our modern world, he probably got it from some previous owner, too; and that owner got it from a previous owner, and so on. But this cannot go on for ever. In order to explain your property rights, you need to explain how property rights can get started. There must have been a point at which no one owned anything (except perhaps his own body), and then there must have been a way for people to acquire property rights in things that had no previous owner.

This is the problem with which Locke begins his discussion of property rights. And his solution to the problem is a brilliant intellectual achievement. Reject it if you like. But if you have no alternative explanation, then you are left with nothing at all to say for your property rights.

Posted by: David Velleman | Jan 6, 2005 10:09:58 AM


Posted by: Elizabeth Anderson

Steve,

My claim is not that conservatives all believe in Locke's notion of property. It's just that saying that something is "mine" doesn't settle any arguments about the justice of taxation or of anyone else's claims to some portion of one's property. Even saying that something is "mine" by a natural property right doesn't settle any such arguments. Do you believe that you are free to negligently injure other people without having to pay them compensation from your property, just because the property is "your's"?

Sure, you can lay out an argument for a particular conception of property according to which taxation is unjust. But then you'd need an argument. A bare claim that something is "mine", begs all of the important questions and does not constitute an argument.

Posted by: Elizabeth Anderson | Jan 6, 2005 10:11:21 AM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Just a couple of follow-up notes.

Is democratic decision-making a sorry second-best to individual consent? How could Locke use an innocent "i.e." to slide from "his own consent" to "the consent of the majority"? In Locke's day, the crown could -- and did -- approach individuals and demand benevolences or gifts. The crown could -- and did -- demand loans, and it was an open secret they'd never be repaid. Individuals couldn't refuse these requests; they couldn't incur the monarch's enmity. But a parliamentary majority can refuse.

Is state bureaucracy a sorry second-best to entrepreneurial markets? Before the rise of bureaucracies, there was privatized tax-collecting. After the parliamentary vote, the state's legal right to raise taxes was worthless without an IRS. So they sold it off, province by province, district by district, to "tax farmers." These private individuals paid the state for the right to tax the locals. The state extracted a bit less than the expected value of the tax. The tax-farmer pocketed whatever he then managed to collect, so of course his interests weren't in fair administration of the law. His interests were in being predatory. Confronted with this entrepreneurial zeal, people longed for -- public bureaucracy.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 6, 2005 10:39:05 AM


Posted by: Bernard

Sam, it's well worth noting that even Bastiat recognised the necessity of taxation in funding the government functions he recognised as just.


'Finally, the eternal principle that the state should not be a producer, but the provider of security for the producers, necessarily involves economy and order in public finances; consequently, this principle alone renders prosperity possible and a just distribution of taxes.'

http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss3.html

He was a devout minarchist, to be sure, but he did not reject taxation per se (simply the conditions and the justifications for the greater part of it in the era he lived).

It's also worth noting that he draws his theory of natural property rights from direct reference to God.


'There are some political theorists who are very much concerned with knowing how God ought to have made man. We, for our part, study man as God has made him. We observe that he cannot live without providing for his wants, that he cannot provide for his wants without labor, and that he will not perform any labor if he is not sure of applying the fruit of his labor to the satisfaction of his wants. That is why we believe that property has been divinely instituted, and that the object of human law is its protection or security.'


http://bastiat.org/en/property_law.html

I can quite see the thought process by which a theist would deduce property as a divine right (though as an atheist I obviously disagree). Non-theists, however, need to look elsewhere for allies.

Posted by: Bernard | Jan 6, 2005 10:43:11 AM


Posted by: Matt

I'm curious to hear more about this Locke-based welfare idea. Like most people I've read only the 2nd treatis, so I'm ignorant about the context and content of the first, where the quote I'm interested in comes from. Is Locke arguing for more than the sort of manditory "poor relief" necessary to preserve stability that thinkers as diverse as Hobbes, Heyak, and Milton Friedman have aruged for? His idea of people having a "title" to this relief would seem to argue for it, but calling it a duty of "charity" would seem to put him more in the poor relief camp than the welfare camp, where the latter is interpreted to be a claim that providing a decent social minimum is a matter of justice, not charity or self-interest. I don't suspect he has a worked out view on this, for historical reasons, but I'd be curious to hear more which line of support for the poor you think follows from Locke's position.

Posted by: Matt | Jan 6, 2005 11:14:21 AM


Posted by: Mona

Elizabeth: if I negligently harm someone I have violated a duty I had to them, and they are entitled to some of my property in order to "become whole." My obligation arises because I took something from them, such as the use of their limbs or the life of a family member. Similarly, I owe a duty of support to my minor children by virtue of bringing them into the world. The operative word here is "duty," which devolves on me by something(s) I did.

I have no duty to provide charity to people whom I have not harmed, but whom the govt thinks are worthy of it. Thus, the govt has no moral justification in coercing me to make such contributions of my property.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 6, 2005 11:19:58 AM


Posted by: Steve

How about an alternate argument?

"Nozick had certain a certain conception of property, X.
Many liberal economic arguments conflict with X.
Therefore, many liberal economic arguments are silly.

Since noone has actually refuted X, here, we have to assume that X is valid."

I could repeat this for every thinker (Hobbes, Rawls, Marx, etc etc ad infinitum). How about the Bible ("The Bible says Y. Many modern ideas conflict with Y. Therefore, many modern ideas are silly."). Valid? if so, you've got a lot of writing to do before you vote...
Note that I haven't actually argued for X (or Y). I've simply appealed to authority (Locke said X, the Bible said Y), presuming that such an appeal makes it a valid argument.

There are a few arguable points in the post-for example "the fact that some property is mine does not entail that other people do not have rightful claims to some portion of it. I am entitled to my salary; it's mine. But my children have a rightful claim to support from my income. In some states, such as California, I have a legal obligation to support my parents out of my income, if they cannot support themselves. I have to pay my bills out of my income. If I negligently injure someone, I am liable to pay them damages from my income." I disagree that all these cases are morally similar (the legal obligation to support parents and children, the legal obligation to pay my own bills compared to a moral obligation to provide for the poor, as two examples). And similarly, your argument that health care is justified (or even required) under Locke makes a point that can be debated, but the overall structure of the post is "Locke said it, therefore refute Locke, or accept that your arguments are silly."

Steve

Posted by: Steve | Jan 6, 2005 11:25:54 AM


Posted by: Terrier

Don Herzog, they may pine for public bureaucracy again because the current administration passed a law allowing the IRS to use private collectors!

As for the whole thread: the subtext of the arguments that bother me is not really "it is mine!" but "I would agree to pay taxes if only I agreed to every single item of government spending, since I don't like spending on X then I am only being forced to pay taxes." This is the complaint of a spoiled child and it illustrates what I mean by there being no faith in our institutions. In my parents generation, they felt like they WERE the government - that's what I was taught. If you deny the social contract you can pretty much make any childish argument you want at that point but are you really an American anymore? I certainly don't want to run the thought police but imagine yourself a physician in a convention of witch doctors - could you have a useful discussion of a particular disease? It is that disconnect that plagues us in our attempts to reach some libertarians. The right wing has less problem with this because they adopted the argument that the government was a force working against the citizenry and have consistently pushed it. Will they will be able to maintain this fiction when it finally sinks into the populace that they control the government?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 6, 2005 11:47:48 AM


Posted by: Jay Cline

As a conservative, I take exception to being lumped with those (ie Steve) who either fail to understand or accept Locke, as Elizabeth Anderson so aptly explained. Taxation is not the defining issue, in my mind, behind the differences of modern era Left/Right arguments. The difference is that I do not believe in creating monolithic unresponsive bureaucracies to implement the ‘charitable’ nature and title described by Locke.

Don Herzog’s backhanded rationale for “public bureaucracies” (if I am not misunderstanding his point) is hyperbole. Private tax farmers are just as bad as monolithic Orwellian states. Ultimately, taxation and the charity of Locke is about redistribution. As I have argued in the school choice debate vis-a-vis portable vouchers, democratizing the decision-making process is best.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 6, 2005 11:54:41 AM


Posted by: Szabo

But there is no indication that it must mirror the distribution of property people brought with them into civil society. (E. Anderson)

Perhaps this is a response to Terrier's concerns at 11:47. In regard to the quote above (Anderson explicating Locke), it needs to be pointed out that the very idea of a property distribution PRIOR to civil society is nonsensical.

I think that those who want to say that all their income is theirs absolutely and that all gov't taxation is a theft of it (as well as those who demand that all gov't spending accord with their predilections if their tax burden is to be justified) are under the spell of the notion of a state of nature from which people emerge into civil society.

But I think that its pretty clear that "civil society" is first (at least some tenuous form) and property is second. (At least they are 'co-original.') Without social practices and laws, the whole notion of property just would not be there for libertarians to appeal to. Now, I am no Rousseauian on the whole, and there is nothing inherently wrong with arguing for lower taxes, but in as much as I think that the contract theory of the state in it Lockean form ignores the priority of society, I guess I am.

So, Terrier. I think that libertarians have an account of the social contract (an erroneous one, in my opinion) of considerable pedigree.

Posted by: Szabo | Jan 6, 2005 12:01:30 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Yes, I think the best we can say about democratic decision making is that it is a sorry second-best to individual consent. The fact that we have managed to do even worse historically doesn’t change that. At some point I think we just have to acknowledge that we do, in fact, coerce each other in order to sustain the state and that recognition of that fact entails that we coerce each other as little as possible. While I appreciate the notion that every individual’s right to life appears to entail a moral claim on whatever we count as property or wealth sufficient to sustain that life, I am unwilling for various reasons to agree that such moral claim suffices to warrant a concomitant legal right or that the state is the necessary or proper mechanism for dealing with such claims.

Ms Anderson’s argument is sound as far as it goes: a glib reading of or ignorant reference to Locke (or anyone else) is a poor argument against taxation. I think it’s a bit of a straw-man argument, but perhaps there really are more faux-Lockeans out there than I imagine. I will admit it has been many, many years since I read Locke carefully, but I seem to recall that what I especially admired him for (in his epistemological work, I believe) was his unwillingness on grounds of common sense to accept certain conclusions which his reasoning might otherwise have led him to accept. If I am mistaken about Locke in that particular regard, I nonetheless think it is a salubrious attitude for theorists to adopt.

I don’t know how obligated property rights advocates are to give an account that overcomes Mr. Velleman’s ‘quasi-cosmological’ objection. How we got to our contemporary institution of property seems to me a less compelling question than how and why we should either maintain or change it. I admit, however, that that is not an entirely satisfactory response to the underlying concerns both he and Ms Anderson wish to press about the claims of property rights vis a vis our sense of distributive justice.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 6, 2005 12:02:28 PM


Posted by: Bret

Nice post!

However, I was thinking that Locke's concern with the preservation of lives was more protection from harm ("no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions" (sect. 6)) as opposed to having universal health care provided.

Perhaps more interesting is that Nozick also started with Locke's Treatises and ended up (after several hundred pages of intricate detail) with completely different conclusions. It's been too long since I read Anarchy, State, Utopia but I remember thinking that if one starts with the concept of Lockean natural property rights, that Nozick's analysis was moderately compelling. I'll have to review it now.

Posted by: Bret | Jan 6, 2005 12:02:47 PM


Posted by: Szabo

Steve,
No one is asking you to appeal to an authority (nor are they appealing to authority) but to offer some reasons for your own account of property. You could do this by playing off of what you think is wrong with Locke's account.

There is more to an argument than validity... there's soundness. You need to establish the falsity of Locke's premises and the truth of yours. (Or at least make Locke's look implausible and yours plausible.)

Posted by: Szabo | Jan 6, 2005 12:17:08 PM


Posted by: Mark O

I'd also take it that Ms Anderson would also allow the minions on the right to take to task the interpretation of "fair". It seems to have missed her list of what we might be allowed to argue. :)

Posted by: Mark O | Jan 6, 2005 12:28:11 PM


Posted by: Mark O

Oops. My fault. On rereading, "fair" is included (albeit as only unfair for the rich).

Posted by: Mark O | Jan 6, 2005 12:29:40 PM


Posted by: Chris

Mona,

You don’t know how this pains me to disagree with the statement “the govt has no moral justification in coercing me to make such contributions of my property.” Using the US Constitution as an example, Americans granted the federal govt the right to tax our incomes.

Posted by: Chris | Jan 6, 2005 12:40:24 PM


Posted by: Bernard

Chris,

does the Constitution grant the government the right to tax our income for the provision of charity to those it deems worthy?

If not, then you haven't identified a problem with what Mona says:

'I have no duty to provide charity to people whom I have not harmed, but whom the govt thinks are worthy of it. Thus, the govt has no moral justification in coercing me to make such contributions of my property.' - her original statement.

Posted by: Bernard | Jan 6, 2005 12:50:17 PM


Posted by: secret asian man

The question is - if you are willing to make this close a reading of Locke and rely so heavily upon his authority to support a welfare state, are you willing to have his authority used to support his continued invocation of religion in the state?

Posted by: secret asian man | Jan 6, 2005 12:59:45 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Bernard, Mona's argument is exactly the one that makes my cackles rise - there are actually plenty of things that the government spends money on that I oppose, if it got to the point where I felt there was no recourse for me I would take Thoreau's principled stand and just not pay my taxes (and like him cheerfully accept the consequences) but as long as I feel that I have a chance to affect government policy I will try to do so and not WHINE about an issue that is under my control. Join this democracy - or at least don't complain to me when you don't!

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 6, 2005 1:07:33 PM


Posted by: Doug

Elizabeth's initial post has got me to thinking. Her point is that others have a claim on my property.
She says:
"The fact that some property is mine does not entail that other people do not have rightful claims to some portion of it."
It seems to me that others have a claim on ME not on my property. If I incur obligations then I am responsible. I may, for example, sell some of my property to meet the obligation but that is not at all the same as saying that others have a claim to my property.
I have a feeling that this is a significant distinction and our thinking must start from that point and not an incorrect starting point.
I am not my property.

Posted by: Doug | Jan 6, 2005 1:14:27 PM


Posted by: AlanC9

"does the Constitution grant the government the right to tax our income for the provision of charity to those it deems worthy?"

Well, Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the power to spend money on the "general Welfare of the United States." That's pretty damn broad.

Posted by: AlanC9 | Jan 6, 2005 1:20:19 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Doug, if your kids have a claim to your support does that mean you can give them money, stocks, jewelry, or sports equipment but deny them food? I think a court would force you to remove the chains from your refrigerator. If your lawnmower damages my car do I have a claim to your left hand or can you satisfy my injury with property? Is it an eye for an eye? Or would you rather file a homeowner's insurance claim? In our society it is specifically property that you are liable for and not body parts.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 6, 2005 1:37:42 PM


Posted by: Chris

Bernard

First you would have to define charity because one man’s charity is another’s entitlement program. A current example is the tsunami relief because it can be classified as charity or necessary for national defense because it promotes stability in the region. It doesn’t have to make sense but it does have to pass the rational basis test.

“In sum, Congress possesses expansive power to spend for the general welfare so long as it does not violate another constitutional provision.” Erwin Chemerinsky, Constitutional Law, Principles and Policies sect. 3.4.3 at 204.

Posted by: Chris | Jan 6, 2005 3:13:15 PM


Posted by: dallas

Virtually all of your property is yours because you got it from someone else whose property it was antecedently: someone gave a piece of his property as a gift, or paid it to you in return for your labor, or exchanged it with you in trade. Your rights in that property are entirely dependent on that other person's property rights . . .

One's rights in property are not entirely dependent on someone else having previously had rights in the property. Yes, as a general rule, the acquiring party cannot acquire greater rights in property than those enjoyed by the person from whom the property is acquired. But, this speaks only to the magnitude of the bundle of rights one has acquired. It says nothing about the foundation of property rights - the source from which they flow.

Property rights arise from a bargain. The essence of that bargain is simply this: the individual gives up a minute interest in most of the "Whole" for a complete interest in a "Part of the Whole." I am entitled to "my" property, and, in exchange, I must concede that I have no interest in "your" property. Some portion of the "Whole" remains commonly owned (Yosemite National Park, for example).

Thus, my property rights are not dependent upon my having acquired them from someone else; instead, they are dependent upon everyone else honoring the fundamental bargain that has been made.

The problem, of course, is that some insist upon renegotiating the contract, rather than honoring it. They want to make up the rules as they go along, altering "my" property so as to make it "our" property or someone else's property. When these modifications of the bargain happen, one learns, quite obviously, that one's property rights are not dependent upon the rights of the one from whom the property was acquired; one learns instead that one's property rights are less than that which one thought one had acquired.

Now, I will admit that the parameters of the bargain are not carved in stone - different times require different bargains - such as when our society is faced with an external threat or, more ordinarily, when population growth in a community requires new schools, new roads, new fire stations, and the like. But, in these instances we increase the size of the common kitty in order to avoid parisitism. Members of society should not be permitted to enjoy the benefits of the common property without contributing to the common fund.

What I object to is the renegotiation of the contract in a manner which promotes parasitism - the conversion of "my" property, through change in law, into the private property of another. This is wrong - naturally wrong. It violates the natural law that the interests of society - its preservation and survival - are best served by encouraging personal responsibility, thrift, savings, work, etc.


Posted by: dallas | Jan 6, 2005 3:18:15 PM


Posted by: Nobody

the fact that some property is mine does not entail that other people do not have rightful claims to some portion of it.

That an individual might have a claim to some of my property as the direct result of some agreement, aggrievement, or familial obligation is an entirely different consideration than taxation. To say that a homeless man has the right to a portion of my income simply because he is homeless and I am not is ridiculous because it implies that I have some prior agreement to provide him with a living or that I have some personal responsibility for him.

Posted by: Nobody | Jan 6, 2005 3:29:31 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Nobody, no one is saying the homeless person has the right to a portion of your income! You pay taxes; I pay taxes. You whine if the state spends your taxes on homeless people. I think when the state spends my taxes on missle defense shields then it is wasting OUR money. Do I whine about it? If the state spends to prevent a terrorist from blowing up the building where you work is that infringing on your right to property or do you want to enjoy the fruits of citizenship without actually being a patriotic American? You expect the rest of us to carry your dead weight?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 6, 2005 3:59:37 PM


Posted by: Doug

I think the comment from Terrier missed what I was trying to say. Especially the idea about "body parts" which I had not even thought of.
I was attempting to make a point about the principles involved.
I still contend that others do not have a claim against my property.
Let me try an example.
Let us say that I damage something of yours and we agree that I will repair the damage. In that case you have a claim against me, against my physical and intellectual energy (to do the repairs) but no claim against my property.
I must discharge a responsibility commensurate with the nature of my obligation. If repairs are called for I will provide repairs. If food is called for I will provide food. But you do not have a pre-existing claim on my property. You have a call on me to appropriately discharge my obligation.
I really think that there is an important principle down deep here.
You do not have a general claim against my property. Your claim (your right) only extends to me fulfilling my obligation.
You do not have a call on my property itself.
If I fail to discharge my obligation you are entitled to redress which may be taken from my property. But that is not because you initially had a claim to my property. You only have the right to have me fulfill my obligation.
I realize what is at stake in Elizabeth's argument. Her position is that I am not fully owner of my property. That others somehow have a claim on it. Some like this sort of argument because then they can use this line of reasoning to claim a portion of my property for their purposes.
But I think the argument is incorrect in principle.

Posted by: Doug | Jan 6, 2005 4:10:38 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Doug, No! If you damage something of mine I have a claim against your property! I do not have the right force you to serve me! If you chop down a tree in your back yard and it lands on my utility shed how far would I get with a judge if I insisted that you come over on Saturday morning in your overalls with your carpentry tools and fix my shed? I'd be laughed out of court. You would be ordered to provide property to compensate me (most likely just money.) We could work out between us that you actually do the work but in that case we wouldn't need to go to court and I wouldn't treat you as my indentured servant until repairs were completed. When the phrase "the value of the damage" is used what is the "value" that is being referred to?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 6, 2005 4:27:53 PM


Posted by: Micha Ghertner

"So here's my second point: unless one is a bomb-throwing anarchist, an advocate of natural property rights must concede the legitimacy and indeed necessity of a state, at least as an institution for collective protection and impartial adjudication of claims--the so-called "minimal state." And such a state will have a legitimate claim on every member's property, to the extent necessary for everyone to pay their fair share for its maintenance, as Locke rightly insisted."

This is a pretty good argument against a minarchist, and is partially why I no longer consider myself one.

The problem, of course, is that you've presented no credible argument against an anarchist, bomb-throwing or not. An anarchist advocate of natural property rights need not concede the legitimacy nor the necessity of a state. I certainly don't, and other libertarian anarchists do not either. Calling us names isn't an argument.

Posted by: Micha Ghertner | Jan 6, 2005 4:36:05 PM


Posted by: C.J.Colucci

A tramp wanders onto a rich man's estate and helps himself to some fruit from a tree.
Rich Man: "Go away! Get off of my property!"
Tramp: "What makes it your property?"
Rich Man: "I got it from my father."
Tramp: "Where did he get it from?"
Rich Man: "He got it from my grandfather."
Tramp: "And where did your grandfather
get it from?"
Rich Man: "His father."
Tramp: "And where did he get it from?"
Rich Man: "He fought the Indians for it."
Tramp (sizing up the Rich Man): "OK, I'll fight
you for it."
Discuss.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Jan 6, 2005 5:16:57 PM


Posted by: AlanC9

"Property rights arise from a bargain. The essence of that bargain is simply this: the individual gives up a minute interest in most of the "Whole" for a complete interest in a "Part of the Whole." -Dallas

Um..... what bargain was this? I certainly never signed up for that understanding of property rights. Where is this contract that's being "renegotiated" printed?

Posted by: AlanC9 | Jan 6, 2005 5:32:21 PM


Posted by: Mona

Chris writes; You don’t know how this pains me to disagree with the statement “the govt has no moral justification in coercing me to make such contributions of my property.” Using the US Constitution as an example, Americans granted the federal govt the right to tax our incomes.

But of course; this does not contradict what I stated. The govt may *legally* tax me, and I do not object to its doing so for the common defense, roadways and other projects which benefit me, and for which all must pay in order to avoid free-riding. Nevertheless, the govt has no *moral* right to take money from me and give it to others to, say, write plays or pay for the food and shelter of others. (No, I do not object to the project of aiding the poor; I object to the state coercing me to pay for programs that do so.)

Elizabeth offered two examples in her initial post, which she feels establish the propriety of taxation. However, the two examples she cites, i.e., paying someone whom one has negligently harmed, or supporting one's children, are examples where an individual has duties to those whom he is paying incurred as a consequence of the individual's own actions.

Now I am not opposing charity to the poor; however, it should be volitional since no particular person whom I have not harmed and whom I have not agreed to support -- as, for example, by bringing them into the word as my children -- is entitled to my money. It would be good for me to contribute it when and as I can, but that is a decision that should be within my own moral agency, and not one coerced by the state. Because I have no affirmative duty to strangers whose lives have no direct nexis with my own, and whose needs or desires do not result from anything I have done.


Posted by: Mona | Jan 6, 2005 5:34:53 PM


Posted by: d.marini

CJ
We could take that thought further back to a point where no human inhabitants were on the land. Property ownership has to have a defined beginning. That beginning it seems is defined by the current government and courts of a given nation. Fair. Probably not in many cases. Land was acquired through sale, "discovery", and forcible take over. Although it is an interesting intellectual excercise, the reality is "to the victor go the spoils" is really how the overall division of land has been settled overall.
Individual properties are acquired and specific rights associated with that property are decided by those governments. I would like to believe I "own" my property but the reality is its on a lifetime loan. (Then transfered through inheritance or sale) However, the fact that I paid for this and acquired title to the land gives me specific rights to my property, again, dependent on the goverment that we live under.

Which brings me to the scenario of the tramp and the rich man. The tramp has no claim to the fruit on the rich man's land. The fact that he is rich does not make it any different than if it were a poor farmer's land with a fruit tree. The rights of property still exist. One would hope one would help someone in need but this does not give the tramp the legitimacy of the argument that because it was once owned by another he is therefore entitled to some of it.

The romantic notion that the land is for all to use is naive and impractical in the modern world.
I appreciate the philosophy of the argument but being the realist, I'd defend the rich man in this case.

Posted by: d.marini | Jan 6, 2005 5:56:29 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

One might add to Mona's comments that Ms Anderson's third example, paying one’s bills, is quintessentially the sort of moral and legal obligation about which not even the most barking mad libertarian would disagree.

For what it’s worth, I disagree with Mona if what she is saying is that the state has a moral right to tax me for any government service whatever from which I might benefit. I may not, after all, desire that particular benefit. (Although it would be irrational for me not to avail myself of it if I am, in fact, forced to pay for it.) The best way to avoid of mitigate the free-rider problem is for the state to provide the minimum absolutely necessary benefits.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 6, 2005 6:01:50 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Property does not exist outside the state. Whatever we might want to call property in a ‘state of nature,’ either contrived for theoretical purposes or pre-historical, is mere possession, and whatever one possesses is limited by his ability to keep others from taking it by force.

One of the interesting and desirable things about free markets is that wealth (resources, not presidential portraits) tends to flow to wherever it is most efficiently used. It is not therefore unreasonable to predict that, even if we could all start out at some point with exactly the same share of the world’s resources, if we were allowed to bargain freely from that point it would not take very long before vast disparities of wealth existed again. Thus I’m not overly concerned about how we came to create property in the first place.

Mind you, that doesn’t answer genuine concerns about the legitimate needs of the poor (what has elsewhere on this blog been called a “minimum floor”) but it does go toward addressing what some consider the fundamental unfairness of distributive inequality.

As a mildly interesting digression, the law has long held that under some circumstances property can be created de novo (e.g., rights to animals ‘feræ naturæ’; see Pierson v Post, 3 Cal R 175, 2 Am. Dec. 264 (Supreme Court of New York, 1805)) and that title to ‘abandoned’ land can be acquired by adverse possession (essentially, a ‘squatter’ can claim title against the lawful owner who fails to protect his rights after some period of time.) The point here is that the law recognizes the creation of new property and often favors productive use of property over mere ‘title.’ There is nothing either sacrosanct about the mere ownership of property or magical about its creation. Even so, it does not follow that we have any generalized moral right to appropriate it from each other.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 6, 2005 6:36:03 PM


Posted by: Mona

D.A. Ridgley writes: For what it’s worth, I disagree with Mona if what she is saying is that the state has a moral right to tax me for any government service whatever from which I might benefit. I may not, after all, desire that particular benefit. (Although it would be irrational for me not to avail myself of it if I am, in fact, forced to pay for it.) The best way to avoid of mitigate the free-rider problem is for the state to provide the minimum absolutely necessary benefits.

Happily, we do not disagree. Frankly -- and I find this disturbing -- I can think of little if anything you have written with which I do disagree, at least not strongly. I prefer to be a lone voice of reason militating against the misguided hordes. ;)

But seriously, Elizabeth had claimed that because she does not consent to pay those whom she has negligently harmed, or for her children's support, that this implies she should cheerfully pay taxes. But her argument obviates the issue of incurred duties. If I get drunk (and even if I'm sober) and crash my car into you, causing you severe bodily harm and loss of your vehicle, my consent to make you as whole as my property can is imputed, and justly so.

You raise the subject of adverse possession. That is a fascinating legal doctrine which lawyers in practice actually seldom get to visit. But it catches my fancy and reminds me that I wish to explore it more fully than Property I and II had permitted. In sum, it is a "use it or lose it" theory. As you say, the law favors productive use.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 6, 2005 7:19:57 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mona:

I’ll try to be a bit more disagreeable for you if you’ll promise to spell my name correctly. ;-> (See there people, that’s how bargained for exchanges work!) I wasn’t disagreeing with you about the other two examples, but merely pointing out that Ms Anderson’s third example was, in my opinion, even weaker.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 6, 2005 7:29:30 PM


Posted by: Dallas

Um..... what bargain was this? I certainly never signed up for that understanding of property rights. Where is this contract that's being "renegotiated" printed?

Uh oh. So sorry. 'Twas a theoretical construct and I tend to forget not everyone is familiar with that manner of thinking.

Posted by: Dallas | Jan 6, 2005 7:36:06 PM


Posted by: Donald Kaufman

"The point here is that the law recognizes the creation of new property and often favors productive use of property over mere ‘title.’ There is nothing either sacrosanct about the mere ownership of property or magical about its creation. Even so, it does not follow that we have any generalized moral right to appropriate it from each other."

This is right as far as it goes. I took Anderson's point to be that property accumulation is the functioning of various capacities--think of the case of my broke-ass lawnmower knocking down your bourgie shed or of my kids suing me to get some food from "my" refrigerator. That we are already people with various productive capacities--that are ours--already living in states part of what I take Locke's point to be. Imagining that we are already such sets of productive capacities independent of the existence of a state is, for Locke, a fantasy.

Rousseau, of course, was onto the fantasies surrounding the state of nature better than any other Enlightenment theorist.

Posted by: Donald Kaufman | Jan 6, 2005 7:47:26 PM


Posted by: David

To the libertarians:

I should start by letting you all know that I was a libertarian for a number of years, so it’s not as if I have not felt the same convictions as all of you. And, to be sure, I felt quite confident during that time that I had a persuasive philosophical argument to support my position. (Gauthier, Narveson, and Nozick primarily influenced my thoughts). But, the more I became interested in moral and political philosophy, the more difficult it became for me to justify the libertarian view of property rights and, perhaps in some ways, rights generally. Anyway, I want to ask the libertarians (or anyone, for that matter) to give at least a rough sketch what justifies the bundle of rights that we call property rights—most particularly, the right/privilege to exclude others from using some tangible thing, the right/privilege to transfer the same exclusivity to another. Only a few attempts have been made yet, and all have been very unsatisfactory. I know that this is an issue that can’t be answered briefly and that a truly persuasive answer would require an enormous response. Indeed, a justification would have to begin with some thoughts about what a justification must accomplish—that is, a theory of moral justification. I don’t expect such an answer, but I would like to see a basic outline of your justification of property rights.

I want to highlight some problems before finishing. I’ll start with an example with which those who have study first-year Contracts in law school are likely familiar. Suppose a person falls to the floor in a public place due to an unexpected biological condition and that she loses consciousness as a result. She is rushed to a hospital where procedures must be performed immediately to save her life. Being unconscious, the medical staff cannot obtain her consent to perform the procedure but the doctors perform them anyway and save her life. When she awakens, she is told that the procedure was performed during her unconsciousness and that her life was saved as a result. The hospital adds that she owes them $5,000 for performing the procedure. The lady objects saying that she never consented to have the procedure performed and that she owes them nothing.

Naturally, the hospital responds that she would have consented to the procedure is she were able to do so in some antecedent position of choice in which she was conscious, rational, and competent. This of course is an appeal to a hypothetical contract, not a real one, and I think it’s a reasonable appeal to make.

I mention this example primarily to emphasize one way in which property can be justifiably transferred to another by force in the absence of actual agreement or any other voluntary assumption of a liability. I mention it also to remind us of how hypothetical contracts have been a popular and persuasive method of justifying not only the distribution of goods but, in addition, all the principles of justice. Of course, the problem with all hypothetical contracts is determining what the parties would have agreed to in the earlier position of choice. That is the role of decision theory, and I will leave it aside for the moment.

I also use this example to emphasize the relevance of luck. In the hypothetical contract above, the patient would have been rational to enter into it because it is rational to protect oneself from really bad luck (here, unexpected need of medical help without internal capacity to obtain it voluntarily). To be sure, this is why most of us find it wise to obtain insurance—to protect ourselves against fortuitous risks. The more libertarian contractarians and contractualists, in my opinion, don’t take the rationality of avoiding luck seriously enough. They also don’t appreciate something that Rawls and others have: that the original position of choice must be imagined as one in which we do not know our fortunes in the natural distribution of assets, talent, etc.

This seems to me the difficulty of libertarian views of property; it doesn’t take into account how much our property holdings are attributable to luck. For instance, let’s say I get a paycheck for $1000 in exchange for a week’s worth legal services. What are the causes of my getting this money? The first and most obvious answer is that I exchanged my services for money, and that this was a free exchange between rational competent persons. But, there’s much more to the story. My current ability to provide desirable legal services in the United States is due to many other matters of luck and social cooperation: (1) I was born with a talent for analytical thinking; (2) I was born into a family that encouraged education and even paid for much of it; (3) I was born in the United States as opposed to Guinea, where my opportunities would have been far more limited; (4) I benefited from a public school system funded by others; and I could go on and on giving credit to luck and/or others. The point is that I cannot take all the credit for receiving the money. And if I had been in some original position in which I had no idea how the luck or support of others would affect my life, I would enter into a contract according to which (1) I would be entitled to help by others to overcome disadvantages attributable to luck, and (2) I, were I more fortunate than others, would help others who are affected by fortuitous disadvantage.

I’m stating it very simply to avoid the more theoretical matters involved with decision theory, and I admit that there would be good reason in such an original position to prefer a substantially free market. But, some redistribution seems warranted, especially if the redistributive principle is related to conditions beyond one’s control (natural and social); and this is one of the basic reasons that I think libertarianism is lacking.

A related issue is positive v. negative conceptions of liberty, which I won’t go into. But, I’ll simply say that liberty, if that term is to reflect the reasons we value it (i.e., the exercise of meaningful choice), must connote more than noninterference. Liberty involves an internal capacity to choose competently and rationally; also, it involves the availability of meaningful options. Thus, if a state is to guarantee equal liberty, it would have some obligation to empower the individual to exercise competent and rational choice regarding the course of his or her life (e.g., education; voting rights) and it would have to tinker with social systems to ensure that opportunities are equally available (antidiscrimination laws). This too involves some degree of redistribution.

I expect objections from the libertarians and welcome them.

Posted by: David | Jan 6, 2005 8:10:44 PM


Posted by: rtr

The argument that the State exists to provide protection immediately falls apart when one realizes that protection is immediately lost with unlimited claims to Person and Property. I’d also like to keep in mind where and how and whether Person and Property separate and/or overlap. How is it any different than mafia “protection”? The proffered protection is a mirage and that is why revolution or military conquest repeatedly destroys States and lives. The government took the "numbers game" away from the mob and turned it into the lottery. What else have they learned? The Draft and unlimited taxation destroy all alleged protection. It recognizes no element of property in principle whatsoever. As there are no clear lines between yours and mine it is essentially collectivism: communist or socialist. To the extent that is not accepted, warfare or slavery is unavoidable. Keep in mind there can be degrees of these conceptions.

So is the State originally voluntarily established or coercively enforced? The Founders *begged* for soldiers from the original colonies. They weren't *ordered*. But to what degree was that a pattern of their actions?

A new pithy principle the right can use is: Governments should not be doing anything that individuals should not be doing. If the left can find a counter or something stronger, that is their perogative. I realize there may be special cases, such as judging and sentencing etc. (though private arbitrators exist), but the abuse that currently exists is too great to not challenge the fundamental principles or non-principles from which that abuse has originated. If all that comes of it is a fixing of abuse it's still not unworthwhile.

It’s a lie that all pay their fair share. The homeless person without an income does not receive a bill. That would entail slavery or serfdom, forced production to pay her bill. But how is that essentially any different than the rich person receiving a bill?

Government is not even limited to the total value of all outstanding property. By claiming the citizens are in debt they make them serfs. See the national debt. It doesn’t even limit claims to living persons but makes liens on unborn future generations.

All this is merely indicative of a state of nature warfare that is only clouded by conditional submission to the most powerful tyrant, whether the tyrant be a dictator, a king, a democracy, a republic, the mafia, or whatever. Such behavior is encouraged and instructed by government excessive coercion. As soon as the lights go out the looting starts. The government just doesn’t like its skim being skimmed.

Society cannot exist in the long run when the principles of free trade and liberty do not exist.

Elizabeth Anderson does well to raise these fundamental conceptions of “classical humanities”. If stronger arguments are going to be found for the left, these foundations should certainly be considered and reanalyzed. There is a lot of conceptual overlap emanating from classical liberalism in the legal, economic, philosophical, and sociological disciplines and a forum like this has the potential for lots of ideas. I would just say one thing to put these classicists of the enlightenment into perspective. They are writing without knowledge of the most important philosophical advancement (ok imho) of the last 2,000 years: the conception of value. It’s like comparing mathematicians before something like the invention of the Arabic decimal system to mathematicians after. It doesn’t take away from their genius but it puts it into perspective.

Elizabeth Anderson shows that Locke is not a great defender of private property. Like “far right wing” Adam Smith, some libertarians and right wingers are awaiting some serious upbraiding. Well, we all are. His intentions may have been good but his argument is at best fourth rate by today’s standards. If he was regarded so, it may explain why protection of private property in the U.S. has been continually eroding. So in the sense that Mises would refer to Milton Friedman as a socialist I would refer to Locke as a communist. ^_^

Also as the primary poster so far who has been making the “extreme” “all taxation is theft” arguments let me just put into perspective they are deserved ceteris paribus analyses. It’s necessary to get a better understanding of the variables when one begins to analyze the “proper levels” of taxation, if such a thing exists. Perhaps we will have some contributions from expert mathematicians regarding limit theory when the talked about but never seen “limits” such as “some portion” of the left are invoked. Specifically, are there any limits between minimization and maximization? We don’t want to be left with some arbitrary non-principles that have no basis for defense. Sounds like a slippery slope. Else we might find ourselves in a situation where anything goes, which some might argue is becoming ever more the case in the U.S. today. I guess I have to suck up the ‘F’ in “How Not to Complain about Taxes 202”.

From Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics, Ch. III Theory of Value:

http://www.mises.org/etexts/menger/three.asp


“Just as a penetrating investigation of mental processes makes the cognition of external things appear to be merely our consciousness of the impressions made by the external things upon our persons, and thus, in the final analysis, merely the cognition of states of our own persons, so too, in the final analysis, is the importance that we attribute to things of the external world only an outflow of the importance to us of our continued existence and development (life and well-being). Value is therefore nothing inherent in goods, no property of them, but merely the importance that we first attribute to the satisfaction of our needs, that is, to our lives and well-being, and in consequence carry over to economic goods as the exclusive causes of the satisfaction of our needs.”

There’s some huge falls waiting to be heard in some if not much modern economic theory, especially macroeconomic theory. As a lot of the social sciences have adopted aspects of economic theory some big falls may be waiting to be heard there as well, especially where “utility” is involved. This all emanates from a simple little conception of value being extrinsically determined rather than intrinsically determined. As such human beings are both ends in themselves and means to others.


Here’s a little historical perspective surrounding the modern conception of value from Mises’ Human Action:

“Let us look at the state of economic thought which prevailed on the eve of the elaboration of the modern theory of value by Carl Menger, William Stanley Jevons, and Léon Walras. Whoever wants to construct an elementary theory of value and prices must first think of utility. Nothing indeed is more plausible than to assume that things are valued according to their utility. But then a difficulty appears which presented to the older economists a problem they failed to solve. They observed that things whose "utility" is greater are valued less than other things of smaller utility. Iron is less appreciated than gold. This fact seems to be incompatible with a theory of value and prices based on the concepts of utility and use-value. The economists believed that they had to abandon such a theory and tried to explain the phenomena of value and market exchange by other theories.” (Ch. VII. Action within the world 1.VII.8)

“For the description of these facts economics does not need to employ the terminology of psychology. Neither does it need to resort to psychological reasoning and arguments for proving them. If we say that the acts of choice do not depend on the value attached to a whole class of wants, but on that attached to the concrete wants in question irrespective of the class in which they may be reckoned, we do not add anything to our knowledge and do not trace it back to some better-known or more general knowledge. This mode of speaking in terms of classes of wants becomes intelligible only if we remember the role played in the history of economic thought by the alleged paradox of value. Carl Menger and Böhm-Bawerk had to make use of the term "class of wants" in order to refute the objections raised by those who considered bread as such more valuable than silk because the class "want of nourishment" is more important than the class "want of luxurious clothing."*71 Today the concept "class of wants" is entirely superfluous. It has no meaning for action and therefore none for the theory of value; it is, moreover, liable to bring about error and confusion. Construction of concepts and classification are mental tools; they acquire meaning and sense only in the context of theories which utilize them.*72 It is nonsensical to arrange various wants into "classes of wants" in order to establish that such a classification is of no avail whatever for the theory of value.” (Ch. VII. Action within the world 1.VII.14)

I will be (hopefully) carefully looking for violations of the modern principle of value.

Posted by: rtr | Jan 6, 2005 8:24:08 PM


Posted by: AlanC9

Yes, Dallas, I figured it was a theoretical construct. Just pointing out that it's not convincing rhetoric unless you already buy the theory.

rtr, when you say "Society cannot exist in the long run when the principles of free trade and liberty do not exist," what do you mean by "long run"? Civilization's kicked along for a few thousand years now without recognizing the principles (in the form you're giving them, anyway).

Posted by: AlanC9 | Jan 6, 2005 8:45:17 PM


Posted by: John

So here's my second point: unless one is a bomb-throwing anarchist, an advocate of natural property rights must concede the legitimacy and indeed necessity of a state, at least as an institution for collective protection and impartial adjudication of claims--the so-called "minimal state." And such a state will have a legitimate claim on every member's property, to the extent necessary for everyone to pay their fair share for its maintenance, as Locke rightly insisted. Even in a minimal state, the fact that my income is mine does not constitute an argument against the taxation necessary to support the state.

Comment:
No state, not even the federal government has rights not granted to it by the people through their elected representatives. Governments govern through the consent of the governed. This is the foundation of our democracy. We do not live in a Hobbesian world in which we relinquish some of our natural freedom to the state. The reverse is true: the state is restrained in its activity by the people it serves. There is no legitimate claim on individual property, without the consent of the people, Locke notwithstanding. I am surprised that you are not aware of this.

The application of work for pay is the acquisition of property. Payment for services does not entail that the government has a claim on it. Indeed no one has a claim to a person’s property unless it be through the redress of the law for some wrong done. Note: it is the people who give the government the right to tax, and it is the people who reserve the power to take away that right..

It is of course true that during the course of 35+ years the Dems did nothing so well as they did taxing and spending the peoples money, for the government has no money unless it be the peoples money. President Bush was elected in part because he invoked the will of the people to take back the right granted to the state to take so much of their money.

In a state in which the government is of, by and for the people it is the people who are sovereign: Not the President, Not the Congress.

If your children have a claim on your property or any one else has a claim to your property, it because the law demands it. The law is, again, nothing more than the people’s will as manifested through their representatives.

Nowhere does John Locke say that it is the state that should seize Title to a person’s property in order to keep another “from extreme want.” Locke’s position is a moral one not a political one. The poor (destitute) should get relief because “God requires him to afford the wants of his brother.” Certainly Locke would not suggest that the state be the enforcer of God’s will.

Moreover, it is ridiculous to claim that because a person has a right to the fruits of his labor, that person will “seize upon a weaker, master him to his obedience, and with a dagger at his throat, offer his death or slavery.” Locke’s hyperbole suited the 18th century mind—things were pretty bad for the poor in England then; but such is not the case today. There are restraints that prevent vassalage (slavery) written into the US Constitution, and there is a body of law which enforces civil rights. Again, these are not moral or even virtuous solutions, but political solutions, political solutions that became law through the will of the people. Bad law, certainly, but good intentions. But those good intentions destroyed most of the Nations cities, desiccated the nations schools, filled the prisons, and housed the poor in state funded and state built housing, called “projects,” where no one was safe from the marauding gangs of killers and thieves.

Yet, liberals still believe that state power is the only solution to social problems like poverty and health care.

You Libs have got to start thinking out of the box.

Posted by: John | Jan 6, 2005 9:04:02 PM


Posted by: rtr

"rtr, when you say "Society cannot exist in the long run when the principles of free trade and liberty do not exist," what do you mean by "long run"? Civilization's kicked along for a few thousand years now without recognizing the principles (in the form you're giving them, anyway)."

Certainly, a Darwinian survival of the fittest "natural" law of the jungle will always exist. I do not necessarily equate that with "society" or "civilization" in any noble sense.

Posted by: rtr | Jan 6, 2005 9:27:01 PM


Posted by: oliver

"But those good intentions destroyed most of the Nations cities, desiccated the nations schools, filled the prisons, and housed the poor in state funded and state built housing, called “projects,” where no one was safe from the marauding gangs of killers and thieves."

Intentions neither build nor destroy. Supposedly "no child left behind" was well intended, but by leaving it unfunded the Republican tax policy has rendered it destructive and enabled further filling of the prisons beyond what's already been accomplished with "three-strikes" and other conservative impositions on the justice system.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 6, 2005 9:27:41 PM


Posted by: Glen Raphael

Elizabeth:
Let me second (third?) Micha's implied suggestion that in future parts you say something to those of us who simply don't recognize any necessity for or legitimacy of the state other than simply calling us "bomb-throwers". If you need more background information on the practical case for the anarchocapitalist position, I suggest reading _The Machinery of Freedom_ by David Friedman.

Posted by: Glen Raphael | Jan 6, 2005 9:29:00 PM


Posted by: Micha Ghertner

Dallas,

"Uh oh. So sorry. 'Twas a theoretical construct and I tend to forget not everyone is familiar with that manner of thinking."

You mean the manner of making stuff up? The social contract may be a nice theoretical construct, but it has no moral force. A contract in which one or more parties never had any choice to participate is no contract at all. It is force, plain and simple. When used to expropriate a person's property without his or her consent, it is theft.

Posted by: Micha Ghertner | Jan 6, 2005 9:33:28 PM


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