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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11526/justice-and-property-rights-the-failure-of-utilitarianism/

Justice and Property Rights: The Failure of Utilitarianism

January 25, 2010 by

Utilitarian economists, generally so skeptical of the virtues of government intervention, are so content to leave the definition of property rights and the allocation of property titles wholly in the hands of government. FULL ARTICLE by Murray N. Rothbard

{ 15 comments }

Guard January 25, 2010 at 10:01 am

One minor quibble with this article.
“For now we find that the retailer’s, Y’s, title of ownership is improper and unjust, and that he must be forced to return the hoop to Z, the original owner.”
No, I’m sorry but I can’t buy this. Biblical justice requires that thief Y restore to Z, several times over, the value of the stolen property. If thief Y is unable to do so, or to retrieve, by buying back, the stolen object, thief Y must work for Z until he has made restitution for the object. There is no provision for forcing X to give up something that he has bought in good faith on the open market. The responsibility for theft lies solely with the thief. Government force against a third party having nothing to do with the theft is unjust.

Guard January 25, 2010 at 10:53 am

“1. the absolute property right of each individual in his own person, his own body; this may be called the right of self-ownership;”

This cannot be the fundamental premise, since without any actual real estate on which to exist, you own neither your body nor its production; you exist entirely at the pleasure of whomever owns the land on which you live. It follows that one of the two alternatives is indeed the case:

“There are only two alternatives: either

1. a certain class of people, A, have the right to own another class, B; or
2. everyone has the right to own his equal quotal share of everyone else.
allowing class A to own class B means that the former is allowed to exploit and, therefore, to live parasitically at the expense of the latter; but, as economics can tell us, this parasitism itself violates the basic economic requirement for human survival: production and exchange.”

We are definitely living under the “parasite” model at this time. I would like to know how one would justly provide for everyone to have a place in which to exist without resorting to something like the second alternative, the “communism” model. Anyone know any good resources on this?

Allen Weingarten January 25, 2010 at 11:33 am

I concur with Rothbard on the need for a theory of justice and ownership, and reject utilitarianism when it comes to economic policy. Nonetheless, I find justification for a Wertfrei treatment of economics as a science.

Consider Rothbard’s statement “Surely, any endorsement of a ‘free’ market in slaves indicates the inadequacy of utilitarian concepts of property and the need for a theory of justice.” He is correct that there cannot be a free market in slaves. Nonetheless, a Wertfrei analysis of supply & demand holds, in that: the fewer the supply of slaves, the greater the price; the lesser the demand, the lower the price. These and other analyses are valid, from a purely technical (and amoral) perspective. Can one deny the validity of such calculations, on the ground that slavery should not exist?

So Rothbard’s view is tenable with regard to economic policy, but does not contradict treating economics as a Wertfrei science.

Inquisitor January 25, 2010 at 1:15 pm

“This cannot be the fundamental premise, since without any actual real estate on which to exist, you own neither your body nor its production; you exist entirely at the pleasure of whomever owns the land on which you live. It follows that one of the two alternatives is indeed the case:”

But you do.

Jonathan January 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm

What if someone buy all the land around your house and don’t grant you the right of passage? Your’re screw?

ABR January 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Guard writes: “I would like to know how one would justly provide for everyone to have a place in which to exist without resorting to something like the second alternative, the “communism” model. Anyone know any good resources on this?”

Excellent question! Guard has identified a seeming paradox w.r.t. property. I don’t know of any literature that adequately handles this issue.

Anthony January 25, 2010 at 5:55 pm

When reading this article I was acutely aware of the fact that the “settlers” in North America were settling on land that was already in use by Native Americans.

While the United States army was mostly successful in wiping out the indigenous population, there remain “heirs” to tribes representing most of the land area of the United States.

I very much doubt that Rothbard or anyone on this forum would advocate ceding all land in the United States to Native groups, and I am interested to learn a libertarian viewpoint on reconciling that issue.

ABR January 25, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Anthony, here is a snippet from Walter Block:

“Second, it is by no means clear that the Indians are the rightful owners of anything like the entire United States. Under libertarian law, they could justly claim only those parts of the land that they homesteaded, or occupied, not hunted over. They owned those paths that they used to get from their winter to their summer places. This is based on the Lockean-Rothbardian-Hoppean homesteading theory. I estimate that they owned, in this way, at most 1 percent of the land in the United States.”

http://mises.org/daily/3431

tom January 25, 2010 at 8:14 pm

The indians seem to be like the elephant in the room that R. does his best to ignore. Surely whoever posited the idea that the indian could only claim the land he traveled over and inhabited at different times was not indian. He must be living in a vacuum, though and believes that the indian could live in one also. Not to include hunting land seems to me to be like not including the property a farmer grows crops on. The indian is farming game, so to speak, by hunting. It was his very livelihood and had been for centuries. It’s only a justification for taking what we wanted then. It’s o.k. for one to settle on land as long as no-one else is standing on it and then tell the person that had been making his living off it for years that he can’t hunt on it anymore? This doesn’t seem like justice to me. It seems like ‘might makes right’ to me. It seems like it’s right back to the utilitarian argument that gov. sanction makes it legal property, only it’s the might of whoever can maintain control by force. There doesn’t seem to be any room for nomadic culture in this argument, but that is typical.

tom January 25, 2010 at 8:18 pm

I don’t remember commenting before, yet that is why you would not accept my comment? What?

Inquisitor January 25, 2010 at 10:32 pm

“What if someone buy all the land around your house and don’t grant you the right of passage? Your’re screw?”

No easements?

Tom, not sure what you’re on about. Either it is settled and homesteaded property or it isn’t. In which case easements may obtain, if it isn’t… maybe.

Thinker January 26, 2010 at 2:59 am

“”What if someone buy all the land around your house and don’t grant you the right of passage? Your’re screw?”

Still thinking in 2D. Tsk.

tom clark January 26, 2010 at 6:19 am

I guess all I’m saying is that when it comes to justice and property rights, indigenous people have seen very little in the way of either and imposing our justice and rights on another’s way of life without their regard, well that’s just not just or right. This homesteading, I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but has it ever been done without government protection or military invasion?

Allen Weingarten January 26, 2010 at 8:13 am

I find it striking that Rothbard’s rejection of Wertfrei economics has not been addressed by the readers of this blog. When he declares that “economists’ habitual attempts to be wertfrei…cannot be maintained” he is challenging the foundation of Austrian economics, namely that it is a science. So why is it that readers neither defend that foundation, support Rothbard’s thesis, or comment on what I wrote? Surely readers (on this blog) are aware that Austrian economics is Wertfrei. Consequently, it must be that they do not think it matters whether or not it is a science.

Stephan Kinsella November 18, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Note: this article was published in 1974; another version was also published in 1974, in Property in a Humane Economy, Samuel L. Blumenfeld, ed. (it’s also in Logic of Action One). The two pieces seem identical but the latter appends an important concluding paragraph that is not present in the one posted here:

It might be charged that our theory of justice in property titles is deficient because in the real world most landed (and even other) property has a past history so tangled that it becomes impossible to identify who or what has committed coercion and therefore who the current just owner may be. But the point of the “homestead principle” is that if we don’t know what crimes have been committed in acquiring the property in the past, or if we don’t know the victims or their heirs, then the current owner becomes the legitimate and just owner on homestead grounds. In short, if Jones owns a piece of land at the present time, and we don’t know what crimes were committed to arrive at the current title, then Jones, as the current owner, becomes as fully legitimate a property owner of this land as he does over his own person. Overthrow of existing property title only becomes legitimate if the victims or their heirs can present an authenticated, demonstrable, and specific claim to the property. Failing such conditions, existing landowners possess a fully moral right to their property.

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