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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13557/hoppes-argumentation-ethics-again/

Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics, Again

August 13, 2010 by

Juan Fernando Carpio provides a good summary of the argument of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics (see page 339 and following), but for one crucial feature: Hoppe’s focus on scarcity of the human body. I can only speak for myself in this: I never really understood Hoppe’s argument until I began to think about the profound implications of the fact of scarcity and its application to Hoppe’s argument. Here is what Hoppe writes:

Argumentation does not consist of free-floating propositions but is a form of action requiring the employment of scarce means; and that the means which a person demonstrates as preferring by engaging in propositional exchanges are those of private property. For one thing, no one could possibly propose anything, and no one could become convinced of any proposition by argumentative means, if a person’s right to make exclusive use of his physical body were not already presupposed. It is this recognition of each other’s mutually exclusive control over one’s own body which explains the distinctive character of propositional exchanges that, while one may disagree about what has been said, it is still possible to agree at least on the fact that there is disagreement. It is also obvious that such a property right to one’s own body must be said to be justified a priori, for anyone who tried to justify any norm whatsoever would already have to presuppose the exclusive right of control over his body as a valid norm simply in order to say, “I propose such and such.” Anyone disputing such a right would become caught up in a practical contradiction since arguing so would already imply acceptance of the very norm which he was disputing.

Now, this is indeed a devastating argument. The human body is part of the realm of scarce goods. What does that mean? It means that it cannot be somehow socially owned. In fact, it is absurd to speak of any ownership of a scarce resource by the whole of society. A scarce resource like the human body (or any finite resource) is different from a non-scarce resource like an idea, a song, or an image that can be copied and copied, so that no one person’s control over the idea, song, or image takes away anything from another person’s ability to own and thereby control it. An idea, song, or image can be replicated without limit and without displacing or degrading the original.

A scarce resource, in dramatic contrast, is not duplicated, replicated, or copied in the act of using it. It must always and everywhere be rationed. If I eat this bagel, you cannot eat this bagel. I can make another bagel but if I eat yours, your cannot also eat it. So it is: if I use my body, you cannot simultaneously use my body. That is the essential feature of a scarce good. If you own your body, you control it exclusively, I cannot simultaneously own and control it. That you presuppose ownership of your body is implied in the act of verbalizing an argument in favor of your position.

This is why it is fundamentally preposterous verbally to advocate something like socialism of scarce resources. It is a performative contradiction because your very actions demonstrate that you embrace reality: scarce resources must be owned exclusively. A core of Hoppe’s point, derived from but dramatically extending a point made by his teacher Jurgen Habermas, is that the very act of arguing anything demonstrates a fact that there can only be private ownership of scarce resources, that your body and your vocal chords and everything else about you is wholly privatized. And as Hoppe writes in his 1988 book A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (chapter 2), the ownership of the body is the prototype of all private property. That is why the attempt to socialize scarce things ultimately ends in state ownership, which is only to say that a criminal gang, one that claims through some far-flung ideology to represent every person in society, ends up managing the control of the supposedly socialized thing.

Mises himself makes the point that this is a major feature of the socialist error:

He who contests the existence of economics virtually denies that man’s well-being is disturbed by any scarcity of external factors. Everybody, he implies, could enjoy the perfect satisfaction of all his wishes, provided a reform succeeds in overcoming certain obstacles brought about by inappropriate man-made institutions. Nature is open-handed, it lavishly loads mankind with presents. Conditions could be paradisiac for an indefinite number of people. Scarcity is an artificial product of established practices. The abolition of such practices would result in abundance. (Human Action, pp. 235-36)

In sum, we need to recognize the massively important expansion of Habermas that Hoppe accomplished: he applied the Misesian/Rothbardian view of property and scarcity to a socialist-inspired position in favor of civil liberty to generate a result in favor of anarcho-capitalism.

I wonder why Hoppe’s unique contribution here has not been entirely recognized? It could be that readers have not fully appreciated his emphasis on the peculiar nature of scarce things as compared with non-scarce things. After all, once a scarce person uses scarce resources to make an argument, the points her or she is making then enter into the commons: anyone can make the same argumentative points without somehow taking the arguments away from the scarce person who made them. So the act of argumentation itself amounts to the exclusive control of a scarce resource to produce ideas that become non-scarce upon their creation. Perhaps it is a mixing up of these categories that leads to confusion.

The next task for me is to read Murphy’s and Callahan’s response to Hoppe and see if it has merit – though I note from their summary of Hoppe’s position that they completely leave out the centrality of Hoppe’s point about scarcity. See also A Reply to the Current Critiques Formulated Against Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics by Marian Eabras, as well as Kinsella, New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory (JLS, Fall 1996), Kinsella, Defending Argumentation Ethics: Reply to Murphy & Callahan, Anti-state.com (Sept. 19, 2002); Van Dun, “Argumentation Ethics and The Philosophy of Freedom”, Libertarian Papers (2009); Kinsella, Revisiting Argumentation Ethics, Mises Blog 2009 (see also this comment re universalizabilty); Kinsella, Hülsmann on Argumentation Ethics, Mises Blog 2009

{ 81 comments }

Amanojack August 13, 2010 at 10:48 am

“This is why it is fundamentally preposterous verbally to advocate something like socialism of scarce resources. It is a performative contradiction because your very actions demonstrate that you embrace reality: scarce resources must be own exclusively.”

It’s not a “performative contradiction,” it’s just silly. The reason people reject Hoppe’s argument is because he overreaches and tries to bring it to the level of logical certainty, when it’s really better left in the form you’ve given it here.

This is just one of a host of issues that libertarians tend to overreach on, and it ends up backfiring because people find holes in it. For example, natural rights and the NAP are perfectly good ideas as well, but libertarian scholars almost universally try to elevate them to absolute certainty rather than arguing from morals to morals, or an “ought from an ought.”

Templar August 13, 2010 at 11:51 am

This debate again? I remember hayekianxyz (mises forums) demolishing Hoppe long ago.

Inquisitor August 13, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I don’t.

As for…

“It’s not a “performative contradiction,” it’s just silly. ”

Well that proves it I guess…

Aubrey Herbert August 13, 2010 at 11:21 am

^ Has no idea.

Great post JT.

Silas Barta August 13, 2010 at 11:51 am

My land, my 3D space. My 3D space, my right to attenuate all EM frequencies passing through.

J. Murray August 13, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Only if you lived there prior to the existence of the entity sending out EM waves. The homestead standard applies here. Since it’s unlikely you’re over 100 years old, then the only way to block EM waves is for you to pay the cost of blocking them. The EM emissions are a pre-existing condition prior to your purchase of the property.

Go back to the old problem of the railroad catching a farmer’s field on fire. If the railroad already existed before the farm, the farmer must pay the cost of protecting the field. If the railroad came in after the farmer, then it’s up to the railroad to pay the costs.

Silas Barta August 13, 2010 at 1:18 pm

You do realize most land was settled before the informational use of long-wave EM radiation, right? That would imply, if you’re correct, that every landowner has inherited (or purchased the inheritance of) the right to build EM shields that kill a broadcaster’s transmission ability.

J. Murray August 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Nope. The original owner made no attempt to stop the intrusion, meaning that subsequent owners no longer have any claim to the contrary against EM waves. When purchased, the EM waves were a pre-existing condition of the land, thus all claim is now lost. Homesteading is not based on when the land was originally owned, but if you, at the time of purchase, owned the land prior to the radio or television company broadcasting the waves. Purchasing the property means you accept it as-is in whatever condition it may be in, including the EM waves passing through it. It is then up to the new landowner to bear the cost of converting the land into whatever form he choses it to be in. The only way that you, the newer owner, would have any claim is if the owner of the land prior to the production of the EM waves made claim against them from trespassing his property.

Silas Barta August 13, 2010 at 2:08 pm

You’re responding as if I’m suing them to *stop* the transmissions, where it might be a valid point. But I’m not trying to stop them from doing anything. They can broadcast all they want — I’m just absorbing the energy they’ve spilled all over my property. Their waves come on to my property. (Actually, it’s the pattern that moves; all physical objects stay where they were, but whatever.)

I own this land. Therefore, I have the right to place radio-wave-absorbent materials on it.

Who are they to tell me what to do on my land? Where does this “right to OTHER PEOPLE’s PROPERTY having low radio-wave-absorbency” come from? Where do they get a right to “their radio wave patterns being about the same before and after they pass through my property”? Can you really homestead exclusive pattern propogation rights?

Old Mexican August 15, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Re: Silas Barta,

own this land. Therefore, I have the right to place radio-wave-absorbent materials on it.

You can certainly try. It’s an expensive undertaking, though . . . maybe that explains why everybody (except you) do not preoccupy themselves with such notion.

Silas Barta August 16, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Doesn’t matter. You need to explain why I should or should not be allowed to do this, in a way consistent with the rest of your positions on the matter.

On what basis do you think I should be prohibited from doing this?

Matthew August 13, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Property is tied to use. If you settle land for the purpose of building a home and living there, another may send radio waves through your land as long as it does not interfere with the established use of your property.

DD5 August 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm

“A scarce resource, in dramatic contrast, is not duplicated, replicated, or copied in the act of using it. It must always and everywhere be rationed.”

Jeffery,

How about using the word “economized” instead of “rationed”. The two are not the same thing. I’m sure you don’t really mean you want scarce goods to be rationed.

Joshua August 13, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I’m sure he didn’t mean ration as in gov’t rationing. Rationing in the general sense is just a fact of life.

DD5 August 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm

No, you are making the same mistake as Murray below. Treating “economizing” and “rationing” as synonyms. They’re not. Check the dictionary

ration:
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ration

economize:
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/economize

The terms are not synonyms. Both are associated with scarcity, but only one refers to allocation of resources that is economically.

J. Murray August 13, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Everything is rationed. We always make a determination of how much of any resource to use at any given moment with future plans on when we expect to cease using that specific amount of resource. Rationing only comes off as a bad word becuase of how it is used in modern context. Economizing is just a synonym for rationing. We could also call it budgeting, allotment, etc. It still means the same thing if we dress it up with a different name.

Silas Barta August 13, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Well, everything is certainly ration*alized* when trying to explain why pattern privileges in ideas are evil but pattern privileges in the EM spectrum aren’t. ;-)

DD5 August 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm

The free market doesn’t ration!

http://fee.org/articles/tgif/markets-ration-health-care/

“Economizing is just a synonym for rationing”

No, rationing is what you resort to when you don’t have any rational method by which you can actually economize. To economize is to actually allocate resources and plan them according to the most urgent needs of market actors. To ration is to allocate resources when economic calculation is absent.

J. Murray August 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Rationing is merely determing the share based on supply:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ration

Economizing is a specifc form of rationing. They aren’t separate concepts, ration being the broader definition. What the market does is rationing as it does determine the share of the resource based on supply using the demand and trade mechanic as opposed to some other method (population based, politically determined, etc).

DD5 August 13, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Look at the definitions I provided above to Joshua. If “Ration” was the broader term, then you could find some definition that refers to economizing. They are related, but they are not the same. The market doesn’t ration.

Sheldon Richman was absolutely correct in writing that article for FEE.

Now, according to you, the complaint often put forward by free market economists about government having to ration its services is not appropriate. Since according to you, the free market also rations.

J. Murray August 13, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Why is your definiton right and the Merriam-Webster people, an actual dictionary, is wrong? Wouldn’t that be hubris?

DD5 August 13, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Murray,

Your definition is fine also and it supports my interpretation.

Now, your own Merriam definition clearly doesn’t support or imply for any economic method of allocation:

1 a : a food allowance for one day b plural : food, provisions\

2 : a share especially as determined by supply

(1) “allowance per day” (even if not food) certainly fits my interpretation of “ration” and not yours.

(2) “share determined by supply” , but clearly NOT determined by demand according to this definition. Also compatible with my interpretation of “ration” and not yours.

BTW: There is another definition (transitive verb) there even according to your Merriam-Webster which talks about distributing equitably.

Christopher Howard August 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm

So does the blackmarket :)

michael August 13, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Not to play Devil’s advocate, but the author says thing like “it is absurd to speak of any ownership of a scarce resource by the whole of society”… and “it is fundamentally preposterous verbally to advocate something like socialism of scarce resources”. But I would think those were precisely the things that society must exert ownership of. Otherwise a private owner could deny them to people, and jack the price up a hundredfold.

I would imagine we’d define a ‘scarce good’ as being something where demand was always greater than the supply. Human health would be such a good, as would clean air or clean water. These are things we absolutely have to have in order to survive.

So why would we leave such goods in the hands of private proprietors? Wouldn’t that be an invitation to gouge the public, the users of those goods?

Here’s an example. Some years back the state of Michigan was entertaining the thought of selling off a large supply of groundwater to Nestle’s, to be bottled and sold. Once the voters found out, they started screaming. It was their water. So the deal was very quickly killed… on the principle that any money they received could be spent and would then be gone. While the water, if they sold it off, would place them at risk of perpetual dire loss. It is worth far more than money.

Here’s another example: health care. Other nations have socialized a greater proportion of their total HC system to a greater degree than has the United States. They are also able to offer health services at a lower rate than can be found in the US. Coincidence? I think not. Intrinsically, privately held scarce and essential goods will be sold more dearly than will goods provided at cost.

And a third example: clean skies. At present private industry can feel free to pollute the skies, on the principle that no one owns them… except for a single barrier: the Clean Air Act. Without it, the public’s interest in keeping the air clean enough to breathe can not be served.

Privatising certain goods and services can be beneficial for the public good in that it stimulates the healthy flow of dollars within our economic system. But there are elements of our common heritage (a healthy planet) that are just too important to be privatised and sold off. Plus, there’s the argument that if a public owner can sell a commodity off, it must in fact be the owner of that commodity. It has the power to refuse to sell.

JGiles August 13, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Ok, first off, one nitpick; “clean air” is not a scare resource. Demand is not greater than supply.

My other objection is that you are proceeding from a very different base assumption than practically everyone else on this forum, and so your argument is going to come off as irredeemably stupid to them. To a libertarian, nothing can ever be “privatized”, because everything is, inherently, either privately owned or not owned at all. “Society” or “the public” owns NOTHING, and is owed nothing by the various private entities which make it up.

Now for your examples.

“Some years back the state of Michigan was entertaining the thought of selling off a large supply of groundwater to Nestle’s, to be bottled and sold. Once the voters found out, they started screaming. It was their water. So the deal was very quickly killed… on the principle that any money they received could be spent and would then be gone. While the water, if they sold it off, would place them at risk of perpetual dire loss. It is worth far more than money.”

1. No, it wasn’t “the voter’s” water. If it was on government property, it was presumably owned by the State of Michigan, and the State can do whatever the hell it wants with it. They might be voted out about it, later, but that’s a different issue. However, this is overall irrelevant, except to point out to you how radically your conceptual framework differs from that which is prevalent here.

2. The idea that Nestle could use possession of a single groundwater source to “gouge” the public is, frankly, absurd. There are literally thousands of sources of fresh water; is Nestle raised prices over market, they would be undersold and lose business. You ought to know that, being a businessman.

“Here’s another example: health care. Other nations have socialized a greater proportion of their total HC system to a greater degree than has the United States. They are also able to offer health services at a lower rate than can be found in the US. Coincidence? I think not. Intrinsically, privately held scarce and essential goods will be sold more dearly than will goods provided at cost.”

1. Of course it isn’t a coincidence, because what you’re claiming doesn’t actually exist. Every single socialized healthcare system in the world is chronically underfunded, strictly rationed, slow to help and inferior in quality. Canadians with money go to New York for treatment, to avoid intolerable waits and shoddy care in their home country. Look around and you can find lots of horror stories about socialized medicine.

2. Now, why is this? Your statement that “Intrinsically, privately held scarce and essential goods will be sold more dearly than will goods provided at cost” seems reasonable on the face of it. What you’re missing is that, without free, voluntary interaction resulting in a market price, there is NO WAY for a government to figure out what “cost” actually is; remember, costs depend on prices. You’ve stated that yourself. So since the government makes up the price, they also make up the cost; and in the process of doing so, they come under pressure from interest groups, which distorts their idea of what the “cost” ought to be. TO add to this, healthcare is NOT provided at “cost”; it is provided by governments at “cost plus”, with some set profit for the provider factored in. Guess who gets to determine what that set profit is? Right. . . interest groups. That is to say, the producers. After all, they’re the ones with the most at risk if the decision goes against them. They have the incentive to lobby hardest.

“And a third example: clean skies. At present private industry can feel free to pollute the skies, on the principle that no one owns them… except for a single barrier: the Clean Air Act. Without it, the public’s interest in keeping the air clean enough to breathe can not be served.”

1. Has it not occurred to you that private industry also has an interest in keeping air clean enough to breathe? Private industry is made up of people. Dirty air affects them. It also affects their workers, and hence their profit margins; and those fat-cat capitalists won’t stand for anything that affects profit margins, remember? If a problem becomes bad enough to be a hindrance, it gets resolved. Businesses HAVE to work that way.

2. Consumers are perfectly able to demand clean air; and if and when they do, an industry will arise to service that demand. What, exactly, will they do? Hell if I know. But if people are willing to pay for clean air, then hey presto, an industry appears. That’s a basic axiom of economics; if people demand a product, they get it.

4. What the Clean Air Act and similar legislation actually does is to distort this relationship. Manifestly, people DON’T particularly care about clean air; if they did, they’d be willing to pay the higher prices necessary for clean energy WITHOUT coercive legislation!

Peter August 13, 2010 at 7:33 pm

If it was on government property, it was presumably owned by the State of Michigan

Except, of course, there’s no such thing as “government property” (except as a result of guys with guns claiming they make the law!), and the State of Michigan can’t (properly) own anything. Therefore it wasn’t their water to sell. (It wasn’t “the people of Michigan”‘s water, either, of course)

michael August 14, 2010 at 11:18 am

You say that “’clean air’ is not a scare resource. Demand is not greater than supply.”

Clean air is a potentially scarce resource, in that once the air is no longer clean there is no remaining clean air. Therefore it’s a resource of immeasurable value, and one to be guarded by everyone… even though no one owns it.

2. Is Michigan’s groundwater owned by the state of Michigan? The quick answer is “no”. Each state has its own laws surrounding water use and rights. Here’s a summary of Michigan’s:

“In North America, bottled water companies like Nestlé Waters have been able to secure control over underground aquifers and streams by taking advantage of an archaic patch work of regulatory regimes. One of these is called the “rule of capture.” According this law, “ground water is the private property of the owner of the overlying land” and they “have the right to capture the ground water beneath their land.” It is also known as the ‘law of the biggest pump’ because the landowner with the largest pumping capacity “can dry up the adjoining landowner’s well.”

“In Michigan, the initial battle lines were drawn around the zoning changes that were required in Mecosta County, and neighboring Osceola County, to allow Nestlé’s to build its water bottling operation. In June and August 2001, referendums were held in both Mecosta and Osceola counties, and rezoning was rejected by a 2-to-1 margin.”

http://waterwars.wordpress.com/2006/12/20/a-brief-history-of-nestles-water-battles-in-michigan/

So to summarize: “No, it wasn’t “the voter’s” water. If it was on government property, it was presumably owned by the State of Michigan, and the State can do whatever the hell it wants with it. They might be voted out about it, later, but that’s a different issue. However, this is overall irrelevant, except to point out to you how radically your conceptual framework differs from that which is prevalent here.”

My comment was based on Michigan law. Yours was based on…?

Next: “The idea that Nestle could use possession of a single groundwater source to “gouge” the public is, frankly, absurd. There are literally thousands of sources of fresh water; is Nestle raised prices over market, they would be undersold and lose business. You ought to know that, being a businessman.”

Nestle’s business plan was not to privatise a public water supply. It was to bottle the water and sell it to consumers mostly living outside Michigan– that is, to remove a good assumed by the public to be commonly owned, and sell it as though it were a private asset.

Note that court decisions have gone back and forth. The issue of water rights is at this moment still undecided by the Supreme Court– although we currently follow “water capture” law, in which Nestle as the owner of the surface and mineral rights can do as it pleases with its captured assets.

Again, attention to the actual facts of the case put theories surrounding it in a very different light.

As for clean air, Americans do care very much about it, and have voiced their concerns for years. Otherwise why would Richard Nixon have signed the bill?

Since then countless hundreds of millions have been spent, mostly by coal-fired power companies, in the pursuit of this goal. Americans know they pay a consequent higher price for power, yet they do not complain. So it’s a good that collectively and democratically we endorse with our dollars.

Finally: “Has it not occurred to you that private industry also has an interest in keeping air clean enough to breathe? Private industry is made up of people. Dirty air affects them. It also affects their workers, and hence their profit margins; and those fat-cat capitalists won’t stand for anything that affects profit margins, remember? If a problem becomes bad enough to be a hindrance, it gets resolved. Businesses HAVE to work that way.”

Not the way you put it. Corporations only have one duty: that to provide maximal returns to their investors. Whatever achieves that end becomes their mandate. They are not free to decide to spend a hundred million of their investors’ funds in making the air cleaner, or in saving poor drowning kitty cats or in feeding the world’s starving people. They must only do what the government mandates that they do.

Then they do it without a flinch (although they will spend much in trying to lobby against such restrictions). This is one of the best things the government does (I know you will disagree): it puts boundaries on corporate activities that the pure pursuit of investor profit does not allow. It saves us, to the degree that regulations are well worded and successfully implemented, from the consequences of the unbounded pursuit of profit.

Old Mexican August 15, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Re: Michael,

But I would think those were precisely the things that society must exert ownership of. Otherwise a private owner could deny them to people, and jack the price up a hundredfold.

By that token, everybody should own your shirt because you would (in the future) not give it to someone that needed one. And your shorts. And everything else.

I would imagine we’d define a ‘scarce good’ as being something where demand was always greater than the supply.

No, the definition is: when you try to give it for free the demand will outstrip supply. That’s how you know it is scarce.

Human health would be such a good[...]

Human health is a condition, not an economic good. And, clean air is not scarce, since we as humans virtually swim in air, so it’s not an economic good.

So why would we leave such goods [water or health] in the hands of private proprietors? Wouldn’t that be an invitation to gouge the public, the users of those goods?

You would mean doctors should not charge for their wares? Water sellers should not change for their wares?

Why stop it at water? Food is also necessary for life. Why should food be left to private producers? Just because we call them “farmers”, does not make them any self-interested as potential owners of water sources or healing services.

Some years back the state of Michigan was entertaining the thought of selling off a large supply of groundwater to Nestle’s[...] Once the voters found out, they started screaming. It was their water. So the deal was very quickly killed… on the principle that any money they received could be spent and would then be gone. While the water, if they sold it off, would place them at risk of perpetual dire loss. It is worth far more than money.

You don’t seem to analyze your examples very closely, do you? You’re telling everybody that selling the water would lead to higher scarcity but, instead, using it for free (by the above mentioned voters would NOT?

Here’s another example: health care. Other nations have socialized a greater proportion of their total HC system to a greater degree than has the United States. They are also able to offer health services at a lower rate than can be found in the US. Coincidence? I think not.

It’s not a simple coincidence – those governments do indeed offer the service at a lower price than the US, although the TRUE costs reflect themselves in non-monetary ways which you naively miss, like longer queues, less service, low quality care, less available medicine, etc.

Intrinsically, privately held scarce and essential goods will be sold more dearly than will goods provided at cost.

Well, you’re using emotional appeals by relying on such touchy-feely terms as “essential goods.” What becomes “essential” is always in the eye of the beholder. A healthy person will not see healthcare as essential; a person that lives near a water source will not see water as essential; however, a person that works in the sheet metal industry will see GLOVES as “essential” as they allow him to work without injury; a sailor will see a compass as “essential” as it will allow him to navigate.Those things are also produced and sold by private makers, so why don’t you focus on them as well?

Privatising certain goods and services can be beneficial for the public good in that it stimulates the healthy flow of dollars within our economic system.

You should refrain yourself from purveying these silly Keynesian ideas. Michael – an economy does not exist only to see “flow of dollars.” The reason scarce resources should remain in private hands is because private individuals, acting on self-interest, can better allocate these resources than by simple exploitation (i.e. a tragedy of the Commons scenario). Besides this, it is impossible for scarce resources to be publicly owned, that notion is absurd – 10,000 persons cannot own a bicycle at the same time.

INVARIABLY, so-called “public” resources are owned by government, and allocate these based on political incentives, not economic ones.

michael August 16, 2010 at 5:41 pm

You’ll find no argument from any quarter to the left of your own that public resources are ‘owned’ by our government. Instead they are managed in our name.

It is the case, of course, that forestry resources tend to be leased to timber companies ahead of other potential uses, and that mineral resources often enjoy priority when it comes to ‘sharing’ national lands. But such situations generate political discourse. And the courts and airwaves fill with advocates for one side arguing against advocates for the other.

It’s not perfect. It’s just the best we’ve got so far. Buy a subscription to the High Country News. That’s a western-states magazine with excellent coverage of public land disputes from every POV. You can meet enviro-conscious ranchers whose roots grow a century deep debating university bioethicists, and population biologists comparing notes with native Americans and conservation lawyers about the uses of our public lands. None believe they are ‘owned’ by the states or by the federal government. All understand the true picture is far more complicated than that. The issues they discuss are all management issues.

Russ the Apostate August 16, 2010 at 5:53 pm

michael wrote:
“You’ll find no argument from any quarter to the left of your own that public resources are ‘owned’ by our government.”

What is this fallacy? The argument from common misconception? So what if most people don’t accept the truth?

“Instead they are managed in our name.”

If I “own” some property, but have no say over its use, and no control over the proceeds derived from it, how can I be said to really own it? Even if the “managers” condescend to give me something of benefit, I still can’t see how I can be said to own it.

michael August 16, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Ownership is a legal concept, and is well explored in our body of law. Yet a lot of very sloppy language surrounds our use of the term “public land”. Most of it assumes that public ownership and government ownership are synonymous. I think they’re clearly not.

For example the Wikipedia page on Public Property has this to say:

“Public property is property which is owned collectively by the people as a whole. This is in contrast to private property, owned by a individual person or artificial entities that represent the financial interests of persons, such as corporations. State ownership, also called public ownership, government ownership or state property, are property interests that are vested in the state, rather than an individual or communities.”

I have seen no law or commentary from any informed authority to the effect that the United States government, distinct from the group ‘the American People’, owns our public lands. Although there’s a fight being actively fought right now against the BLM, whose current leadership does assert and act like they own that land and have the sole right to say what goes on there and what can’t.

I have also not read all the law. Nor has the current mess between Utah ranchers and the BLM been properly and finally adjudicated. It is yet to be fully decided.

So I think it is incumbent on you, if you think I’m wrong, to find an official statement to the effect that the USG owns our public lands and that we, the public do not. The question is in contention, and I merely pass along the understanding of most who’ve looked into it.

These lands are our lands. We’ve fought for them before and we’ll do so again.

michael August 17, 2010 at 2:49 am

“You should refrain yourself from purveying these silly Keynesian ideas. Michael – an economy does not exist only to see “flow of dollars.”

Economics describes the flow of dollars. First, before prescribing a repair, an economist must accurately describe the facts of cash flow: its origins, its utility in a thousand different markets, and its retirement. And the money flows just as readily in and out through the avenues of government as it does through the many hands of private commerce. You assert that any government use of cash is somehow on its face invalid. But that’s just your opinion. I’ve seen nothing solid on any of these pages to back that up.

“The reason scarce resources should remain in private hands is because private individuals, acting on self-interest, can better allocate these resources than by simple exploitation (i.e. a tragedy of the Commons scenario).”

“Better” is just an opinion and a value judgment. If you think so, fine. Just don’t elevate it into some kind of universal without providing more in the way of a rationale.

The tragedy of the commons, for instance, depends at its root on negligence and lack of effective management. Whereas government is management itself. All you are saying is that if the King’s Wood is owned by the King and managed by his gamekeepers, it’s okay, that’s private ownership. But if instead it is managed by the Crown (an artificial distinction) that would be very bad.

“Besides this, it is impossible for scarce resources to be publicly owned, that notion is absurd – 10,000 persons cannot own a bicycle at the same time.”

Well, that is just silly. And the silly argument doesn’t drive out the good ones.

“INVARIABLY, so-called “public” resources are owned by government, and allocate these based on political incentives, not economic ones.”

This is brittle, and betrays a serious refusal to look at how public lands actually are managed. It’s mere political cant. Public management, under the Forest Service or BLM, can be done badly. But when done well it’s a remarkable balancing act between the interests of different groups: sportsmen, hikers, tourists and the extractive industries, both timber and mineral.

The bottom line is this: from time to time, tracts of land the BLM considers to be surplus are offered at public auction. Rarely is there much active bidding. Because these are literally waste lands, lands left over after private interests took everything they wanted and perfected title to it. No one wants a barren patch of desert, and few even bid on useful range. Ranchers find the lands more useful when they remain in public ownership, are managed free of invasives and toxic weeds, and are made readily available for lease.

Much as you despise it in principle, the system works quite nicely in practise.

Jeffrey Tucker August 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Leaving aside the specifics, let’s be clear that what you are recommending is state management of resources, not social ownership (there is not such thing with scarce resources).

michael August 13, 2010 at 12:51 pm

State management would be based on social ownership… in fact, it is currently.

The public owns public lands in the US. They are ours. We allow the government to manage it in our name, just as any owner might put his property into professional management. Have they done a good job for us? That would be a matter for debate. But is there any better way of doing this? None that we’ve found, that does not give away our rights as common owners.

A similar principle underlies private ownership of property. When you purchase real property the title is searched, to ensure that there has been no breach in the chain of ownership, back to the original titleholder.

How did he get that land? The government awarded title to him. All land ownership in this country is based on an original grant from the government. Or, in the case of someplace like Jamestown or Plymouth, on perfection of a title that descended from a time before there was a government.

Did the government then “own” those lands? I don’t think so. It had the power, granted to it by its electorate, to grant legal title. But it was acting in our stead.

J. Murray August 13, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Ownership implies unlimited access and use of the property. The public doesn’t own anything. The Groom Lake Air Force Base (aka Area 51) is publicly owned, yet if I chose to enter the facility I could be arrested or even shot on site. I, nor any other member of the public, owns this site as none of us has any unrestricted use over it. It is clearly a state owned facility.

I cannot enter Yosemite national park and build a house. I cannot walk into the Department of Justice building in Washington D.C. and set up a bedroom in it. I can’t walk into the Los Alamos Research Laboratory and take a nuclear reactor home. At no point do I, nor any of us, have any ownership over the land and assets labeled as public. Public is just another word for State ownership as none of the features of ownership are present for any member of the public.

A genuine public ownership, or social ownership, would be destructive chaos as conflicting decisions to use the land would both be legitimate and illegitimate at the same time. One member who decides to blow a hole in the side of a courthouse has just as much a right to do that as the other guy who comes into shoot him dead for damaging his property. Because of this problem, public or social ownership simply cannot exist because the one who has control over how that property is used is the true owner.

bob August 13, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Joint ownership implies rules for control. Just because you own one share of corporate stock doesn’t mean you can walk into Starbuck’s, demand free coffee, then take a sledgehammer to the coffee machines.

Generally speaking, the more owners, the less effective control there can be. It must be ceded to managers, who often have perverse incentives. This is partially why modern corporations often focus on short-term goals over long-term.

J. Murray August 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Not true. Shareholders aren’t true owners of a corporation. A more direct owner would be the debt holders as they can (and almost always do) place restrictions and give directions on how the company operates. They also obtain first rights to any resources should the company fail (the Obama takeover of GM not withstanding). Shares of a company are nothing more than gambling chits, just like the person who places a bet in Vegas that Indianapolis will win the Super Bowl next year has no ownership of the Colts.

Further, shareholders are never expected to fund the operation of the company, so it doesn’t translate into an argument over supposedly “public” lands. “Public” lands are compulsory, and unlike shareholders, those who are forced to fund their supposed ownership cannot divest themselves to another (really, who would voluntarily accept a greater payment for nothing in return?). Your analogy doesn’t hold water.

Shareholders have rights against disagreements over the use of property, which includes fully pulling out all resources from that organization (ie selling the shares). Even that is a sliver of ownership. Members of the “public” don’t have this option. No matter how much you try to twist it, the public can’t own anything. It’s either owned by the state or owned privately. There isn’t any other form of ownership.

bob August 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Your argument is horrible. Without shareholders, there is no corporation, and thus no bondholders. If the bondholders exercise greater control than the shareholders, that’s circumstance. It is stupid to say that a corporation that has no outstanding bonds effectively cannot do anything.

Shareholders DO fund the future operation of a corporation when they reinvest revenues rather than receive them as dividend income. Of course, it is their choice, and that is why they are owners.

Selling a share of stock isn’t pulling resources from the corporation – it is simply transferring one’s proportion of ownership to another individual.

Scott D August 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm

When you purchase stock, you accept the terms of that ownership, and you can choose to sell that stock to someone else. My ownership of a slice of Yosemite is non-negotiable and non-transferable, just like my ownership of my own body.

bob August 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm

yet we own our bodies. the method of control over public lands has a method to implement control – the electoral process. just like corporations, the actual controllers (the board of directors/ the state) may be subject to more influence from outside interests rather than the voting majority (or the shareholders), but legally-speaking, the owners are clear cut.

if 99% of the public agreed that any individual should be able to enter any public office and take what he wished, it would likely become reality.

this is not an argument in favor of public ownership, only that joint ownership implies full ownership rights is a fallacy.

Peter August 13, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Don’t argue with half-wits.

michael August 14, 2010 at 8:13 am

“Ownership implies unlimited access and use of the property. The public doesn’t own anything.”

Before you go much further into the way you would like things to be, maybe you should inform yourself of the way things actually are, and have been for the past 400 years.

In the original colonies, land grants were awarded by the British Crown. That is, the Crown arrogated to itself the right to dispense lands in its colonies to private individuals.

Then when the states won their independence, each arrogated to itself the right to issue legal title to landholders. They perfected title according to the prevailing customs, generally following the existing patterns of ownership. “Unoccupied” lands, continually being won from the native population, were granted to those white colonists who became the original settlers, in our parlance. In doing this, each of the original thirteen states was acting in its capacity as the land’s managing agent.

I know of no instance where a state specifically declared ownership of unoccupied land. Much later, both the states and the federal government came to designate specific areas as set-asides. But they have left the issue open as to who “owns” the state and national parks, the state and national forests, the hundreds of military bases and federal reserves around the country, both active and closed, and the lands currently managed by the BLM. These are all termed “public land”, and are managed for a variety of purposes.

Initially the thrust of national policy in vacant lands stressed development… principally to provide settlement land for landless pioneers to cultivate and improve. Later, common uses have been mineral extraction (initially hard rock mining), forestry and recreation. More recently there have been federal reservations for nuclear purposes, such as Hanford or the Savannah River plant.

Indian lands are owned by the various Indian nations.

So title to any lands being offered for sale to the public (and there are still some today) descend from “the government”. If you’re interested you might take a look at the Wikipedia pages on the Northwest Ordinance and on the Bureau of Land Management:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northwest_Ordinance
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureau_of_Land_Management

Do we enjoy the untrammeled and free use of lands owned by the whole public? No we don’t. If we did, they wouldn’t be managed. They’d just be places everyone could trample on and dig up at will. They’d be a gigantic playground for ORVs.

Publicly owned land is just that: owned land. It has as many restrictions against use as would any privately owned piece of property.

“A genuine public ownership, or social ownership, would be destructive chaos as conflicting decisions to use the land would both be legitimate and illegitimate at the same time. One member who decides to blow a hole in the side of a courthouse has just as much a right to do that as the other guy who comes into shoot him dead for damaging his property. Because of this problem, public or social ownership simply cannot exist because the one who has control over how that property is used is the true owner.”

The easy solution to this problem was agreed upon at the beginning of this nation: government management of commonly held resources. Such resources are as closely protected by the government as are privately held resources. We are a nation of laws. And the laws protect the owner of the land, whether it is a single homeowner, an individual state or the entire nation.

Bala August 14, 2010 at 9:00 am

Public Property – One of the best (or is it the worst) oxymorons of our times.

michael August 14, 2010 at 4:04 pm

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere here, one doesn’t have unrestricted use of his own home. There are zoning ordinances and other impediments. In most cities you can’t raise chickens, for instance. (In some cities you can.) And large, intentional explosions are a no-no.

Military bases are off limits for the obvious reasons. But even here, government does not “own” the land. It merely grants the use to the military.

In nationals and state parks and forests you have a nearly unlimited right of access. There are rules, of course. You need a permit to build a fire, etc. And for camping and some other uses there are fees.

It really seems like a terrible deal. We’re getting screwed! Why, we can’t even run our trail bikes in Area 51. Some damn place this is.

Whereas in a place where everyone had unlimited rights to do anything anywhere at any time, I’m sure there would still be the usual number of people wanting to go around shooting everyone in sight. And others, setting fires. Unlike where we live now, these uses would be unrestricted.

Your use and enjoyment of any location, whether or not you own it, someone else owns it or everyone owns it together, is subject to the rights of others. We all have to learn to live together peacefully. And that limits some total freedoms.

Slim934 August 13, 2010 at 2:38 pm

You must have strange concept of ownership. Ownership generally means that I have right to something to do with what I desire. I own my car, because I bought it with my own money, and thus can take parts off and otherwise modify it to whatever extent I desire, or simply destroy it if I so wish. How can that possibly be equated with the government claiming ownership over some piece of land and then setting the rules as to how I am allowed to use it, and then forcing me at the point of a gun to fund them while they do it? This is sham ownership.

….so under your logic the Indians did not in anyway legitimate way owner their land? Indeed, no one owned land for the centuries in which there were no centralized monopolist government to say “we recognize this as your land”? This is a very silly and ahistorical argument. Property owners came first, then a legal regime for rules on disputes for them are arbitrated, THEN the state co-opted the system. You have the causality entirely backward. Just because governments eventually came to acknowledge land titles of current property owners does not imply that it was not legitimate property beforehand. Whether something is or is not legitimate property is irrelevant in relation to whether some government legally recognizes it or not.

Under your definition, no one really owns anything except for the government. The government could just as easily say it will no longer acknowledge those titles and simply force you off the land, like various dictators did during the 20th century when they nationalized huge swaths of their economies. This cannot possibly be considered genuine ownership.

Gil August 13, 2010 at 11:49 pm

As far I can tell the Native Americans did not homestead any land rather they were hunter/gatherers therefore the land was unowned so when the Europeans started homesteading the land the Natives became trespassers and could be lawfully treated as such.

If you take the view that you own the land you occupy and the government agents are merely gang members harrassing and threatening you then you should treat them as everyday gang members and shoot them. After all even a small gang will send in reinforcements if one of their own is killed but that’s the price of freedom you’ll have to accept and keep fighting.

michael August 14, 2010 at 9:49 am

Gil: Native Americans had no western concepts of individual legal title to a plot of land, Nor did they have the basic concept of law. They did have a sort of ownership (or at least a right to use) based on occupation and strength, of course. And as such, they were merely swept away by a superior force. Their claims were largely (but not entirely) disregarded.

“If you take the view that you own the land you occupy and the government agents are merely gang members harrassing and threatening you then you should treat them as everyday gang members and shoot them.”

I would very strongly suggest that you try that avenue, if that’s your position. Randy Weaver felt the same way.

And Slim: You’re getting to the key issue. When no one was here but the Native Americans, they all understood that land could not be “owned” in the sense that we use the word. The very idea would have been an offense against the spirits large and small. Many or most of them no doubt felt the same way Chingiz Khan felt about land ownership: that those who presumed the right to do as they willed with our Mother Earth without asking her permission must be killed for their pretensions.

But the full benefits of participatory democracy were not to be awarded to them. It was not a case of respect for rights established prior, but the right of conquest that was applied.

Now when you disregard the original inhabitants and say that property owners came first, and governments came after, who do you mean? Weren’t the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Jamestown settlement and the various other organized ventures in the New World all sanctioned by the Crown’s grant? I think you will find that they were. England didn’t just allow people to go off willy nilly and claim ownership of any lands they found. They established the colonies in the name of the Crown, and acceded to government in some form by the mother country. Whether England, France, Sweden or Holland, every crowned head granting the rights of exploration and colonization gave adventurers the right to pursue their dreams in the name of the mother country. And primary ownership resided in either the sovereign or in the mother nation, while secondary rights were granted by common agreement. That is, the exploring party acceded to the terms being offered.

Rhode Island was kind of a happy exception. They were independent from the start, and minimally sanctioned by the Crown. Still, “Roger Williams journeyed to England and secured a parliamentary patent in March 1643-44 uniting the four towns into a single colony and confirming his fellow settlers’ land claims. This legislative document served adequately as the basic law until the Stuart Restoration of 1660 made it wise to seek a royal charter.”

http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/studteaguide/rhodeislandhistory/chapt2.html

They were about as close as you’re going to come to being a place enjoying freedom and independence.

So I think we have to leave the question unanswered. For you, the right to own a piece of property is somehow “legitimated” beforehand, by one person saying “This is mine.” But historically, title has to be by common agreement. Your neighbors also have to agree that it is yours, before boundaries can be drawn. And toward that purpose they have created bodies of authority (“governments”) to fully legitimate those claims.

Take your case to court. Stake out a piece of some nearby national forest, clear the land and put up stakes. Declare publicly that it is yours to own and occupy. Maybe you’ll be able to establish a fresh precedent. (But I doubt it.)

michael August 14, 2010 at 8:20 am

Land that you own singly is land you have a good many rights of enjoyment on. But you can’t do just anything with it. There are rules. Rules that have been established democratically through a majority of representatives negotiating them and then voting in favor.

On many lands you can’t raise hogs, shoot a gun, open a business, dump toxic waste, etc. There are myriad restrictions, even though you own that land. Plus, there are homeowners’ associations that impose their own restrictions. You can’t let your grass grow longer than four inches, you can’t put up a basketball hoop on the garage, you can’t grow a garden… it’s all very restrictive.

Plus, if you don’t pay your property taxes you can have the land taken away. And if you maintain a structure in a dilapidated condition, the municipality can tear it down and hand you the bill. And if you don’t pay your HOA dues they can also take the land from you. This last has been recently reaffirmed by the courts.

So you have lots of restrictions on land use even when you are the sole owner. And when it comes to land you own in common with the other 308 million Americans… surprise surprise. There are restrictions on using that land too.

Gil August 14, 2010 at 10:19 am

I’m sure Libertarians argue that if someone claims to be able to restrict then either they have ownership or are a no-good gang.

michael August 14, 2010 at 4:29 pm

The various levels of government that place restrictions on land use do so in the name of the people who elect them to office. They are our representatives. And we have deputized them to act in our stead. Otherwise you could burn down any national forest and it would be legally okay.

You’ve heard that one person’s fist’s rights stop at the next person’s nose? We all have to live together here. It’s a big country but 300 million’s a lot of people. We have rules and nearly all of us are happy to live by them. We understand why they are there.

DD5 August 13, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Thank you for that crash course in civil.

Now please tell me how to sell my share in this big US corporation. I assume that I can sell it, since according to you, I am part owner of this big collective Kibbutz called the US of A.

michael August 14, 2010 at 8:35 am

Hire a lawyer. He’ll be happy to advise you.

What I would do would be put it on eBay. Advertise “One share in America. I’m holding a moving sale and will transfer my rights to America’s public lands to the highest bidder.” I’m thinking you can probably get fifty bucks for it if you make up a nice looking certificate of transfer of ownership.

To make it all legal you’ll want to also post a public ban. These usually appear in the classified section of the paper, under “public notices”. Your lawyer can word it for you. Something like “I renounce all usages and enjoyment of publicly held property in the USA, in the several states and all the municipalities. I further renounce any share in the benefits and proceeds of said property.” etcetera. Your lawyer will have lots of etceteras.

Under such a ban you will not be able to walk on any public sidewalk or other commonly held space. Nor will you be able to drive down any street or highway. Plus, you’re treading dangerously close to the line where you renounce your citizenship. If it is deemed you have crossed that line, you have to surrender your passport. You may be liable for detention by ICE as a potentially dangerous alien. And as there would be no country of origin to which they might return you, such detention would be for an indefinite period.

I foresee other problems as well. Better look into it carefully before proceeding. Best of luck.

Michael's World August 14, 2010 at 11:59 pm

My way or the highway.

michael August 15, 2010 at 10:32 am

Five: (may I call you five?) With the consent of the other 309 million co-owners, you could probably sell off the whole thing.

In a sense, we already have. As voters we have acquiesced to policies that leave us with a perpetual trade imbalance. That means there are countless billions of overseas dollars looking for a good home, Naturally many of them purchase assets located in the US. So we’re selling off the life boat piecemeal, board by board.

bob August 13, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I don’t buy it at all. Socialists and leftists generally don’t argue for the public control of “all scarce things”. Many desire basic freedoms such as freedom of speech, religion, etc. They inherently believe that humans should own their own bodies, just not other things – that’s not inconsistent with argumentation ethics.

Of course socialism tends to become totalitarian, and the leftists are left scratching their head.

But moreover, argumentation might boil down to not an ethical issue, but an economic issue. The arguer does not necessarily accept that another person SHOULD own his own brain, but that argument is a more effective means of changing others’ belief structures than threat or violence.

DD5 August 13, 2010 at 3:26 pm

How does the fact that socialists believe in self ownership prove that it is compatible with socialism? Since when do socialists understand what they are arguing for?

bob August 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm

i’m just saying that argumentation ethics does not prove it is contradictory. If it is contradictory, it must be proven on other grounds. a better argument would be to say that when relinquishes control over resources he requires to survive and values his survival, he effectively relinquishes control over his body and ceases to own it.

Peter August 13, 2010 at 7:41 pm

The arguer does not necessarily accept that another person SHOULD own his own brain, but that argument is a more effective means of changing others’ belief structures than threat or violence.

But that’s exactly the point: even if he’s trying to argue that another person SHOULDN’T own his own brain, he’s nevertheless behaving as if the person DOES, IN FACT, own his own brain.

unger August 14, 2010 at 12:41 am

No, he’s behaving as if the person does, in fact, control the brain in question. The distinction is important. If I ask a thief to return something he stole, I’m behaving as if the thief controls the thing – which is true – but am saying nothing at all about whether the thief has the right to use the thing in any manner save that which I specify – like, in this case, handing it back to me. The same principle applies here.

newson August 14, 2010 at 12:42 am

so you’ve got an absolute right to your body, but what about necessary sustenance, clothing, shelter? can nobody eat till everybody eats, or is there some arbitrary line between what’s private and public?

michael August 14, 2010 at 8:44 am

The current state of our thinking is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are the assets, both tangible and intangible, that individuals hold the legal right to possess and enjoy. They include, first and foremost, our bodies.

It’s an interesting document. Naturally, anyone protesting the implication that this is the camels’ nose of the One World Government creeping under our tent, will be opposed.

See what you think:

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

Gil August 14, 2010 at 10:25 am

Hey! Who gave everyone in the world the change to sign this document? Whoever hasn’t or won’t sign it is absolved from its power.

michael August 14, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Whoever hasn’t or won’t sign the Universal Declaration constitutes the people the exercise of those rights protects us against. The tide of history can either pull us all apart or push us closer together. And frankly, after having seen the 20th century, I’m in favor of us coming together.

Kimba the White Lion August 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Yeah, with so much in common. we’re going to get on just fine.

newson August 15, 2010 at 4:53 am

“Equal liability for all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture”

from “the communist manifesto”, point eight. how can industrial conscription be reconciled with socialists’ desire for basic freedom over bodies?

David K. August 13, 2010 at 3:04 pm

The fact that a good is scarce implies that there is some way of using that good which precludes some other uses of the good that would otherwise have been possible; depending on one’s definition of “scarcity” (and “use”), it might even be the case that every use of a scarce good precludes some other use. However, this doesn’t mean that every other use of that good is thereby precluded. E.g., Ann’s holding Peter’s hand prevents Peter from waving his hand, but not from arguing that Ann shouldn’t hold his hand. Therefore, Ann doesn’t seem to be engaged in a performative contradiction if she argues she has the right to hold Peter’s hand against his will.

Hoppe has an answer to this in his 1987 book Eigentum, Anarchie und Staat: Not every exchange of verbal stimuli counts as argumentation. If Peter is to argue with Ann, he must have a certain degree of autonomy in order for the opinions he utters to really count as his. (If Ann holds a gun to Peter’s head and asks him: “Do you agree that I have the right to take your money?”, Peter might answer “yes,” but that wouldn’t count as consent since he doesn’t have the necessary autonomy.) By arguing with Peter, Ann demonstrates a preference for arguing with him and thus also for the necessary preconditions of arguing with him (e.g., his autonomy).

I hope I haven’t misrepresented Hoppe’s argument. Here’s my response:

1. It’s not clear to me that every infringement upon another person’s right to self-ownership destroys his ability to engage in argumentation. Suppose that Ann threatens to prevent Peter from committing suicide if he tries to do so. Does this really mean he can’t validly agree with any opinion Ann utters since he is under duress?

2. Ann might want Peter to be autonomous without agreeing that he has a right not to have his autonomy infringed upon.

3. Actions that don’t violate my (libertarian) rights might still infringe upon my autonomy. Suppose Peter is starving and Ann has a loaf of bread. If Ann says to Peter “If you agree that I have the right to take your money, I’ll give you the bread,” he might say “yes,” but he doesn’t count as agreeing since. By Hoppe’s logic, this seems to imply that starving people have a right to be fed (provided others have the means to do so).

David K. August 13, 2010 at 3:12 pm

“[...] but he doesn’t count as agreeing since.”
Strike out the word “since”.

Inquisitor August 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm

“Therefore, Ann doesn’t seem to be engaged in a performative contradiction if she argues she has the right to hold Peter’s hand against his will.”

The argument is… Ann argues she has a right to exercise indirect control over a part of Peter’s body over which he exercises direct control. Hoppe has a separate argument dispatching this nonsense put forth in Kinsella’s How we come to own ourselves. She is engaged in a performative contradiction regardless as she is claiming the right to exercise control over Peter’s body. Put this way, if Peter must ask Ann for permission of every use he makes of his body, then why does the same not extend to her, and how would communication even ever get off the ground then on such an absurd pattern?

“1. It’s not clear to me that every infringement upon another person’s right to self-ownership destroys his ability to engage in argumentation. Suppose that Ann threatens to prevent Peter from committing suicide if he tries to do so. Does this really mean he can’t validly agree with any opinion Ann utters since he is under duress?”

She is claiming the right to use her body uninhibited in argumentation but at the same time inhibit his. Why? Based on what?

“2. Ann might want Peter to be autonomous without agreeing that he has a right not to have his autonomy infringed upon.”

How? And how will “Ann” justify those instances in which his autonomy is infringed upon?

“3. Actions that don’t violate my (libertarian) rights might still infringe upon my autonomy. Suppose Peter is starving and Ann has a loaf of bread. If Ann says to Peter “If you agree that I have the right to take your money, I’ll give you the bread,” he might say “yes,” but he doesn’t count as agreeing since. By Hoppe’s logic, this seems to imply that starving people have a right to be fed (provided others have the means to do so).”

It is merely a right to acquire the resources needed to sustain oneself. A right to them is self-contradictory, and would at any rate imply a right to enslave another for their provision.

Perry Mason August 13, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Although I think very highly of Hoppe’s theoretical framework and think that it will become a, if not the, dominant framework (perhaps after Hoppe’s death, not to be morbid) in libertarian natural law and praxeological thinking, I do think there are circumstances that appear as exceptions to his rule, and that he may consider exceptions; although I would not consider them exceptions per se. For example, you write:

“1. It’s not clear to me that every infringement upon another person’s right to self-ownership destroys his ability to engage in argumentation. Suppose that Ann threatens to prevent Peter from committing suicide if he tries to do so. Does this really mean he can’t validly agree with any opinion Ann utters since he is under duress?”

She is claiming the right to use her body uninhibited in argumentation but at the same time inhibit his. Why? Based on what?”

Referencing work by John Finnis on Acquinas, life is a basic good, and denial of such fact is a performative contradiction (even for one about to commit suicide, ironically, as one must use life to attain non-life). It also is demonstrably an intelligible good that serves as an a priori rationale for action. Thus, I could use physical force to prevent an act of suicide to the extent it does in fact prevent it without committing a known or intentional evil in the process.

This “exception” to Hoppe’s rule in my view confirms it: the edifice of self-ownership and private property serves to preserve life; as Hoppe convincingly argues, life would immediately cease if these concepts were not implicitly followed from the moment of birth. But if one takes actions to cease their life, I can intervene.

Note this satisfies the universalization requirement, as it would apply for all times and all places.

David K. August 13, 2010 at 4:39 pm

“Put this way, if Peter must ask Ann for permission of every use he makes of his body, then why does the same not extend to her [...]?”

In my example Ann doesn’t claim that “Peter must ask [her] for permission of every use he makes of his body.”

In response to my objection that “Ann might want Peter to be autonomous without agreeing that he has a right not to have his autonomy infringed upon” you ask: “How? And how will ‘Ann’ justify those instances in which his autonomy is infringed upon?”
It is certainly possible for Peter to be autonomous without having a right to autonomy that is recognized by the legal system. Rights are claims that ought to be enforced by the legal system. Everyone might decide to voluntarily respect Peter’s autonomy without being forced by the legal system to do so. Libertarians often point out that just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it ought to be considered a crime.
I have no idea how Ann might justify her position. I’m not defending a non-libertarian ethics (in fact, I essentially agree with Hoppe’s ethics); I just think Hoppe’s “argumentation ethics” argument for his ethics isn’t convincing.

“She is claiming the right to use her body uninhibited in argumentation but at the same time inhibit his.”

No; she might agree that Peter also has the right to prevent her from committing suicide.

“A right to [the resources needed to sustain oneself] is self-contradictory, and would at any rate imply a right to enslave another for their provision.”

I didn’t claim this right exists; my point was that Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, if it were correct, would arguably imply a conclusion with which he would disagree. (And a starving person could have a right to food under the condition that the food already exists without having the right to force others to produce it.)

Inquisitor August 13, 2010 at 11:20 pm

“In my example Ann doesn’t claim that “Peter must ask [her] for permission of every use he makes of his body.””

It need not be. She is claiming the right to indirectly exercise control over a part of Peter’s body whilst continuing to make exclusive, direct control of her own. That argument alone suffices, imo, to undercut any claim she might make to control another person.

David K. August 14, 2010 at 7:13 am

“She is claiming the right to indirectly exercise control over a part of Peter’s body whilst continuing to make exclusive, direct control of her own.”

Obviously, this is not necessarily true. Ann might agree that Peter has the right to hold her hand against her will. In fact, Peter might hold her hand against her will while she is saying this. The criterion of universalizability is not enough to prove the right to self-ownership.

Paul Edwards March 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm

“The fact that a good is scarce implies that there is some way of using that good which precludes some other uses of the good that would otherwise have been possible; depending on one’s definition of “scarcity” (and “use”), it might even be the case that every use of a scarce good precludes some other use. However, this doesn’t mean that every other use of that good is thereby precluded. E.g., Ann’s holding Peter’s hand prevents Peter from waving his hand, but not from arguing that Ann shouldn’t hold his hand. Therefore, Ann doesn’t seem to be engaged in a performative contradiction if she argues she has the right to hold Peter’s hand against his will.

“Hoppe has an answer to this in his 1987 book Eigentum, Anarchie und Staat: Not every exchange of verbal stimuli counts as argumentation. If Peter is to argue with Ann, he must have a certain degree of autonomy in order for the opinions he utters to really count as his. (If Ann holds a gun to Peter’s head and asks him: “Do you agree that I have the right to take your money?”, Peter might answer “yes,” but that wouldn’t count as consent since he doesn’t have the necessary autonomy.) By arguing with Peter, Ann demonstrates a preference for arguing with him and thus also for the necessary preconditions of arguing with him (e.g., his autonomy).

“I hope I haven’t misrepresented Hoppe’s argument. Here’s my response:

“1. It’s not clear to me that every infringement upon another person’s right to self-ownership destroys his ability to engage in argumentation.”

The assumption of justificatory argumentation is total physical independence between arguers. Only a consentual touching does not imply a physical threat which would destroy the conditions of independent and cooperative interaction with the purpose of reaching agreement.

“Suppose that Ann threatens to prevent Peter from committing suicide if he tries to do so. Does this really mean he can’t validly agree with any opinion Ann utters since he is under duress?”

We have to back up and follow the logical steps:

1. the purpose of justificatory argumentation is to try to come to agree, by pure force of accurate facts and valid reason, truth propositions.
2. there are facts and preconditions that must be assumed in place and agreed on before this goal can be pursued.
Some of these facts are:
a. we agree we both exist
b. we agree we did what it takes to survive this far; i.e. we appropriated goods for our own consumption.
Some assumed and necessary normative preconditions:
a. we are independent thinkers and actors, in control of ourselves.
b. we are free to disagree if we are not convinced.
Some logical unavoidable assumptions:
a. we are interested only in true and relevant proposals to support conclusions.
b. we are only interested in valid and relevant reasons that support conclusions.
Finally,
We cannot argue in favor of proposals that contradict either the above fundamental assumptions, nor proposals that follow deductively, and tautologically from these assumptions.

So from above, we must assume we are independent individuals able to agree and disagree. Therefore, Ann cannot justify her threat to prevent Peter from committing suicide. She can only attempt to talk him out of it via facts and reason. Her threat is a contradiction to the assumed preconditions of justificatory argumentation.

“2. Ann might want Peter to be autonomous without agreeing that he has a right not to have his autonomy infringed upon.”

This could be. However, the logical, not psychological, requirement of justificatory argumentation is that we must grant each other the actual right to autonomy. Only in so doing, can we have a hope of pursuing the purpose of achieving real agreement on the truth of any proposal. So again, to propose one does not have a right to his autonomy is a contradiction.

“3. Actions that don’t violate my (libertarian) rights might still infringe upon my autonomy. Suppose Peter is starving and Ann has a loaf of bread. If Ann says to Peter “If you agree that I have the right to take your money, I’ll give you the bread,” he might say “yes,” but he doesn’t count as agreeing since. By Hoppe’s logic, this seems to imply that starving people have a right to be fed (provided others have the means to do so).”

All that Hoppe observes is that if you’re arguing, you’re alive. If you’re alive, you’ve eaten. There is no assumption of each arguer having in any way been involved in feeding or otherwise ensuring the other is alive or remains alive. All of the argument works like this: if two people are arguing, what else do we also know about them in terms of their purpose, other facts, norms they’ve agreed to, and what, if anything constitutes a forceful argument?

Curt Howland August 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I think Stephan Molineux’s restatement of Argumentation Ethics is pretty interesting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1M2CnEg3GE

Troy Camplin August 14, 2010 at 12:15 am

This would seem to argue for creative works and ideas as being scarce resources as well, using the same argument. The argument always seems to be that copying makes these things non-scarce. Certainly *once they are produced* they can be copied and, thus, are not scarce. But each poem upon creation is a unique object, created by a unique individual who is, as argued here, a scarce resource. There are many versions of Faust, but only Goethe could have written the very specific Faust he wrote. That makes it a scarce resource. Goethe is the only ultimate source of Goethe’s Faust.

Of course, one has to ask what reason anyone would have to release to the publica creative work of this sort. One can leave aside all the reasons one may have to create a work of art because one can create without letting anyone see or read or hear such works. Why make one’s works public? One does so in the hopes of creating a reputation as an artist — as a great artist. If that possibility is taken away, why release one’s work? I hear arguments about previous centuries not having protections and working out just fine, but they didn’t have the information technology we have now that makes theft (including, most importantly for an artist, theft without attribution) so much easier. Many of the arts are big business now. I find it hard to believe that failing to protect people’s work wouldn’t have a negative impact on that business.

newson August 14, 2010 at 1:20 am

gutenberg’s press a recent innovation?

Troy Camplin August 14, 2010 at 7:52 pm

The internet is. And low-cost digital copying. Once it is out there and attributed, that’s one thing. But things can be stolen much easier now. Many of these arguments seem to ignore the very medium in which we are making these arguments.

Curt Howland August 15, 2010 at 10:35 am

I don’t think anyone is trying to say that creativity and imagination isn’t scarce. Indeed, I think it’s the most scarce thing of all.

Once published, then the issue of scarcity comes into play because the information itself is not scarce at all.

Sadly, from the arguments surrounding the Constitution to today, the arguments in favor of copyright are based upon the Labor Theory Of Value:

“I’ve been puzzling for some weeks now over the purpose of the vehement attacks on the notion of intellectual property rights (IPR) being mounted by some who call themselves Austrian economists. My confusion comes, in part, from watching those around me (three of them at this point) struggle for days, weeks, months, and even years laboring to produce an original work of fiction. ”

http://www.ncc-1776.org/tle2010/tle583-20100815-02.html

OJ Simpson August 14, 2010 at 5:16 am

i don’t see there was any lack of attribution with respect to faust, notwithstanding the lack of copyright. on a purely utilitarian basis, he didn’t need copyright to write faust, indeed it was published posthumously.
http://zikoblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/made-lack-of-copyright-germany-the-country-of-writers-and-thinkers/

calling copying “theft” is begging the question. plagiarism is dealt with by attentive readers or software programmes. shaming is libertarian.

Kerem Tibuk August 16, 2010 at 7:13 am

“Now, this is indeed a devastating argument. The human body is part of the realm of scarce goods. What does that mean? It means that it cannot be somehow socially owned. In fact, it is absurd to speak of any ownership of a scarce resource by the whole of society. ”

What about ownership by another human being? Since you are a scarce resource Jeff, and since according to Hoppe, Kinsella and you, property rights are rules establisehd to resolve conflicts regarding scarce resources, can I enslave you?

It seems according to you if someone makes you property, that is perfectly fine and legitimate and it is a way of resolving conflict between people who want to use you as a scarce resource.

Jay Lakner August 16, 2010 at 7:32 am

Kerem,

Have you read the following?:
http://mises.org/journals/jls/17_2/17_2_2.pdf

In particular, look at Kinsella’s “title-transfer via abandonment” theory. I think it’s spot on correct and I also think it resolves all the arguments on inalienability.

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