Re: ownership as moral right?

Jeff Bone (
Wed, 04 Aug 1999 00:36:23 -0500

> K.2. [property as a premise; there's no valid reductio of the

What I'm trying to say --- though I'm only eluding to the arguments of
others, and am certainly not inclined to beat historically dead horses
--- is that the concept of property in general can be shown to proceed
in a reasoned fashion from the notion of a specific case of property /
ownership: the notion of First Property, or self-ownership. If somebody
on the list is really interested, we can replay this tired argument, but
it will probably only be interesting to people who like to see socialism
beat up and will probably just piss off the socialists. ;-)

> K.3. ...But actually, we live in the same reality.

Absolutely not. While I'm willing to agree on some kind of common
abstraction --- a consensual hallucination if you will --- at the end of
the day, my reality demonstrably isn't your reality. But that's picking
nits and being intentionally difficult. I hear ya.

> Whenever you claim a property right over something in this shared
> reality, you affect me; you may harm me.

In general, there are only a few valid ways to assert property right
over something. If that something is "me," then "I" own it. If "I"
made it somehow --- and let's be relatively abstracted, here, let's say
it's some kind of artistic intellectual property --- then I own it. If
I bought it by exchanging value with its previous owner for it, then in
general, I own it. If for whatever reason the previous owner didn't
actually own it, then it's a more complicated situation, but in general
its the responsibility of the buyer to ascertain right of title on the
part of the owner. If I've obtained it in a valid manner, then tough
shit. It's mine, it's not yours, too bad.

These are very simple lessons learned in kindergarten --- you don't
snatch away the other kids toys. Another valuable kindergarten lesson
is "share with others." If I'm hoarding something you need, then I'm
probably not playing nicely with others; those of us with a practical
social conscience should avoid doing that. Aside from moral issues,
it's just not particularly politically wise to go around pissing off
your peers.

> K.4. If we lived in different realities, we would have no need for

Wrong. But I see the problem, here --- you're hung up on some
definitional issue -wrt- reality. Let's not argue *that* one, okay? I
suspect we both have an operational understanding of each other's

> K.5. It appears that what you are suggesting is that you respect my
> to disagree, as long as I implicitly accept your beliefs about what
> things belong to you and what you can do with them. Have I
> misunderstood you?

Somewhat. I personally don't care *what* you think about what I own or
not, as long as you recognize that if you try to mess with (what I
believe to be) my property in something other than a mutually accepted
fashion, you are quite likely to get your ass kicked. Both of us being
civilized people, we don't want that to happen now, do we?

A friend of mine has an interesting argument about why property rights
are not only a *good* thing, but absolutely essential to anything we'd
recognize as a civilized society. But I'll let him make that argument,
I think he's joining the list shortly.

> K.6. I didn't mention the common good.

It appears to be implicit in your argument.

> K.7. ...Arrow's Impossibility Theorem...

Hmmm? New content for me? :-) :-)

> K.8. money not suitable as the foundation of an ethical system

We'll table this one, but let me state in general that I believe
"economics," broadly defined, to be the ONLY suitable foundation of an
ethical system, much as observation is the only suitable foundation for
explaining the workings of --- oh no --- reality. ;-) Economics,
property theory, contracts, and so on form the same kind of basis for an
ethics (your word) that observation, mathematics and modelling,
hypotheses, and the scientific method form for all science.

> the common good is the only legitimate goal of society and government.

If you define "the common good" as (a) ensuring in general the longevity
of the species and (b) ensuring the propagation of the genes with the
greatest fitness characteristics given the changing circumstances of
various environs --- then we agree. I suspect we don't.

> Of course, nearly all the time, the common good is good for everyone.

Except those who have to fund it but who fall outside of the set of

> K.11. ...the purpose of human society is to incent people to work
harder (?)

No, didn't claim that, just expressing a personal taste.

> K.12.1. [dying wealthy]

There's this sticky problem of death, which is partially where this
thread started off. What constitutes death? My problem is that if I
want to be cryonically suspended, I may disagree with the State on
whether I'm dead or not. If I'm considered dead, the state has carte
blanche to raid property which I still believe belongs to me, that I
should have use of when revived.

Man falls into a river. Respiration, circulation, detectable brain
activity cease for 30 minutes. He's pulled out, revived, recovers 60%
of his mental capacity. Did he lose his rights while he was dead? Were
they recovered when he was revived? I think not --- we treat those
rights as if they were continuous through that period. Now, by all
"common sense" (see below) criteria, he was dead, but only for a little
while. In my opinion, his state was rather like the state one is in if
one chooses cryonic suspension. Why are property rights continuous in
the one case versus the other?

> K.13. [kill the peasants]

That's correct.

> K.13.1 [lying fallow]

The peasants don't know why I'm letting the land lie fallow; the poor
sumbitches didn't get an agribusiness degree or whatever, did they?
;-) Perhaps I'm letting it lie fallow in order to maximize its future
productivity, while sacrificing the short term. Perhaps I'm being a
better steward to the land than the peasants would be. At any rate, not
their decision.

> K.13.2 [plenty]

Still no right for them to seize it. "Having enough" is a subjective

> K.13.4. [past]

Sticky. But I would say that if the current owner aquired it in good
faith and of apparently clear title (after due diligence) then he owns
it. And just for the record, I'm about 3/16ths of American "Indian"
descent, so this is a tough concession. But my ancestors along that
track didn't have any recognizable notion of property rights, contracts,
or any such --- indeed, no perceptible business skills of any account
--- and look where it got them.

> K.13.5. [alternatives]

Still correct. I'll be happy to sharecrop alternative fields with them
if I can, or they're welcome to look elsewhere. But they'll plow up my
fallow field that's "recuperating" from over-cultivation over my dead
body. :-)

> K.15 [warning]

That would be the gentlemanly thing to do. I'd probably give them
several warnings. I'm a nice guy like that. ;-)

> K.16. [nonviolence]

I'd probably start out with completely non-violent means, and escalate
if necessary. I'd do this despite it being a strategic mistake --- it
gives the peasants warning of my intentions, allowing them to plan a
resistance --- just because I'm such a nice guy.

> K.17. [shoot back]

Look --- in essence, I believe anyone has the right to do anything at
all, as long as it doesn't interfere with somebody else's person or
"property." They've got a right to shoot back, sure. And if they do,
lookout --- I'm suddenly not going to be a nice guy at all.

> K.18. If they were right and you were mistaken

About what, precisely? Chain of title? Best use of the lands? What?

> K.19. Under what circumstances can someone legitimately take
> of unowned land, e.g. on the Moon?

First person there wins in theory, first person to use wins in fact. It
should be noted, though, that the theories justifying the process of
claiming "first title" and the theories behind the transferrance of
subsequent title are vastly different things.

> have rejected the Lockean theory of land tenure...

Interesting side point. Yes, strictly speaking, I think Locke was a
little soft.

> K.19 ..."private property" proceeds in itself to dangerous excesses
and social turmoil.

I don't see the former, and the latter is just a matter of bitching on
the part of the peasants. ;-)

> K.21. [anarcho-capitalist]

Yes, in essence, it devolves into yet another --- and even purer ---
game of King of the Hill. But only when those pesky socialists,
ne'er-do-wells, peasants, and other undesirables who simply can't or
won't compete refuse to respect my property rights and set their sights
on my hill. Let them find their own hills. Everyone has equivalent
opportunity to find, build, buy, make, or whatever their very own hill.
BTW, -wrt- "fundamentalist" --- in what respect am I being

> K.22. ...everyone should keep whatever part of the hill they currently

Yup. While retroactive philosophical arguments that attempt to rectify
the past and redress any wrongs are interesting, they don't make good
practical politics. Look at Affirmative Action. I'm not in favor of
trying to fix the past.

> K.23 ...people everywhere who suffer and die from lack of resources.

Sam Kinnison --- and yes, the argument is disintegrating, at least allow
me to enjoy its timely demise ;-) --- said it best, regarding those
starving in Africa. "You live in a fucking desert! Move to where the
food is!" I've got plenty of jobs on the plantation, I'll put a roof
over their heads and pay them a fair wage. (This is all imaginary /
metaphorical, of course.)

> K.24. But the reason people are starving to death... because they live in a fucking desert. In particular, and back to
the peasants, it's often because short-sighted over-cultivation of land
has depleted the soil of its fertility. The agricultural value of soil
is infinite; soil is a sustainable, renewable resource if properly
managed. When it's not properly managed, it loses its fertility
rapidly. This leads to erosion among other problems, changes the
microclimate, and in general creates deserts. Deserts can be fixed; we
were well on our way to creating a vast desert back in the Dust Bowl
days in America through bad land stewardship and a string of hard luck.
We cleaned up our mess.

It's interesting to note that many of the areas which are suffering so
badly from drought and famine have probably been some of the most
fertile regions throughout most of the earth's lifecycle.

> K.25. How many fast-food stores do you think have lactating rooms?

Wzzzzhew. Huh?

> K.25.1. [million people doing something stupid]

Their problem, not mine, as long as they don't interfere with me. I
might feel inclined to help out, or maybe not. Certainly not my
obligation. It's not the business of society to interfere with natural
selection, IMO.

> K.26. Socialism.. is used successfully

I guess that all depends on your definition of "success," now doesn't
it? Why are lower rates of infant morality, malnutrition, and poverty
necessarily good things? Why is it the job of "society" to eliminate
the world's pain, and what is the "social" cost for doing so? IMO, I'd
rather live in a diverse, violent, beautiful, terrible place --- say
Manhattan --- than some totally homogenized middle-class suburban hell
where there's nothing adverse for anyone.

> K.27. [Miami]


> K.28. ...locked up most of the resources...

Not locked up. In a capitalist, free-market economy, access to
resources can be gained. I used to deliver pizzas, but bootstrapped my
way through school and a career that ultimately lead to a positive
entrepreneurial experience. I believe that anyone can do this; I
didn't have any special advantages in this effort except for
self-confidence and optimism and some questionable amount of
intelligence. ;-) I come from a very modest family.

> K.29. ...I suspect that your experience has been different. :)

In outcome, yes... but again, see K.28. I believe anyone, with enough
dedication, hard work, optimism, and confidence can achieve whatever
they want. If people don't achieve what they want in life, it's
nobody's fault but their own.

> K.30. ...everyone can have more than enough.

"Have" implies "property."

> K.32, K.32 [q. about def. of chattel slavery]


> K.33 [brain-twisting wordplay]

Another spin would be that any person who rejects both chattel slavery
and the notion of personal property, the latter at least in a strongly
individualistic way, obviously doesn't have a sensible (or at least
internally consistent) "ethical" (your words, I believe) system.

> K.34 [nonsense]

I'm pointing out that the rejection of slavery often implies a notion of
ownership or property. There's no nonsense there, just a mild leap of
understanding that could be decomposed further if necessary. Basically,
the argument is "slavery is wrong because you own yourself."

But you are correct: rejecting the idea of property does not, indeed
logically cannot, imply acceptance of the idea of people being
property. It does however deny on a fundamental level the argument that
is often used against slavery; it puts arguments and reasoning about
slavery on a much more ambiguous rational ground.

> K.35. [rejecting slavery on non property-theoretic basis]

I've not come across any arguments against slavery that didn't at least
implicitly proceed from a property-theoretic basis. I'd be interested
to hear any you might have. Aside from the wishy-washy moral /
religious ones... give me an argument that can be reasoned about that's
not property-theoretic in nature.

> In [J.6], you seem to argue that property is a more important value
> than not killing people indiscriminately

First of all, I was NOT arguing for indiscriminate killing; I was
arguing for the sad necessity of ultimate recourse in defense of
property. Of course I believe that killing is wrong: it denies someone
the use of their own, most important property --- their body. But
property is property, and there must be some mechanism of ultimate
recourse in defense of one's property, for those occasions where others
fail to respect one's property rights. My body, my land; if deadly
force is appropriate in defense of the one, it's equally appropriate in
defense of the other.

> K.36. There are... people who believe that slavery is immoral,

It's largely impossible to achieve consensus or indeed even reason about
morality in a meaningful way, and certainly impossible to argue it in a
generalized and generally acceptable way. It should be the job of all
political philosophers to attempt to build rational, quantifiable models
and justifications for their works. Current political science with all
its "morals" and "natural rights" and "common caselaw" and so forth is
like alchemy; let's have chemistry instead.

I guess in general I don't really give a flip about morals, I'm more
interested in protocol.


> K.37. have an absolute right to sell yourself into slavery.

Yes! Uh, well, waitasec. I don't see how this is inconsistent; "this"
is an appropriate use I can make of my property --- myself --- if I so
choose. But then, what we're talking about isn't chattel slavery,
really, it's indenture. I argued for indenture in an earlier,
equally-torturous thread. In some literal sense, it would be impossible
to sell yourself into slavery --- slavery implies lack of consent.
Indenture is a similar thing in effect, but bound by a contract that was
mutually negotiated and consensually entered.

> K.38. Is that really what you believe?

Define really. But for now, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

> K.39. If your moral system grants... right to engage in

> ...prostitution...

Absolutely no problem with that. Wear a condom. Buy health insurance.

> ...slavery...

Let's be clear --- let's distinguish between indenture and slavery. One
is a consensual contract. For simplicity, the other is not consensual.
But indenture, fine, even encouraged.

> indiscriminate killing

Again, I NEVER argued for that.

> prohibits people from picking fruit from their neighbor's apple tree

You seem to think necessarily that people with the resources will fail
to allow others the use of those resources in most cases. In my
experience, this isn't the way it happens. The most charitable (as a
portion of their net worth, income, etc.) are always the wealthiest,
even though their getting bent over by taxes. If my apple tree is
putting out apples, and I'm not using them to survive or make money, why
*wouldn't* I give them away freely?

> Doesn't it hurt your common sense to assert these things?

"Common sense" is another dangerous meme. I deny the notion of common
sense. Reality, at a fundmental level, doesn't conform to common
sense. What I'm looking for is a simple, internally consistent,
minimal, and quantifiable way to view social interaction. Economics ---
in particular free market economics --- forms the same kind of base for
that endeavor that math forms for science.

But no, my argument doesn't "hurt" because (a) I don't think some of
those things like prostitution are wrong, and (b) I didn't claim that
slavery or indiscriminate killing were appropriate.

> K.40. This is curiously inconsistent.

I don't think so. The *effect* of slavery is the taking of another's
economic output without their consent. This is also the *effect* of
taxation. This is not the situation of the sharecroppers, as they
entered a mutually acceptable contract to farm the owner's land.

> In fact, since in this country, you get to keep between half and
> of what you make, you're much less enslaved than they were.

I don't know what reality / state / tax bracket you're in, but I don't
get to keep half of what I make, kemo sabe. I'm in that nether range
--- flush enough to pay taxes out the wazoo, but not superwealthy enough
to be at that stage where finances become hyperliquid, largely abstract,
and tough to tax. (Granted, I'm cheating here --- I certainly don't pay
50% income tax, no one does. But if you add up all the nickel and
diming the local, state, and feds hit you with, I'm not keeping even 50%
of my income.)

> K.41. [power politics]

How about this: forget serving anyone, let's just strip the government
to a bare minimum. That should level the playing field more than all of
these other postulated moves in this game.

> K.42. Complex governments ...are even worse than simpler governments.


> K.43. I tend to think that no government at all would be even worse.

Shrug. I don't. How about this: instead of gov't, a few simple ground