Property Rights and Government

On my post from last week, Why I am Not an Anarchist, several commentators (and friends of the blog) raised many important questions.  I will try to answer some of them, but I do not promise completely satisfying answers.  Unfortunately, a blog does not afford me quite the resources necessary.  For those who are interested, the response is below the fold.  Block quotes are from the different commentators.  Regular text is my response.

Ron H:

That example is very clear, but I believe the same principle would apply if some group of YAP people had asserted control by calling themselves “The Government” without unanimous positive consent.

At no time in US (perhaps world) history has there been unanimous consent to any government we know of.

The Rosseau/Buchanan discussion is much more detailed that I provided here (in particular, I recommend Buchanan’s The Reason of Rules and Limits on Liberty).  Trying to sum it up, institutions are established over time by the interactions of people (spontaneous order and whatnot).  Therefore, these institutions should be resistant to change and merely objecting to an institution is not sufficient enough to imply lack of unanimous consent.  That is not to say that these institutions should be unchanging forever but that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” to borrow a phrase from science.  Part of the role of government is to protect these institutions from the ever-shifting proclivities of fickle people.  That is why the freedom-of-movement aspect is important and why living within such confines implies consent to the institutions, despite any grumbling that might occur.

Of course, here we walk a very fine tight-rope between a government simply governing the institutions (that is, merely enforcing the rules of the game as expressed by the players) and government designing institutions (that is, government becoming an active player).  And that is a very difficult question to answer.

Walter Clark:

Why does that service have to be a monopoly on the legal use of threat of coercion? Why can’t competing agencies also be legal users of force?

In short, my fear of competing claims for the same property leading to prolonged feuds and conflicts between those competing agencies.

Greg G:

But of course once you have admitted that your judgment tells you that purpose is legitimate to justify government coercion, you have opened the door for the argument that other purposes might be legitimate as well.

Yep.  Where the conversation lies is in what those purposes are.  That’s a lot of the conversation in Limits of Liberty.

Greg G et al:

Jon, I am especially interested in how you defend your belief that government should provide a minimum basic income. I personally have no problem with government levying taxes to provide a social safety net but I don’t see how you reconcile this with your libertarian principles.

I’ll admit this is controversial territory. There are some libertarians, like myself, who see UBI as a preferred (albeit ultimately undesirable) alternative to the current system of welfare.  I do not think we could do away with welfare entirely; it’s been around for far too long and to simply rip it out without some kind of intermediate system (UBI) would be extremely painful and probably highly damaging.  In my ideal world, there would be zero welfare.  But I think UBI is probably the most libertarian-alternative out there given, in my opinion, a necessary welfare state.

7 thoughts on “Property Rights and Government

  1. Why would private agencies for protection protect the same customers?
    And notice that government protection services have overlapping jurisdictions and the need to use guns on each other would never occur to them.

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  2. Jon,
    Do you have some ideas on how the monopoly on the legal use of force, when also given the sanction to invent the rules they enforce, can limit their own power?
    It seems that carefully worded document written on parchment works only for a while. Here’s my idea. What if we could figure out a way that the highest form of government, the one we allow to be the legal use of force not be allowed to improve society in that they can only arbitrate between victim and accused. That completely removes its ability to regulate. There has to be a victim. If there’s a mad bomber, they can’t anticipate the event and stop him. It has to happen, and then they have a victim. That doesn’t mean some other agency can’t anticipate and prevent harm. But that agency could itself be taken to the higher court if its victim has standing. The model there is the unbelievable latitude bail bondsmen have to retrieve a runner. Another is how much a private detective can get away with that the police detective can’t.

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  3. Nice response, Jon, and you’re right, it’s not entirely satisfactory with respect to implied consent. I don’t think you have explored this issue sufficiently. Implied consent can justify all manner of mistreatment and coercion of individuals simply because someone else has arbitrarily declared control over a geographic territory.

    In short, my fear of competing claims for the same property leading to prolonged feuds and conflicts between those competing agencies.

    While that possibility exists, A large monopoly central state is no guarantee against these same feuds and conflicts, except the size of the conflict and the number of people in peril grows larger. It’s probably hard to find any area in the world that hasn’t been disputed by competing monopoly governments at some time throughout history. Many areas of the world today are disputed by large competing states. Kashmir between India and Pakistan is one of the most serious.

    But I think UBI is probably the most libertarian-alternative out there given, in my opinion, a necessary welfare state.

    How do you reconcile your free market and property rights views with what is essentially theft of just and rightfully owned fruits of labor at gunpoint? Why do you believe it’s necessary to force people to help others in need? Isn’t our sense of moral obligation and compassion strong enough to provide what is needed?

    Walter Clark has asked an important question about how monopoly government can limit itself, and I would additionally ask not only how, but *why* monopoly government would even consider limiting itself, having no real incentives to do so. It’s just not in our nature as human beings to limit ourselves.

    BTW nice new look, Jon. Very professional looking. 🙂

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  4. “There are some libertarians, like myself, who see UBI as a preferred (albeit ultimately undesirable) alternative to the current system of welfare. I do not think we could do away with welfare entirely; it’s been around for far too long and to simply rip it out without some kind of intermediate system (UBI) would be extremely painful and probably highly damaging. In my ideal world, there would be zero welfare. But I think UBI is probably the most libertarian-alternative out there given, in my opinion, a necessary welfare state.”

    I agree. It would be unwise to change such policies overnight. UBI eliminates much of the government bureaucracy associated with the current system of welfare, while continuing support until people can change their behavior in relying on such programs.

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  5. Jon,

    I know why I think a welfare state is necessary but I still don’t feel like I know why you think it is.

    I get why you think a UBI is better than the wide variety of welfare programs we now have. But if you really think that no government safety net is preferable, what is it that you think would happen under a UBI that would make it ultimately possible to get to the point where zero welfare would be desirable if it’s not already? I don’t expect human nature and human misfortune to change much with or without a UBI.

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