The fallacy of liberty without property rights

I did a tweet that was a take off on a famous H. L. Mencken observation. I tweeted, “Anti-capitalism is best defined by the fear that someone, somewhere, is getting rich.” This set off a few folks who are anarchists of the leftist variety. One of the biggest disagreements was on the word “capitalism” rather than “rich”. I asked my correspondent to kindly read yesterday’s post on Free market capitalism vs. State capitalism and that did not seem to please him.

Turns out we disagree on the use of the term “capitalism” itself and a couple of other points. He told me he believes in a free market and in anarchy, but not in capitalism. That is OK with me, as some people just hate the word given that so many have conflated State-Capitalism or Fascism with the name “capitalism”. That was hardly worth doing a post on, especially given yesterday’s topic. But there was more. As I see it, our main disagreement,  other than semantics over a word, is that he believes a “free market” in an anarchy would lead to no private property at all and to no one working for wages. He wrote: “I disagree. I don’t think wage labor or private property would exist in a free market...”

Well now; that is an interesting notion. I have seen it before of course, but it is interesting never the less.

Murray N. Rothbard wrote:

The central core of the libertarian creed, then, is to establish the absolute right to private property of every man: first, in his own body, and second, in the previously unused natural resources which he first transforms by his labor. These two axioms, the right of self-ownership and the right to “homestead,” establish the complete set of principles of the libertarian system. The entire libertarian doctrine then becomes the spinning out and the application of all the implications of this central doctrine.

I believe it was Rothbard who first pointed out that there were three possibilities on ownership of the human being. First, he owns, and therefore controls, himself. He has the right to control himself without coercive interference. Now if a man does not own himself, who does? If it is one person or a small group then we are talking about slavery. One group owns another and hence one group is fully human while the other group is sub-human. This option is foul and odious to us, and is rejected out of hand. (of course others have gone on at length about the immorality of slavery)

If a man does not own himself and is not owned by some other individual or group of individuals then he must be owned by everyone on the planet equally. It is the state of total mutual ownership! But that leads to a man needing over seven billion people to agree with an action before the poor devil can do anything. That is obviously not possible and so everyone would die waiting for unanimous approval to act. It is also obvious that any steps in the direction of mutual ownership spells harm to the race. Besides, there is no physical way that everyone can even keep tabs on everyone else; much the less give consent to billions on all their acts.

It is clear then that only self-ownership by humans makes any sense. This is a property right that apparently some of our socialist-anarchist friends have not considered. The radical libertarian rejects any alternative except for the human owning himself, and that is our primary axiom. Notice that it is a property right.

This brings us to the disagreement with anarchists of the left who claim that all property would be jointly owned and that there would be no wages paid to anyone.

First of all, if there is no government or other coercive group imposing its will on the people, then the people would be free to trade goods and services with one another. So if I wanted to pay someone to work for me that would be a natural thing as long as we both felt we benefited from the arrangement. The division of labor is necessary in any society above the most impoverished and primitive one. Try to imagine a surgeon building all tools of his trade all by himself! Try to imagine an airplane pilot building both the plane and the landing strip all by himself. We have to have mutual cooperation and division of labor to create the kind of wealth that the modern world has generated and that my friends leads to some selling their time and talents for monetary wages.

Now on to property itself. There are many kinds of property, but all involve ownership and title. Our socialist-anarchist friends believe that all people should have and equal ownership to all property even though we have established that only the individual’s right self-ownership, to a property right in his own body and person, makes any sense at all. But people need a place to stand, shelter against the elements, warm clothes, food, and many other things. Mankind must turn natural resources into consumer goods for the populace. Food must be grown and eaten and minerals must be mined to make capital goods which lead to consumer goods.

If a man clears a forest and plants corn to eat, does that belong to everyone on the planet equally? How could that work? Would we have the whole planet vote on every move he made? Would there be a mad dash to take the corn when it ripened? Would anyone who wanted to move into his house do so? Would we snatch the cloths off his back if we wanted them? None of these actions could be illegal or immoral if there are no property rights to tell us who owns (controls) the properties in question. Hell, the fool might grow one crop of corn but he would never grow another if everyone else thought all of his hard work and labor was theirs for the taking!

What if an artist took some natural materials and created a great work of art. Do I own that art as much as he does? Do you own it? Would it be right to just go grab it out of his hands and take it for your own pleasure against his will? If every man has a property right in his own person then he must have the labor of his body and the work of his hands as his own property also. How else could it be and make any sense?

As in the case of the ownership of people’s bodies there can be only three alternatives for property other than self. First, some group (like our government) owns all your work, labors, ideas, and all other property which effectively makes you a slave as the group controls your production. Or on the other hand, the person who creates and produces is the owner who should control that which is put into use. But if those two options are rejected as the anarchist-socialists do, then everyone on the planet has an equal share in everyone else’s goods, and services. How would that work? How can we get total agreement on anything? If a thousand people want a bit of land on a beautiful lake to be their home — how would the decision by made? (by force obviously)

But some socialist-anarchists (which is, in effect, the “pure” communism) say that it is only land and factories that they want to see jointly owned. The individual can keep his pants, shirt, and shoes; but not his home since it sets on land. Murray Rothbard once wrote: “The Georgists argue that, while every man should own the goods which he produces or creates, since Nature or God created the land itself, no individual has the right to assume ownership of that land”.

We believe that whoever first uses a piece of land for productive uses becomes the title holder and owner of that land. Who else should be? If it is another individual or group then they are thieves. But what about everyone? That is the recipe for violence as various groups take what they want by force. It would be illegal and immoral to allow the title holder of a piece of land to be the victim of some aggressive taking but superior force.

Now some have argued that the titles to land in our age are not all good titles since the land has been stolen or appropriated from the rightful first users and their decedents. If someone has a legitimate claim to a given piece of property then a libertarian court in an anarchy would rule in their favor as the rightful owners.  But in the end, we must have owners of land that has been put into use and we must have respect for their property rights or we invite violence, gang warfare, and chaos.

I hope my twitter friend reads this and considers my position on property. Many others have written about this topic much better than this short rant of mine today. I don’t have the time to write long posts considering every augment since I do have to trade my time and talent to a boss for some wages!


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