Private Property in Society

There has been a lot of back and forth lately between libertarian supporters of property rights and those who call themselves libertarian (or even anarchist) who think that no one may “own” anything. And so, this post was born in my mind to address a few aspects of the nature of private property and society.

Is there any social problem which, at its core, is not produced by a disrespect for the inviolability of property interests? Wars, inner-city gang conflicts, environmental pollution, the curricula of government schools, the “war on drugs,” restrictions on free expression, affirmative action programs, monetary inflation, same-sex marriages, realty, eminent domain, taxation, gun control, displaying the “Ten Commandments,” violent crime, rent control, terrorism, government surveillance of telephone and computer communications, zoning laws and urban planning, prayer in schools, government regulation of economic activity, . . . the list goes on and on.

In each such instance, conflicts are created and maintained by government policies and practices that forcibly deprive a property owner of decision making control over something he or she owns. Whether the ownership interest is in oneself, or in those external resources that a person requires in order to promote his or her interests or to otherwise express one’s purpose in life, the state is inevitably at war with property owners. ~ Law Prof. Butler Shaffer

One of the problems that arise is that most people don’t understand the definition of ownership in the first place. Ownership means that you have total control over the use of a thing. You may use it, give it away, leave it to whomever you choose when you die, or exercise control over the property for any other purpose. In this meaning of ownership we see that every state that has ever existed was socialistic to some degree or the other.  No matter what form the state’s government took, the state claimed the rightful authority to control the individual’s property anytime it saw fit to do so.

The communist system is based on the premise that the state owns all productive assets and that there is no private ownership at all. Other socialist systems nationalized only certain tools of production and communication, at least openly, but all socialist systems asserted the right of the state to take anything at any time from any subject under its rule. Fascism is a socialistic system in which title to property remains in private hands, but control is exercised by the state and always remember that control is ownership. In reality, the modern U.S. is not all that unlike the fascist systems of the past.

The question of how property is to be owned and controlled and who has this control is the most fundamental question we must address because the answer tells us whether the state owns us and we are slaves, or if we own ourselves as free men and women. We hear many claims that the communist regimes of the U.S.S.R. were the polar opposite of the fascist Nazi regime and most people do think of these two regimes as polar opposites;  but they were exactly the same in that the state claimed total control over the lives and property of every single subject within its geographic borders. Both systems thought that no one could exist outside of the state. These two states were both extreme examples of the totalitarian state — modern real world examples of dystopia.

All political systems are wars against the private ownership of property but most desire to hide that fact and so build up myths that make it appear like the people are able to “own” property and personal items. The state does this by excluding property rights from almost every political argument or policy. For example, if a company pollutes a river and thus harms people downstream, the company will face sanctions for breaking the law of the state and harming the environment, but in a just society it would be the owners of property downstream that would bring suit against the company for damages to their righfully owned property.

Ludwig von Mises once wrote that private ownership of the means of production is the fundamental institution of the market economy. He wrote that private ownership was the institution that characterizes the market economy and if it was absent then there could be no question of a market economy. The U.S. is a country that pretends to be a market economy but, in fact, is a crony-capitalist or corporatist economy.

We could go down a list of “social” problems and see that each one is easily solved if there is private ownership of all things, but becomes intractable if the matter rests in the hands of the state. One of the most important examples is the difference between a crime committed against a victim like murder, rape, assault and so forth and a “victim-less crime” like drug use, prostitution, gambling and so on.  Victim-less crimes are an assault against the property rights and liberty of the people. I have every right in the world to bet my money on a pony if I chose to do so. The criminalization of any voluntary action is a violation of individual property interests.

Should prayer be taught in schools? What about the new Common Core State Standards for Math and Language? If there were no government schools and all education was a private mater then there would be no controversy at all. It would be a matter of the family’s choice on how and were to have their children educated.

We should all know about the economic problem often called “the tragedy of the commons” were “public” property is mismanaged and overused while private property is maintained and used as wisely as the owner can. The state can not manage anything as well as the highly interested private owner can, nor can the minions of the state even have access to the vast array of information that is available. What over 300 million Americans know by daily observation and experience is not available to a relatively small, finite bureaucracy in the capital.

Individual liberty and social order are the two sides of the same coin. Individual liberty can not give rise to the voluntary and mutually beneficial division of labor that leads to social order and stability without the basis of private property.  If “everyone owns a thing” then in reality no one owns it, but in fact the criminal gang called the state does. The modern Americans who call themselves “liberal” (but are anything but that) love to claim that they are working for “social justice” by using the state to impose their vision upon the rest of us by force, fraud and intimidation. In reality, they are just making all of use poorer than we would otherwise be as they make themselves feel good. As the wag once said, it is easy to be very generous with other people’s money.

6a00d83452719d69e2014e86055c29970d-800wiWe have the situation were there are “things” and “land” on this earth that have economic value because people need or desire them. We have far more needs and desires than we do things, so there must be some way to balance out the needs and desires of the many — a hard task for anyone or any group to do. The way to do it is to let the free market and private property sort out the needs and desires via the free economy where the price signal will properly ration these “things”. It is only through the peaceful market rather than by the force of the state’s guns that we may achieve the maximum peace, prosperity, and pleasure in this world.

If you find someone who claims to be an “anarchist” or a “libertarian” who is against private ownership, then you have found one who is deluded or untruthful. There is no freedom without private ownership of property. Maximum liberty is when there is no state at all and all property is in the hands of individuals or groups of individuals.

The constitutionalism of Ron Paul

By the “constitutionalism of Ron Paul” I mean his many calls for returning to the original interpretation of the constitution as well as following it rather than ignoring it. He spent a lifetime in politics calling for the US to follow the constitution as well as his two runs for the GOP nomination for president. It seems to me that Ron Paul was always after an even greater goal than the US government following the original interpretation of the constitution. I think he was after a libertarian society and the quickest way to get there would be by first following the constitution and making the vast cuts in government that following the constitution would require. The quickest way to get to a libertarian society would be by making as much of government as possible optional or voluntary.

ron-paul-revolution

We need to forge a wide social agreement on the concept of voluntary self-government and tolerance and this means making secession at the personal level more and more of a reality. We live in a police state and empire at the present time and the brutality of the state grows with each passing day. Surely we can all agree that moving towards the laissez-faire economy and the non-intervention of government in our lives that was the hallmark of the first decades of this country would be a great movement towards real and total liberty. Even if it is difficult to see how cutting government down to size and making it follow the constitution might be accomplished, we can certainly agree that it is important as one of our goals in the liberty movement. This goal contrasts starkly with any more spreading of the government’s brutality, involuntaryism, coercion and cronyism. The power and reach of the US government has spread into more and more areas of life, here and across the world and it is time to put an end to the growth and start to reduce the long arm of the state.

Economics is simple really. Nearly the full extent of it can be taught in a small book, as has been done before. Look at Henry Hazlitt’s ‘Economics in One Lesson’ which is practically the full extent that any individual citizen needs to know about economics and you will see that the laissez-faire policies of the early republic were far superior to the fascist style interventionism of the present day.

Austrian economics has taught us that if we want to live a more comfortable life in a more comfortable world then we must live by the golden rule, or the non-aggression principle as we libertarians like to call it. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you —- or don’t aggress against anyone else unless they first aggress against you. This golden rule (or the N.A.P.) is not handed down by a supreme being, but it is the path to making the society approach a state of Nirvana none the less. The Taoists and their path (the Tao) told us a long time ago that intervention by “the ruler” was always bad and that we should let the people do things for themselves.

The fastest and easiest way to convince people that less government is more happiness by the masses is to reduce the size and scope of the government and let them see the incremental improvements. But there will be many road blocks along our journey to liberty. After all, the political class is not really running things. The political class is only the veneer of the state and not really the state itself. The state is the permanent bureaucratic structures and it is those institutions that make up the real ruling apparatus of the state. Look at the CIA for just one example.

No society can achieve any kind of justice based on the concept that some people have a “right” to have the state loot other people for their benefit. We see this today in the welfare state which has destroyed countless families and destroyed the morality of generations. Don’t forget that large, well connected corporations receive much from the state as well. We don’t call it “crony-capitalism” for nothing. We have created a power struggle that is endless, pointless, futile, and destructive. Only a return to the relatively non-interventionist government of the early days would be a good start towards a total freedom from the state. (that is, if you abhor the violence of armed revolution)

In truth there is no need for a “Constitution” to maintain peace and civility in a society. What is needed is a deep belief in the people that the initiation of physical aggression, intimidation, theft, fraud, and trespass are all morally reprehensible. That and the realization that assigning a monopoly power to an institution – government – is only going to yield in the end the utter brutality and cronyism we see around us today. When the people are compelled by a monopoly which interprets “the law” and uses violence to enforce its will upon the population, then it violates the individual’s right to choose which services one wants to use. We should have a right to choose which protective service we want to use for in a free, civilized society. No one should be above the law, and no one has any legitimate authority over anyone else without voluntary consent.

Ron Paul used a return to the constitution to try to teach the masses that government intervention is always the wrong way to go. Let us hope his message keeps on reverberating with the masses until they withdraw their consent to be governed by the evil monopoly we call the state.

American mercantilism?

We often hear the ignorant refer to the present American economic system as free market capitalism or mostly just “capitalism” where they mean free markets, and yet the American system has been heavily controlled, regulated, and interfered with by government for over a century with no free markets to be seen anywhere. Some say that the political control of the economy started from the very beginning of the Republic and the citizen’s right to do as he pleases as long as he harms no one else was violated with increasing frequency as time went by.

It matters little if you call the American system fascism, corporatism, crony-capitalism, “the third way”, a mixed economy, socialism, or even the more archaic term “mercantilism”. There is a spectrum that runs from laissez-faire free-markets (with no government intervention at all) to the fully government controlled economies of a North Korea or the old USSR. History and the Austrian School of Economics have shown over and over that any government intervention always makes the situation worse and normally makes it much worse for the poorest people. After all, as Groucho Marx observed “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

Murray N. Rothbard wrote about mercantilism in Conceived in Liberty (1975), volume 1, chapter 32: “Mercantilism, Merchants, and Class Conflict.” He observed:

The economic policy dominant in the Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries, and christened “mercantilism” by later writers, at bottom assumed that detailed intervention in economic affairs was a proper function of government. Government was to control, regulate, subsidize, and penalize commerce and production. What the content of these regulations should be depended on what groups managed to control the state apparatus. Such control is particularly rewarding when much is at stake, and a great deal is at stake when government is “strong” and interventionist. In contrast, when government powers are minimal, the question of who runs the state becomes relatively trivial. But when government is strong and the power struggle keen, groups in control of the state can and do constantly shift, coalesce, or fall out over the spoils. While the ouster of one tyrannical ruling group might mean the virtual end of tyranny, it often means simply its replacement by another ruling group employing other forms of despotism.

In the 17th century the regulating groups were, broadly, feudal landlords and privileged merchants, with a royal bureaucracy pursuing as a superfeudal overlord the interest of the Crown. An established church meant royal appointment and control of the churches as well. The peasantry and the urban laborers and artisans were never able to control the state apparatus, and were therefore at the bottom of the state-organized pyramid and exploited by the ruling groups. Other religious groups were, of course, separated from or opposed to the ruling state. And religious groups in control of the state, or sharing in that control, might well pursue not only strictly economic “interest” but also ideological or spiritual ones, as in the case of the Puritans’ imposing a compulsory code of behavior on all of society.

murray-rothbard-enemy-state

If those people who say that the USA has a system of modern fascism are correct then “fascism” does not differ all that much from the above described mercantilism. I suppose that is to be expected since the father of fascism, Benito Mussolini, modeled his system along the lines of strict government control just as the mercantilists of Britain did years before him.

It is obvious that the state controls the economic activities of all entities with laws, regulations, and the like, but what is not so obvious is that the modern US government even controls the entry of individuals into various occupations and professions. Not only can you not become a Doctor without the state’s permission, you may not even cut someone’s hair without the proper licenser. Try to become a cab driver without the approval of the state and see what happens to you. Like under “mercantilism”, the present government seeks to control, regulate, subsidize, and penalize commerce and production in all areas of American life. What has changed? The regulating groups have changed. The church is no longer part of the mix and the special interest groups seeking political power and handouts are different; but nothing has changed in reality.

As long as we allow the federal government to control the economic activities of the people then we can expect lower standards of living than we would have otherwise, especially for the poor. With modern mercantiliism can not expect liberty or freedom but rather we can expect dependency, slavery, and serfdom. We will be endlessly subjected to arbitrary and punitive rules and regulations. The state and all its minions seek to dominate you in all areas of your life and it finds dominating you in your economic activities is the easiest way to enslave you.

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself and to discover the true nature of government. Think of men like Edward Snowden who found out what the government’s NSA was doing and told the world about what he found. He told the world without any regard to the prevailing superstition that there were terrorists under every bed. If we ignore the propaganda, superstitions, taboos and utter heifer dust that we were taught in the government schools, we would discover that we must come to the conclusion that the government we live under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable. Like H. L. Mencken, I believe that all government is evil and that trying to improve it is mostly a waste of time and is often counter productive.

The only way to maximize prosperity and peace is to stop practicing the American mercantilist system and to move to laissez-faire free markets, and the only way to have no government intervention in the market is to have no government at all. The Irish did that for perhaps 9,000 years.

Like many people this time of year, I wish for peace among men throughout the world. I know that the only way to have peace, prosperity, freedom, and happiness is for mankind to throw off the evil of the state that enslaves us. In the coming year we should all endeavor in anyway that we can to end the state and live in a voluntary world. We must teach people to withdraw their consent to be governed just at the people did in the old USSR. The good of all mankind does not depend on you recycling your trash, conserving gasoline, or having the grocery store put your purchase in re-usable bags. The good of mankind depends on you helping to overthrow the great evil that is the state. Do your part whenever you can.

A neat poem: The Demise of Pickins

The Demise of Pickins

A skinny fellow, name of Pickins
Made a livin’ raisin’ chickens.
Traded eggs for other stuff;
He was doin’ well enough.

A stranger stopped by for lunch one day,
When it was et, he wouldn’t pay!
Stranger says his name was King,
And Chicken was his favorite thing.

He claimed some revenue was due him;
And Pickins was to give it to him.
Well, Pickins got his musket out
And ran off that ungrateful lout.

Pickins got a surly dog
To guard his chickens and his hog.
He built a fence both tall and stout,
To keep the thieves and vagrants out.

Defense used up his sparse resources,
So Pickins harnessed up his horses.
He plowed more land to grow more oats
To feed his horses and his goats.

He made a little profit, too;
A fresh new colt, a kid or two,
But paper notes he did eschew,
And paperwork and taxes, too.

A tenth he gave to God always,
And thanked Him in his daily praise.
Was in his dealings even handed,
But King a ransom now demanded.

Upon his fields and his flock,
Upon his hat and on his sox.
And even on his largest rocks,
Which gave no graze and grew no crops!

Enormous fees they now assessed
On assets he had never guessed.
And said that he had better pay,
Indeed, upon that very day!

But you’ve not worked to raise the crops,
Your hands are soft; your felly flops.
I’ll pay no revenue to you!
Your claims are void, your logic, too!

They carted Pickins off post-haste,
Confined him in a deep dank place.
Seized his chickens, fields, and pens.
Gave them out to King’s dear friends.

Alas, this is no foolish fable,
Of kingly follies told at table.
Governments, like kings of old,
Coercing peaceful, private souls.

To war against their neighbors,
And tribute pay for doubtful favors.
Codes, and edicts they design.
Proclaiming sovereign right divine.

Pickins future is looking grim,
A ball and chain will keep him trim.
Til king extracts what he deems due,
Til Pickins swears allegiance true.

Creative Commons License
The Demise of Pickins by John M Haugen
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

A food mission and the economy

I wrote last year about a tour of a local “food mission” that I took and I went again this year. The organization is in Daytona Beach, Florida and is a church supported mission that helps to feed the poor and homeless.  The mission is a totally volunteer operation run by mostly retired folks that can donate time to keep the little operation open. They are able to serve about 500 families each month giving them food, toiletry items, and some clothing. I was with a tour group of supporters last week and we had a look around.

One of the leaders of the mission volunteer group gave a presentation to the various people who were there to see the operation. The speaker asked a group of middle school kids a very hard question, one that he claimed no one ever gets right till they hear the answer. He said that in Daytona Beach, Florida there are a some annual events such as the Daytona 500 or “Bike Week” that causes the population to explode to many times its normal size for the duration of the event. These events cause the number of people who line up for free food and items to drop. The number goes down as the population of the town goes up. Why? Why is it that during Speed Week, Bike Week, or the 500 the number of people who will line up on the sidewalk to wait their turn at free food goes down?

The man gave the young people countless attempts to guess the reason until he finally answered that during these huge events there is more work to be had than normal in town. Work for the unskilled. Work for the homeless. Work for the down and out. Work that these people can get! And they would much rather work than be fed free. They want to find work.

It is heart breaking to know that the U.S. government at all its levels uses its minimum wage laws, health insurance requirements, countless regulations, and so on to make a large percentage of America chronically unemployed. Everyone knows that the unemployment situation is very bad even if the official figures lie and understate the problem. Ludwig von Mises pointed out that in a totally laissez faire market there would be nearly no unemployment. There would be some people between jobs or some who were unable to work for various reasons, but any who wanted to work and were physically and mentally fit would be able to find work.

Government spending cannot create additional jobs. If the government provides the funds required by taxing the citizens or by borrowing from the public, it abolishes on the one hand as many jobs as it creates on the other. If government spending is financed by borrowing from the commercial banks, it means credit expansion and inflation. If in the course of such an inflation the rise in commodity prices exceeds the rise in nominal wage rates, unemployment will drop. But what makes unemployment shrink is precisely the fact that real wage rates are falling. ~ von Mises

Government intervention into the market place can never help the overall economy, it can only help the favored at the expense of the rest of us. But government can certainly hurt the economy. It can destroy the economy.

Concerning unemployment itself, it is the minimum wage laws and unemployment benefits programs, both supposedly designed to help workers, which directly lead to higher costs of employment and hence to higher joblessness and misery. Economists have known for generations that embracing those policies implies embracing many additional people being without jobs even as the favored are aided in some ways. The infuriating thing is that it is not a lack of work to be done but that it becomes too expensive to pay for the work to be done.

Lew Rockwell once gave a short list of barriers to employment:

  • The high minimum wage that knocks out the first several rungs from the bottom of the ladder;
  • The high payroll tax that robs employees and employers of resources;
  • The laws that threaten firms with lawsuits should the employee be fired;
  • The laws that established myriad conditions for hiring beyond the market-based condition that matters: can he or she get the job done?;
  • The unemployment subsidy in the form of phony insurance that pays people not to work;
  • The high cost of business start-ups in the form of taxes and mandates;
  • The mandated benefits that employers are forced to cough up for every new employee under certain conditions;
  • The withholding tax that prevents employers and employees from making their own deals;
  • The age restrictions that treat everyone under the age of 16 as useless;
  • The social security and income taxes that together devour nearly half of contract income;
  • The labor union laws that permit thugs to loot a firm and keep out workers who would love a chance to offer their wares for less.

That list by Rockwell is just a few of the government interventions that impoverish the people at the expense of the favored — the cronies of the powerful. If the government interventions on the above list were eliminated today we would see full employment. Not the fake “full employment” that government has claimed in times long past, but the situation where everyone who wanted a job could get a job.

It is time to end the welfare state and let people go to work. People naturally like to be useful and to voluntarily cooperate with others. It is time to again try the laissez fair system that built the Western world in the first place.