Friday, February 21, 2014

Freedom & Property

- Is freedom the right to use property as you wish, or something else?
- Like what?
- To do something worth doing, for example. The problems with freedom defined as the right to dispose of property is that it cannot be a moral principle.
- Why not?
- Moral principles are universal. What applies to you also must apply to me. But if you own everything and I nothing, and you offer me food in exchange for being your slave, I cannot reasonably accept the property right you claim. You'll need threat of force to compel my acceptance. That's the first problem.
- What's the second?
- Once property is unequally distributed, it tends to get more unequal. Wealth is used to influence the government to lower taxes, allow speculation and permit monopolies to be formed. To stop this from happening requires a very intrusive government.*
- Which limits property rights!
- Exactly.
- What's the alternative?
- To make a starting point where the right to property leaves off: equal distribution of wealth. Make this a principle which, unlike the right to property, is universal, so qualifies as an ethical principle.
- But what difference does that make, to end with an ethical principle or begin with one?
- When you end with the principle, you have built on the threat of violence a coercive state that enforces the principle by threat of violence.
- When it is possible simply to begin with the ethical principle which can potentially be universally agreed to. That's an example of what you mean, the other kind of freedom, to do something worth while.
- We choose between two conceptions of freedom, one founded on the threat of force, the other on an idea of what is a good way to live.

P.S. From: William Godwin's An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, 1793:
It is necessary that every man should stand by himself, and rest upon his own understanding. For that purpose each must have his sphere of discretion. No man must encroach upon my province, nor I upon his. He may advise me, moderately and without pertinaciousness, but he must not expect to dictate to me. He may censure me freely and without reserve; but he should remember that I am to act by my deliberation and not his. He may exercise a republican boldness in judging, but he must not be peremptory and imperious in prescribing. Force may never be resorted to but, in the most extraordinary and imperious emergency. I ought to exercise my talents for the benefit of others; but that exercise must be the fruit of my own conviction; no man must attempt to press me into the service. I ought to appropriate such part of the fruits of the earth as by an accident comes into my possession, and is not necessary to my benefit, to the use of others; but they must obtain it from me by argument and expostulation, not by violence. It is in this principle that what is commonly called the right of property is founded. Whatever then comes into my possession, without violence to any other man, or to the institutions of society, is my property. This property, it appears by the principles already laid down, I have no right to dispose of at my caprice; every shilling of it is appropriated by the laws of morality; but no man can be justified, in ordinary cases at least, in forcibly extorting it from me. When the laws of morality shall be clearly understood, their excellence universally apprehended, and themselves seen to be coincident with each man's private advantage, the idea of property in this sense will remain, but no man will have the least desire, for purposes of ostentation or luxury, to possess more than his neighbors.

On Moral Principles, see Security At A Hollywood Preview
* Why lessen income inequality? Bribery of the government, speculation, and monopoly result in the poor having less money to buy things and the rich not investing in producing new things. A vicious cycle results of more unemployment, lower sales, reduced production. For the rich economic depressions of low production and consumption are intervals of profit taking. The market is cleared as small businesses fail, and foreclosed property may be cheaply acquired. With this profit taking comes a danger of social revolution. Though social disruption, like economic disruption, can also be a period of opportunity, with social repression creating market openings by making business hazardous to all those without money to buy the protection of the forces of order, when those who bribe the government consider this too risky, for the time being to be avoided, they take measures to lessen income inequality. (Further Reading: Bloomberg Reports Wall Street Speculators Buying Up Foreclosed Houses Lost In Crash They Caused)