Monday, August 8, 2011

Libertarianism and it's limitations

I have long held that the weak underbelly of libertarian theory (in the modern form) is how to justify current wealth distributions (and thus hold current property rights inviolate). Brad DeLong does a good job of laying out the mental steps required:

Well, let me sketch out the logic of Robert Nozick's argument for his version of catallaxy as the only just order. It takes only fourteen steps:

1. Nobody is allowed to make utilitarian or consequentialist arguments. Nobody.
2. I mean it: utilitarian or consequentialist arguments--appeals to the greatest good of the greatest number or such--are out-of-order, completely. Don't even think of making one.
3. The only criterion for justice is: what's mine is mine, and nobody can rightly take or tax it from me.
4. Something becomes mine if I make it.
5. Something becomes mine if I trade for it with you if it is yours and if you are a responsible adult.
6. Something is mine if I take it from the common stock of nature as long as I leave enough for latecomers to also take what they want from the common stock of nature.
7. But now everything is owned: the latecomers can't take what they want.
8. It gets worse: everything that is mine is to some degree derived from previous acts of original appropriation--and those were all illegitimate, since they did not leave enough for the latecomers to take what they want from the common stock of nature.
9. So none of my property is legitimate, and nobody I trade with has legitimate title to anything.
10. Oops.
11. I know: I will say that the latecomers would be poorer under a system of propertyless anarchy in which nobody has a right to anything than they are under my system--even though others have gotten to appropriate from nature and they haven't.
12.Therefore they don't have a legitimate beef: they are advantaged rather than disadvantaged by my version of catallaxy, and have no standing to complain.
13. Therefore everything mine is mine, and everything yours is yours, and how dare anybody claim that taxing anything of mine is legitimate!
14. Consequentialist utilitarian argument? What consequentialist utilitarian argument?

To be able to successfully explain Nozickian political philosophy is to face the reality that it is self-parody, or perhaps CALVINBALL!

It is step 11 that seems to be the most interesting to me. Nobody really wants to argue for anarchy but that doesn't mean that pools of wealth are good, either. I suspect a false dichotomy is present as other options exist as well.

Furthermore, the system also ignores the influence of wealth on process. Differences in prestige, corruption and credibility can lead to issues with step 5, as well. So I think we need to be careful about making property rights primary. Obviously ownership has important effects in making a specific person responsible for an item (otherwise you can get the "Tragedy of the Commons" issues). But that effect works best on small pieces of property that are directly used by the person (a car, a house, a factory) and seem to become less helpful on larger scales (like in a corporation where you need to hire a management team who then bring in principal agent concerns).

Definitely something to consider.

1 comment:

  1. This is a retread of The Divine Right of Kings. It ignores the obvious, that ownership is a government function, so when saying "mine", one is making a political statement. You can find statements along with similar rules of justification throughout history, and all they led to was to a chain of tyrants and a legacy of poverty and destruction.