I've been thinking similar thoughts for a while, so it's good to see that other people agree.
Basically, for those who don't feel like reading, libertarians often defend their preferred societal order on the grounds that it is non-coercive. When people object the system of property rights, libertarians defend it by saying that if you don't like it, you still can't justify forcibly changing it because that would necessitate coercion. However, that argument presumes the moral significance of the very property rights that are under attack. While a defense of property rights may not be considered coercion, their establishment must be, and therefore libertarians cannot defend their society on grounds of non-coercion but on utilitarian grounds.
Everything is coersive. Morals are nonsense or polite conversation. This is old hat.
What matters is that most other sociological theories (assuming we discount primitivism and a war of all against all approach) theories have more nonsense, in the very literal sense of the word, than more market oriented philosophies and outlooks.
Besides all that the word "property", among every other word I suppose, implies force. Either by stating you can or can not have something is saying something with authority.
This is one of the many reasons why I am not so sure anarchy is a good word at all to use (what the hell is "anti-authoritarian"?):
Agreed, but most libertarians seem to disagree, or at least try to avoid acknowledging this point.
Now that I read the article, on some specifics:
If I read this right, I may disagree with Callahan here:
"We do not seek to impose centralized controls on 'society' but rather to remove them! We do not seek to impose our preferences on 'society' by force but rather to prevent certain members of society from imposing theirs on us by force!"
Of course, by "removing" controls, they mean "placing everything under the strict control of strong property rights." By "not imposing their preferences on others by force," they mean "imposing the property rights regime we like on others by force."
In the fact that one could say if the market is allowed to be put in place, or the more it is put in place, the more good customs will arise and the more it will filter out the bad. Of course this sentence is an over generalization, simplification, and technically wrong and I don't feel like debating this here, but hopefully you get the picture. I would probably fall somewhere in this camp.
And I may nitpick with Kuehn here:
or we can talk ourselves into a logically coherent but practically meaningless infinite loop by telling ourselves that there's a way to avoid coercion.
As I don't know if it counts as logically coherent if our starting position is the equivlent of ^&^%&, and hence nonsense. It ought be assumed that all sociological theories have a logic that assumes a connection and integration with real world phenomenon.
But yeah, other than me actually looking for things to disagree with - almost for the sake of seeing if I could do it, good column.
property rights are not coersive. to say that one has the free access to use/consume, in part or in whole the fruits of anothers labor is theft. how can one be coersed to take what he has not earned? why would one produce when all his efforts could be taken from him at any moment, at the whim of anyone? can one reliably care for a family when a safe place to sleep, eat and raise children cannot be counted on? what levels of violence would he be reduced to to insure his families survival. if someone came into your families home at night, how would you react? would you help him load up your tv? do you consider your body to be your own? do others have the right to do to you what they will? when you take from another you are the aggressor. you are the coersive one. you have essentially become a slave master, forcing another to labor for what you have taken. is what you have taken then yours? if not why take it, you have no right to use or consume it. coersion is the initiation of force. defense of property, self included, is not initiation.
I want to write a book entitled "the poverty of utilitarianism". Until then, property is not coercive. Demanding that someone let you use their property is coercion. Don't believe me? Can I borrow your toothbrush? What about your house for a couple of weeks? How about the food on your plate or the money in your bank account? How about a few years of your life?
It just occured to me; interesting enough I think Callahan is a self proclaimed moralists...and an objective moralist at that. Odd, if any of that is indeed the case.
Not sure about Kuehn though.
Full disclosure: I haven't read the blog post yet.
That said, whether property rights are coercive depends on how one defines the word "coercive". Many people, including many libertarians, seem to conflate the word "coercive" with the word "aggressive". I'm not one of them. For example, I consider defending one's property from a (would-be) thief to be coercive, but not aggressive. So to me the word "coercive" simply means "involving the use or threat of force (i.e. coercion)". Notice that this leaves open the issue of whether said coercion is legitimate, and this is where the Non-Aggression Principle comes into play. The bottom line is that yes, property rights are coercive IMHO. But so what?
The keyboard is mightier than the gun.
Non parit potestas ipsius auctoritatem.
Phaedros, those things are mine only through coercion.
Autolykos, establishing something as yours is aggressing against all others who would like use of the resource.
In order to say, "This is mine," I first have to say, "This is not yours," and back it up with force. I'm aware that libertarians have various theories about how property rights are legitimately established, but unless everyone agreed to them beforehand, it smacks of a social contract.
Autolykos, my response to Coase would be a little shorter. It would, in fact, be:
We can't both have this loaf of bread. What are you defining coercion as? The inability to possess any given entity X, where X stands for anythign that can be declared property? That strikes me as odd to define coercion in that manner.
"In order to say, "This is mine," I first have to say, "This is not yours," and back it up with force. I'm aware that libertarians have various theories about how property rights are legitimately established, but unless everyone agreed to them beforehand, it smacks of a social contract."
Sorry, but no. That's some wacky Derrida logic you have there. In fact, the only time you have to say "this is not yours" is when someone attempts to take something you have worked for or made from you.
it smacks of a social contract.
no, it is a 'smack' of Natural Rights. (unless you are somehow equating natural rights with social contract. but even that would be a false claim IMO)
My Blog: http://www.anarchico.net/
Production is 'anarchistic' - Ludwig von Mises
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it smacks of a social contract.
My Blog: http://www.anarchico.net/
Production is 'anarchistic' - Ludwig von Mises
Coase:In order to say, "This is mine," I first have to say, "This is not yours," and back it up with force.
First off, you seem to be completely discounting even the potential for mutual agreement. Why is that?
Secondly, I simply fail to see how this is necessarily aggressive.
Coase:I'm aware that libertarians have various theories about how property rights are legitimately established, but unless everyone agreed to them beforehand, it smacks of a social contract.
What do you mean by "social contract"?
Coercion to me is force initiated against another. Not in self-defense, but the point is that what can be defended must ultimately first be gained through aggression. Since two ownership-units (awkward term that allows me to include things like corporations) cannot own the same thing, one must first say to the other, "You cannot have this." Only then is it property. To defend such an action on the grounds that it is just to use violence in defense of ones property is circular. Libertarian moral arguments, therefore, assume what they need to prove.
Of course, this need not matter if people accept the moral legitimacy of property rights, but such legitimacy must be assumed, not proven, and property rights therefore can only be justified through utilitarian concerns.
MrSchnapps, I agree with you, but I was asking for Coase to further explain his position. It remains to be seen how establishing something as one's own is necessarily aggressive.
I briefly scanned the article. I find this Kuehn fellow to be tedious most of the time. I have no idea who Gene Callahan is.
Basically, this is yet another example of the difficulty of escaping "us" "we" "they" "them" when talking about social order. Groups matter but groups cannot be comprehended until we first think about individuals. Conflicts do not arise between groups, they arise between individuals and organizations (which are, invariably, run by individuals). Redheads do not stage revolutions and no one has yet proposed cleansing all left-handed people from the earth. Groupings by race, geography, religion, culture and so on are as arbitrary as grouping by redheadedness or left-handedness. While the former list of characteristics has played an important role in the history of demagoguery, they have no more importance in social science rightly understood than the latter list.
When conflicts arise between individuals who are not under the umbrella of an omnipotent Leviathan, there are no such things as "rules of society", there are just the terms on which both sides will or will not agree to stop fighting. Arbitration by elders or other recognized expert dispute-resolvers played an important role in facilitating the settlement of disputes without further fighting. Customary law (aka common law) emerges from the experience of arbitrators in what settles disputes. If you kill someone's servant, you generally have to pay 10 goats if you want to make them go away and stop being mad at you about it. As a shorthand, we speak of 10 goats for a servant as a law but in reality there is no such thing as "a law" in customary law. There is law but there are no laws.
The State is nearly definable as the monopoly of arbitration services (law) - it is only when the State comes into being and there is an omnipotent "rule-maker" that we can speak of the "rules of society" so the authors of these blog posts are really assuming their position from the outset. Once you assume there are always "rules of society" then it necessarily follows there must always be coercion.
To be clear, I do differ with the pure libertarian theory of law in that I believe that the use and threat of force in retaliation for wrongs which another party refuses to settle peacefully (i.e. through arbitrated or even un-arbitrated discussion) is justified. Without this basic right to retaliate against someone who refuses to come to the negotiating table, there is no incentive for aggressors to come to the negotiating table to begin with. But there must be no limitation of liability even in the use of force which is not part of a settled agreement, else people will retaliate excessively.
Phaedros, if you want to own something, I cannot. So you must tell me that the thing you desire, I cannot have.
Isaac, that is silly.
Autolykos, mutual agreement is fine. However, the current system of property rights has not been agreed to by everyone on the planet, so this is a problem. It is aggression because I must attack or threaten to attack anyone who is willing to compete with me for ownership of the resource.
The various methods for legitimately establishing property rights are similar to the social contract theory that justifies the state in that they assume agreement that they cannot prove and is in fact obviously false.
Coase:Coercion to me is force initiated against another.
Okay, that's somewhat equivalent to my definition of "aggression" (which also includes the initiation of threat of force). So I now interpret your thesis as "property rights are aggressive". Thanks for clarifying. :)
Coase:Not in self-defense, but the point is that what can be defended must ultimately first be gained through aggression. Since two ownership-units (awkward term that allows me to include things like corporations) cannot own the same thing, one must first say to the other, "You cannot have this." Only then is it property. To defend such an action on the grounds that it is just to use violence in defense of ones property is circular. Libertarian moral arguments, therefore, assume what they need to prove.
You seem to be implicitly assuming that people do not respect others' possession by default, but only in the face of "superior force". This sounds decidedly Hobbesian. Do you have any reasoning or evidence to support this proposition? Otherwise, I'll simply reject it and move on.
Coase:Of course, this need not matter if people accept the moral legitimacy of property rights, but such legitimacy must be assumed, not proven, and property rights therefore can only be justified through utilitarian concerns.
Legitimacy can never be proven, as it is subjective (logically speaking).
Read until you have something to write...Write until you have nothing to write...when you have nothing to write, read...read until you have something to write...Jeremiah
Coase:Autolykos, mutual agreement is fine. However, the current system of property rights has not been agreed to by everyone on the planet, so this is a problem. It is aggression because I must attack or threaten to attack anyone who is willing to compete with me for ownership of the resource.
As far as I can tell, this is a non sequitur. Please demonstrate why you must "attack or threaten to attack anyone who is willing to compete with [you] for ownership of the resource".
"You cannot have this."
You're right, actually. I'm changing my position (for once). This most certainly is coercion, as Isaiah Berlin defined it anyhow, and I do like his definition. I was far too restrictive in my first post.
"Coercion is not, however, a term that covers every form of inability...[it] implies the deliberate interference of other human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act. You lack political liberty or freedom only if you are prevented from attaining a goal by human beings. Mere incapacity to attain a goal is not a lack of political freedom..." Berlin, in Two Concepts of Liberty.
I'll still agree with the rest of my original post, in that I really could care less (all other things being equal) that this process is coercive.
"Phaedros, if you want to own something, I cannot. So you must tell me that the thing you desire, I cannot have."
That is only if you desire it as well and have some legitimate claim to it. Which in the case of most things that I own you do not have any legitimate claim to.
"Not in self-defense, but the point is that what can be defended must ultimately first be gained through aggression."
No, this is entirely wrong. If it had been first gained through aggression then, yes, it would be illegitimate. I guess in order to agree with your conclusion I would also have to conclude that labor is coercive, which is ridiculous.
Coercion is unavoidable in some form. Let us, however, take an example and boil it down. Suppose you are starving, and a man owns a storehouse full of apples. In the interest of self-preservation, you steal apples and eat them. In the sense that we assume people are justified in trying to live, the coercive forces are present in three places. First, you have used force to take what someone views as their own. Second, they may use force to prevent you from doing so. The third is the one that the anti-property idealist leaps at. The owner of the apples has FORCED you to steal from him, by the fact of his having your only means to survive.
There are no problems with the logic. It is very true that if you have things that others don't and they require them to live, then if they desire to live they are forced to act on that, and your ownership of said items is responsible for the coercion used against you, just as much as that person is responsible for initiating the force. But there is no actual being involved in the former. It is just a logical concept given the situation.
Now, take the same situation, and apply it where no one is allowed to own anything. You are starving. There is a man who owns...oh. Wait a minute. No he doesn't.
In this situation, you have the same fact: There is a logical concept of coercion rather than any actor. It has been either decided by freely following a concensus of society or by force of a governing hand that no one holds property. So the fact of nobody's ownership of things has forced you to die. If anything, this is an equal amount of coercion to forcing you to steal, except that in the one case you get to go on living. Another case of that which is seen and that which is not seen. We see that the businessman is forcing someone to steal so that they can live. What we do not see is that the alternative is everyone has taken apples as they please, no one has saved any, because they cannot own things, and therefore when a man is starving he doesn't even have the option of stealing to live. He has nothing. He dies.
The point I'm making is that if this is the backbone of an argument against the idea of property rights, then it can be demonstrated that there is an equal amount of coercion, insofar as situations that force someone to act in a way that they might wish not to. In a world of property rights, someone might have to steal, against their better judgment, from some evil hoarding apple capitalist. Without property rights. someone might have to, against their better judgment and will, die.
"The owner of the apples has FORCED you to steal from him, by the fact of his having your only means to survive."
This is assuming that those are the only apples and the only edible thing left in the world. In other words, it's the most convenient means to survive, but not the only means. For example, you can eat rabbits, squirrels, berries, some mushrooms, birds, etc. etc. This is why socialism must be a parasite off of capitalism also. ;)
Coase " if you want to own something, I cannot. So you must tell me that the thing you desire, I cannot have."
No, this is not the case. If one owns a thing, you cannot own that one thing but you can own one like it. You may also purchase or trade for that one thing if the value you offer is of equal or greater value, either way, you can only own it through production. Without production, consumption leads to extinction.
" mutual agreement is fine. However, the current system of property rights has not been agreed to by everyone on the planet, so this is a problem. It is aggression because I must attack or threaten to attack anyone who is willing to compete with me for ownership of the resource."
Why would you attack for a resource if you cannot claim the right to use or consume it. You contradict yourself and prove property rights as legitamate.
Clayton, I don't see the relevance. No rules of society are needed to see that claiming a right means denying someone else a right.
Autolykos, even if everyone respected the arrangement out of knowledge that it is conducive to social order, establishing the right to control what the price of a good is (for example) still means denying others the right to do so. However, it is obvious that many do respect property rights only out of fear of violence. Do you doubt that if no one lifted a hand to stop a violation of their property rights, theft would not rise? Respecting property rights is a collective action problem, since the marginal benefit for any single person to respect property rights is often zero or close to it.
Jeremiah, yes, yes, and denying someone the right to establish property is coercive as well. Do bear in mind that this argument is pointless from a utilitarian perspective. I mean to challenge the moral superiority of libertarianism insofar as it stems from the NAP.
Autolykos, everyone in the world could agree to some system. You're right. But if they don't (and they don't) the system requires aggression or its threat against dissidents.
MrSchnapps, see my response to Jeremiah.
Phaedros, you must violently impose your definition of legitimate upon me.
Valject, I support property rights and believe their abolition would lead to billions of deaths.
"Phaedros, you must violently impose your definition of legitimate upon me."
Lol ok then. What's your definition of legitimate that's logically coherent?
"denying someone the right to establish property is coercive as well."
Thirst is, then, coercive. The problem with your system, the one that is apparent from your line of thought at least, is that, as Rothbard says, man needs at least the space for his body to live. Is the fact that you can't have the space that my body occupies coercive to you?
To me property rights are legitimate because without them people are poor and die quickly. With them the opposite is true. Also, yes to the Rothbard question.
And why must the default position be that ownership is coercive? Why can't no-ownership be coercive?
They are both coersive in so much as property is just a fact of life, which it most certainly is. Or no-ownership is "non coersive" in the fact that it is a nonsense phrase.
his book Economics for Real People may be the best laymans'/ 101 book to Austrian Econ
Property is simply the exclusive use of resources. This does not require the property owner to initiate force against another party. If another party should wish to make use of what the property owner is already using and what the property owner wishes to continue to make use of exclusively, this second party can either give up its attempt, or use force in order to make use of this resource. If I am holding an apple, is it coercion for me to refuse to hand it over to you? That is essentially the question.
"Also, yes to the Rothbard question."
I can't take you seriously then.
Why do you get to be the owner? Because you violently prevented me from being so. The logic is circular.
How can there be coercion without any use of violence or threat of violence by one party against another party?
Phaedros, the logic is unchanged. If I am so absurd, rebutting me should be easy.
Aristippus, there can't be. But to claim ownership of something requires violently preventing others from doing so, unless all 7 billion people agree to this arrangement.
Your understanding of coercion is a meaningless distinction between what is coercive and what is not if you believe that it is coercive for you to be unable to have the space that my body occupies.
"But to claim ownership of something requires violently preventing others from doing so, unless all 7 billion people agree to this arrangement."
By simply claiming ownership of something doesn't make it so. However, the traditional understanding of how land comes to be owned by someone is through labor. The violence is initiated by the person attempting to take someone else's property.