Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Propertarian Problem

For the extreme libertarian, ethics are simple. Here’s an excerpt from The Philosophy of Liberty, by Ken Schoolland:

“A product of your life and liberty is your property. Property is the fruit of your labor, the product of your time, energy, and talents. It is that part of nature that you turn to valuable use. And it is the property of others that is given to you by voluntary exchange and mutual consent.”

But in the real world, we immediately run into complications. Schoolland seems to be following Murray Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty.

The most important complication is that the product of your time, energy and talents doesn't depend on those inputs alone. It also depends on the society in which you function, the public goods allocated to you by law and custom, and the share of nature likewise assigned you as a private good by the society in which you live.

For example, as an individual adult US citizen of median time, energy and talents you might expect an annual individual income of something above $28,000. Cast away on Robinson Crusoe's desert island, the same time, energy and talents might earn you the equivalent of $500 a year in goats and cocoanuts.

Which is why the number of people that want to live in the United States is much greater than the number the current citizens allow.


Hugh Knight said...

Wherein lies the difficulty? All you've shown is that it is easier to create wealth in a wealthy community, which is no great surprise. That does nothing to diminish the individuals right to his own wealth. That the presence of others helps him create more wealth doesn't entitle them to a portion of his since they have the same right and potential to produce it themselves.

Will McLean said...

It's not just that it's easier to create wealth in a wealthy community. Certain institutions and public goods make you more productive.

Suppose, for instance, that you have a business, and a highway near you is blocked through storm damage. Your profits drop until it is repaired. In this case, we can demonstrate that part of your income is a result of the public good, and so the government has a just claim to some portion of your income.

Hugh Knight said...

Ah, now I see what you're getting at. Yes, I quite agree, and this is the problem I have with the more extreme libertarians. I have read plans that involve having people contribute directly to such community enhancement projects, but these plans are always grossly flawed, if for no other reason than the problem of uniformity of things from group to group. There can be no question but that the government has the right to tax the people for certain very specific things, e.g., defense, infrastructure, and the enforcement of minimum regulation to ensure fairness across the entire country.