ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context: OnProperty, OnLibertarianism, CriticismsOfRightLibertarianism

Quora Answer : What do progressives think of Rob Weir's answer to "Why is the Libertarian philosophy unpopular?"

May 11, 2017

I find Libertarianism fascinating.

It's intellectually rich. Quite compelling. It certainly has many attractions.

But what I can never quite get my head around is the extraordinary blind-spot that Libertarians have about "violence".

I just can't understand how they can't see something that is so massively, blatantly obvious.

Which is that you need the threat and, indeed, practice of violence to maintain a system of private property.

I don't get it. It's all around us. In the form of police. And courts. And prisons. You can watch it happening every day. In front of your nose. People get arrested and prosecuted and put in jail. All in the defence of someone's property rights. It's there in history. When the "enclosures acts" put fences around previously commons land. It's there when Europeans militarily invaded the new world and exterminated the indigenous peoples to make way for "homesteaders" on this "virgin" territory.

Every time anyone "gets rich", just look behind the curtain and you'll see government backed legislation and the threat of violence there. Microsoft and Google and Facebook create huge "wealth" out of pure ideas and peaceful co-operation, right? Sure, if you don't happen to notice that their mega-valuations are all based on their patent portfolios which are themselves the result of the government bundling up ideas into property and being willing to use the court system (ie. violence) to enforce it.

So, every time Libertarians talk about violence, honestly, I feel like, to use a currently popular expression, they are "gaslighting" me. Blithely talking as though violence is somebody else's problem, nothing at all to do with them or the system that they advocate.

Oh, no. They're about nothing but peaceful voluntarism.

Quora Answer : What do liberals not understand about libertarians and conservatives?

Nov 16

For me it's "how can you not see the obvious fact that private property is a coercive institution? how can you keep repeating the obvious untruth that capitalism is voluntary and that trades in the market are not coerced?"

This seems so self-evident to me, and so backed up by our experience (ie. the existence of all the property laws, police, courts, prisons etc. which punish people who violate those property laws) that it seems to require a cosmic degree of self-delusion to go around the world imagining that private property isn't one more example of oppression imposed by the state / government which, even if justified, can only be justified by its ends. Just like all the other government regulation.

At least some libertarians and conservatives seem to be smart. Why do they have such a blind-spot about this?

Quora Answer : I am a right-wing libertarian; as a Marxist, where do you think I am mistaken?

Feb 23, 2019

I suspect your main mistake is that you fail to see that property rights are a kind of restriction on liberty.

In other words, every property right that exists is an instance of the government, enforcing, with the threat of violence, a restriction on what you can do.

For example, farmer Giles's ownership of his orchard, is a constraint, backed up by government violence, on you going and picking apples there for your picnic.

Bob's ownership of his house is a constraint, backed up by government violence, that prevents you sleeping there if you find yourself tired in his street.

Aramco's titles to Arabian oil wells are a constraint on someone else going and drilling there.

Microsoft's patents are a constraint on what technologies other companies can develop and sell.

Once you realize that property isn't an extension of liberty, but a government enforced diminution of liberty, then you'll start to understand that the simplistic dichotomy between government and market that right-Libertarians like to assume, can't possibly be correct.

If you like property and property rights, then you'll have to come up with a more sophisticated notion of liberty that recognizes that government constraints can actually extend it. And once you do that, if you're honest, you'll see that other political positions that also argue that government constraints can extend liberty, are not as self-evidently wrong as you thought.

Transcluded from PropertyHistoryRant

Another one that was (almost) a comment on Quora :

This question smells like it's coming from a right-libertarian angle, so I'm making my usual response. Because every time a right-libertarian starts talking about property it seems their intuitions are driven by idea that property is a bracelet or a small shack in the woods that you defend by standing in front of it with a shotgun.

But we live in Capitalism. And the defining feature of Capitalism is "capital". And the vehicle for owning that capital is the corporation. So 99% of the property today is most likely to be in terms of part-ownership of corporations, which in turn own land, mineral rights, factories etc. And these days "intellectual property", which is why the most valuable corporations today are those that have huge patent portfolios.

Now all these kinds of property (land ownership, mining rights, shares in limited liability corporations, patents, trademarks ets.) are explicitly created by modern, nation-state governments choosing to recognise them. (Look at the history of where they all came from.) Not one of these kinds of property came out of some spontaneous communitarian recognition that we should leave other's hard earned stuff alone.

In the old world, land-ownership started with the king handing out estates to the aristocracy and was extended by dozens of enclosures of previously common land, signed off by government. In the new world the government paid soldiers to drive the indigenous populations off land they'd previously inhabited and used so that European descendent farmers could "homestead" this "wilderness". Mineral rights came with land ownership except in certain places which hadn't been enclosed yet, where early prospectors relied on registration with the government to protect their discoveries from "claim jumpers".

We're still fighting the battle over intellectual property and whether ideas and thoughts can be enclosed and turned into private property. But its not going well, to be honest.

Governments regulate and set the rules for ownership of shares in corporations. Sure corporations are so rich that they often push politicians around, but ultimately the whole system rests on government's recognition of contract law. And an ultimate recourse to the courts in case of dispute.

So, all the really important wealth comes by nation-state government decree. And government will is ultimately respected because it's backed up by a standing army, police, court, prison system : in other words, a pretty hefty threat to use violence against those who go against it.

Now, of course, psychologically people "internalise" the constraints put on them from outside. It's too cognitively expensive to calculate every time, whether this time you can get away with breaking the law. And so, yes, these laws become conventions, and eventually people respect them more or less automatically. (In fact it's the nature of all social animals to cache the results of power-struggles internally so that they don't keep fighting the same (losing) battles.)

And there are other constraints that then congeal within the system. I'm not going to invest in a company which is explicitly prospecting land it doesn't own because I know that in the long run, it won't work out. It's not that the police will come around and personally beat me. But the rightful land-owners will probably sue at some time and my company may end up with a fine and potential confiscation of their excavations.

The irony here is that right-libertarians are the first to sneer at communists and left-libertarian anarchist who explicitly recognise that they need people to adapt to their preferred systems (they just believe it's possible).

But the right-libertarian simultaneously believes two contradictory things. That human nature is immutably selfish and greedy, AND that property rights can be respected out of voluntary recognition of self-interest (despite the empirical evidence of hundreds of thousands of people incarcerated each year under threat of violence for self-interestedly violating property rights.)