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Author Topic: The dillemma of property and public interest  (Read 4111 times)
albert h n
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« on: July 04, 2013, 12:47:28 PM »

I would like to hear other's opinion on this subject.
Many political groups claim that a collective of people have the right to confiscate private property from some or all of its members to use for the "public interest."
Is there legal or moral basis for that claim? If not, is there legal or moral basis for claiming the opposite?

The story goes:
A man falls off a ledge. A group of citizens witness this and realize the man will die if they do not throw him a rope. A stranger with a rope walks by, but refuses to give up his rope...... do they as a group have the right to confiscate it to save the fallen man?

Or are the property rights of the one stranger more important than the life of another citizen?


Your thoughts?
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« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2013, 01:04:00 PM »

No, they do not have the right to seize property from Person A to save Person B.   Or even to save Persons B through Z.   

However, what I expect will happen is that the "mob" will seize the rope, save the person, and then fully compensate the rope-bearer for the violation of his property rights.    I'm not saying that's the right thing to do... I'm saying that's what will probably happen, and honestly I won't make too much of a stink over it if it does.    This sequence of events is probably the "least bad", and as long as recompense is made, everything turns out okay.

...unless they KILL the guy with the rope in the process of taking it from him.    That's an entirely different story.
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albert h n
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« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2013, 01:29:49 PM »


I am sure, since we are chatting on an anarchist forum, we both have the same gut feeling about this.
 But what law or what rule or what premise makes it true?
Otherwise libertarian and socialist arguments will forever run round and round.
Each side claiming his "gut" proves him right.
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« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2013, 01:38:25 PM »

I'll turn the question around:

What gives this mob the right to seize the property from one person against that person's will?   

Don't ask me what gives me the right to keep my property.  Explain what gives YOU the right to take it.  Unless you're saying that my property really isn't my property at all... that it somehow belongs partially or totally to some collective.    Then you'll have to explain THAT.

And if you say "social contract" will will track you down and initiate violence against you.

Quote
Otherwise libertarian and socialist arguments will forever run round and round.
This is going to happen regardless.
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Seth King
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« Reply #4 on: July 04, 2013, 04:38:16 PM »

No, they do not have the right to seize property from Person A to save Person B.   Or even to save Persons B through Z.   

However, what I expect will happen is that the "mob" will seize the rope, save the person, and then fully compensate the rope-bearer for the violation of his property rights.    I'm not saying that's the right thing to do... I'm saying that's what will probably happen, and honestly I won't make too much of a stink over it if it does.    This sequence of events is probably the "least bad", and as long as recompense is made, everything turns out okay.

...unless they KILL the guy with the rope in the process of taking it from him.    That's an entirely different story.

+1

Take the rope, then suffer the retribution later.
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albert h n
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« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2013, 08:36:51 AM »

Here is how I answered it on the mises south africa blog:


Further discussion of property rights versus public interest.
In a blog post dated April 24,2013
Piet le Roux states:
“A group of people walk along a ledge. They notice an injured man, ten meters below, who must have slipped and tumbled down. From what the group can tell, the injured man is in need of immediate assistance to save his life. However, due to the terrain they cannot reach him. A traveler comes along, carrying a rope. Someone from the group asks the traveler for his rope (with which the injured person can be reached), explaining the situation, but the traveler refuses to part with his rope (for no apparent reason) and proceeds on his way. The group, realising that it is likely that the injured person will die unless they obtain the immediate use of the rope, forcibly takes the rope from the traveler, assists the injured man, and returns the rope to the traveler.
It appears to me that the property of the traveler had been expropriated, at least temporarily, for some sort of public interest. Is this different, in principle, from other forms of expropriation governments might have in mind or commit? If someone can point me towards a discussion shedding light on the treatment of property in contexts like these, I’d appreciate it. My hunch is that the answer may lie somewhere along the lines of convention.”
……….
(MY RESPONSE:)
Forgive me for being a day late and a dollar short, but I think this concept is worth revisiting.
I do not have a degree in economics, so my arguments are going to be a little more down to earth and I might sound a little less scholarly. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My belief is that the message of Libertarianism and Austrian economics needs to be understandable and reachable to the less educated masses, like myself.
Experienced Austrians can have lengthy discussions with each other about smaller details of policy or theory, because they already have the vast majority of Austrian theory in their knowledge banks. We assume that we are all in somewhat agreement about the Austrian Business Cycle Theory or belief in things like the evils of government intervention.
But newcomers coming to this blog may not have that background, and I strongly believe that the “as yet unconvinced, but possible future Libertarians” are a bigger and more important audience. Sometimes our arguments need to be more basic because of that audience, especially knowing that most of them have had a vastly different indoctrination and experience than us.

So back to Piet:
I realize Piet, that at the time you wrote that blog post, you were preparing a response to the government initiating more legislation that might impact property rights. Besides that though, this is an eternal argument that should never cease. Constantly, new converts should be made aware of the bad consequences of losing property rights. For those that do not know; Libertarian theory holds that the individual who owns property should have those property rights protected from incursions by anybody. Anybody would include thieves, friends, neighbours, police, armies and governments. But it would be arrogant of us to just use that as an assumption in an argument. We need to constantly revisit, restate and defend our premise for the benefits of newcomers. Especially socialist leaning newcomers.
So it seems that your little scenario is to test private property rights versus the rights of the “public “or different sectors of the “public” like the under- trodden. I assume your example of the injured guy lying helpless at the bottom of the ledge represents one of these public groups. And the question on everybody’s mind is: “should the public” or “the government” have the right to suspend an individual’s property rights in order to help another needy citizen.
Your example is interesting, but way too simplistic to help illuminate such a complex issue.
Your scenario seems justified if a few things are assumed.
•   They guy at the bottom of the ledge is innocent of crime and got their by accident and will not do more harm if you save him. The scenario would not seem as right that the “public” could confiscate a rope from a private citizen to help another person who might be voluntarily strung out on meth, or who might have tried suicide, or who might be a pedophile or who was in the process of sabotaging the ledge to deprive the town of water killing hundreds by thirst. There are too many differences on the value scales to make one general all encompassing conclusion.
•   It is assumed that his life is in danger. It is not true that governments only confiscate property in life or death situations. They do it to open offices, buy cars, build stadia. What if the victim was not going to die? What if he only sprained his ankle? Does the group have the right to confiscate property for a mere sprained ankle? What if all he got was a small bruise? Who other than the owner of the property has the mathematical genius to calculate the relative gains against the relative loss? There is no formula that you can plug in saying that saving a life is worth sacrificing three ropes or one ladder, but a broken leg is only worth one rope and then a sprained ankle is worth less than the rope so there will be no confiscation. That’s not possible. Mises, a long time ago proved that socialists governments have no way of calculating costs and rewards accurately.
•   You have to assume that that is the last rope on earth and that it is the ONLY way left to save that person. It would not apply if there was a rope factory next door or a fireman with a ladder two minutes away. It assumes that there are no sticks, no boats, no helicopters, no way that all the people could tie all their shirts together and make a rope. Under such conditions maybe confiscation might be an option. Surely you are trying to formulate rules based on extreme circumstances when in reality such limited option cannot and will not ever exist.
•   In real life, when a government confiscates by taxation, they NEVER repay. So the option of just borrowing the rope and returning it after saving the guy is not realistic. The government always keeps and uses up the entire resource. So the group does not ask the guy if they can use the rope temporarily, they are expecting him to donate the rope forever. Bastiat wrote a treatise on “That which is seen and that which is not seen” Governments only publish and advertise the superficial visible benefits. You read about the shiny new bridge or the life that was saved and everybody applauds and reelects the politician. They make it seem that the money just fell out of heaven at no cost. But nobody calculates what benefit would have come from that tax dollar had it not been confiscated-that cost which is not seen.
•   You use the example of a rope as your representative of private property because it is an example of something superfluous that the owner can afford to lose without harm to himself. What if his property was life and death important to him? What if they confiscated his insulin pump or his asthma inhaler or demanded his kidney to save the life of an unknown stranger? What if the group believes that the injured person is a holy person or a king? Are they then allowed to create death panels and decide the traveler’s life is less worthy than that of the king; therefore they have the right to confiscate his heart to transplant into the king?
What if all these bystanders had ropes of their own, but did not want to get their ropes dirty?  Should they have the right to force the traveler to lose his property to protect their own? Does this create privileged classes? Should governments have the right to “serve” a needy sector with public tax dollars but exempt themselves from paying into that account? Are some animals more equal than others as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm?
•   Your story assumes that the traveler refuses to give up his rope for flippant reasons. Maybe he needs the rope to catch dinner for his wife and child, but if you offered to buy the rope from him for enough money to feed his family he might have said yes. What if they offered to just rent it for an hour and then return it? But what if he really does not have a good reason today, but he might have a vital use for that rope in the future? Are you implying that only property that has a good reason attached “right now” must be protected, but any property you have built up to save, should be subject to confiscation? Should governments be allowed to confiscate retirement accounts as long as they have a panel that in their opinion not yours, decides there is a better use for it?
•   Your story also does not follow through the logical consequences. After this public group decides they have a higher need for the traveler’s property, but some date in future he is now in need. Let’s say he is in the proverbial bottom of the ditch. Should he die because he has no rope anymore? Can he now send his relatives to go steal a rope from one of those other citizens and be immune from prosecution? Can he steal two ropes, a car, a helicopter? Does it mean we have no right to cheap property but our expensive property rights should be protected? What if the act of taxing his source of income out of existence now leaves the traveler destitute? What if they confiscate his plough or his bow and arrow? They save the other guy, but this traveler now becomes a ward of the state and has to be fed with taxpayer money forever. Was that a worthwhile exchange or not? How will you ever calculate it?
•   Of course it is fine for a few of these citizens to band together, sign a contract  and decide to appoint a person to watch for each other and set aside a rope that they own to be used in emergency. Because they own it together they can decide together who may or may not benefit. But NEVER do they have the right to accost an outsider who did not sign that contract and force him to contribute to their favorite cause.
•   Also, another all too common scenario in real life: So these people on the ledge identify a new “need” for citizens to help other “people prone to falling off the ledge”. They go around and collect all the ropes in town, to create a new Rope Charity” They confiscate 90% of all these ropes for themselves, for their retirement funds, for their lavish offices and cars and medical insurance for themselves and their families… and maybe a few close friends . And then the next time a person falls off the ledge, there is nothing but a six centimeter string left, so the whole town is poorer (except for the bureaucrats and the politburo) and the victim dies anyway
Of course I will not be able to give enough examples to categorically prove that the survival of civilization depends on absolute protection of private property rights. It is not a mathematical formula that can be solved. One can only take the argument out to extremes and make an argument for reductio ad absurdum.
So the point I am trying to make is that what an individual owns and legally earns should “belong” to him without ANY strings attached. That is his right. Consequently he has no right to own or take something that is owned or earned by another. If those rights are compromised it leads to theft and slavery and impoverishment, even if only to a degree. The tendency would be for that degree to constantly encroach (Read “The Road to Serfdom by Hayek) That means my friend, that at the end of the day there is no such thing as the “rights” of the public or the “rights” of the government or the “rights” of any group to property they don’t own. Only voluntary contributions.
We may CHOOSE to contribute to insurance to protect ourselves. We may buy into group insurance to protect our family or all the members of our club or our city or our country. We may CHOOSE to contribute to a church or a PRIVATE charity and we have the right to be choosy which organizations get our money. But we have a right to opt out at any time from such a commitment and NOBODY has the right to force us to buy insurance, to donate to a cause or a church or a charity or to bow to the government religion of the day.
It would be “nice” if everybody donated to every charity, but it can never be forced. ONLY the owner of something has the right to place it somewhere on a value scale above and below something else. NOBODY else has the right to make that decision for another unless they first legitimately buy that property from them.
On a historical note; in the 1800s before ”The New Deal” the government of the USA saw as its duty to protect private property rights and to use limited government to provide armies and law enforcement and courts. The largest industry in the USA was agriculture. The second largest industry was PRIVATE charitable organizations. People were not dying in the streets for lack of bureaucrats. Because people were taxed less it was possible to make and keep more money. Rich people are more able to donate to charity than poor people.  There were hundreds and thousands of free clinics, free asylums, free schools, free colleges etc. It was only when the government started encroaching on this industry that it started shrinking to the smaller role we recognize today. After all, who can compete with the government?
We stupidly CHOOSE to create governments to protect those rights for us, but inevitably they become power hungry and infringe on our rights and property –always in the name of some needy group or other. Have you noticed that socialist governments that feel it is their duty to supply government services to multiple charities will NEVER be able to supply the need of every single needy citizen? So by definition, there will be brought into being certain tribunals or death panels, to whom will be given the right of deciding who gets and who doesn’t get the loot. Have you also noted that every time there is a regime change, the “favorite charities” change and the things the previous regime felt were indispensable are now left to rot, in favor of a new set of indispensables. Have you noticed how the agencies like the army, the police, the secret service etc. that are there to keep the government in power is NEVER closed or noticeably curtailed, no matter how liberal or conservative the new regime.
Have you also seen how “crony capitalism” plays into the emotions of the fleeced taxpayer? Every time the newly anointed leader decides that “orphans” or “cripples” or “sick and ugly people” need taxpayer help, by sheer coincidence, a whole cadre of related businesses are created to serve this newly selected “cause” - with money fleeced from the taxpayers. Does it surprise you that these contracts are awarded to the friends of the newly elected leader? Or that 95cents out of every collected tax Rand goes into administration and barely 5cents make it to the suffering recipient?
After too long a time the public becomes addicted and indoctrinated enough to where they forget that there ever was such a thing as private charities and church sponsored hospitals and orphanages and they get to believe that if it were not for the beloved government that these poor victims would all starve to death.
It is falsely believed that unless the government does something- NOBODY will do it.
And in order to build in continuity and self-preservation, these governments fund (with your tax money) a campaign to indoctrinate the public into feeling sorry for the needy and how “society” (minus the bureaucrats who exempt themselves) OWE them and that these citizens because of various NEEDS are elevated to more worthy citizens than the rest of us plebes. You will hear the words “fairness” and “inequality” and “discrimination” bandied around a lot. These are code words for “my property needs to be protected but because you are not in the ruling class, your property is not really totally your own.”
- and therefore they claim these classes of privileged citizens  have a “right “to someone else’s property. That is how governments ensure their own survival.
I rest my case.
I think it was Milton Friedman that said: “A country that puts equality before freedom will have neither”
Albert Nelmapius
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« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2013, 08:48:58 AM »

Well I'm an amoralist realist, so I just say take the damn rope and carry on.

I'm of the view that there are no objective property rights, and that while private property is useful for the general business of daily life, there's going to arise situations (such as this one) where under the NAP it's more utilitarian to violate it.

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« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2013, 09:08:14 PM »

MAYBE if we can get to the point where society steals 0% of my work-life instead of 50% I'd give a shit about 'life-boat' scenarios THAT NEVER HAPPEN (statistically).    As long as I am being stolen from I don't care how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  What if, what if, what if?   I believe the powers that be actually encourage this kind of in-group fighting/doubt-casting because as long as we are attacking each others ideas we are not attacking 'them'.
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« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2013, 07:33:08 AM »

Many political groups claim that a collective of people have the right to confiscate private property from some or all of its members to use for the "public interest."
Is there legal or moral basis for that claim? If not, is there legal or moral basis for claiming the opposite?

Many collectives claim they have the right to confiscate and murder.  When it comes down to it, all they seem to care about is majority agreement and capability.   I've seen a room full of college students make the claim it would be moral to kill me and take all my stuff, so long as they agreed on it.   I gave up on the morality of people that day. 
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« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2013, 09:35:14 AM »

Honestly, I didn't read the original poster's lengthy actual response a few posts up.

I am not a philosopher and have no intention of becoming one.     If it takes THAT many words to explain "Don't take things from people, and if you DO take something you have to give it back and make it up to them"  then something is deeply and seriously wrong with people. 

People who need a philosophical treatise to "prove" that disturb me greatly.

But in all fairness, if this was part of some coursework, then the teacher was probably more interested in seeing your brain work; like how a math teacher wants you to "prove" simple geometric theorems just to gauge your understanding.  Let's hope that's what it is.
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JustSayNoToStatism
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« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2013, 12:05:46 AM »

Systems of property rights and the legal rules that go with them are not absolutes handed down from deities. They are created by humans, and change over time. The economics of law is a pretty interesting field, but unfortunately doesn't get much attention from libertarian economists. If we lived in a world where DROs and courts had to obey market forces, all of the theory could (or would, in my opinion) be put into practice. At the moment though it's irrelevant because laws aren't made to maximize welfare of people subscribing to them, they're imposed on people against their will and made to maximize the wealth of the scum who write them.

Anyways... the point of all this is that no one is objectively right or wrong in these weird gray areas. A polycentric legal system is about minimizing costs. They'll find ways to settle these petty disputes as cheaply (peacefully) as possible. The assumptions made in the economics of law won't be valid assumptions until we have a competitive market.
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albert h n
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« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2013, 10:57:05 AM »

Yes, Justsayno.
I agree, in my opinion the "social contract" part of the argument is spurious, and based on fuzzy concepts and recent statist laws. But the private property part has been part of legal rights since the Magna Carta in the 1200s. My post above tries to break down the fallacies.

I was just hoping somebody would enlighten me on the legal basis claimed for the "social contract" I probably came to the wrong website for that point of view, I probably should have asked the socialists and Marxists
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« Reply #12 on: July 27, 2013, 06:39:37 PM »

Would I consider the theft of the man's rope just? No, but whose going to stop a mob?

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