Some thoughts on recent issues…

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Murali

Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    Some brief replies on Lockean/Nozickian lines.  Bite on what you like.

    –If you don’t own yourself, who owns you?  If no one owns you, may I?  If not, why not?

    –The comments about urinating/defecating are silly.  We own property in land because without that institution, there would be no reason or incentive for anyone to participate in agriculture or any other form of land improvement.

    It is our long-range planning faculty, and not or excretory faculty, that makes property worth having.  We alone among animals can conceive and execute original, complex, long-range plans. In fact, that’s nearly the only thing we’re good at, compared to other animals (I might give you language, I suppose).  We have property so that even when we are living in close quarters with other people, we all have some reasonable chance of forming plans and seeing our plans to fruition.  When we execute our planning faculty, we really have attached a meaningful part of ourselves to these inanimate objects — our minds.

    Recognizing this is a big part both of economic welfare and of individual human dignity.  Provided that our plans are carried out in ways that do not harm others, we by definition increase the total stock of economic good available to mankind.  (We can set distribution aside for the moment.)  Forming a plan and acting on it is one aspect of living the life that is proper to man.

    –The principle of transfer doesn’t disappear just because you can imagine some alternatives.  If you’re going to argue against it, then you must give reasons why a particular alternative is better.

    You can’t just wave away the transferring parties’ intentions with a bare, unsupported intention of your own.  If you could, then I could do likewise, and I’d reinstate the transfer.   And by what right would you contradict me?  (Might, I would remind you, does not make right.)

    That’s why the burden of proof is not with the people conducting the transfer — they’re already content to go forward — but with the outsider who says it should not.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

       We own property in land because without that institution, there would be no reason or incentive for anyone to participate in agriculture or any other form of land improvement.

      I actually agree with this kind of justification (see my link to Schmidtz’s justification) I just dont think it particularly fits well with the Nozickean/Lockean framework very well Nozick tries to sneak something very similar in relation to the proviso, but such an argument could do its own work without the other Lockean blather. Besides even if my memory fails me and Locke actualy made the “incentives” argument, it is a separate one from the stuff about self ownership and what not.

      If you don’t own yourself, who owns you?  If no one owns you, may I?  If not, why not?

      Maybe people are just not the kinds of things which can be counted as any kind of property. Or maybe God owns all of us..

      Also, if I own my self, can I sell myself in slavery to you? If not, why not? and how does that square with owning myself?

      Also, isnt assuming that I have prima facie rightful control over some areas of personal action kind of begging the question? i.e. wouldnt it be theoretically better if we could arrive at personal and economic liberties without presupposing either?

      Also, the concept of ownership is not a simple concept. Presupposing that such a complex institution like ownership and property exist without any real kind of argument to the effect is not. And the whole metaphysical-ness of the argument just weirds me out. Too much of trying to extract ought from is.

      The principle of transfer doesn’t disappear just because you can imagine some alternatives.  If you’re going to argue against it, then you must give reasons why a particular alternative is better.

      You can’t just wave away the transferring parties’ intentions with a bare, unsupported intention of your own.  If you could, then I could do likewise, and I’d reinstate the transfer.   And by what right would you contradict me?  (Might, I would remind you, does not make right.)

      That’s why the burden of proof is not with the people conducting the transfer — they’re already content to go forward — but with the outsider who says it should not.

      Its not so simple. The question of justice arises when people make conflicting claims against eachother. Our task is to find out what kinds of claims must give way to others.

      On the one hand is one person (call him Bill) wanting to make one kind of transfer and on the other is the state (or any other party) wanting Bill to make another kind of transfer.

      Situation 1:

      Bill wants to give the money to Ted. The state wants a 5% cut out of any marginal  transfer above $5000 so as to fund various public goods defence, currency infrastructure.

      Situation 2:

      Bill wants to pay Ted to kill his wife. The state doesnt want the transaction to happen.

      Situation 3:

      Bill wants to give the money to Ted. The state wants all of it

      Situation 4:

      Bill wants to give the money to Ted. The moneylender (whom Bill has a debt towards) wants half of it.

      As we can see, things are rarely so straightforward. In some kinds of conflicting claims the state has a better case than in others. It is not straightforwardly obvious why Bill’s intentions for his money have any kind of presumption in its favour such that any kind of alternative transfer principle has a burden of proof to satisfy.

      And at least in situation 4, what Bill wants to do with the money contradicts what his obligations seem to be.

      Also, the principle of just transfer whatever it turns out to be is part of what constitutes the institution of property. To say that “the money is mine and therefore it is up to me to do what I wish with it” too easily glosses over what it means for something to be mine and what the implications are. Property rights are not single things but bundles of rights which can be logically separated. The case of adverse possession laws are a case in point. Singapore seems to have abolished its adverse possession provisions while the US hasnt. Of course they are both roughly private-ish, but nothing in Lockean theory about property gets us to settling something like this.

      To cut my rambling short, the rules of property should be evaluated as a whole.

      Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali
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        says:

        Self-ownership/homesteading:

        I’d happily tie the incentives argument to the self-ownership one.  We, as self-owners, all desire that things go well for our selves.  A system that rewards work, thrift, and trade is one that will achieve this.  A system that rewards theft, laziness, and isolation will not.  Under the latter sort of system, only a few selves will do well, and most will do badly.

        I don’t believe Locke made this argument, but it’s certainly built on Lockean premises.

        If you don’t own yourself, could I own you?

        Maybe people are just not the kinds of things which can be counted as any kind of property.

        Do you have any sort of relationship to your self then?  Or is that a meaningless question?

        I’m not worried about the theoretical prospect of anyone selling themselves into slavery.  The self could easily be inalienable property, from which only some by-products can be sold — things like time and labor, in limited quantities.

        How limited?  Which kinds of labor contracts are okay, and which shade into slavery?  That’s where theory ends and public policy begins.  I’m okay with that.

        Transfer

        In each of your cases, you changed some particulars about the transaction — thus meeting, or attempting to meet, the burden of proof whose existence I asserted.  In those examples, you did not meet the Lockean idea of transfer with mere assertion.  You met it with evidence that rebuts it, in some cases and for some reasons.  That’s fine with me, and welcome even, because it agrees entirely with what I was arguing.

         Report

  2. Avatar Pub Editor
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    says:

    I stuble at the threshold.

    <i>And please don’t give me the claptrap from the declaration of independence. If you guys genuinely thought that the offences so listed were worth violently overthrowing a government over, then you guys wouldn’t be sitting here blogging. Instead you would have joined a radical militia by now.</i>

    The American revolutionaries had both (1) grievances and (2) a plan going forward. The colonies already had established colonial legislatures, which within each new state assumed whatever necessary functions would otherwise have been performed by the government of the United Kingdom.  The proposed solution to the revolutionaries’ grievances was straightforward: separation. The radical militias of today have far less of a plan (among other deficiencies and errors).

    In a similar way, I would argue that the people of East Pakistan were justified in armed rebellion against the government of Pakistan in 1971, when the Pakistani government was engaging in atrocities in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in an attempt to crush groups opposed to the government of Pakistan.  In sum: (i) the rebels had grievances, (ii) democratic forms of redress were making no progress, (iii) the oppressive government had troops on the ground terrorizing the citizenry, and (iv) the plan for reform was straightforward: separation of East Pakistan from West Pakistan.

    To be a bit more responsive to your main point, this post by John Quiggin at Crooked Timber touches on some of the same themes as your post, and at the same level of generality, I think.Report

  3. Avatar Pub Editor
    Ignored
    says:

    If you guys genuinely thought that the offences so listed were worth violently overthrowing a government over, then you guys wouldn’t be sitting here blogging.

    Curiously ad hominem, it seems. Also: assumes facts not shown–namely, that the present conditions in the USA are sufficiently comparable to the conditions in 1776 as to warrant the same response.Report

  4. Avatar Murali
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    says:

    The American revolutionaries had both (1) grievances

    Hardly. The american revolutionaries were the  enlightenment equivalent of the black helicopter folk. They had paranoid delusions about the government coming to take away their freedoms when the british government was constantly giving them more freedoms than they historically gave any other colony.

    Also thanks for the linkReport

  5. Avatar Roger
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    says:

    I agree completely that property rights are extremely useful conventions. Attempts to ground them in natural rights seems pretentious.Report

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