Natural Rights, Naturally

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    In this a thief differs from a trader, who is — or at least should be — happy to see success both in his own plans and in everyone else’s.

    “It’s not enough that we win; everyone else must lose.” — Larry EllisonReport

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      And by his own admission that makes him what, class?

      Mr. Schilling, care to answer?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        A business owner.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          Your critiques of me always begin with the premise that I am an apologist for society as it currently exists. That’s why they always miss the mark.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            The main concern of a business is to outdo its competitors. This can be pursued in both fair ways (providing better or cheaper goods) and foul (denying them supplies, spreading lies about them or FUD in general.) Many of the most successful business have largely gone the foul route, and nothing in the libertarian project would alter that.

            If we agree on that, there’s not a lot more to discuss.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              I agree with it all, provided only that we strike the two words “nothing in.”

              But you probably wrote it that way for easy editing.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I did write it so that none of the foul means involved rent-seeking or other abuse of government power.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                No you didn’t.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I specifically did, choosing real-world examples.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I’m genuinely curous as to how the libertarian project would alter that.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Liberty60 says:

                (Hanley’ll know).

                I’m beginning to think libertarianism is flexible enough to accommodate all these types of objections. Still, it’s hard to see how market-based incentives could correct a problem emerging directly from market-based incentives.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Stillwater says:

                Still, it’s hard to see how market-based incentives could correct a problem emerging directly from market-based incentives.

                That would make the theory that market-based incentives are the best policy to encourage fair competition, distribution of resources and wealth non-falsifiable and therefore invalid.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to M.A. says:

                M.A.:

                And yet here we are with market based economies eclipsing centrally planned economies. If our our system sucks so badly why did communism fail? It is amazing that liberals can take a statement like Ellison’s, “It’s not enough that we win; everyone else must lose ” and turn it into a rant about business. Clearly some folks around here missed Econ 101.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to M.A. says:

                Debatable. We see market based economies imploding every year because the less regulated a “market based” economy is, the less real growth it creates and the more cancerous, malignant pseudo-growth expressed as “bubbles” we see instead.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to M.A. says:

                M.A.

                Which market based economy are you referring to? It is easy to talk in generalities. Take Greece for example, it is a fine example of of a socialist welfare state that has reached it’s ultimate end or take our own people’s republic of California which is failing as well.Report

              • Avatar Josef Goebbels in reply to M.A. says:

                [Comment deleted by limerick by Mark T.]
                For Mark to defend Scott
                Takes quite a lot
                But a stranger went Godwin
                Thinking he could win
                And now his comment exists not.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to M.A. says:

                I smell a deletion-by-limerick coming on…Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to M.A. says:

                BTW, MarkT, esqtvd sent you an email about a spelling error. Perhaps caught in your filter.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to M.A. says:

                Huh. I didn’t seem to get it, even in my filter. To which account did you send it?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to M.A. says:

                name88 at gmail [note—not his real email]Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to M.A. says:

                Ahh…with this thing ED set up, it looks like I will have to start checking that account.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to M.A. says:

                As if we have but two choices- Maoist communes or Galtian libertopia.

                For the 60 odd years of the New Deal framework, America had a mixed economy of free enterprise balanced by government regulation, prgressive taxation, strong trade unions and a social safety net.

                There were recessions and booms, but no panics or systemic meltdowns; the middle class prospered and grew, and we were the envy of the world.

                To rant Burkean yet again; it wasn’t broke so why did we fix it?Report

              • Avatar Josef Goebbels in reply to M.A. says:

                It wasn’t broken but it prevented the 0.01% from perverting the system beyond a certain point.

                So, the 0.01% had to get rid of the regulations in their way, like Glass-Steagall.

                Once that was gone it was open season on the middle class. Economic Kristallnacht brought to you by the GOP Brownshirts, finished on the night that their lackeys in government including GWB signed on to taxpayer funded bailouts.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              Mike,

              In a properly regulated economy, that is a free market, producers are cooperative groups of employees, employers, entrepreneurs and investors that try to solve problems for consumers (all of us) better than competitors. Lies and physical interference with supply acquisition are against the rules. Free enterprise is a positive sum cooperative competitive game that creates prosperity by solving consumer problems.

              Where do you think prosperity comes from?Report

  2. Avatar M.A. says:

    In this context it’s easy to see why movements like OWS develop today. Many of those who are on the top in terms of income and wealth in society have operated in ways that can easily be described as thievery. Their continued amassing of wealth is predicated on the loss of wealth and income from the lower and middle class, who rarely get to see a fair and equitable share of the profit from their labors.Report

  3. Avatar bill woolsey says:

    While I don’t know what Ellison had in mind exactly, but it is not uncommon for entrepreneurs to downplay the benefits to their customers and suppliers and instead focus on their competitors. We want to exand our market share at their expense, taking their customers and suppliers.

    Those the entrepreneur is trading with (the customers and suppliers,) may well benefit, but they are treated as background. Those they are not directly trading with, the other entrepreneurs in the same field, become their focus.

    This is natural due to the incentives generated by creative destruction. The carrot is profit and wealth generated by introducing products customers find better than those of competitors as well as finding ways of producing them them with fewer resources. The stick is losses and the loss of wealth if other firms come up with products that customers find better or else figure out ways to produce a simiar product with fewer resources.

    The stick is fear of the competitors. The carrot is a reward for doing better relative to competitors. And so, it is natural to want to “win against” competitors.

    That the system of creative destruction generates products that customers find better and better, and that using fewer resources to produce any one product frees up those resources to produce other products, so that the consequence is more and more porduction of whatever customers want to buy the most is just not front and center.

    It is hard to ignore the motivation to produce what the customers like better. It is entirely possible to be ignorant of the “freeing up resources from producing any one good results in more total production.”

    And so, perhaps Ellison is a parasite, but I don’t think that this quote implies that he is.

    If competitors are destroyed, and they switch to some other line of business, they become “suppliers” in the broadest sense. Helping to produce other goods, particularly consumer goods and services, that the entrepreneur or those supplying resources to his production process, such as his workers, can use personally.

    Does that really mean they are “destoyed?” Of course not. They just do something else.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to bill woolsey says:

      Cosigned.

      To affirm that a business should never outcompete another business leads very quickly down a rabbit hole. Were it true, we would seem obliged to direct consumers to purchase things they didn’t value as much — this (or straight-up government subsidy, or some combination of the two) is the only way we could vindicate the right of a failing business never to fail.Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Competition between equal competitors is one thing.

        I would argue that in today’s US and worldwide markets, we do not often see competition between equal competitors. A local competitor is bound by local laws; a large multinational can get around these laws by moving factories to where those laws don’t exist. A smaller competitor lacks access to certain economies of scale (the ability to forcefully bargain for discounts from suppliers on large orders) and lacks the ability to get some suppliers to provide product in a timely manner, where a large competitor can “lock down” the supply chain – even absent an actual vertical monopoly – by simply placing large enough orders to deny supply chain access to smaller competitors and demanding that, as the largest customer, all their orders be given priority.

        The financial markets can only be described today in terms of fraud. Fraudulent securities, fraudulently represented securities, and not a whit of physical value produced by anyone in those markets.

        Executive compensation is one of the best examples of why the public sees large scale businesses as operating in thievery. The rank and file workers are paid very little; I know many people who work in retail, and a single worker’s retail wage even for a 25-year veteran is not enough to support a family. Even worse, retail workers have to work multiple jobs and forego any sort of health care coverage because companies try to hire as many workers to part-time only schedules as possible. Instead of working a full 40 hours a week at a company with health coverage included, they’re working 20-30 for 2 or even 3 companies, making 10-25% less per hour than the company’s standard “full time” wage and trying to juggle both work schedules. Meanwhile, companies get into financial shenanigans and rigged balance sheets show the companies “losing money” while at the same moment CEO’s and other high management shuffle between companies collecting executive compensation from stock options and golden parachutes in the 8-9 figure range.

        Unfair competition and fraud or thievery doesn’t end there, though. The right wing radio shows I’ve been examining recently have spent a lot of time turning the word “Solyndra” into an epithet, an example of, in their words, “how Obama’s cronyism and investing taxpayer money into so-called green companies didn’t work.” The reality is a little more complex and illustrates my point; Solyndra was producing solar panels in the US, under US environmental and labor laws, and when they were invested in, their panels were at least close to market parity. What caused Solyndra to have problems was twofold. The first problem was a worldwide drop in the price of silicon, which dropped the price of competing, traditional solar cell production. The second and far more serious problem was deliberate dumping of solar cell product at below production cost by several Chinese companies like Suntech and Yingli, subsidized by the Chinese communist government in a deliberate attempt to run US companies competing in the solar cell market out of business. I should probably point out that under US law, dumping product at below production cost to drive competitors out of business is illegal; but due to bad trade policy, the Chinese companies were able to dodge US law and engage in completely unfair competition.Report

        • Avatar Bill Woolsey in reply to M.A. says:

          I don’t think “competition between equals,” is relevent.

          The point of the system is for the better firms to expand and less sucessful firms to contract, freeing up resources to do other things.

          Where does equality come into play?

          As for “unfair” competition, if the costs are lower for one firm, then that is a reason that they should expand. For example, it is very unfair that someone growing oranges is South Florida is less likely to have frost damange that the orange grower in Michigan. It is competely unfair how the prospective orange manufacturer in Michigan has to cover up the trees with glass.

          I think lying about competitors is wrong.

          But I don’t think protecting competitors from competition is every valuable. And the competition is both competition for suppliers and for customers at the same time. How could it not be?

          It is simply false that the largest firm is able to outcompete smaller firms. Big businesses can fall victim to smaller rivals.

          Protecting existing business against unfair competiton mostly reduces real wages. The owners of the protected business earn higher incomes at the expense of their suppliers (like their workers) and their customers. When this is write large as a national policy, the workers and the customers are the same people, and so the result is lower real wages. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily raise income from owning businesses either. What an owner gains from having their firm protected, can not only be partly offset by the higher prices of the products of other firms who produce the consumer goods they buy. These losses can be greater than any gain.Report

          • Avatar M.A. in reply to Bill Woolsey says:

            I don’t think “competition between equals,” is relevent.

            The point of the system is for the better firms to expand and less sucessful firms to contract, freeing up resources to do other things.

            Where does equality come into play?

            Maybe I should change that phrasing to “competition between companies that play by the same rules” instead. Would that be better?

            As for “unfair” competition, if the costs are lower for one firm, then that is a reason that they should expand. For example, it is very unfair that someone growing oranges is South Florida is less likely to have frost damange that the orange grower in Michigan. It is competely unfair how the prospective orange manufacturer in Michigan has to cover up the trees with glass.

            You are making a false analogy. The difference in difficulty growing oranges in South Florida vs Michigan is like the difference in farming maple syrup in Michigan as opposed to South Florida. It is not a legal difference, it is a natural one based on the biology of trees.

            What I was referring to is the legal differences that make for unfair competition. Companies in the USA have to play by fair rules for their employees, meeting OSHA standards, meeting fair hiring practices, meeting labor abuse law practices, meeting accounting requirements, meeting Intellectual Property law requirements, meeting wage and compensation law. Companies in China have to obey almost no regulations whatsoever and many of the companies from China – my Solyndra example being one of many – receive a large amount of subsidization from the Chinese government with the express purpose of driving non-Chinese companies out of the marketplace.

            It is simply false that the largest firm is able to outcompete smaller firms. Big businesses can fall victim to smaller rivals.

            Not so. A famous case from two years ago; Apple deliberately caused a shortage of available LCD screens by over-ordering capacity for the iPad. The result is that several competing Android tablet models were delayed to market by approximately 6 months; the factory owners repeatedly confirmed that Apple had demanded their orders be given priority even when filed after the orders from the Android tablet makers. The history of the markets have proven time and again that your assertion “Big businesses can fall victim to smaller rivals” can happen only as an exception to normal operation, not as a rule.

            The rest of your post was supply-side theory not based in reality and therefore not worthy of response.Report

            • Avatar bill woolsey in reply to M.A. says:

              Supply side theory?

              As opposed to what? Demand side theory?

              What theory says that protecting competitors leads to higher incomes for everyone else?

              Anyway, I think that the differences in regulatory environment, whether sensible or not, are just exactly like “natural differences.”

              Those firms for whom the regulatory differences matter less in the U.S. compared to those to whom they matter more here in the U.S. will expand. Those for whom the regulatory burdens matter more, compared to other firms here in the U.S. will contract.

              In China, those firms where the freedom from any regulatory burden matters more compared to other Chinese firms will expand. Those firms where the absense of any regulatory burden matters more compared to other Chinese firms will contract.

              If the regulations actually benefit Americans, then we will get the advantages at lower cost in consumer goods.

              If the regulations don’t really benefit Americans, then they will be slightly less harmful.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to bill woolsey says:

                What theory says that protecting competitors leads to higher incomes for everyone else?

                Historical reality shows that monopoly control of any industry leads inevitably to lower real wages for workers and higher income disparity between low, middle and upper classes.

                Those firms for whom the regulatory differences matter less in the U.S. compared to those to whom they matter more here in the U.S. will expand. Those for whom the regulatory burdens matter more, compared to other firms here in the U.S. will contract.

                And historical reality shows that the working middle class of the US has seen lowered real wages as a result of asymmetrical competition and overseas movement of jobs to places where sensible regulation does not exist and slave-level wages and working conditions are condoned by the local governments.

                In China, those firms where the freedom from any regulatory burden matters more compared to other Chinese firms will expand. Those firms where the absense of any regulatory burden matters more compared to other Chinese firms will contract.

                And you are just wrong. Chinese companies have benefitted from Chinese currency manipulation – illegal in the world market but they do it anyways – Chinese predatory subsidization and product-dumping onto the world markets, and the sociopathic Chinese system’s complete lack of any rights and protections for workers whatsoever.

                You can follow an economic theory completely divorced from reality if you want to, but I’m not willing to follow you off that cliff of insanity.Report

              • Avatar bill woolsey in reply to M.A. says:

                I see…

                Your theory is protections trade union propaganda.

                Anyway, I agree that protecting firms from competitors (giving them a monopoly) results in higher prices and lower wages.

                For what it is worth, my “theory” isn’t really called supply side. Just the orthodoxy.

                Also, when China pegs its currency to the dollar, it isn’t doing anything illegal. If the Federal Reserve would do its job, there would be plenty of demand in the U.S., regardless of whether China chooses to peg its currency to the dollar.Report

              • Avatar Josef Goebbels in reply to bill woolsey says:

                If you repeat the lie that the ultra rich are job creators often enough, eventually the people will believe it…Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to M.A. says:

                M.A.,

                Your comments seem to be based almost entirely upon wives tale version of economics.

                CEO salaries don’t drive worker salaries. You operate on some odd zero sum fallacy. Wage rates are based upon supply and demand within an economy based upon productivity. And CEOs may be rent seeking, but they still make less than the average basketball player or pro football player.

                You assume our rules and regulations are inherently correct and others are inherently exploitative.

                You are being tribalistic, focusing on the results of the extremely privileged American, rather than the truly needy poor of other nations. To the extent that globalism helps the worlds poor relative to the fortunate Westerner, it is hard to argue that we aren’t seeing more economic progress now than ever before. More humans emerged out of poverty in numbers and in proportion in the last decade than ever before in history. We should celebrate.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Roger says:

                This is correct. Not to mention that if jobs are really moving overseas because of regulations at home, relaxing regulations would bring the jobs back right?

                Consider what the alternatives the USG might have.

                1. Complete protectionist closed economy: Companies are not allowed to move overseas, heavy tarriffs on foregin goods etc.

                Of course, things will be expensive to make in the US, cost of living will increase and the poor will be the worst hit. Also, since stuff made in the US would be so expensive, you won’t be able to export it. So, there will be a massive loss of manufacturing jobs. You may want to build a border wall to start keeping your people in if that happens as moving to another country would start looking very attractive. Economic growth will take a heavy hit, but that is not a big problem for certain kinds of leftists. After all, if there is sufficient wealth in the country to keep everyone fed, clothed and sheltered, why pursue economic growth?

                2. You could make it such that the US is the only game in town by basically bombing China, India and Southeast Asia back to the Stone-Age. Of course things may still be more expensive as there are no more cheap imports, and of course there will be fewer exports as everyone else’s wealth has been bombed out of existence, so there is no one left to purchace any exports.

                Of course, if you think either option is unpalatable, then you are stuck with there being foreign competition. Given global competition, if the US wanted to reduce unemployment, it would have to get into the game of attracting businesses to relocate to the US. The US is already a fairly expensive place to operate, so easing op on a number of regulations would go a long way to making it more attractive for businesses to set up operations.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

                Here’s to Eduardo Saverin, Singapore’s latest jillionaire. We eagerly anticipate Murali’s full report.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

                Here’s to Eduardo Saverin, Singapore’s latest jillionaire. We eagerly anticipate Murali’s full report.

                I was expecting something like this the moment the US started imposing taxes on incomes of Americans who’s businesses are subjected to lower taxes abroad. Jet li already relocated to Singapore because he wanted to send his daughters through a Singaporean education system. Once Singapore liberalises its more draconian laws on gay rights, freedom of speech and assembly, (and as long as Singapore keeps the regulatory environment clean and simple and the taxes low) we will be seeing a lot more Saverins in this country.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

                It is almost ironic or even hypocritical that some americans find no problem with foreigners becoming american citizens for the economic opportunities they find in America, but go all blood and soil on people when they leave America for countries which offer them even greater opportunities.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Murali says:

                Murali: While you might end up with more money than you otherwise would have had, nobody is going to call refusal to pay child support an example of “economic growth”.

                Moving to a different country for the express purpose of dodging taxes is equivalent.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Roger says:

                CEO salaries don’t drive worker salaries. You operate on some odd zero sum fallacy. Wage rates are based upon supply and demand within an economy based upon productivity.

                Income inequality is a very real problem whether you choose to admit it or not.

                And CEOs may be rent seeking, but they still make less than the average basketball player or pro football player.

                Which makes a great argument that professional sports salaries are out of control, especially when nobody can remember the last time a sports team paid for their own stadium rather than holding up the taxpayers at gunpoint to build one out of government funding.

                I wonder where all the small government republicans are to complain about the waste of money on stadiums when a single player’s salary could probably pay to build the new one? Or complaining about wasting taxpayer money subsidizing the farm leagues for basketball and football, while other sports like baseball have to pay for their own?

                You assume our rules and regulations are inherently correct and others are inherently exploitative.

                Not all of our rules and regulations are inherently correct, but many of them are. And it is a factual point that the “rules” and regulations, such as they exist in countries such as China, are inherently exploitative at the whim of the communist party or the totalitarian regimes of other countries with similar dynamics. We’ve waited since Nixon for open trade to result in change in China’s policies, and we’re still waiting. A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again expecting different results, which makes our policy with respect to nations like China pure insanity.

                You are being tribalistic, focusing on the results of the extremely privileged American, rather than the truly needy poor of other nations.

                No, I’m being realistic. Moving people from farms to sweatshop labor doesn’t improve their conditions, and you can’t change that simply by asserting otherwise.

                To the extent that globalism helps the worlds poor relative to the fortunate Westerner, it is hard to argue that we aren’t seeing more economic progress now than ever before.

                Except that it hasn’t. The proof fails on evidence. The end result of globalization has been the rise in sweatshops, in child labor, and in rampant environmental destruction along with worldwide destruction of labor unions and protections as companies freely move production to places where a quick payoff to the local dictator results in nearly-free sweatshop labor. Worker gets injured on the job? Don’t worry, just shoo them away and bring in the next one to get maimed. Conditions in countries where outsourcing jobs have landed resemble the “company towns” of the US’s industrialization era. That isn’t progress, that is travesty and nothing to celebrate.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to M.A. says:

                To the extent that globalism helps the worlds poor relative to the fortunate Westerner, it is hard to argue that we aren’t seeing more economic progress now than ever before.

                Except that it hasn’t. The proof fails on evidence

                Except that it doesn’t. Globalisation has seen the an unprecedented rise inliving standards across the world. Countries that liberalised the most have seen the largest gains over the long termReport

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to M.A. says:

                And yet where is the “growth” seeming to occur? India has stalled and is in its own throes of trouble as previously outsourced work seeks countries with even less worker protection and more docile workforces. China remains “strong” with a communist-commanded economy, strict laws preventing workers from moving from district to district in search of better jobs, and a complete lack of concern about the high suicide rates at companies producing products to be shipped overseas. And even when they’re not killing themselves, there’s plenty to be worried about in sweatshops where worker safety is a nonconcern.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to M.A. says:

                MA,

                Since when is proof of point of time income disparities proof of a “problem”? You are making a huge leap here. You assume that you know what the correct level of unequal outcomes is. You assume away differences that correspond to life stage. You assume away the benefits of matching rewards to effort, creativity and risk. And you dismiss that in a free market great wealth can be created by delivering great benefit. Thus the 1% may be those that are doing the most for others.

                On globalization, you make as many errors. I am not arguing for “moving” people to sweat shops. I am arguing for their freedom to move from a farm to a city. It is their choice, and thus pretty clearly better according to the person it matters most to.

                Your definition of insanity is looking you in the mirror. Humans tried mercantilism and top down interference in markets for 10,000 years in 10,000 locations and always got exactly the same result. Poverty, subjugation and short, dirty, ignorant lives. Free enterprise and science have led to 2% long term growth rate in prosperity ever since they have been tried. Places which opted out of the experiment didn’t grow as fast, until they adopted the liberal economic order, at which time they shot forward in catch up mode.

                I need to repeat, the last decade,which included a global recession, involved the greatest advance of prosperity in the history of the human race. You can’t sweep this under the rug.

                Children and workers and families are better off now than they were in the recent past, and much better off than the distant past. There is less child work, less injuries, greater wages, higher productivity and greater education. Anyone arguing with these stats is making stuff up. And as nations become wealthier, the environment improves dramatically.

                How can you deny human progress? I fail to see how humans can fail to see how bad lives were in the past compared to the present and actually argue that we go back to the era of enslavement, illiteracy, fifty percent child mortality, forty year lifespan, no forests, and five billion fewer flourishing people. You may be a nice guy, but your ideology is pure evil.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to M.A. says:

                “Income inequality is a very real problem”

                No, income inequality exists. Whether it’s a problem depends on a lot more than just the percentages.

                The distribution of income within the top 1% of earners is pretty much the same as it is for the country as a whole. Do you think that the .99% are going to rise up and overthrow the .01% who outrank them the way that 1% does everyone else? If not, why not? Now explain why your answer doesn’t apply to everyone in the United States.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to M.A. says:

                My wife and I are not inside the 1%, but the rhetoric has always made me uncomfortable because it feels like we’re standing next to the guy that everyone is saying the proverbial guns should be aimed at. He makes more than twice what we do (3x, before too long), but we’re standing right next to him all the same.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to M.A. says:

                I know it’s unpopular to say this in a place with as many libertarians as we have around here, but I maintain there’s a big difference between asking someone to pay higher taxes and pointing a gun at him.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to M.A. says:

                I agree, which is why I put the word “proverbial” in there. Not the best word selection, but something intending to indicate that I do not believe it’s an actual matter of guns people pointed at people. Sorry if that didn’t get through.Report

        • Avatar Zach in reply to M.A. says:

          It is entirely possible to support a family with a retail position. Not every retail job is an entry-level position at Walmart.Report

    • While I don’t know what Ellison had in mind exactly, but it is not uncommon for entrepreneurs to downplay the benefits to their customers and suppliers and instead focus on their competitors. We want to exand our market share at their expense, taking their customers and suppliers.

      Those the entrepreneur is trading with (the customers and suppliers,) may well benefit, but they are treated as background. Those they are not directly trading with, the other entrepreneurs in the same field, become their focus.

      I think this would depend a good deal on the industry that an entrepreneur has entered. I’ve worked for a number of entrepreneurial enterprises. In every case, it’s been in a developing industry. The goal is not to undercut someone else selling the widgets, but to get more people to buy the widgets to begin with. Everybody needs the widget! We just have to figure out how to convince them that they do. In only one case, really, was there great concern for who our competitors were and how they were doing.

      This would be in contrast, I think, to entrepreneurs who enter markets that are reasonably well saturated and therefore any gains you make *have* to come at the expense of someone else rather than an increase of the customer pool.Report

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    In the first approach, speakers declare that “rights” are the equivalent of “what the state currently gives you.” This is legal positivism. Its necessary corollaries are that (1) rights are purely conventional and (2) the state has no real justification for adopting any one set of rights over any other.

    Rights are what the state currently gives you, but that doesn’t mean they’re arbitrary. Rights are purely conventional, but that also doesn’t mean they’re arbitrary. ANd regarding (2), I would say that the state, considered as an entity divorced from its purpose, has no independent justification for doing anything.

    Now, if the claim that they aren’t arbitrary entails a natural law account of rights, then so be it. But at that point, natural law accounts of rights are so broad as to include any justification of rights attribution, even those that are pragmatically determined (because they increase utility, say).

    Maybe I’m not getting it, but it seems entirely coherent to say that rights arise out of associations between people for practical reasons, that the rights which so emerge aren’t arbitrary (they either promote or hinder their own subjective utility, collective utility, or even other values), and that the state is justified in codifying those rights (not out of whole cloth!) insofar as government is ever justified in coercively constraining individual behavior.

    The other worry – that without a grounding in natural rights the state could arbitrarily restrict, revoke, alter, etc basic rights – confuses the power of the state with the authority of the state. That is, insofar as the justification for the state’s existence is to create stable social arrangements between people so that they can maximize their own utility (or whatever), then the state is not justified in acting in ways that undermine those goals.

    Like I said, maybe I’m not getting it.Report

    • “Government is founded not on force, as was the theory of Hobbes; nor on compact, as was the theory of Locke and of the revolution of 1688; nor on property, as was the assertion of Harrington. It springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God.”

      James Otis 1764

      This is the American account of rights. Via Hugo Grotius or Murray Rothbard, you can trim back on the “God” part. An Aristotelian metaphysics will suffice.

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-metaphysics/

      James Otis was brilliant and influential and would have been a major American Founder except a Tory whacked him on the head and messed him up bigtime.

      See page 122 on, this is great stuff and I believe quite consistent with Jason’s account of rights. The problem of the “state of nature” is that it gets you to Hobbes and no real limits on government. You need natural rights to pre-empt the government, and indeed to pre-empt social contract theory [we seldom get to agree to the prevailing social contract of our nation chapter and verse].

      http://freedomandcapitalism.com/uploads/Jefferson_NaturalRights_Declaration_rev50_final.pdf

      “Nonetheless, Otis does attempt to secure American rights in what he also calls
      “natural rights”, but he has reinterpreted what natural rights means and tried to avoid
      some of the problematic challenges that he knows have been leveled against Locke’s
      social compact theory. For the more empirically oriented readers, who may doubt the
      historical origin of government in social compact, Otis dispenses with that problem by
      anchoring government in human creation. There never was or needed to be a historical
      social compact. Don’t bother looking for one. Government is founded in our natures. “Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        Tom,
        I will try to read through the links soon. First, I need to take my grandson to Battleship.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger says:

          Cheers, Roger. The 2nd link is cool: the American rights scheme as opposed to the others. I think we Yanks “feel” the American rights theory from growing up with it, but putting it into words and a contrast-and-compare is difficult.

          Say First Amendment to an American, and it’s like saying we breathe oxygen. Like, duh.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            TVD:

            Apparently in the brave new world, criticizing Barry will get you arrested according to this loyal party teacher.

            http://www.theblaze.com/stories/n-c-teacher-tells-student-he-could-be-arrested-for-talking-badly-about-obama/Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Scott says:

              Um, Scott… You know this isn’t a story about someone being arrested for criticizing Obama, it’s a story about one teacher who erroneously told a class that in NC, right?Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Tod:

                I know that and you know that , but according to the librul teacher you don’t have a First Amendment right. Kind of ironic for a thread about rights and then TVD mention the First Amendment?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Scott says:

                NB: My below reply re the First was writ before, not after, Scott’s comment appeared. It’s sort of an honor code on this side of the aisle that ganging up is not cool.

                The First is in the air we Americans breathe, of this I am sure. That alone is “American exceptionalism.” The rest follows.Report

              • Saw this story on the pro-Obama teacher bullying the kids, Tod. Screw the “arrested” part. Wondered if I should do a drive-by on it, close the comments and get meself hither to the sub-blog and return serve from there. Dunno what the right thing to do is, LoOG-wise. Would appreciate a word up on this sort of thing.

                The transcript—if accurate, and lemme know if it ain’t—makes me so proud of our kids, our First Amendment, and the American theory of natural rights that I could just defecate red, white & blue right fishing now, bro. I love the “Because he was sh-tty” part: the hunter gets captured by the game.

                http://www.theblaze.com/stories/n-c-teacher-tells-student-he-could-be-arrested-for-talking-badly-about-obama/
                _________________________
                “So, how bad was the exchange? It got fairly heated, with the teacher shouting at times. The kerfuffle started after one student asked a question about the teacher’s “fact of the day” that said Romney was a bully back in high school. A student asked:

                “Didn’t Obama bully somebody, though?”
                The teacher started to get angry and said:

                “Not to my knowledge.”

                A couple of students relayed the story about Obama admitting that he bullied someone when he was younger. And that seemed to light the fuse on his teacher’s anger. A couple of the students exchanged words with the angry teacher.

                “Stop! Stop! Because there’s no comparison. He’s running for president. Obama is the president.”

                As one student attempted to argue for a fair, two-sided debate on the history of the candidates, he was shouted down and talked over by the teacher. She continued:

                “You got to realize, this man is wanting to be what Obama is. There’s no comparison.”

                Once again, the students pressed for equal discussion of the histories of both men, with one saying:

                “If you’re gonna talk trash about one side, you gotta talk trash about the other.”
                The teacher just seemed to dig her heels in deeper and press her defense of Obama telling the defiant teen:

                “You will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom.”
                Again the student persisted and invoked his First Amendment right.

                “I’ll say what I want.”

                The still unidentified teacher read the student her rules…her Obama rules.

                “Not about him, you won’t!”

                The back and forth continued and the most strident of the two students reminded his teacher that President Bush was constantly treated to negative statements about him while he was in office:

                “Whenever Bush was president, everybody talked sh-t about him.”

                To which the teacher responded:

                “Because he was sh-tty.”

                The social studies educator went on for a full minute with more ranting, saying that people were arrested for saying derogatory things about President Bush. The student correctly reminded the teacher that opinions are protected, but you cannot be arrested unless you threaten the president.

                Our research has not turned up a single case of anyone in America being arrested for speaking ill of former President Bush. The local newspaper story also mentioned that their discussions about the story with a political science professor could not recall the arrests that the teacher was speaking about.

                The entire confrontation was recorded by a student and posted on YouTube. Listen below; slight content warning for language.

                Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                The Blaze?
                Seriously?
                What, was World Net Daily down for maintenance or something?Report

              • Didn’t I ask you to verify or object to the transcript, Lib60? If you say it’s bogus, I’ll take your word for it. I trust you.

                Just get it right one way or the other.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Liberty60 says:

                Liberty60:

                Is that your sad attempt to argue that it didn’t actually happen? Are you saying that the Youtube video is faked? Or in the absence of an argument are you trying to change the subject?Report

              • Yeah, Tom, I get it. A moron teacher made a moron out of herself. And her students do her proud if she’s a real teacher, which clearly she’s not and so no doubt didn’t appreciate their independent minds. All in agreement.

                Now all Scott needs to do is connect that last dot that people are being arrested for criticizing the president. (It’s that last dot that’s always the hardest.)

                As far as the rest – since you asked – I’d have LOVED a post, especially from you, that talked about how this is a sign of students doing what they’re supposed to do, and making you proud. I think you still should – it would be awesome.

                (But I get why you wouldn’t, and can’t blame you. Still, it would have been a great post.)Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Thx, Tod. I don’t like the broadsides so much as mainpage stuff. The thing is that the NC teacher is far from an isolated incident. Been there meself, and yes, anecdote ain’t data, but if you wanna play the tu quoque game, well, let’s not bother.

                These kids wailed. Logical, fair, well-argued. I have hope for us yet.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Tod:

                I was going to let your moronic accusation pass but since you repeated it I will now respond. I never suggested in my original post or anywhere else that anyone had actually been arrested or would be arrested. Why would I say something that is not true? Oh and it may just be one teacher saying such stupid things but that is one teacher too many (as if that is even a good excuse.)Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Scott says:

                Just a point of order: I don’t think calling Tod’s argument a “moronic accusation” is any way to earn favor around here.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Scott says:

                Ryan:

                In post 52, Tod made the assertion and my response in post 53 was to try and ignore/laugh it off. Tod decided to continue with the assertion in post 59 and I decided a more terse response was in order. I’ll be happy to discuss what I actually wrote in the original thread. Did you read the entire exchange ?Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Scott says:

                I am not interested in the content of the disagreement, which is why I noted my statement as a “point of order”. You have a reputation for being rude to the posters here, and I’m simply advising a different course.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Scott says:

                Aye. “Moronic” is out of order.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

      Jason and Stillwater,

      I agree completely with Stillwater.

      Jason writes: ” In the first approach, speakers declare that “rights” are the equivalent of “what the state currently gives you.” This is legal positivism. Its necessary corollaries are that (1) rights are purely conventional and (2) the state has no real justification for adopting any one set of rights over any other.”

      Property and other rights are not just conventions. They are USEFUL conventions. Furthermore, they are useful whether or not there is a state to enforce them. In other words, I think Jason has swept the other side of the argument under the rug by arguing they can be arbitrary and that they must be sanctioned by a state.

      The way I would explain it is that the intention of good conventions are to allow us to accomplish what we seek to achieve. There are lots of different traffic rules that are possible, indeed an infinite number, but only a very small subset leads to improved traffic flow and safety. To the extent that two different sets of traffic rules led to the same results, they would be equally useful. Which is chosen is based upon convention. Some drive on the left, some on the right, but no useful conventions are based upon light colored cars driving in left and dark cars to the right. Common sense explains why. And any libertarian knows these conventions can be enforced without a state.

      Of course, humans as a rule naturally don’t like being delayed or being injured while traveling. So somewhere at the root we do ground our useful conventions on shared human values and nature. But it isn’t that we were born with a natural right to not being delayed. We are born with a natural desire not to be delayed. Natural rights terminology is confusing and disingenuous.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    If rights exist, it seems to me that they’d have to flow from individuals rather than be socially useful constructs (in the way that, say, gender roles are socially useful constructs). If we’re talking about things that stem from society, we are stuck saying “well, this society says *THIS* while that society says *THAT*”… because, indeed, this society does say this and that society does say that.

    It seems to say that different societies saying “This Is (Not) A Right” brings us to a contradiction… which means that societies cannot be the source of rights.

    If rights exist, of course.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

      See, my view splits that difference: rights emerge from individuals in socially useful constructs. The distinction I’ve made is that individuals possess inherent properties which justify the attribution of rights, but that rights aren’t intrinsic to individuals. So, one of your useful examples to try to highlight the difference is that it makes to say that an Afghani girl has the right to learn to read, and that the Taliban violates that right be preventing her from learning to read.

      First, I don’t think ‘the right to read’ is can be understood as anything other than a social construct: eg, does it make sense to say that individuals had the right to read before there was a written form of language? (I don’t want to beg questions about that, so maybe it does. It just doesn’t appear to make sense to me, and an account of how it does might persuade me otherwise.)

      Second, insofar as we say that the Afghani girl has the right to read, it’s because we a) think that we (people in our society) have the right to read, and b) we cannot find any properties of the Afghani girl or Afghan society under which depriving her the right to read makes any sense. So it seems to me that attributing the right to read to all people is an example of generalizing on an already accorded right (if it is a right) rather than an evidence that rights inhere in individuals as basic properties.

      That is, it’s consistent with a constructivist account of rights attributions that once the right is granted, generalizing upon it will entail that other people have the right as well, or at a minimum, that depriving a person of that right is unjust unless it can meet a burden of justification. But the point I’m getting at here is that the mere attribution of a right to others who are currently deprived of a right based on our acceptance of a right as basic (or whatever) doesn’t give us any insight into what the actual foundations of rights are. That requires a different argument. (Or SISTM.)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

        “socially useful constructs”

        “we cannot find any properties of the Afghani girl or Afghan society under which depriving her the right to read makes any sense”

        How much insight, would you say, the average American has into Afghani culture?

        How likely is it that our failure to find these properties are due to failures on our end?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

          I’m not sure what the answers to those questions are. I’m also not exactly how sure they’re relevant. If a determination of the structure and metaphysics of rights relies on how much we know about other cultures, then I don’t think we’re talking about the structure and metaphysics of rights anymore. Certainly my account of rights has nothing to do with knowledge of other cultures. So I must be missing your point here.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

            How do you know whether reading is a socially useful construct in Afghanistan?

            Do you just assume that learning to read is a right that women just have independently of whether they’re in Afghanistan or Alabama?

            If you say “we cannot find any properties of the Afghani girl or Afghan society under which depriving her the right to read makes any sense”, that tells me precisely nothing given America’s ability to read the cultures of other places. How good is the US’s sense of, say, Iraqi culture?

            If we can’t find make any sense this, or that, in Iraq, why shouldn’t we assume that that would be because we don’t understand, rather than assume that their culture has evolved a very specific way for very specific reasons?

            (I know *MY* answer to this, but I am have different premises.)Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

              To sort of repeat what I wrote earlier: knowledge of other cultures is irrelevant to determining the structure and analysis of rights. It’s because of this that nothing can be read off of language use wrt determining those basic structures. So the argument I made upthread amounted to an account of what we mean when we say (or you say, since it’s your example) that the Afghani girl has a right to read which the Taliban is violating.

              On the view I’m putting forward, the intuition (or conclusion?) you’re deriving from the statement about the Afghani girl amounts to this (I’m providing an account here): because we think we have the right to read (it’s been attributed to us, members of our community, society, whatever), and because we we think there aren’t any intrinsic properties of the Afghani girl which would justify preventing the right from being extended to her (the generalizability of rights), we conclude that she ought to be accorded the right to read.

              The analysis is that it’s wrong to say that her right to read is violated. It’s correct to say that the right to read ought to be extended to her.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                because we we think there aren’t any intrinsic properties of the Afghani girl which would justify preventing the right from being extended to her (the generalizability of rights)

                How confident do you think you’d need to be on this point before trying to change things?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                JB, this isn’t an argument for intervention. It’s an analysis of rights.

                But notice that on your account, the exact same question emerges: if the right to read is a natural right of the Afghani girl, and the Taliban is violating her natural rights, why are we not trying to change things for her? In fact, on your account, the question takes on even more importance it seems to me.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’m of the impression that rights imply obligations on the parts of others. If you have a right to a thing, I have an obligation to not violate it.

                To use property as an example only, if you own an apple tree, feed it, water it, prune it, tend it, etc, you have a right to those apples. And I don’t. Indeed, if I took those apples, I would be *STEALING* from you. If I have an obligation to not steal (or insert whatever crime we agree is a crime in here), then I ought to not take your apples.

                If that’s a problematic example, there are a handful involving bodily integrity that, though distasteful, I wouldn’t otherwise mind invoking for the sake of argument (indeed, we can use these same Afghani girls).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, this brings us all the back around to the beginning. I would say that this

                To use property as an example only, if you own an apple tree, feed it, water it, prune it, tend it, etc, you have a right to those apples.

                is not evidence of a natural right to property. At best, since you included onwership in the account, then the right to those apples follows trivially from the concept of ownership. At worst, the example begs the question of what constitutes the attribution of the right to begin with, and amounts to the assertion that the right to the fruits of your labor is an intrinsic, irreducible, unanalyzable property. One which can only be apprehended, is self-evident and self-justifying.

                I reject that view of rights (obvs). But we’ve been down that road, on this thread and in the previous one.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Okay, so you don’t like those apples.

                How about the right to choose one’s own sexual partner? How about the right to choose whether one wishes to engage in sexual activity?Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

      JB and SW,

      Rights DO flow from individuals and they are useful constructs. They flow from shared values and from the fact that there are only so many useful ways of accomplishing our goals in societies made up of other individuals pursuing the same or sometimes different values.

      The Taliban values subjugating women. We don’t. Their conventions lead to the world they desire. Ours leads to the world we desire. Ours leads to prosperity, freedom, knowledge, opportunity, science and peace. It leads to widespread human flourishing. Theirs leads somewhere else.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Roger says:

        Theirs leads somewhere else.

        So far it seems that their culture has evolved to be able to withstand not only the Russians but the Americans. Given the level of bombardment they’ve seen in the last, oh, 100 years or so and applying it to, say, the East Coast, I don’t know that the East Coast’s freedom, knowledge, science, and peace would be doing so well.

        Maybe it would. Maybe Americans are exceptional (and there are reasons to believe that they are).

        I don’t know, though. I have doubts.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

          Perhaps our values lead to nuclear Armageddon or climate catastrophe and the extinction of the human race. Perhaps theirs leads to societies that last forever and go nowhere, at least until the next asteroid hits the planet.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Roger says:

            Given that we don’t know (and certainly can’t measure) the third-order effects (let alone the fourth-, fifth-, and upwards), it seems odd to use “what they lead to” as justification.

            I mean, don’t get me wrong. The first- and second-order effects are pretty goddamned awesome. Certainly when compared to the first- and second-order effects of any number of other values (certainly including fundamentalist (anything)).

            I don’t like leaning on the outcomes, though. We don’t know what they are, after all.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

              Jaybird,

              You are of course correct that we cannot predict the future. No matter how good a course seems, it could end in a bad place.

              What is the alternative though? To argue for another 2500 years on various natural rights? And how do we decide which particular argument is right other than through the consequences to date?

              It seems that natural rights theories just try to explain the problem away.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Roger says:

                Well, if we’re going to be arguing anyway, there are worse things for us to be arguing about.

                And how do we decide which particular argument is right other than through the consequences to date?

                I think that process philosophy has a lot of potential (but it could be an intricately phrased affirmation of the consequent and those are really hard to catch).Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      I said this in our previous conversation on this topic, so there’s probably no reason for me to say it again, but it makes no sense to me to say that rights “flow from individuals,” because in order for rights to mean anything, they have to be agreed upon by at least two people, and usually at least 3. If we’re on a desert island, and you say you have a right to the coconuts that we harvested from a tree, and I say that I have a right to them, who is right? The two rights are mutually incompatible, so we can’t both be right, or the rights make no sense. Either we have to agree on them, or some third party has to mediate and, perhaps, enforce (the third party need not be a state or government entity of any sort). More abstractly, rights only work when both their existence and their meaning are agreed upon, they break down otherwise. Therefore, to me at least, they clearly “flow” from the collective to the individual (or even to the group).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        “The two rights are mutually incompatible, so we can’t both be right, or the rights make no sense.”

        There is more to a “right” than saying “I have a right to (whatever).” We both know that it’s possible for me to say that and be wrong (depending on what “whatever” is). I’m interested in which whatevers make the sentence true even if I am outnumbered.

        The argument that the majority can, at will, take rights away from the minority is one that doesn’t make sense to me… and I can give a number of historical examples, if you’d like, of the majority screwing over the minority. By my lights, the rights of the minority were violated. By yours, the minority didn’t have the rights to violate. That seems counter-intuitive to me.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

          The argument that the majority can, at will, take rights away from the minority is one that doesn’t make sense to me… and I can give a number of historical examples, if you’d like, of the majority screwing over the minority. By my lights, the rights of the minority were violated. By yours, the minority didn’t have the rights to violate. That seems counter-intuitive to me.

          Oh, I agree. Still, for a minority to be considered screwed, the rights claims themselves have to be more than individual. Even if we talk about individual members of minority groups, the fact that particular groups are singled out is itself a demonstration.

          Also, in general, minorities got screwed not because people didn’t agree on the rights themselves, but because the majority decided they didn’t imply to the minority.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

            “Also, in general, minorities got screwed not because people didn’t agree on the rights themselves, but because the majority decided they didn’t imply to the minority.”

            Isn’t that how it works?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

              Are you agreeing? If so, then you’re agreeing there are no basic rights. There are only constructed rights which are initially accorded only to the ingroup, and subsequently get accorded to the outgroup.

              (Or is this one of those teachable moments? 🙂Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I agree that that is what privileges are and how privileges work… but rights exist even if a majority doesn’t agree that they do and the majority can, indeed, violate the right of an individual even if a majority says that individuals (or even certain individuals) do not have rights.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                but rights exist even if a majority doesn’t agree that they do and the majority can, indeed, violate the right of an individual even if a majority says that individuals (or even certain individuals) do not have rights.

                I think this is ambiguous between ‘majority agreement isn’t necessary for rights’ and ‘majority agreement isn’t sufficient for rights’. That is, on the one hand, rights are understood to be basic, sui generis irreducible unanalyzable intrinsic properties of individuals which exist completely independently of the majority’s views of the matter. They could be wrong! On the other, rights are understood to emerge from majority agreement plus a bunch of other stuff. Majority agreement isn’t sufficient for rights attributions.

                I think the first is wrong (as we talked about in the previous thread). I think the metaphysics of natural rights is incomprehensible and incoherent. I think the epistemology of natural rights is question begging or confused.

                Re: the ‘other hand’, I think that majority agreement isn’t sufficient for rights attributions. It also requires enforcement (and other secondary conditions as well). And once there is enforcement, so opens the long slow slide of moral progress, since once a right is granted to any individuals in the community (construed broadly), the outgroup has a legitimate argument for why that right doesn’t apply to them. And that argument, intellectually or by appeal to practice, suffices to show that rights restrictions, once rights are granted, cannot be arbitrarily circumscribed. SISTM.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Well, look at any number of examples that I’m sure you don’t need me to give.

                If I asked “did this individual have his rights violated?”, to what extent would you really be willing to say “no”?

                If we could both think up an example that would get you to hesitate, then there is a disconnect somewhere. For the record, I suspect that I could come up with at least one example that would get you to feel that I’m using the example unfairly.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, on this one I have to concede. But only a little. We talk that way. I talk that way. The Founders talked that way. But we also use that language to capture wrong things as well. Southern slavers thought it was their right to enslave black people, and the argument was that the north’s efforts to end slavery ‘violated their rights’. If the naturalness of rights could be read off of language, as you’re suggesting here, what do we make of the confederate argument? Did they really have the natural right to enslave blacks? Can we say that they did merely because they spoke that way?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                I guess I should give the answer here (or the answer as I see it): they had the conventionally determined right to enslave blacks, which, once that right was granted, didn’t generalize to others. It amounted to a codified privilege.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                If the naturalness of rights could be read off of language, as you’re suggesting here, what do we make of the confederate argument? Did they really have the natural right to enslave blacks? Can we say that they did merely because they spoke that way?

                In my framework? No, absolutely not.

                Rights are seated in the individual, not the culture and certainly not from consensus. If you had 99 White Folks and 1 Black Folk and the 99 agreed that the 1 should be a slave, that would mean exactly diddly squat.

                In my framework.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                I understand your framework. What I’m trying to show in the above comment is that it seems to me your argument for that framework relies on reading the existence of natural rights off of natural language use. That “we talk that way.” What the above example is meant to show is the we can’t determine the existence of natural rights from the surface properties of natural language use.

                And frankly, in my view, that’s the best argument you’ve put forward: that natural rights are justified by a consideration of language use and the intuitions that arise from normal language use. In comments on this thread (I think), I’ve given reasons to think both those views are wrong: that we can’t draw metaphysical conclusions from an analysis of natural language, and that certain moral intuitions derived from language can be accounted for on a constructivist account of rights.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                “What the above example is meant to show is the we can’t determine the existence of natural rights from the surface properties of natural language use. ”

                Fair enough, but I still think that if you (Stillwater) aren’t willing to run where your theory takes you, you (Stillwater) should probably get a new one.

                I mean, personally I think it’s more likely that moral nihilism is accurate than my theory, but I also know how likely I am to be wrong (given how often I’ve been wrong in the past) and if I must be wrong, I’d rather be wrong about rights existing and being seated in the individual than be wrong about how they come from an assumed consensus.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                They don’t come from an assumed consensus. that’s not part of the analysis of rights nor the causal origin of rights. I mean, look at the US. Back in the day, the right to property was restricted to white males. The right to vote was restricted to white male property owners. The right to property and the right to vote were – and are – real rights, but they weren’t determined by consensus. They were determined by agreements between only a minority of the population. Lots of people’s views were excluded from consideration. But there was a consensus about those rules among white males. And once those rights were established, they were extended to others because limiting them to only whites (or white males) couldn’t (and I think can’t) be justified.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                But without enforcement (indeed, with enforcement going the other direction in many cases), they don’t have rights… right?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes, I think that’s correct. Enforcement doesn’t have to come from the state, of course. There could be proto-governmental or other institutions which adjudicate violations and enforce rights.

                This follows from the idea (or incoherence of the idea, it seems to me) that a person could possess a right which they couldn’t in principle act on. To me, the attribution of a right entails that they can in principle act on it. That means enforcement of the right to some degree.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                And btw, I’m happy to play defense (for a little bit linger 🙂 because it’s helping me flesh out these views, but I want to remind you that you haven’t answered any of the objections to natural rights metaphysics, the epistemology which argues for them, and other arguments. So far, the best you’ve been able to do is assert that they exist, and to argue for them by citing natural language and intuitions about other cultures. I gave an account, and also an analysis, of why I think those arguments don’t work.

                So keep firing away. For a little bit longer anyway.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                And that argument, intellectually or by appeal to practice, suffices to show that rights restrictions, once rights are granted, cannot be arbitrarily circumscribed.

                “Arbitrarily” is doing a lot of work for you in there. “intellectually or by appeal to practice” is doing almost as much.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Arbitrary can get narrowed down by context. It seems to me that skin color is an arbitrary property wrt to what constitutes qualifications to perform a particular task. Or for inclusion in the rights bearing community.

                “Intellectually or by appeal to practice” is intended to cover (maybe too loosely) the two types of evidence that exist to us rational beings: a priori and a posteriori.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                By the way, I’m not saying rights are determined by the majority. They are applied by the majority, but they aren’t necessarily determined by them. Think of there being (at least) 3 levels: rights claims, rights, and the application of rights. The latter two aren’t possible without some sort of agreement between more than one individual.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

              Yup, that’s what I was saying (and meant apply, not imply… dunno how my mind made that mistake).Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

          By yours, the minority didn’t have the rights to violate. That seems counter-intuitive to me.

          But they should have had those rights. i.e. rights were taken away from them that they ought ot have had. Our common parlance calls this a rights violation anyway, but that is just a holdover from natural rights talk which on reflection doesnt make any sense and seems to rest on some kind of conceptual confusion.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

          We both know that it’s possible for me to say that and be wrong (depending on what “whatever” is). I’m interested in which whatevers make the sentence true even if I am outnumbered.

          Some people are accorded rights based on certain agreement, etc and the protection from government that results from it. Other people are deprived of rights and those protections. It makes no sense, on this view, that you have a right even if your outnumbered (to use your example). What does make sense is to ask on what grounds the right is denied someone who’s outnumbered or in the outgroup? If there is a rational justification for doing so? And if there isn’t, and the right is accorded and protected for only some, then the right ought to be extended the outgroup. It’s not the right isn’t honored. It’s that the right isn’t extended.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

            Is there a difference between “privileges” and “rights” in your view? Because you’re using the word “rights” the way that I use “privileges”.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

              Rights are general (everyone has them equally) priveleges are specific. Only some people have it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

                I agree with that. I would phrase it like this: (roughly!!) a privilege is a benefit or protection justified by arbitrary properties of a person. A right is a benefit or protection justified by necessary (essential?) properties of a person. (/roughly!!)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                My problem is with the word “justified” there. If it exists, it exists. It defies “justification”.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, I know that’s what you think. We disagree!

                This might get at the difference. You think rights exist necessarily: they are natural properties of beings like us. I think they exist contingently (in some sense of that word): they arise out of beings like us, given the right circumstances.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                How would you argue against someone who argued that “maleness” was an essential circumstance?

                “No, it isn’t”?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Is this an argument for Men’s Rights?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                It’s more that I’m wondering what an argument against Men’s Rights (in a heavily male-dominated culture) would look like in your framework. At this point, my suspicion is that your framework would, in fact, allow for such a thing.

                (Of course, the fact that it allows for such a thing is not an argument against it’s existence.)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                The argument wouldn’t necessarily be against men’s rights. It would more likely be an argument for extending those rights to others, to expand the circle of rights bearers. Something like: if there isn’t a relevant non-arbitrary difference between the sexes with respect to specific right R, then that right ought to be accorded to everyone.Report

  6. Avatar Josef Goebbels says:

    If your standard response to commenters is to edit and delete their comments, and then change their wording to something that the posting commenter never said, nothing on this site may be trusted nor is it worth the waste of time to read.Report

  7. Avatar Chris says:

    Yes, I am aware of the is-ought problem. And yet — is there anyone who lives as if it were a genuine obstacle to the ethical life? No, not a one. This in itself should suggest to us that the is-ought problem is less a refutation of naturalistic ethics, and more dirty trick of language.

    I disagree with much of what you say in this post, but this is absolutely right, and not something Hume (to whom the Is-Ought distinction is usually attributed) would have disagreed with. There’s nothing about an is that automatically means it shouldn’t be an ought, and to say otherwise is, in essence, a “trick of language” as you say. Brandon Watson, who is a Hume scholar, has written extensively about this on his blog (e.g., here, here, and here, and is well worth reading on the topic.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Chris says:

      The is ough problem is not just a dirty language trick (although some lots of people may think that my particular solution to it is). If ought statements are not reducible to is statements, then merely appealing to some fact about the way the world is, or the way people are is never going to be enough to justify some ought statement. Of course, this is not entirely problematic as all you might have to do is include some very basic and “obvious” ought statement in your premises. as long as that ought statement is so basic that it is accepted by all reasonable people, we have some kind of purchace on the subject matter. Of course, if one’s basic ought is so fundamental as to be accepted by all reasonable people, that may be because ought is in fact reducible to is and that most fundamental ought just is that reductive step.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        Dang Murali, you’re on fie-yah!

        The way I’d object to both Jason and Chris is to say that in practicepeople value what they already believe. So the is-ought problem is opaque to them. It only emerges under philosophical analysis. So it’s no surprise that Hume – the anti-philosophy philosopher! – would conclude the is-ought problem never surfaces in normal life.

        That doesn’t mean it isn’t a *real* problem.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali says:

        Murali, I recommend reading the posts that I linked, or this one:

        http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2009/10/on-ought-and-is-ii.html

        My argument would be similar to Brandon: what is it about the moral nature of an ought-statement that divorces it from an is-statement? That is, why are moral ought-statements divorced from is-statements in a way that other ought-statements are not?

        This doesn’t mean, by the way, that is automatically implies ought. That’s obviously not true. But I see no reason why is shouldn’t be able to imply ought out of principle.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Chris says:

          I’m not saying that the is-ought problem has no solution, I’m just saying that there is a real problem here. I am inclined to agree with something similar to what Brandon has written. We have to understand though, that it is a revisionist account of ought. Most people normally think of ought as having some mysterious oomph that is not covered by the notion of is. So, when people say that if you want to get to the this place, you ought to take that line and switch at that station, they’re not just saying that doing this and that is the most efficient means to their ends. Rather they are saying that at least in innocuous situations like this you ought to pursue the most efficient means towards your ends.

          A further complication when it comes to moral reasons is this. People suppose that moral reasons apply to you even if you don’t want to be moral. And furthermore, there is supposed to be something special about being moral. A lot of people would be completely unsatisfied if all we said was that such and such are moral reasons and not being responsive to moral reasons just means that you are immoral.

          Now it could be that this thicker notion of ought is really confused or overly mysterious etc. But that just seems to be the kind of ought most people have in mind. If we were to provide our less mysterious notion of ought, the real worry is that for a lot of people we would not be providing a reduction of the notion of ought. Rather we would be working with some kind of ought-minus. Showing that the more common and bloated notion of ought is incoherent in some way would help, but the very difficulty in articulating the various components of said bloated ought is in itself evidence that the notion of ought is not reducible to is.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Murali says:

            I suspect that sacred rules work better than instrumental rules. Thus we have evolved the illusion that our instrumental rules are sacred. It is a useful fiction and has led to more grandchildren than the opposite. We fall for the evolved illusion of the Platonic OUGHT.Report

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