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Post 0

Sunday, July 17, 2005 - 8:45amSanction this postReply
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1. The acquisition of most natural resources was by force.
2. Either force made the acquisition illegitimate or not.
3. If it did, then governments may now rightfully confiscate and redistribute it.
4. If it did not, then governments may now rightfully confiscate it and redistribute it.
5. Hence, either way, if force was the source of the initial acquisition, then governments may rightfully redistribute current holdings.


A different way to refute this, which would only be accepted by objectivists:
1. Use of force can be moral in certain circumstances, but not other circumstances.
2. The best standard to judge morality with is a man's own life, using the context of reality to measure.
3. Taking resources from by force from communists (people who do not respect individual ownership of property) can be beneficial to a man.



Post 1

Sunday, July 17, 2005 - 9:06amSanction this postReply
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I have too many shot gun shells under by bed, let me share them too.



Post 2

Sunday, July 17, 2005 - 9:13amSanction this postReply
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Cohen argues that all the world’s resources were originally "jointly owned" and therefore, like Proudhon, he claims that all property is therefore theft.

As you point out, Peter, he gets it wrong from the start.  It is only correct to say orginally resources were unowned

How could they have been jointly owned, by whom?  As which point in history can he say these people are the owners, now lets decide who gets what? 

What about someone born 5 minutes, a day, a year later are they owners too?  Does everything have to get redistributed each time someone is born or each time someone dies?  What the hell is this man talking about?




Post 3

Sunday, July 17, 2005 - 9:23amSanction this postReply
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Even if the author were correct that all resources were collectively owned, which he's not, it would still not negate the fact that man has a right to his own life and property regardless of any original societal structures.



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Post 4

Sunday, July 17, 2005 - 3:41pmSanction this postReply
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I am about to post a summary and a pointer to an article from Scientific American, April 2005 on Animal Economics.  The owner of food controls it, even against the leader of the pack.  Animals bargain for exchanges that recognize "price" as a function of "supply." This not only works in chimpanzees and other primates, but even in fish.  The article begins with hermit crabs. 

As much as altruism is genetic (and it is), so, too is egoism.  "Sharing" could not exist without "property" and it seems that both precede humanity.




Post 5

Monday, July 18, 2005 - 6:41amSanction this postReply
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I also would note that as an individual, I did not initiate any force to acquire what I have now, and therefore I am not "guilty" of something some ancestor of mine may have done, nor am I a victim because some ancestor had something taken from them, either.  The entire argument is collectivist and completely ignores the role of the individual.



Post 6

Monday, July 18, 2005 - 7:22amSanction this postReply
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I agree, and also tend to resolve the 'your great, great, great... grandfather 5000 years ago took my great, great great... 's land!' dilemna by not buying into the implicit assumption that land or other property rights necessarily pass from parents to children.

If the thief is still alive, obviously he should be punished and stolen property taken from him if he still has it. If the true victim is still alive and you are on his land (say that someone else stole from him and sold to you without your knowledge of its status), then the land is still the victim's, not yours, and you have to take up your claim of fraud with the thief. But when both thief and victim are long dead, I don't see endless parent->child tracing of property rights as a valid way to try to say land is stolen now.

I admit I don't find this solution quite satisfactory though when you get close enough in time to the crime. eg. in the extreme this logic implies that if someone steals your father's land, gives it to his kids (or charity, or Bob down the street), and kills your father and himself, then you (or anyone else) have no claim to get that land from whoever the thief gave it to.

I'm curious how you resolve this extreme implication of not assuming parent->child regress on property rights. Do you accept even the extreme conclusion? Draw an arbritrary cutoff in time where parent/child relations on property are assumed? Or some other more creative solution?




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Post 7

Monday, July 18, 2005 - 7:51amSanction this postReply
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The author is confused or disingenuous. There is no "problem" of initial acquisition. As I have pointed out in Defending Argumentation Ethics, and in The Essence of Libertarianism, the entire function of property rights is to specify a given owner of a given disputable (scarce) resource, so that peaceful (conflict-free) use may be made of these resources by people.

Whenever a socialist like this guy wants to deny a homesteader (call him H) property rights in a resource on some grounds (whatever they are), he is necessarily asserting that someone other than H is the rightful owner of the property--say, the state, or the community as a whole, call them S. Now, it is totally irrelevant whether there is a "problem" of "initial acquisition." The point is the critic of private property here is saying that S rather than H owns the property. But if he believes this to be justified, then he must have some reason why S has a better claim than H. By assumption, H was the first possessor of the property. That means that relative to S, H had it first. The only way that S gets it is to take it from an earlier possessor.

But notice that our private property critic does not want to endorse the rule that property may be taken from its current possessor-owner by a latecomer; he does not want H to just be able to take the property back from S. In fact, to the extent he is trying to justify someone's property rights in the resource, he is implicitly and necessarily accepting the goal of finding a way to permit conflict free use of property. This means he is trying to find a way to designate the owner of the property, as distinct from mere possession. If there is no ownership--if property may be taken from a current possessor by force--then that is not a property rights system at all; it is not a system of ownership; it is the system of conflict, of might makes right, which presumably is to be avoided.

Thus the advocate of any justified claim to property at all--even if it is claimed that the State is the rightful owner--presupposes certain norms: these norms include the idea that as between two parties disputing a resource, the latecomer loses; that is, if you own property, someone may not take it from you. That is what it means to own something. In other words, by saying S owns the property, one necessarily presupposes that those who come after the state have a worse claim. That is, that an earlier possessor has better title compared to a later claimant.

And of course this rule implies that H had an even better claim to it than S did, since H had it first, and S is a latecomer with respect to H.

So it does not matter if there is a "problem" with "initial acquisition." This is just diversion. The socialist wants the rightful claim over property, and wants to be able to defend it from latecomers. That means he has to endorse the principle that a latecomer has a worse claim. But the state is a latecomer with respect to the homesteaders that the state takes the property from.



Post 8

Monday, July 18, 2005 - 9:44amSanction this postReply
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Peter,

Have you sent a copy of this article to Gerald Cohen?  If so, I'd be interested to hear his response if any. 




Post 9

Monday, July 18, 2005 - 11:05amSanction this postReply
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There is a "dilemma" in this "theft," says Cohen:

1. The acquisition of most natural resources was by force.
2. Either force made the acquisition illegitimate or not.
3. If it did, then governments may now rightfully confiscate and redistribute it.
4. If it did not, then governments may now rightfully confiscate it and redistribute it.

5. Hence, either way, if force was the source of the initial acquisition, then governments may rightfully redistribute current holdings.
This sounds like a governmental argument from "heads, I win--tails, you lose"  Either way the government has the right to confiscate and redistribute.  Huh?   This makes no sense to me, whereas argument from "the beer in the fridge" makes perfect sense. 
 
 






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Post 10

Monday, July 18, 2005 - 3:28pmSanction this postReply
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1. The acquisition of most natural resources was by force.
2. Either force made the acquisition illegitimate or not.
3. If it did, then governments may now rightfully confiscate and redistribute it.
4. If it did not, then governments may now rightfully confiscate it and redistribute it.
5. Hence, either way, if force was the source of the initial acquisition, then governments may rightfully redistribute current holdings.

The land just sat there, nobody used it, nobody claimed it, some dude finds a nice spot with fresh water and builds a hut, his children, wanting a better start in life takes over that hut to build further on his fathers achievements, 1000 years down the line all property is owned by the state... hmmm the only stealing property by force seems to be done by the government.

I still have a few pieces of moon property for sale if someone is interested.

Watched 'Time Team' on discovery channel a while back, archaeological detective kinda thing, and while they were investigating something in a picturesque little british village, that had been established by the romans somewhere around year 200 CE, they were asked if the monastery around which the village had formed, wasn't the oldest original part of the place... but no, monasteries burn, gets torn down and rebuild, houses change... the oldest original part there, as in most places, were the lines on the map. The boundaries between two pieces of land, owned by different people. The lines defining private property will stay unchanged for thousands of years - or until rightfully redistributed by comrade chairman.



Post 11

Monday, July 18, 2005 - 9:56pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for your comments everyone. As many of your comments have intimated, this argument seems a little like shooting fish in a barrel, but rest assured that anyone advancing such arguments is a pretty slippery fish.

Have a look then at how the argument was put initially (http://pixnaps.blogspot.com/2005/06/initial-acquisition.html) to which I was responding, and how my response, now published here at SOLO, was subsequently received (http://pixnaps.blogspot.com/2005/06/original-appropriation.html).

I won't say 'enjoy,' but -- as Cohen is something of a fashionable critic of what he at least characterises as libertarianism, and as such you'll no doubt meet arguments and (arguers) like this again -- it's good to know your attackers. :-)



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Post 12

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - 6:40amSanction this postReply
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Nice stuff Peter. Do you know of Wittgenstein's wonderful little exposition on the nature of ownership? It is related by Norman Malcolm in the following story about him in which ownership is spelled out very instructively: "When in very good spirits he would jest in a delightful manner. This took the form of deliberately absurd or extravagant remarks uttered in a tone, and with the mien, of affected seriousness. On one walk he 'gave' me each tree that we passed, with the reservation that I was not to cut it down or do anything to it, or prevent the previous owners from doing anything to it: with those reservations they were henceforth mine." (Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein, A Memoir [London: Van Nostrand Rinehold Co., 1070], pp. 31-32.)
(Edited by Machan on 7/19, 6:45am)




Post 13

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - 1:52pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for that, Tibor. I have to say that I found your own published arguments very useful in the ensuing debate with the gentleman who raised Cohen's argument in defence of his position. :-)



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Post 14

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - 10:35pmSanction this postReply
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Machan's story reminds me of an incident a few years ago, when I was talking with a young, brilliant brain surgeon friend of a friend. He had traveled when younger for a couple years in China, and spoke Mandarin fluently. He told me that he had purchased a house in Beijing when he lived there, and indeed, he still owned it.

"You still own it? The house in China? That you bought 9 years ago?" was my confused response.

"Yeah. I still own it," he replied.

"So... you are not going back there to live, so what do you plan to do with it? Is it just sitting there empty?"

"Oh, no, another family lives in it now."

Puzzlement on my part. "You rented it out?"

"No, they just moved in. The government let them."

"So..... why do you say you still own it?"

"Well, if I travel through China some day, they would probalby let me stay overnight there for free a couple times, or something."

Ahhh, I see, I thought.



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