Political theory and molecular biology

by John Quiggin on February 17, 2004

While we’re on the subject of anniversaries, I just got an invitation to a conference on the 300th anniversary of the death of John Locke (Southern Hemisphere readers can email j.jones@griffith.edu.au, there are also events at Yale and Oxford.

I was first introduced to Locke through his demolition of Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarchia in which the divine right of kings is derived from the supposed natural rights of fathers, beginning with Adam. Locke has great fun with this, pointing out that if Filmer is right, there is a single rightful monarch for the entire planet, namely the man most directly descended from Adam under the rules of primogeniture – by implication, all existing monarchs (except perhaps one) are usurpers who can justly be overthrown.

I was very disappointed then, to discover that Locke’s own analysis of property rights was no better than Filmer’s theory of divine right; in fact worse. Rights to property are supposed to be obtained by the first productive user and then passed on by inheritance and voluntary transfer. So, if we could locate the Garden of Eden, where Adam delved, his lineal descendent, if not king of the world, would be the rightful owner of Eden. To determine a rightful allocation of property, we would need to repeat the same exercise for every hectare on the planet. The Domesday Book wouldn’t even get you started on this task.

That was thirty years ago or so, and science has advanced a lot since then, to the point where we can award victory to (a modified version of) Filmer. By careful analysis of DNA, we can now postulate a mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam from whom we are all descended (of course, there’s no reason to suppose the two were contemporaneous). Suppose, following the practice of various hereditary monarchies, we identify the rightful heir of Y-chromosomal Adam as the man with the smallest number of accumulated mutations (defects from the point of view of a strongly hereditary principle). In principle, this man could be identified uniquely. In practice, I imagine it would be possible to identify the ethnic group to which this man belongs, probably somewhere in Africa, and crown some prominent member of that group. A feminist version, with descent on matriarchal lines, is equally reasonable and, on the current state of scientific knowledge, a litte more practical.

Of course, for those of us who don’t buy patriarchal/matriarchal arguments in the first place, this isn’t at all compelling. But I don’t find Locke’s theory of property any more compelling and, unlike Filmer, his theory is no closer to implementability than it was 300 years ago.
[Posted with ecto]

{ 36 comments }

1

Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 12:45 pm

John,

a matrilineal system would be much more reasonable. I believe that maternal mDNA is better conserved than is the Y chromosome, that sink of mutation and degeneration. On top of that, of course, one can generally be surer of one’s mother than one’s father.

If the more alarmist geneticists are right, the Y chromosome hasn’t much time left anyway, on an evolutionary scale. Perhaps we had all better switch over to matriarchy while we can, and start getting parthenogenetic while we’re at it.

2

Adam Kotsko 02.17.04 at 1:03 pm

It seems to me that the most logical conclusion to draw from the Adam and Eve thing is that every human being is equally entitled to every square inch of ground and to all political power. If Adam was the absolute first man (as in traditional interpretations of the Bible), then we are all equally descended from him. That makes more sense than drawing in DNA analysis that has nothing to do with our normal ideas of inheritance.

3

Mrs Tilton 02.17.04 at 1:14 pm

Adam,

under gavelkind, sure, you’d be right. But what if there’s primogeniture?

4

Ssuma 02.17.04 at 1:31 pm

It seems to me that the most logical conclusion to draw from the Adam and Eve thing is that every human being is equally entitled to every square inch of ground and to all political power.

Whan Adam dalf, and Eve span,
Wo was thanne a gentilman?
[When Adam dug, and Eve spun,
Who was then the gentleman?]

John Ball d.1381

Lefties are always twisting defenses of privilege to their own advantage.

5

Ssuma 02.17.04 at 1:31 pm

It seems to me that the most logical conclusion to draw from the Adam and Eve thing is that every human being is equally entitled to every square inch of ground and to all political power.

Whan Adam dalf, and Eve span,
Wo was thanne a gentilman?
[When Adam dug, and Eve spun,
Who was then the gentleman?]

John Ball d.1381

Lefties are always twisting defenses of privilege to their own advantage.

6

Jeremy Osner 02.17.04 at 1:41 pm

Calling Adam a “productive user” of Eden seems like a stretch to me. Property rights are consequent to The Fall, I think — I can’t see how they exist if there is no scarcity.

7

humeidayer 02.17.04 at 2:42 pm

I enjoyed this post, Mr. Quiggin.

IMHO, one the least tenable Lockeian position in practice today is Tacit Consent.

It’s not as though the open frontier lies just over yonder hill. We live in a world in which virtually every square inch of inhabitable land is under the control of governments. In the most localized sphere of our lives, we would rightfully object if the law took the perspective that the abused consent to being abused because they choose to live under the same roof as their abuser; and we would rightfully object to those who would point out that the abused are free to leave if they don’t like it.

Yet, at the same time here in America, in the broadest sphere, the nation, this appears to be the position. It seems to me this argument would apply equally well in a world completely controlled by two brutal dictatorships, with one’s choice of brutal dictator serving as evidence of one’s consent to being brutalized. In a world without a Common, the question warrants re-examination.

IMHO, on a related note, I think the most important Lockeian question today is that of the Common. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this an area where the libertarians on the right appear to have a blind eye, and I think it’s also an area where the libertarians on the left, in questioning property and pointing out the problems with property, are heading the right direction. At this point, I think many of the Marxist approaches to the problem are beginning to function to function primarily as distractions that threaten to capsize the Left and leave the Right free to wreak havoc on the open seas.

8

MQ 02.17.04 at 2:58 pm

Humeidayer: explain, please. Are you a Georgeist or is there something more interesting going on?

9

Matt 02.17.04 at 3:24 pm

Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam logically (if not actually) specify the genotypes from which we are all descended.

So not only do they not have to be contemporaneous, there could have been more than one individual (of each sex) who shared those genotypes.

At least, that’s how I read Dennett’s exposition of this topic in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Molecular biologists feel free to shoot me down :-)

10

rea 02.17.04 at 3:36 pm

Property is theft.

11

limberwulf 02.17.04 at 5:11 pm

theft from whom rea? And to what type of property do you refer?

I would tend to agree humeidayer, that in most of the world land is controlled to some extent or other by a government. The essence of private property as many libertarians see it does not exist, hence the changes desired. I have no problem with questioning property and showing issues with it, but many of the questions I hear have been answered already. What suprises me is that many anti-property people seem to have no problem with government ownership or control of property, yet that is the problem that you cite.

12

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.17.04 at 5:19 pm

I’m not sure you can define ‘theft’ without allowing for property.

Science note: you could possibly track the most direct female descendant through mitochondrial DNA since it is directly replicated from cell to cell. I would be surprised if you could do a similar analysis on the Y chromosome. It crosses over in replication and there is no reason to believe that the rate of mutation is constant in all places and among all peoples.

13

Abiola Lapite 02.17.04 at 5:19 pm

“On top of that, of course, one can generally be surer of one’s mother than one’s father.”

Yes, but we don’t need any paternal information to make inferences about which men are closest to the ancestral root (for the Y chromosome only, of course)*. All we need are closely related outgroup species to use in rooting our phylogeny, of which there are many; in fact, this work has already been done. As Quiggin suggested, the root does indeed seem to lie in Africa, amongst Ethiopians and the Khoisan.

*I emphasize this point because I don’t want to give the erroneous impression that the Khoisan and Ethiopians are somehow “more primitive” or living fossils. All human groups have undergone genetic change since the origin of our species, and were we to look at other loci, we would undoubtedly find the root located elsewhere, though it would likely still lie somewhere in Africa.

14

Abiola Lapite 02.17.04 at 5:24 pm

“It crosses over in replication”

Only the tips of the Y chromosome undergo recombination, and nobody doing work on the subject uses that part of the chromosome to carry out phylogenetic reconstructions.

15

Decnavda 02.17.04 at 5:44 pm

This thread continues a debate I was having with Micha below in the Libetarian FLash thread. Micha was agreeing with Locke. I was trying to suggest that a labor theory of property based on self-ownership would seem to suggest that the ownership ends when the self ends – at death, leading to a right to a “life estate” in produced property.

16

Decnavda 02.17.04 at 5:47 pm

mg-
If I call myself a neo-Georgist, would that make me even slightly interesting?
No? Oh, sorry.

17

Micha Ghertner 02.17.04 at 10:22 pm

But, of course, if ownership ends when self ends, there will be little, if any, trade.

18

Micha Ghertner 02.17.04 at 10:23 pm

But, of course, if ownership ends when self ends, there will be little, if any, trade.

19

limberwulf 02.17.04 at 10:24 pm

yes decnavda, and an interesting one at that. I am still curious as to what happens with a gift (or trade) of ownership in which the receiver modifies or improves on the property. How does that said property get redistributed in a situation where death ends the right of ownership to the property? It is an interesting approach to the equalization issue, Im just not sure how it could work unless property rights are done away with totally.

20

Micha Ghertner 02.17.04 at 10:24 pm

But, of course, if ownership ends when self ends, there will be little, if any, trade.

21

limberwulf 02.17.04 at 10:31 pm

The above post is not meant to imply that I think property rights should be dont away with, in fact I think that property is key to a functional society. In the absence of property there is no motivation to labor, nor is there respect for the results of the labor of others. There would be no defined theft, but there would be no immorality to taking food from someone else simply because you thought your own need to be greater.

22

Decnavda 02.17.04 at 11:09 pm

Property rights are defined by law, and a temporal dimention has existed since the begining of English Common law. Temporal dimentions do not destroy the concept of property rights any more than the existence of spacial dimentions. With regard to transfered life estates as they exist now (or moreso, in the past: they are a LOT less popular than they used to be), you lose the property at the death of the person whom the estate was measured by. In general, improvements are forfitted to the remainderman, although I suspect courts would provide you with a reasonable time to take away whatever of the improvements you can if the death was unexpected and sudden. Such forfittures are common today, mostly with people who build improvements on land to which they hold 20 to 50 year leases. It is something you know going in. Yes, this makes life estates ecconomicly risky and that is why they are not very common today. My Georgist sympathies make the problems with life estates in real estate irrelevant. Forfiture in medium-term leases is not irrelevant, since the government would auction such leases, but the fact that such leases are common and result in huge buildings on top of them shows this would not discourage building.

Life estates in produced property would, from a natural rights perspective, remain the same in either a gift or exchange transfer, and would, as Micha states, result in a cesation (or EXTREME slowdown) of trade. But those who believe in natural rights must ignor such agruments from consequences, because they do not logically change the morality of the right.

Fortunately, I am a contractarian. I believe that people should be able to control as much wealth as they create, but it need not be the exact same objects. The best – not perfect, but best- determiner of whether the amount of wealth you control equals what you contributed is the free market.

Thus, under my theory, there is a huge difference between a gift and an exchange. An exchange simply alters, in a individualistic fashion, the form of that portion of wealth you control, in a way that actually raises the total amount of social wealth while we are at it. A gift is you ceeding to others your right to control a certain amount of wealth. A right that ends when you end.

23

wsm 02.17.04 at 11:36 pm

You have identified some problems with Locke’s theory as applied to land, but most of the wealth in a modern economy is of much more recent vintage. It is perfectly feasible to identify the persons who created the Empire State Building, or the Ford Motor Company, and show that the current owners derive their title from the creators of the asset, by purchase or inheritance.

24

limberwulf 02.17.04 at 11:47 pm

If indeed we are discounting the actual ramifications and consequences of an action for the sake of “morality” (something I am generally not inclined to do), let us explore the distribution of property upon death. Who is given control of property upon death? Be it the majortiy vote or a government not under rule of the majority, there is claim being laid against that property by individuals who did not create it. They are being given rights to propery they did not create to distribute as they see fit. They are in essence receiving a gift. Why are they morally justified in receiving gift property as a collective, to do with what they wish, but an individual who was granted said gift by the will of the previous owner has no such moral justification? The receiver of a gift should have the right to use it as he or she sees fit, just as you are theorizing that “society”, which is nothing more than a group of individuals, would have that right. Even under the assumption that all would receive an “equal share” that premise stands. I also highly doubt in a global context that all could truly receive an “equal share” of the property of the deceased. The management of such a thing would be mind boggling, and the effective use of the tiny portions would be so small as to be inneffectual as a benefit to each person. But, I forgot, we are not addressing practical consequences.

Another thing to remember is that the “free market” does not imply a consistent price. In a free market an average price for many things can be found, but the whole point of trade is that some things are more valuable to some than others are. In Costa Rica, certain fresh fruits are very inexpensive, in more northern regions, their scarcity makes them far more expensive. A fair market price will vary greatly for each individual area, and ultimately for each individual. People make buying choices based on price, quality, convenience, and personal preference. That personal preference may be based on their beliefs, their loyalty to a company or individual, their prejudices, etc. In the example that Micha gave in the “libertairan flash” thread, a father trading a million dollars for a trinket his son made is a free market trade. On a market with anyone else, that trinket may have been worth very little. A Picasso painting may sell for millions, but to a man who does not care for Picasso or know him, it is little more than a picture, something he wouldnt spend $50.00 on. I am not sure that contribution/wealth control is always in balance in a free market, at least not in a theoretical sense. On average, perhaps it is, and that is perhaps why you stated the free market was the best, tho not perfect, measure. If we are willing to deal with imperfect measures because of reality tho, then we must be willing to deal with real life consequences to our theoretical moral position.

25

John Quiggin 02.17.04 at 11:50 pm

This doesn’t help you in the slightest, wsm. Supposing I sell ‘my’ land to buy Ford shares. If I didn’t have a just title to the land I don’t have a just title to the Ford shares.

26

Micha Ghertner 02.18.04 at 12:26 am

Sorry for the multiple posts; my browser is acting funny.

Limberwulf basically covered everything I was about to say anyway.

Decnavda: you say that you are a contractarian. Under your contractarian framework, why must exchanges be limited to what you consider objective market value, especially with the subjective market value criticisms limberwilf and I have made? I’m familiar with Jan Narveson’s version of contractarianism, but I’ve never heard of a version that prohibits inheritence. It seems that this comes from an adherence to a Georgist natural rights theory (that only labor improvements and not land and natural resources can be truly “owned”) rather than a contractarian theory. And, of course, the traditional criticisms against Georgism still apply. (i.e., how exactly are we supposed to separate labor improvements from natural resources? Markets prices do not provide a clear distinction.)

27

decnavda 02.18.04 at 12:31 am

I don’t think I made myself clear above. If you notice, what I refer to as the “natural rights” and the “contractarian” positions come to opposite results with regard to whether an exchange is different from a gift. “Natural Rights” cannot accept arguments from consequences. I do accept arguments from consequences, however, because I am a contractarian. That is why I can accept the imperfections of the market and go with it anyway as the best option. To the extent the conclusions I draw from a logical reading of natural rights seem absurd, take it as an opponent of natural rights arguing against them: If you accept natural rights, these are the consequences you must live with.

Under natural rights with a life estate in produced property, your property becomes unowned at death, and intial acquition theory would seem to apply. If I see my next door nieghbor who lives alone blow his brains out, I should be able to go in, clean up the place, start using it, and claim it for myself. Tenants could claim property when the landlord dies. Trade might exist, since the person who recieved the life estate in the trade could claim intial aquisition from use when the life estate ends. Most inter-vivos gifts could continue the same way after the death of the owner, but if you we on vacation when the person who gave you the car you left in your driveway dies, the nieghbor could hotwire it and claim intitial aquisition.

Frankly, I fail to see how ANYONE has a “moral” right to the property of the dead. Honoring the wishes of the deceased owner is anti-liberty: The living should not be ruled by the dead. I see no moral way, but there is a fair way: just split it equally. Think of a group of hikers coming across a pot of gold coins. Do any of them a “moral” right to the gold? I do not see how. Can it be split fairly in the absence of “morality”? Sure – an equal split will work.
“I also highly doubt in a global context that all could truly receive an “equal share” of the property of the deceased. The management of such a thing would be mind boggling, and the effective use of the tiny portions would be so small as to be inneffectual as a benefit to each person.”
Again, this claim would be legitimate in the context of a “natural right” to an equal share of the property of the dead. As a contractarian, I can look at the consequences and apply George’s solution to an equal right to land to an equal right to inherientences: Just tax the market value into a general fund and split the pot among everyone. The administration of this would be simple compared to say, determining how much a Social security pension should be upon retirement.

28

Decnavda 02.18.04 at 1:04 am

Basically, I see the government as a mutual benifit organization owned equally by all citizens. One of its jobs is to decide who should control what. Another is to maximize the freedom of each citizen. The distribution of wealth control should be fair, maximize freedom and encourage production, and to that end the best maximun is to allow each individual control of as much wealth as they, as an individual, contributed to the general pot, plus an equal share of wealth that no one created. Because wealth is essentially freedom, I would also endorse a sufficitarian needs-based welfare state, although in my utopian dreams such laws would sit unused on the books because the citizen’s dividend would exceed the sufficitarian minimum.

I would also, for purposes of maximum freedom, allow you to keep, untaxed, anything that you could “walk away from the table” with, essentially your body, your mind, and genetic inheritences. You cannot “walk away” with property outside of yourself because that was defined orginally by the government, not nature. In my utopian fantasies, the advantages of superior genes and upbringing would fade as a right to government funded genetic and cyber upgrades becomes part of the citizen’s dividend.

None of this is natural rights theory, and so when practical reality requires destinctions to be made at fuzzy boundtries (what part of the $1M Dad paid for Son’s ashtray is a gift, how do we distinguish labor-created property from nature, etc.), I would, for practical purposes, rely on the democratic capitalist system of markets, legislatures, and courts that we have now and that, IMHO, do a fairly good job at working these questions out.

29

Micha Ghertner 02.18.04 at 3:05 am

You seem to be more of a consequentialist than a contractarian. I’m still not sure what you mean by calling yourself a contractarian.

Frankly, I fail to see how ANYONE has a “moral” right to the property of the dead.

Strawman. No one ever claimed to have a moral right to the property of the dead. We claimed that full property rights transfer, through gifts and barter. The only person who thinks that something special happens at death is you.

Think of a group of hikers coming across a pot of gold coins. Do any of them a “moral” right to the gold? I do not see how. Can it be split fairly in the absence of “morality”? Sure – an equal split will work.

How is that “fair”? Why should those lucky enough to find a pot of gold get to make a claim on it, while those who were not so lucky have no claim?

As a contractarian, I can look at the consequences and apply George’s solution to an equal right to land to an equal right to inherientences: Just tax the market value into a general fund and split the pot among everyone.

But as I said earlier, you cannot use market values to separate natural resources from labor improvements.

Basically, I see the government as a mutual benifit organization owned equally by all citizens.

As I contractarian, does it trouble you that no one agreed to this contract (nor would it be in everyone’s self-interest to do so)?

Again, I still don’t understand what you mean by calling yourself a contractarian. You seem more like a consequentialist, with a strange mixture of Georgian natural rights theory thrown in for good measure.

30

Decnavda 02.18.04 at 4:17 am

1. Contractarianism is a form of consequentialism. It differs from utilitarianism, altruism, and egoism, in terms of what consequences we are aiming for. The contractarian looks for fair, mutually agreeable results.

2. As I contractarian, does it trouble you that no one agreed to this contract (nor would it be in everyone’s self-interest to do so)?
This (“no one agreed”) is a valid complaint about contractiarianism. I think I have a solution, but I am still working it out and do not wish to set it up for scrutiny just yet, so you can consider yourself to have won this point for now. As for it not being in everyone’s self interest, let me just say that no one gets everything they want out of a contract.

3. “No one ever claimed to have a moral right to the property of the dead. We claimed that full property rights transfer, through gifts and barter.” If you believe in natural rights, those two sentences contract each other, since property rights are moral. For us consequentialists, we are simply proposing different temporal dimentions to property. I propose it should end when the producer dies, you propose it should end when entropy causes the atoms of the universe to move so choatically that it is impossible to distinguish between matter. Or the Big Crunch, although that now seems less likely.

4. “How is that “fair”? Why should those lucky enough to find a pot of gold get to make a claim on it, while those who were not so lucky have no claim?”
Sigh. Agreed. I was using the hikers as a metaphor for the entire world. A practical solution the literal case might be to award a finder’s fee, maybe 50% or whatever, to encourage people to register such finds, and give the rest to the general fund.

5. “But as I said earlier, you cannot use market values to separate natural resources from labor improvements.”
This is done all the time in the real modern world in the practical way I described above that you did not address.

31

decnavda 02.18.04 at 4:26 am

“But as I said earlier, you cannot use market values to separate natural resources from labor improvements.”

Let me add here that using this claim against Georgists makes YOU sound like a natural rights adherent. In the real world, these distinctions are made millions of time each year (literally). Now, a natural rights adherent is free to claim that this practical reality is too messy and is making non-existent distinctions. But I do not see how you can call yourself a consequentialist and claim that it is impossible to make a practical distinction and ignor the empirical evidence that such practical distinctions are made millions of times each year without leading to ecconomic collapse, social rebellion, or even any noticible numbers of press articles describing it as a problem.

32

ahem 02.18.04 at 8:16 am

The big problem with Locke is that he plays fast and loose with the terminology: analogising from the medieval Commons to the state of nature is faulty because the Commons is granted by an incorporated commonwealth. It’s an artifical paradise, if you will, and Locke never really admits it. It’s one of the bait-and-switches that he does quite often when dealing with things that, well, creep him out.

33

humeidayer 02.18.04 at 10:25 am

Humeidayer: explain, please. Are you a Georgeist or is there something more interesting going on?

I don’t think I’m a Georgist. (I, in my state of laity, had to refresh my memory a bit and try and review his position.) After some research, it seems my position is closest to Hillel Steinar’s. I’m not opposed to private property in land, and I tend to agree with those who say “When everybody owns it, nobody owns it” and note that the government has never been particularly good at utilizing land.

That said, I think I do agree with George in principle, but rather than serving as grounds to eliminate private property in land, I think the principle should serve as grounds for some form of redistributive taxation. It seems to me that it is a good justification for using significant estate taxes to fuel various forms of redistribution and social reinvestment.

When it comes to natural resources, I do seem to agree with George, and I think the benefits from resources should be conferred to everyone. I would go even further than that. We don’t live in an agrarian society anymore, and theoretical models based on the State of Nature or the existence of a frontier make less sense than before, because our advanced society is even further removed from any sort of SoN. I hope for a way to update such ideas and recapture the spirit of them, to resurrect the counterbalancing effects of elements such as the notion of the Commons or the existence or unsettled land over yonder hill.

Present day society (and hopefully) future society rests increasingly on layer after layer of infrastructure. Should this infrastructure (to the extent that it is privately owned) be passed on privately from generation to generation from parent to child to grandchild? Shouldn’t things created by previous generations be considered as belonging more and more to society the more these things age? At least in some conceptual sense? I do not think our system reflects or acknowledges this phenomenon as much as it should.

I don’t think a home or a building should become government property after a generation or some number of generations. Instead, I believe the idea should serve as grounds for some form of redistributive taxation. Again, I think estate taxes are the obvious choice.

Due to Cato, the Chicago School of Economics and its Nobel laureates, et al., it seems libertarian ideas have been gaining a lot of ground in recent years. I don’t think it would be a bad idea for left-leaning individuals to spend more time addressing issues within the framework. Will it be enough? That, I don’t know.

A most objectionable thing to me in America today is that in the current triumphal stampede of capitalism and property rights, the current administration seems quite intent on doing everything it can to eliminate estate taxes, or as it likes to absurdly call them “death taxes.” This is clearly going to lead to more social stratification. Very unfair and less justifiable than ever, in my opinion.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the idea of self-ownership. (In fact, I like the idea.) I have more of a problem when these owned selves get passed from one generation to the next until unprivileged talent becomes Paris Hilton’s gardner, something undesirable to philosophers of many different stripes.

34

humeidayer 02.18.04 at 10:37 am

For those interested, here’s a link to Hillel Steiner at University of Manchester.

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limberwulf 02.18.04 at 4:30 pm

decnavda,
As a contractarian, I assume you have respect for the fulfillment of contracts. In the case of debt, would not a contract continue even upon the death of an individual? If a persons rights to proerty end upon death, what about his liability? In most cases debt is handled by insurance. In cases where there is an insufficient estate or insurance to cover debt, the debt holder is typically unable to collect, unless the debts are passed on to the family in some way. Many lending contracts require insurance for that exact reason. However, assuming that contract fulfillment is respected and lenders still get paid what they are owed first (the alternative would again be disastrous to trade), liability could easily be used as a loophole to the gift of an estate.

I am glad to hear you are not a natural rights supporter as your “initial aquisition” scenario would be horrifically chaotic and involve great potential for use of force in “initial acquisition”. Scary.

“No one gets everything they want out of a contract”. True, but everyone in a contract must sign on to the contract. A purely contractarian government would mean that the government had no authority over those who did not sign on, nor would those that did not sign on have rights to any of the functions afforded by said government. Meaning your government that taxed estates would not get my signature, but I also couldnt use any of your roads. The complexity of building an entire government on a contractarian basis is enormous, but I dont entirely disagree with the concept in an idealistic sense.

The fundamental problem I have is basically with the concept of taxation for equalization. Governments must be very closely controlled to avoid corruption for one thing, and the distribution process would have to be very strict. The greater issue I have is the concept of property rights themselves. What gives the majority (assuming democracy, ruling class assuming otherwise) the right to a certain peice of property (or the value of said property) simply due to the death of the former owner. Is that truly going to be the best way to utilize that property? How do you propose to handle the targeting of wealthy individuals? I understand not wanting to be ruled by the dead, but property does not automatically make you a ruler.

I also must take issue on your support of a welfare state, in part because in reality I know there will be those that take unnecessary advantage of it. Those that do so have then laid claim to the property of others, be they living or dead, simply based on their need or on their “right to freedom”. This does not work for me. Your need is not a claim to my property or my ability to aquire property. Side note: If I give something to those in need upon my death, should that wish be ignored and the wealth rather distributed more “equally”? The other opposition I have is to the idea that wealth is freedom. I understand that having a certain amount of money gives me more options, and “frees me” of the everyday worries of where to get basic life needs. However, freedom, IMHO, is not the presence of options. Freedom is the ability to choose between my available options, without legal restriction, providing my choices do not take the freedom from another person. When I go buy donuts, my level of freedom is not defined by how many flavors there are, it is defined by the ability to freely choose between available flavors (I prefer boston cream if available). Freedom allows opportunity, but it also allows risk.

humeidayer,
Ifrastructure is certainly an increasingly relevant thing in todays society. However, infrastructure, like anything else in life, will change and evolve as technology and the needs, wants, and desires of society change. Private ownership of that infrastructure, IMHO, tends to be far more beneficial in keeping that infrastucture up to date. The market can far more easily allow for changes and create the necessary wealth to make those changes as needed. The regulation and government control/subsidizing of various infrastructure, including everything from oil and farming to electricity and roads has not done a great deal to advance our society. Oil, for instance, continues to be a major industry, in spite of its age. Most industries have long since moved on to bigger and better forms. I think if the government got out of the infrastructure ownership/support business, we would be a far more advanced society. Leave it to the free markets, it will be better for the society as a whole.

As for the idea of fairness in life. I know that the empire concept is frustrating, and it is certainly being used to weild power. However, I have two arguments to make.
1) Life is not fair, it cant be made fair, and forced fairness is always unfair to someone. We need to stop trying to control life and make it all a big utopia, because people are different, and thats the way it should be. If people were not different, there would be no need to cooperate since we would all be automatically cooperating. One person would be equally good at anything as all other people. There is no progress in this. Like it or not, our differences in skill arise in part from our upbringing, differences in that arise in part from our resources, and the resources of those around us. “leveling the playing field” is not necessarily a benefit, even if it were possible.
2) The problem with the “empires” that a certain class of people have built is not the wealth, it is the way the wealth is used. The ability to buy your way into positions of political power, to buy yourself out of having to obey the rule of law, and the ability to manipulate markets through bribery and other underhanded means are the major cause to turmoil and to the maintenance of the class seperation. Most of the people I choose to associate with that received large inheritances have carried on their ancestors actions in producing, they are doing very well with that knowledge and using the tools they were given wisely. They are a benefit to society. The rest of those I know that received large inheritances sit on the wealth, or use it to buy their way out of trouble or into whatever they want to do. If the law were to be enforced equally on them, they would have little advantage, and in short order lose a majority of the wealth ammassed by their predecessors. Others that learned to work hard and use their ability will soon pass them in wealth and success. If you have a problem with the wealthy, be sure your complaint is against the person, not the wealth. If you have a problem with a violent man, be sure the issue is with him, not his weapons.

I do not deny the advantages of the wealthy, they have tools the rest do not, but I do not think that those differences would be so evident in a free market. In a free market, ultimately performance rules, not tools. The only time tools help is if they are sufficient to manipulate the market. The greatest “tool” used for this is not wealth, it is government. Government has become a tool of the wealthy, bought and paid for with the wealth earned (in most cases) by others. If we remove the power of the government as a market manipulation tool, we remove the greatest tool of manipulation, improving the chances for the rest of us, and not having to violate the freedoms or property of anyone.

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limberwulf 02.18.04 at 4:32 pm

holy cow that was a lot longer than I realized. I sincerely apologize for my long-windedness.

btw humeidayer, thanks for the link to Steiner, I will have to read some of his stuff.

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