NLRBE & Libertarianism (Post 2 of 3) – Property Rights, Morality, and Government Enforcement

Published August 30, 2014

018 higher contrastThis is the second post, in a three post series.

The series questions some assumptions underlying libertarianism, from an NLRBE-informed perspective. It expands upon a written dialogue I recently had with a libertarian friend of mine. I thought the topic might interest other NLRBE-advocates.

More specifically, the series covers the following three issues that my friend and I discussed:

  • Sustainability and decentralization, covered in the first blog post;
  • Property rights, morality, and government enforcement, covered in this blog post; and
  • Competition, cooperation, evolution, and morality, discussed at length, in the third and final post.

So, on to the second issue, property rights.

My libertarian friend’s perspective:

“Shackle the government. They exist to protect us from foreign enemies, from domestic enemies, and to enforce laws and contracts. That means we need a military, a police force, and a court system. Nothing more. The government has a monopoly on one thing and one thing only. Retaliatory force. They cannot initiate force. Any initiation of force by the government for any reason whatsoever should be immediately prevented. For instance, if there are poor people and the government wants to help them, it must initiate force through taxation. This is to be prevented at all costs because the consequences are not only immoral but disastrous, as history has shown.”

My perspective:

I don’t have the time at the moment to thoroughly respond to this, although I’d really love to.

For now, I’ll just share a few thoughts.

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First, for reasons I will outline in my third blog post, regarding competition, I believe that so long as we maintain a competitive economic system, the wealthy within it will always seek, invent, and manipulate large tools, like governments, to acquire and hoard resources. Just as I believe you will always have a criminal element, and other unsustainable symptoms of violence, unrest, and social and environmental pillaging, in such a system.

Why?

For a myriad of interesting reasons, which I will attempt to illustrate in my third blog post, I believe that in any kind of competitive system we would continue to see people engaged in unsustainable actions, taken out of an understandable and predictable place of insecurity, anxiety, and mistrust.

And here’s the second thought I’ll share at this point.

I have heard and felt quizzical about this argument before, this argument that it’s “immoral” to tax, but moral to use violence to prevent unlucky, dispossessed people from partaking of the fruits of the Earth, even to meet their most basic of survival needs.

To be clear, I don’t want to see force used at all. And the NLRBE model depends upon group consensus, utterly rejecting adoption by force.

But I’d like to take a moment with you to explore the assumption that force is any more preferable, or “moral,” when used as a tool to prevent people from accessing what they need, than it is when used as a tool to prevent people from dominating the fruits of the Earth to the extent that others cannot survive.

I feel troubled and confused about this contention.

Partly this is because I am an empiricist, seeing “morality” as nothing more than convention, after years of specialized study of this in school. (Prior to law school, I graduated magna cum laude, with a major in philosophy, specializing in ethics and political philosophy).

Partly I feel troubled and confused about it because I see property rights as another convention, also after years of study.

I’ll elaborate on the latter.

I have heard libertarians express concern about the “forceful taking” of property, citing, as an example, taxation.

The trouble is, without underlying group acceptance of the convention that certain people have a “property right” to exclusively possess, and exclude others from, the fruits of the Earth, it’s hard for me to see a basis to conclude that preventing such exclusion is a “taking.” In other words, concluding there has been a taking makes no sense to me, except to the extent we accept the convention of granting a select few the right to exclusively dominate and exclude others from parts of the Earth.

But why accept this convention?

Why accept any convention?

I would like to see us only accept conventions which are the most demonstratively sustainable, socially and environmentally, of all available alternatives.

In the realm of property rights, what convention would be the most demonstratively sustainable, socially and environmentally? Would it be a convention of limited and exclusionary ownership, or a convention of universally-shared, library-like, use and access, such as that offered by the NLRBE model, for example?

Philosophers have tried to defend the exclusionary view of property rights for thousands of years. But many have rigorously, and I believe compellingly questioned the defenses offered. See for example all those attempts described thoroughly in Chapter 9 of “TZM Defined.”

I believe a universally-shared, use and access property system would be much more demonstratively sustainable. Indeed, with today’s technology and a shared use and access property system, we could arguably meet all needs on the planet in luxurious, peaceful, sustainable abundance, according to most who have studied the issue. See the analysis and conclusions of Jacque Fresco and Buckminster Fuller, for example.

This is a fascinating topic, and one I would love to explore with you further. If not now, then perhaps later?

For now though I will just leave it there, although, as noted above, I do discuss morality more in the third and final blog post of this series. You can find this discussion included in that of the “sixth negative,” under section VI of that last post, coming up next.

By Tiffany Clark, an activist attorney, public speaker, and author, working to help us transition to a more sustainable and equitable world. Tiffany lives and works in Sacramento, CA, with her husband, two sons, cat and dog. You can find out more about Tiffany, her activities, and her offerings, as well as read more of her writing, at www.tiffanyclarklaw.com.

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