The public institution of private property

If you go to a friend’s party, and decide to take something from his home without permission, that’s called stealing.

Let’s say you saw a laptop computer tucked away in a corner at the party, and decided to take it without saying anything to anybody.

You stole it.

Let’s break this down to understand the dynamics a little better. Why was it stealing?

One reason is that we have something that I call “the public institution of private property.”

We all understand what private property is. In that sense, our collective understanding of private property is a public institution–we all agree to the rules that establish what constitutes private property. That agreement, to live by those rules, is a public action.

We don’t get to decide for ourselves what constitutes private property. There is no “privatizing private property.” If we all got to decide for ourselves what constitutes private property, then it should be obvious that chaos would be the result. Anybody could take anything they wanted at any time.

It would be hard to accumulate goods and wealth. It would be hard to even take care of your own family. Trust would decline dramatically, being replaced by suspicion and fear.

The strong would prey upon the weak. It would become a might-makes-right culture.

Privatizing the rules for private property would not strengthen private property rights. It would eliminate them.

 

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The Modern State as an Occasion of Sin

You may have seen Facebook meme’s like these:

libertarian-jesus-2

libertarian-jesus

socialist-jesus

These are not arguments, only conclusions. I think it is important to understand the underlying argument being made with those kinds of memes. This is the best treatment I’ve seen, especially since it is thoroughly Catholic:

The Modern State as an Occasion of Sin: a Public Choice Analysis of the Welfare State

My thoughts/summary:

By endorsing the state-sponsored method of poverty alleviation, we are creating two types of temptations discussed in the essay (the welfare administrator’s temptation to make capricious decisions in the allocation of tax dollars, and the payment-receiver’s temptation to use deception and/or opportunistic behavior to participate in the program). We have also created a system that is not directly accountable to the people who fund it. The state serves as a wedge between the donors (taxpayers) and the recipients, effectively keeping them apart from each other. This method of poverty alleviation lacks a direct way to be controlled by donors (taxpayers). It is not rightly viewed as an agency relationship for two reasons: 1) donors are required to fund the program. 2) Lacking competence to discover or create morality, this method creates a moral hazard (or rent-seeking) problem. Because of these issues, this method fosters resentment in the donors (taxpayers). Taxpayers are required to fund this method, but there is no corresponding requirement for recipients to be accountable to the taxpayers for how the money was spent.

Continued tomorrow.