Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Propertarianism II: Pause to reflect (again) upon the relentless pattern of history

Last time we discussed how - sadly - it is unlikely the world will enact the reforms called for recently by Hernando de Soto, to vest usable property rights in the vast numbers of Third World poor who do own some land, but who cannot now borrow or develop it using capital markets. This seems a wonderfully practical and achievable "right-handed solution" which calls for establishing clear title rights and open, honest banking systems that should benefit everybody.

EcoomicChange(This is part of a generalized interest in institutions as facilitators of practical development. According to one of my philanthropy correspondents: "Douglass North, in his recent book Understanding the Process of Economic Change, acknowledges that we just don’t know understand the process of economic change. At the same time, he acknowledges that we have made some substantial progress. Part of the progress that we have made is that we know that institutions matter, but that those institutions are not merely formal institutions such as banking laws and tariffs, but that those institutions include “soft institutions” such as social norms and cognitive styles. It might well turn out to be the case that successful economic development depends on several necessary but not sufficient conditions. Insofar as judicial independence and even property rights enforcement may, at the local level, depend on such soft institutions, it may be very difficult to implement or evaluate the effectiveness of both formal and informal institutions from the outside."

 For a different approach to the same issue, see: "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit."

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that de Soto will be heeded in any meaningful or large-scale way, because we appear to be headed back into an era of class warfare and radicalization that will increasingly resemble Europe in the 1780s and 1840s and Russia at the dawn of the 20th Century. I know this sounds dour for a "Prince of Optimism". But the very same social features that decreased radicalism in the lower and middle classes, during our lifetimes, do seem to be in retreat, while the inequalities and injustices that exacerbate class bitterness appear to be on the rise.

"Property Rights" movements will be stunted because the world's masses will increasingly, across the coming decade, see "propertarianism" as the great mystical push by this generation of aristocrats toward justifying a re-institution of aristocratic rule.

(The similarity in names encourages conflation of two very different concepts. But then, parasites are like that. They are uncreative, so they develop mimicry in order to live off others.)

In order to properly understand "propertarianism" we must take some asides into human history. We'll begin by confronting, directly, a bald fact that our friends on the right are always at pains to obscure.

==The thing that destroys market competition==

We have been told all our lives that socialism is the chief enemy of markets. Hm, well, that was true for a little while, I guess. Indeed, Ronald Reagan was right to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire." But for how long? From 1917 to 1989?

Big deal!

For most of the rest of human history -- 99% of urban cultures -- the great enemy of accountability and market systems consisted of conspiratorial aristocratism. The deliberate collusion of those with power, money and influence to take over the organs of the state and use the state's power to enforce their family privileges. Their right to cheat and own other people. And then to ensure those privileges would be inherited. This happened so consistently, across all cultures, that it must be one of the core human traits that modern civilization is challenged to overcome.

Seriously, conservative friends, look over the paragraph above and try your best to evade it.

There is no way you can. It is the salient fact concerning every human society that achieved metallurgy and agriculture. Big men - assisted by fast-talking priests or ideologues - picked up iron swords and took other mens' women and wheat, then conspired to arrange things so that their sons could do the same. If you cannot start by admitting this was true 99% of the time... and that we are seeing similar aristocratic moves today... then puh-lease, just go back into your holodeck fantasy.

-----

A defining moment: Let me make clear something that I've said many times. Being a wealthy "aristocrat" in today's world does not automatically make you a class enemy of everybody below you. Nor does it mean that you are programmed, automatically, to cheat or repress market competition, now that you've got yours. True, this is the historical pattern. But many of today's wealthy seem to 'get it' about the modern world. Elsewhere I have called them the 'satiables' - or those capable of feeling gratitude and loyalty toward a new style of civilization. One that has given them so much. Satiability does not mean they cease seeking even more money! But they tend to do this with a joyful sense of market participation - creating more goods, services and/or financial efficiency - rather than clamoring for state-protected rents and state-subsidized profits. A good example might be the 'world's greatest investor' Warren Buffett. Newer candidates: Jeff Bezos and Sergey Brin. The new-style aristocrat appears to want the rest of us to become ALMOST as rich as they are, and does not mind if his sons and daughters have to compete a little, showing what they've got inside. This isn't simple goodness; they are also smart enough to see what happened to dismal cheaters, like the Czar. Alas, there remain plenty of the old kind, doing what history says they always do, who are too stupid to see where their long term self-interest lies.

-----

So what about that distinction I made, between a Property Rights Reform Movement and those who might be called Propertarians? It is one more case where superficial left-right differences in dogma are less important than matters of personality.

Property Rights is a movement aimed at pragmatic, modernist reforms that will give poor farmers and tradesmen in the Third World the ability to leverage a bank loan off their collateral in flourishing and creative capital markets. While this concept has been proved and is generating excitement in development circles, it also faces towering difficulties, especially in corruption by local elites. (One reason for my claim that transparency and systems of universal accountability must precede any broad effort to register property titles.)

Propertarianism, in contrast, is a quasi-platonist, quasi-religious, mystical romantic cult with an underlying agenda aimed at destroying markets. The way that aristocratic wealth always destroyed markets, elsewhere and elsewhen.

Go ahead. Ask some of today's "insatiable-style" aristos and propertarian mystics how they can support tax cuts for the rich in good times and in hard times...

...tax cuts for the rich during peace and during war. Tax cuts during huge deficits and tax cuts during surplus...

...tax cuts to "supply side" us into prosperity through investment in research and factories...

... and then -- when the aristocracy demonstrably does not invest their tax gifts in capital -- they switch to "demand side" justifications, calling for yet more tax cuts, so that the aristocracy can spend it all on employment-generating toys.

(Hint, the last thirty years have shown that direct tax cuts to the rich are just about the LEAST effective economic stimulation of any kind. Proportionate to any other social class, they do not spend. (Hence their support of consumption taxes.) And they do not invest in risky factories or startups. (Venture capital languished even as the Bush cuts sent torrents into wealthy pockets.) They most certainly do no research! In fact, they mostly use any fresh infusion of money simply to be richer.)

When you probe through all the contradicting justifications for this universal rationalization of tax cuts for the rich - especially refusing to pay when your country is at war - the surface reasons all unravel and you'll easily get to the reductio answer.

"It's not the government's money. It's my money."

Try it and see. These old-fashioned aristocrats (and their apologist ideologues) are generally pretty honest about it, after a good push, readily admitting that "supply side" and all the other flummeries were just window dressing. To them, "it's our money" is a deeply-felt and indignantly moral position. A platonic essence, grounded on a purely self-referential axiom. And, like all axioms, it is not subject to question or doubt.

Also (like so many fellow hypocrites on the left) they refuse to ever consider how wonderfully convenient it all is. That their principled, moral stand just happens to support their own, personal self interest.

What a coincidence.-

==Continue to Part III  or return to Part I

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't wish to sound ungrateful, but whatever happened to the that "Modernism/Science and Religon" essay you were working on?

Jon

reason said...

Yes, your last point gets to the heart of the issue (but it apply's to libertarians as well). They like to pretend the laws of the market are natural laws, rather than a chosen set of arrangements whose justification is and only is their effectiveness. The Natural Law of property is that you own what you can defend and nothing more.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating topic.

I've strongly bought into the idea that people need to own property for a variety of reasons, not just economic, but not thought through at all what you've presented here.

I am also a huge believer in the micro-banks and Habitat for Humanity, which plows the mortgage payments the buyers make into building more houses. Dividends that reproduce and reinvestment are what seems to work in the 3rd world nations. I think my neighbors here in Littletown, Ohio, might get miffed if I tried to raise goats - you should hear my neighbor about my clothes lines [gasp!]

I look forward to reading more.

Buckeye Girl

Woozle said...

I was looking for a good definition of "propertarianism". Wikipedia redirects "Propertarianism" to "Libertarianism", and I don't *think* that is what DB is talking about...

So then the question arises: where does this usage of "propertarianism" come from? For example, there would seem to be no clear distinction between a propertarian and a "property rights advocate" given this definition: "Propertarians advocate the individual private ownership of de jure, transferable, private property titles within a free market. ... Specifically, propertarianism recognizes "natural capital" -- including land -- as a legitimate form of private property."

So is the distinction which DB is using one that is widely recognized? Or is he adopting it in order to have a (much-needed) label for the concept?

And (secondarily) just what is its relationship to libertarianism?

Ryan Somma said...

Libertarianism, taken to its extreme, becomes Propertarianism... Although I prefer the term "Market Socialism." It's the hypothesis that the government should be done away with altogether and the wealthy should be allowed to care for the lower classes out of market interests, which is what would happen if we cut taxes down to zero. It's incredibly naive and I appreciate Dr. Brin's analysis on the subject.

There's also the term "State Capitalism" used to describe China's brand of socialism.

reason said...

I don't know if Ryan's characterisation of extreme Libertarianism is accurate. Surely libertarians, who are mostly intelligent people, also know that market capitalism can only exist within a quite complex legal and enforcement framework. You can't get rid of the bathtub of the government without getting rid of the baby of capitalism.

Can he find some quotes to support what he is saying?

Anonymous said...

OK.

Time for me to play contrarian!

Let me start by saying that I'm not a Property Rights fan. I rather like living in a metropolitan area -- Portland, OR -- which has a draconian urban planning commission that Libertarians and growth advocates come to the city to razz at the same time it hosts delegations of "smart growth" advocates.

That said, I think setting up property rights advocates as "aristocrats" is in some ways a straw man.

I do think greed is involved, but it is the more refined greed of a robber baron who actually produces and sells something.

In this case, the product is development: Houses, retail space, office parks, and so on.

You can make an argument that these are good things. You may not want that plot of farmland next door to become an office park or "big box" retail outlet or block of condos, but, ya know, people have to places to work and shop and live, right?

I think this issue has subtleties that could get ignored if you slap a "scheming aristocrats" label on the problem.

Stefan

Anonymous said...

I also need to play the contrarian. DB says that the "Its my money" is a "platonic axiom" and that’s all that needs to be said. Obviously, if it is a "platonic axiom" then it is mystical, ideological crap. WTF!? Sorry, but if the money I am paid for voluntarily spending my time working for somebody is not my money, whose is it? The burden of proof is not on me to prove that the money I earn working my ass off isn't mine. The burden of proof is on those who say it isn't mine. What rational basis do you have for saying it belongs to anybody but me? (FYI: I WANT to be able to say that the government can take money from people to fulfill its functions. But wanting is not good enough. If you are going to use force to get what you want, which is the only way taxes have ever been collected, you had better have an argument that consists of more than: “Well duh, I have the guns!”)

BTW: I am also from Portland, OR, and if my above paragraph doesn’t make it clear, I almost whole heartedly disagree with the previous Anonymous from here. There are some qualifications there, but that is for another time.

-Ian

"--
Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual." -Thomas Jefferson

David Brin said...

Jon, the religion essay is waiting till a few other things get off my chest. I am tuning a bunch of articles to post on amazon.com/shorts. YOU folks are the ones who get to see early drafts!

Reason, this is a key point in the highly provocative keynote that I gave to one Libertarian party national convention. See http://www.davidbrin.com/libertarianarticle1.html Half the audience wanted to lynch me... prevented only by the other half who were giving a standing ovation. It was a distilled moment of modernists vs romantic ideologues. I wish it could have lasted. But modernists are tepid and wander back to their jobs and families, leaving passionate radicals to guide all our political movements.

Buckeye Girl, make goat cheese!

Woozle, libertarian mystics are very propertarian. Which is foolish since most of them are actually quite poor! See the Libertarian speech cited above. I am fiercely caustic toward those who say "market laws are natural laws." What bull! Markets are highly tuned and marvelous human-built MACHINES for turning cranky human competition (usually toxic) into a cornucopia of wealth and knowledge.

Crediting "nature" is the same thing as "intelligent design"... unnecessary and counterproductive mysticism. WE deserve credit for making markets work, despite the human nature flaws that ruined markets in every other culture, and that threaten to do the same today.

I am a pragmatist who wants them to continue to do this job. That means constinuing to fine-tune markets so that they will take into account longer range objectives, sustainable development, depleting resources, the needs of generations who cannot yet speak for themselves, the desperate need to turn 3 billion poor people into middle class citizens before they become technologically super empowered terrorists.

Vital is to watch for the sand in the gears that will always be thrown into markets by elites who want costs and research and cleanup to be socialized while profits and rents are privatized. It is NOT socialistsic or class warfare to expect that people with influence will abuse that influence! It is simply recognition of human nature. All four of our accountability arenas are all about compensating for dismal human nature, empowering our angels (including COMPETITIEVE angels) to succeed while thwarting the devils within us, that make us want to cheat.

And that make us rationalize that OUR style of cheating is moral and good.

Finally, Stefan, we agree on nearly everything but it's fun when you go contrarian on me over the details. I doubt you'd find much to object to in what I said above about fine tuning market forces to include social costs. But there is ALSO something to be said for heeding what worked for our grandparents. Countless small businesses were started by people who were able to use their homes as collateral. That is the key element that will empower economic development in the third world.

What the Property Rights movement misses - and de Soto barely alludes to - is that transparency must come first. Third world elites are the worst oppressors of all. They must be naked in the sunlight before land titles are writen down. Or we'll get what the kleptocrats did in Russia.

Oh, Ian? It is mystical if it makes a pure essence out of self-interest, an axiom that purely denies a whole range of useful tools for making a better world.

Rand tells us to amputate our left-hand of consunsual/political decisions to apply taxed resources for the betterment of all. Marx tells us to lop off the right-hand suite of market based entrepeneurial solutions aimed at allowing human competitiveness to generate vast creative productivity.

Marx and Rand can go to hell. The left and right hands have each done many good and bad things, over the centuries. AT LAST we seem ready to list what they are good at and which tasks are best left to the other "hand".

At THIS point, we should go for pure oversimplifications??????

Crap. I pay taxes GLADLY, knowing what I got for them hugely outweighs (even now) all the waste and shame.

But if the kleptos keep going....

Anonymous said...

DB said: "Crap. I pay taxes GLADLY, knowing what I got for them hugely outweighs (even now) all the waste and shame."

But how do you know? If it is so obvious that you can may an empirical statement like that, why don't I know? Enlighten me, please.

-Ian

--
Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual. -Thomas Jefferson

Rob Perkins said...

Two comments, both out of a low-grade disgust at the way things are going:

1 -- I pay taxes just as gladly as David, I suppose, since I firmly and whole heartedly believe in the pay-as-you-go Social Security programs. These days, though, my contributions to the Federal kitty have been free of income tax, because of an appalling loophole that sent me back more than I paid in!

As someone who is gaining momentum out of the smack-middle of the economic diamond, into its upper strata, that sort of wealth redistribution annoys me.

2 -- The things about Portland Stefan points out, as regards the socialist urban planning boards, has made quite a beautiful city. But... I live in an area with a strongly planned urban growth boundary, and one of its side effects was that the value of the largish home (family of seven!) on the smallish lot of land which I *do* own is appreciating in market value at a rate of well over 20% a year.

If it goes on like this and my sub-urban home will be worth a cool $1,000,000 by 2010, which is not the sort of comfortable-making inflation I desire; it prices my own children out of owning homes in this area, when they reach majority and start wanting that sort of thing.

(I never wanted my home to turn into the real estate market which California became in the late 20th. And here we are. David, why couldn't you convince all the teeming masses to stay in Cally?) :-)

Stefan, I'm in the Portland area, too! I've probably piloted a rented Cessna 150 (out of Pearson Airport in Vancouver) right over your house! :-o

David Brin said...

Rob, I was born in CA and dreaded the Rose Parade every year. It never rained! Each year it drew masses from frozen climes to move here. So don't expent my pity on OR!

This was paradise.

As for taxes, I even send an extra contribution every year, to be applied against my share of the debt!

Maybe it's my ethnicity. All my cousins who had not come to England or the US died, half a century ago. I will not nurture contempt for whatever consensus decisions led to this marvel we live in. If I disagree with any parts of the social compact, it is with respect.

I HATE how much of my taxes are spent. But expressing my opinion does not mean that I KNOW that I am right and society is wrong! I will rant and rail... and then pay what I am told is needed by a civilization that has been so staggeringly good to me that I owe it nearly everything.

Indeed, if even half of the money has gone to good things, that's a pretty good ratio. Pictures from Jupiter are a balm on my resentment over Pork. The defeat of the USSR without nuclear war eased my anger of the waste of Vietnam. Swarms and black and latino college graduates slake BOTH my resentment of racism AND of smarmy-preachy lefties who haven't a clue what it took for my grandparents to uplift themselves without government help.

And yes! We have done a lot of all this ourselves! We never needed the ERA because society was already choosing to run with feminism, till all the movie starlets kick butt and a woman soldier can die for her country like anybody else. And you can even appoint a woman Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and her incredible inadequacies can be revealed without it being a gender issue.

So no... I refuse to be taxed out of my ability to be an entrepeneur. It is a balance. But propertarians know no balance.

The GI Bill, Marshall Plan and Civil Rights saved the country and the world. Who am I to say "it's my money!!!" when my money would be worthless without a civilization to defend its value.

Anonymous said...

"Finally, Stefan, we agree on nearly everything but it's fun when you go contrarian on me over the details."

Actually, I don't disagree with anything you've said about markets. I suspect we may be talking about two different "property rights" controversies.

The one that is raising hackles -- especially out west -- pits property owners against environmental laws and zoning laws.

Talking about aristocracies and markets in such a context is a distraction. It is more of a Libertarians versus Communitarians kind of thing.

"I never wanted my home to turn into the real estate market which California became in the late 20th."

Yeah, I left they Bay Area a few years back. The Portland area has a long way to go before it reaches the level of insanity, but the appreciation is astonishing.

A lot of the boom is due to buying houses on speculation. Google "condo flipping" some time. Baaaad sign there.

I'll wait until the bubble bursts and then buy several houses. I'll start growing a moustache whose ends I can twirl to better fit the role of merciless landlord.

Stefan

Anonymous said...

"Jon, the religion essay is waiting till a few other things get off my chest. I am tuning a bunch of articles to post on amazon.com/shorts. YOU folks are the ones who get to see early drafts!"

Believe me, I'm grateful. I realize that this website has given me a load of good stuff for free. (I've been reccomending the Life Eaters to a bunch of people, I promise!)

Jon

Simon Neville said...

To all those who say “It’s my money” and that you are entitled to keep as much of it as possible.
This statement excludes all the costs to society that came about from you making your money, these are called externalities.

What I mean by externalities are: Who pays for?
• The road used to transport materials to your factory
• The road used to transport finished products to the store
• The waste packaging from your product
And in a vague sense
• The emissions from those above vehicles
• The regulatory body that’s stops your competitors from cheating and protects the public from bad products
• The law enforcement that stops criminals
Etc ect ect.

All of the above are need for you to have a positive environment to do business and all cost money. These are called externalities because they are not figured into the cost of the product (i.e. cost of materials, labour, overhead, profit margin), but the product could not be made/sold with out them. How do pay for these costs that companies accumulate, by taxes.
So when companies and the individual that own the companies find more and new ways of shirking their tax burden, the consumer must pay extra tax to cover these cost (and they in general have already paid taxes on their earnings)
It’s not a level playing field or even fair, when wealthy entities don’t pay for the full costs of running their businesses.
In fact the advancement of oneself at the cost of ones peers sounds very un-American.

Simon Neville

Rob Perkins said...

"Was paradise" is kind of the point. And just for the record, I don't live in Oregon, I live in "the Portland Area", not a difference without a distinction. The combination of taxation tension, immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, and the Pacific Rim, and the landowner migration up from Cally has made the real estate market around here rather heated. My home appreciated $100,000 in *one year.*

But Stefan's city always amazes me. The restaurant districts, the University, the openness and general love the city has for its self and its self-propogation make the corruption almost bearable. One wishes for better management, but I take your point about the net positive.

(The *county* officials, on the other hand, have had their 15 minutes of fame and through lawlessness set their own causes back a few decades, or derailed them altogether. No twinkie for them.)

The worry is generally that California is not exporting all its people, just the ones who can afford to leave. Retirees and such who sell their one 1200 square foot rambler in the Bay Area and parley that into a nice 2400 square footer in Portland, along with one or two rental properties, also in Portland.

Or they just become absentee landowners, mortgaging off their equity for the monthly check. In other words, propertarians.

As for taxes, my point was the feds sent back money I didn't need. We took the unwanted surplus and assigned it to a humanitarian fund.

"All my cousins who had not come to England or the US died, half a century ago. I will not nurture contempt for whatever consensus decisions led to this marvel we live in. If I disagree with any parts of the social compact, it is with respect."

Of course. About 150 years ago my own family was faced with "leave the U.S. or die", which I guess shows exactly how far we've come, since today the families and converts of those expelled now have five electors in the Presidential race, and reside peacefully among the other 95% of us, mostly without any sort of conflict.

It keeps me watchful, though, knowing that it's happened on our soil before.

As for Miers, well, no kidding. Bleah. I'm rooting for the Senate to "not confirm". (Neither of my senators will vote "aye", I wager.) But, I suspect that Bush is just as stubborn on this as Clinton was on certain other things, and he won't listen.

Rob Perkins said...

"The GI Bill, Marshall Plan and Civil Rights saved the country and the world. Who am I to say "it's my money!!!" when my money would be worthless without a civilization to defend its value."

No doubt.

What if the *churches* of America were able to stand up and say things like, "It's not your money. By the grace of God you have resources you can't take with you when you go to meet Him. Why don't you do good in the name of that God with all that money, instead of gaming the system to amass more of it?"

Might also help if they showed some contempt for land donations, which then sit on the outskirts of suburbia, waiting for someone to afford to put up the building.

I'd wager (if I were a betting man) that such a thing could be seen as proper use of religion in the public arena. The kind of thing used by abolitionists and temperance activists, when they recruited the churches to form movements against the abuse of alcohol, and the ownership of people.

Sure, they took it too far, eventually, maybe, at least in the case of temperance. But a lot of the good evolving in our country came out of preachers shouting "Amen" to ideas which didn't originate in the religious sphere. It's an idea Islam could use in spades, these days.

@Simon Neville

I'm reminded from your comments about a case made for just that sort of thing by Eric Schosser in his muckraker _Fast Food Nation_, where he pointed out what you and David have pointed out. I recommend it as a read, but I suggest not buying wholly into his world. Except the meatpacking exposes. The degeneration of that industry is the reason I stick to local meat products from a store which guarantees it and charges me accordingly.

Plus, the meat justplain tastes better. :-)

Anonymous said...

Rob notes:

"I recommend it [Fast Food Nation] as a read, but I suggest not buying wholly into his world. Except the meatpacking exposes."

FASCINATING . . . this closely parallels the reaction to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. ("I tried to touch their hearts, but instead hit them in the stomach.")

Sinclair's melodrama about an abused worker finding Socialism was ludicrous; his description of the packing houses was hard-hitting journalism that nauseated a nation into passing pure food regulations.

As a McDonald's stockholder, I firmly support their use of mind-control chemicals and hypnoeffective TV programming to increase consumption. If your kids' Happy Meal toys whisper helpful buying tips to them as they sleep, who am I to complain!

Stefan (Who actually lives in Hillsboro)

Nate said...

Simon Neville said pretty much everything I wanted to say about taxes. So let me talk a bit about property.

One of the arguments that comes up is always "It's my money/property/house/etc." Well, yes. But as mentioned, the biggest problem with that is externialities. Okay, so it's YOUR land, but the fertilizer you're using is running down the river into MY land and killing the fish. It's YOUR money, but you earned it using the public infrastructure of roads, communications networks, stock market, etc. It wasn't magically conjured by the force of your Will to Power. Property doesn't exist in a vacuum.

Who "earns" the money in a corporation, the owner, or the people who do the majority of the work? (And yes, I realize there are any number of owners who do a great deal of work and are vital to their companies) And when companies claim to "own" movies/music/books/etc created generations ago, and continue to charge rent for them, how is that justified? (sorry, that's a whole different rant)

If that all sounds a little bit socialist, I'll claim it's only the little bits that work. :)

Mabus said...

If anyone is still watching this post....

So far as I can tell, there are two kinds of support for propertarianism. One is open-eyed--the sort that comes from the group of aristocrats Brin describes.

But the other sort is from poor people who have difficulty seeing the world in terms of class. When you are struggling to stay afloat, it's incredibly easy to sympathize with cries to "Keep your grubby paws off my money!"

Today, in the wake of later events, I can look at the Bush tax cuts and see that they were never meant to be kept by the working class. But at the time--when I had just then, finally, managed to land any job at all and desperately needed money to pay my bills--it was impossible to argue with my rebate.

In order to defang the propertarians, one must first detach them--somehow--from workers who will follow anyone who promises them the money they need.

Woozle said...

This may be a bit redundant in view of Nate's post, but I thought I should point out that unlike most other material goods (houses, tools, cars, books, food...), money is of absolutely no use whatsoever without the infrastructure that artificially gives it value. Further, the value of money can fluctuate dramatically depending on how well that (legal) infrastructure is engineered. So saying "it's my money, and you can't [make laws to] take it away from me!" is... a misinterpretation of the applicable horse-cart causality, shall we say.

Which leads me also to observe that if there were no market rules, hostile takeovers would be accomplished with lethal weaponry. Maybe to some extreme proprietarians that idea is appealing, but if so that is certainly one reason why the rest of us don't want them making the laws.

To reiterate DB's point about markets being a finely-tuned machine, but with a metaphor (I have metaphoriholic tendencies): saying that markets arise out of natural law is like saying an automobile (or airplane) arises out of the laws of physics. It's true that the airplane's design is constrained by the laws of physics, and that the laws of physics are what make it go, but if the machine isn't designed very carefully, it could fail unexpectedly and Do Bad Things.

David Brin said...

All right, because you guys nagged, I tried again. I used the Blogspot posting template, as usual, but tried the "insert link" button that looks like a pair of eyes. Highlighting the text that I wanted to be linkable, I then pressed that button and all of my to-post text vanished, replaced by an href statement... and my entire posting was completely unrecoverable. Vanished. Gone. WOuld anyone care to explain to me why I need the tsuris?

I will continue to simply post the url. If you are interested, paste it into the go to line. I do not have time for this.

Anonymous said...

Fear of a return to aristocracy would be more convincing if the U.S. and other Western tax systems were regressive instead of progressive, if we had _maximum_ wage laws, if protecting property was expensive and involved economies of scale, and a few other of the many tell-tale symptoms of aristocracy from the "99% of history." Cutting the rate of taxes by the same proportion for every taxpayer does not make taxes any more regressive, and that is roughly what has occurred over the last 30 years.

There are plenty of people who use Western governments to exploit their fellow man, but these include government employee unions, those dependent on welfare programs, and others of the non-rich as much as they include beneficiaries of "corporate welfare." Rich people and corporations still pay far more in taxes than they obtain in government benefits.

Our pattern thus hardly resembles the ancient pattern you fear a return to. If, however, it becomes expensive to protect property, economies of scale in lobbying government will effectively become a regressive tax on ownership, making it hard to break in and become a property owner. This, too (excessive regulation and corruption) De Soto is fighting. Perhaps more than anything else, high costs of property protecton encourage aristocracy.