Friday, May 4, 2012

Libertarianism and Property Rights

Ilya Somin highlights a blog post by Georgetown political philosopher Jason Brennan on the libertarian conception of property rights:

The left believes that libertarians believe:

Property Rights No Matter What: People are self-owners. Respecting their self-ownership requires a particular kind of laissez-faire property-rights regime. We should have that regime no matter what, even if it immiserates the poor and systematically leads to widespread poverty.

In fact, hardly any self-described libertarians believe this. Instead, in one way or another, most believe that a system of property rights is supposed to solve real human problems and make our lives better. Most libertarians advocate free markets and property right in large part because they think this will tend to make people’s lives go better.

The left wants us to have a debate over whether “property rights no matter what” is true. They’ll win that debate.

What we’re trying to say in this blog is that if you look carefully at what the (smart) left means by “social justice”, almost all us classical liberals and self-described libertarians count as caring about social justice.

Somin then complicates Brennan's point.  He states, "Rejecting absolute rights as a matter of moral theory does not mean we should always reject them as a matter of policy. Political realities such as slippery slope problems, interest group power, and knowledge limitations might justify absolute prohibitions against some types of behavior even though there may be rare instances where it is actually justified. For example, while I recognize that there are rare cases where Kelo-style “economic development” takings cause more benefit than harm, I am skeptical that real-world governments subject to interest group lobbying are likely to confine their use to these unusual cases. For that reason, I favor an absolute ban on economic development condemnations in the real world, even though I would prefer a different policy if we had a completely benevolent government with perfect information."

Interesting stuff.

Steve Clowney

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