Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Short, Fun, Informative

I came across this blog as a recommendation via another blog. I guess this is what is meant by the World Wide Web. Truly one of the wonders of the modern world. I like this blog's style which is short and to the point, making for an easy pleasant read.

Give yourself a treat and check it out:

Capitalism's Truths


A Quick Quote

"I had a friend once and he was asked to chair a commission, an international committee, and the title of it was What Causes Poverty. He declined. He said I will do it but on one condition. The condition is that we change the title and I'll chair a committee on What Causes Prosperity. The reason he said that was, the title What Causes Poverty leaves the impression that the natural state of the world is for people to be prosperous and that for whatever reason there are prosperous people running around making people poor...He looked at the world the other way. He said the natural state of people is to be relatively poor and that there are certain ways and things that can be done that can cause prosperity." --Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Nov. 11, 2002

Saturday, July 12, 2008

50 by 50 needs a 5150

or: The G8 Pact for Economic Suicide

For those of you not following the latest international political posturing, 50 by 50 stands for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2050. And for those of you unfamiliar with California's Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 5150 is the statute which provides for involuntary psychiatric confinement when a police officer or physician determines a person to be a danger to himself or others. By any rational economic, political or scientific standard I can think of, the signatories of 50 by 50 would qualify.

In the name of efficiency (meaning the best use of both your and my time,) rather than attempt to recreate an already excellent summary of this situation, I refer you to the following article, “Our leaders are in carbon-cloud cuckoo land” by Christopher Booker, published this past Thursday (7-10-08) in the UK Telegraph.

Somewhere in the stacks of articles on my desk, there is one which provides an excellent update on the current comparative costs of energy produced by oil, gas, coal, solar, wind and biofuels. When I find it, I will pass it on!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why "Human Rights" Aren't

The recent dramatic rescue of hostages formally held by Columbian FARC rebels helps to illustrate the importance of distinguishing real rights from “human rights” (which are in fact a violation of rights.) The alliance between the leftist guerillas of Columbia, the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and “human rights” NGOs is no accident. By elevating key human values to the status of rights, they make rights seem contradictory, in need of compromise and balance. In the end, the true individual rights of Life, Liberty and Property are sacrificed in the name of being humane. But human sacrifice is never humane, and properly defined rights are never contradictory.

Poverty is heartrending. All its attendant suffering due to lack of food, shelter, access to health care, education and meaningful employment, is tragic. The desire to relieve the suffering is commendable, but ends can never justify the means. When the means advocated involve violating the rights of one individual for the sake of another, an error has been committed that can only end in greater suffering and destruction of life.

Important lessons can be learned by comparing the American and French Revolutions, their differing views on rights, and the events which followed from these views. The United States was constructed on the principles of Life, Liberty and Property. Even though Jefferson substituted “pursuit of happiness” for property in the Declaration of Independence, in other writings he makes clear his appreciation of the central role of property to individual rights. The US Constitution and the works of Hamilton, Adams and Madison (and many others) provide further justifications for limiting rights to these three key elements. What resulted was a limited form of government restricted to the defense of individual rights with the bulk of human interactions remaining private. By restricting rights to life, liberty and property and restricting the role to the defense of these rights, government has no call for initiating force on some citizens for the sake of others. The bulk of human interactions remain private, outside the sphere of government. What followed was a period of relative peace and an explosion of prosperity unparalleled in human history. A different choice of “rights” led to a different kind of government and an aftermath of bloody conflicts destructive to life and well-being.

The French Revolution took as its battle cry not individual rights but “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” Equality and brotherhood were considered more important than property rights. Popular sovereignty (the will of the people) was placed supreme over individual rights. The coercive power of the state was used to separate people from their heads and their property with equal abandon. The result was such chaos and arbitrary rule that the dictatorship of Napoleon was a comparative relief in its stability.

Liberty is not license. The limits to liberty are set by the life, person and property of others. Liberty is freedom of action, but a freedom which excludes the initiation of force toward others. One man’s rights end where another man’s rights begin. With this understanding, rights do not conflict. Lack of conflict brings with it peace and prosperity.

“Human rights” which start with life, liberty and property but then overreach proper limits to include “rights” to food, shelter, well-being, etc., have led to apparent conflicts in rights and the subsequent push for governments to initiate force in the name of “justice.” Such “human rights” give common cause between well-meaning humanitarians and the political systems of socialism and communism. Attempts to provide these “human rights” necessarily involve initiating force against proper liberties and property, which is why what seems good in theory (the theory of “human rights”) ends in oppression and dictatorship.

FDR’s famous 1941 Four Freedoms speech struck a severe blow to the general concept of rights when he included freedom from fear and want in his list of fundamental rights. The other two rights he included (speech and religion) are important derivatives of individual rights, but they are not the most fundamental. Further damage to the proper understanding of rights occurred with the passage in 1948 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular Articles 21-30 which include claims of “rights” to dignity, free education, a decent standard of living, social security and “favorable conditions of employment.”

To illustrate the contradictions involved, one example will have to suffice: the “right” to health care. Since governments exist to protect rights, if there truly is a right to health care (or food, or shelter, or education etc.) then it is the government’s job to guarantee it. But health care only exists because of the actions of individuals: doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and so forth. Health care providers must be controlled and directed, or someone’s property must be confiscated in order to purchase the voluntary cooperation of health care providers. Both tactics involve the violation of one person’s right to serve the “right” of another. Only a proper definition of rights avoids this apparent contradiction, a definition that limits rights to life, liberty and property.

Turning values to be achieved (adequate nutrition, meaningful employment, housing, education) into “human rights” to be guaranteed by force makes atrocities appear justified. Because property rights stand in opposition to implementing “human rights,” terrorist rebels, repressive regimes and “humanitarian” organizations think they have common cause against the up-holders of property rights. But the inalienable connection between the right to Property and the rights to Life and Liberty means you can not violate one without violating them all.

Until this is understood, we will not be unified in our struggle to create liberty and prosperity. Values improperly elevated to the status of rights will destroy both.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Property and the Right to Life

(The essay below is in answer to a request for further elaboration on how Property Rights relate to the Right to Life)

Humans as integrated beings: mind and body. Those two aspects of ourselves can never be separated. We are neither corpses (bodies without consciousness) nor ghosts (disembodied consciousness). To live, we must attend to the requirements of both.

Our culture has denigrated the physical aspect of ourselves and thus lost hold of the fact that we exist as physical beings by physical means. We use our minds to observe, judge and make decisions, but then for those decisions to have any effect, we must act. What we act upon is the physical world. The material goods we produce are the effect; our actions are the cause.

What our actions produce are physical goods. These goods are actual things which exist in reality. Property, however, is not a physical good. Property is the concept which delineates a specific type of relationship we have to a physical object, that of owning it. The right to property means the right of ownership. Ownership entails control of the object: the right to possess, use, alter, and transfer ownership of the object. If we lived alone, there would be no need for the concept of property. We would simply take from nature the things we needed. It is the fact that we share our existence with other people that creates the need of defining ownership: the freedoms of actions which pertain to material goods.

These actions of ownership are what allow us to apply the material good in the service of our lives. In a social setting, we need a means of making it clear where a man’s freedom of action begins and ends. That is the purpose of rights in general. As Locke pointed out, the original ownership is of each individual to his own life. To have any practical meaning for a physical being, that ownership of self extends to one’s labor and then logically, to the results of one’s labor. Since life is indivisible from our physical existence, the right to life is indivisible from the physical creations of our labor.

Here is another way of looking at the same issue, of how the right to property is simply looking at the right to life from a different point of view. When we expend time and effort upon gathering and/or producing a material good, we expend a portion of our life. In a very fundamental way, life is time. The time we spend creating goods is simply the physical result of how we have chosen to spend a portion of our life. In this way, material goods are actually the physical embodiment of our lives. To truly have ownership of our lives, we must have full claim to the results which our life-actions produce.

The concept of “life as time” has another aspect relating to property rights. We do not exist simply in the moment. Our lives extend over a period of time. Supporting our lives in the present involves planning for our lives in the future. We must think and plan long range. Secure property rights are what allow us to live beyond the range-of-the-moment, to set aside some of what we produce and own for later use. Meaningful property rights protect our ownership in the future as well as now. The more secure we can be in the control of our property, the greater our ability to plan, invest, and broaden the scope of our actions. This long-range planning is the type of actions essential to the creation of wealth. (It is the lack of this security which DeSoto found to be the root of poverty in developing countries. See “A Hero of Capitalism” below.)

Thus, property is the recognition of the fact that our lives depend upon material goods and that those material goods are the result of our life-action. It ties together cause (our labor) and effect (property). To recognize the right to Property is to recognize the right to the fruits of one’s labor, to how one spends one’s time, i.e. to one’s Life. By protecting the right to Property, you are protecting the right of an individual to further his own life. When property rights are compromised, you infringe upon a man’s ability to act for his own purposes, i.e. for his own life.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of.....Wealth

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness –That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the Consent of the Governed.”
-The Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776

Two hundred thirty-two years ago, the chosen representatives of the American colonies declared their independence from England, because the freest nation in the world at that time was still not free enough. English law recognized some freedoms and rights. These had been wrestled away from the king, step by step, achieved through specific events and manifested in various documents. These rights were viewed as historically derived, conferred via law and obtained in exchange for duties. The Americans began their struggle not to achieve their freedom but to preserve it. In this quest, they discovered that rights are not based on law, but rather that proper laws are based on Rights.

In the manner of Newton, the Founders looked not to convention but to Nature to reveal the proper laws of order and justice. The key to understanding proper human laws lay in understanding the laws of nature. By studying the requirements and properties of human life, it was possible to discover the conditions necessary to achieve peace, prosperity and happiness. These conditions include the mutual respect of each individual life, further elaborated through the recognition the rights to Life, Liberty and Property.

Thomas Jefferson was thoroughly versed in the works of John Locke who in his Second Treatise of Government enumerated those natural rights. In the Declaration, Jefferson constructed the list of grievances specifically to address Locke’s justifications for dissolving a tyrannical government. In identifying man’s inalienable rights, Jefferson chose Pursuit of Happiness to hold the place Locke had given to Property. Why he did this is not clear. Did he see it as a broader concept incorporating property, or perhaps simply a more musical and elegant way of stating the same idea. Whatever his reasoning, this change in words has had some very unfortunate consequences as time has passed and we have lost the context and full depth of their meaning.

Property is no longer viewed as an inalienable essential component to the right to Life. The right to Life is the root, the source of all rights, but the rights to Liberty and Property are its corollaries. Liberty and Property are simply the means of acting upon and maintaining our right to Life. Without freedoms of action, without applying those actions to the physical world and the subsequent ownership of the results of our labor, there can be no actual living, only the abstract concept of life. Man’s nature is dual: material and spiritual. Two aspects of the same being. One can not exist without the other. One does not exist as more important than the other. To deny the material is to destroy the vessel which contains the spiritual.

The essential role of Property in supporting Life and preserving Liberty is no longer conveyed in our culture or reflected in our laws. The right to Property has been relegated to a second-class status, no longer viewed as inalienable. Our neighbors are allowed to vote away our property to support projects we would not choose to support. The concepts of The Public Good and The General Welfare are used to justify taking our private property without our voluntary consent. The coercive power of government is no longer used solely for the protection of rights but in the violation of rights.

The right to Property is a key bulwark in maintaining our right to Life. It helps set proper limits to the types of justifiable actions between humans. It provides a concrete way of detecting when the initiation of force has occurred. The initiation of force is the way that rights are violated, the peace disturbed, the means of prosperity destroyed.

For peace, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness to exist in the world, we must once again recognize the right to Property as inalienable, as the physical expression of our Right to Life. What is Property? Property is simply the material goods which result from our labor. In other words, our Property is our wealth. And…

Wealth (i.e. Property) is not the problem. Wealth is the solution: the solution to prosperity, to peace, to human flourishing...to human life.

Life. Liberty. Property. Let freedom ring.

Happy 4th of July.