Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Libertarianism Is Not Equivalent To Propertarianism

Will Wilkinson writes:
Todd Seavey continues to argue that libertarianism just is the view that the only legitimate function of the state (if it has any legitimate function) is to protect property rights, and that sticking to this view saves us from confusing culture war politics. But the definition of legitimate property rights is confusing culture war politics. There is nothing especially clear-headed, “thin,” or even libertarian about emphasizing the inviolability of property rights.

The contemporary welfare-liberal argument is that redistributive fiscal policy does not violate property rights as long as policy was determined according to certain principles of legitimate democratic procedure. The contemporary environmentalist argument is that reasonable land-use restrictions do not violate property rights because there can be no legitimate right to destroy species or degrade the quality of the environment for future generations. Most people don’t think laws against selling your tissue or organs violate property rights because they don’t think you can “own” these things in the way you can own a digital camera. Many drug warriors deny that drug laws violate property rights because they deny individuals can have a legitimate right to own certain personally and socially destructive substances. And many labor advocates believe that asymmetries in bargaining power violate the property rights of workers by denying them the fair value of their labor.

Continue reading.

Read more of Wilkinson's criticisms of overly simplistic libertarianism here and here.

If libertarian-leaning people care to be taken seriously and (more importantly) actually have any impact on public policy, it's probably a good idea to follow Wilkinson's thoughtful and pragmatic example.

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