This article was inspired by Facebook comments posted by Susan Jane Hogarth that equate Libertarianism with Individualism and reject Collectivist attempts to usurp the title of Libertarian based on the flimsy notion of voluntary collectivism.
Susan, AKA Jane, along with Marc Montoni, both leaders by example rather than by authority, are two of the three founders of the third iteration of the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus (LPRC). I enjoy participating in the LPRC and sharing their radical passion and stimulating enthusiasm. The LPRC, currently chaired by Rob Stratton, is open to all who share LPRC principled passions for liberty. the Libertarian Party, and the Libertarian movement.
The purpose of this article is not to extol radical Libertarianism. This article is intended to honor and build on Susan Jane Hogarth’s perceptive observations on the nature of Libertarianism. Let’s start by dissecting the sharp divide between individualism and collectivism delineated by property rights.
While there are other equally important perspectives on property rights, including legal, philosophical, and ethical, the following are my thoughts on the three defining behavioral consequences of property rights that impact human action and decision-making:
Have you noticed how those who are not owners are less inclined to accept responsibility for taking care of what they do not own? That fact is dramatically illustrated by the growing evidence that statist government institutions are by far the worst stewards of the environment.
Public property and public goods are characterized by the absence of not only individual ownership but any ownership at all. Public ownership is a euphemistic misnomer. The concept of “public” is an abstraction that represents a group of individuals. Group abstractions like “Public” are not thinking, breathing entities that can perform such acts as owning things. Only living, breathing individuals can think, act, and own things.
The human desire for ownership is driven by several strong incentives. Owners can derive deserved pleasure and self-satisfaction from responsible ownership. Owners enjoy profits obtained from the value of what they own as collateral in free market transactions. Free market profits, in turn, can be used to increase an owner’s personal standard of living and improve the lives of those they value on a voluntary personal priority basis determined solely by themselves.
Ownership is not a free lunch. TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. TANSTAAFL is the theme of 2020 Libertarian Party National Convention May 21-25 in Austin, Texas. The phrase and acronym were popularized by Robert Heinlein in his groundbreaking science fiction book ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’. TANSTAAFL is the title of a similarly important book by the legendary economist Milton Friedman.
My thoughts on the behavioral components of Libertarian Individualism and property rights are rooted in Praxeology, a term coined by Ludwig von Mises that encapsulates the study of the science of human action and decision-making, the broader definition of Economics.
With ownership comes the responsibility to take care of what is owned. If ownership responsibility falters, the benefits of ownership suffer in direct relation to the degree of responsibility failure. Clearly, responsibility and incentives are the key elements of ownership.
Ownership rests on the solid foundation of property rights, starting with the right to own one’s own body. The alternative is slavery. Property rights are the basis for incentives behind ownership and responsibilities incumbent on owners.
Family values are an extension of property rights and ownership. Parents, patriarchs, and matriarchs that have helped create immediate and extended families are responsive to the joys of caring for those they have conceived, nurtured, or supported. Family values are a celebration of property rights, ownership, responsibilities carried out, and the satisfaction of incentives realized.
Where do Libertarianism Individualism and Collectivism stand on the issue of ownership? Libertarian Individualism embraces property rights, ownership, personal responsibility, and motivational incentives behind ownership. Ownership is an inspirational challenge to earned-lunch Libertarian individuals.
To some, ownership and the responsibilities required by ownership may be perceived as a scary threat. For whatever reason, many collectivists reject property rights. Collectivism enshrines non-ownership by individuals in favor of collective ownership. Collectives, however, are an abstraction that cannot perform the act of ownership. Accordingly, collective ownership means no ownership, or, in disguised reality, a source of ill-gotten perks for hypocritical power-seeking collectivist elites.
Again, Collectivism is comprised of individuals who reject personal property rights and the responsibilities of individual ownership. To collectivists, the perceived threat of responsibilities may outweigh the incentives of ownership. The consequences of collectivist reactions to fear of ownership and the responsibilities that go with ownership are more than sufficient to explain why Socialism has never benefited mankind and always failed miserably. Under Collectivism, there is neither a sense of personal responsibility nor the incentives derived from individual ownership that are necessary to create a healthy free market economy.
Sadly, collectivist rejection of individual ownership and ensuing economic failures open the door for voracious institutional authorities who eagerly welcome with open arms the opportunity for more power and associated perks that go with power like hot dogs and beer go with baseball. History is replete with overwhelming examples of the destructive consequences of socialist economic failures.
To make things worse, collectivists in denial frequently resort to blaming Capitalism for the predictable implosions of socialist experiments. The wallowing in denial exhibited by collectivists is a predictable response to their commitment to ‘ends justifies means’ unethical disingenuous discourse, propaganda platitudes and bromides, lack of transparency, and thinly disguised camouflage of political correctness, AKA lying to achieve a political purpose.
Collectivists have only themselves to blame for the atrocities committed by dictator scavengers attracted by the sickening stench of Socialism failure carcasses. Collectivists swarm out of the woodwork to take advantage for personal aggrandizement, and, even worse, have the appalling intestinal rectitude to justify the use of force as necessary to make Socialism work or, more accurately, postpone inevitable cronyism-induced bankruptcy, provided they and their dysfunctional elitist power structures are not overthrown before then.
I find it most interesting that collectivist cartels are increasingly relying on free markets and private ownership to provide economic incentives and postpone bankruptcy. Even the best of welfare states like Sweden had to de-nationalize much of its industry and eradicate most of the economic elements of Socialism to avoid certain bankruptcy. Fortunately, Sweden’s earlier robust free market private ownership system came to the rescue and continues to prop up and pay for their costly and counter-productive welfare state to the tune of exorbitant taxes.
Though Sweden still maintains an unfortunate dependence on a welfare state, it could be said that their support for free markets has surpassed the United States free market system. Today our earlier wonder of the world economy is sadly accelerating down the greasy slope toward mud-hut Socialism, misery, and conformity with the looming threat of an artificially postponed and long overdue economic correction that could spell national bankruptcy if forced to go on much longer due to Federal Reserve monetary manipulation that fosters economy-disrupting bubbles and cyclic recessions at best, great depressions at worst.
Some say that volunteerism can offset the negative incentive consequences that result from the lack of ownership involved in public goods. It is certainly true that many people perform generous acts without direct ownership. Libertarians and non-Libertarians alike can and do assume responsibility for care of public goods suffering from the absence of individual ownership. Examples include cleaning up public parks, waterways, and roads as well as volunteer conservancy endeavors, recycling, and green energy utilization.
Unfortunately, historical evidence overwhelming demonstrates that noble efforts of generous-hearted volunteers are not sufficient to overcome the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ where public ‘ownership’, or lack thereof, fails to prevent asset and environmental abuse due to the failure to incentivize appropriate care of common goods. Again, the missing elements in common goods are responsibility motivations and reinforcing incentives of individual ownership.
Solution? Transition of public goods to individual ownership backed up by vigorous defense of property rights.
If private, corporate, or government individuals pollute your lake, waterway, or other personal property, arbitrated restitution proceedings coupled with economic and social ostracism can provide effective incentives for more appropriate and mutually beneficial environmental relations between impacted neighbors.
In the long run, voluntary economic and social reinforcement and ostracism, rather than force, are far more effective and readily available behavior modification tools to prevent property right violations and foster peace. Point of fact, we use voluntary reinforcement and ostracism quite effectively all the time in the lion’s share of the free market and our personal relationships.
I leave it to Libertarian movement individuals and free markets to flesh out the details of transitioning public goods to individual ownership. The challenges will be many but the rewards more than worth the effort in our commitment to save the environment from the negligence born of lack of ownership of common goods and the Tragedy of the Commons.
Where there is the will and given the necessary freedom backed up by effective big-picture strategies, I have no doubt that Libertarian innovators, enabled by free markets, will find the way to reverse and replace the negative incentives for irresponsible behavior inherent in public goods as they lead by example with their courage and relentless pursuit of freedom, nothing more, nothing less, for all people.
D. Pratt Tseramed, February 2, 2020