This book presents a modern version of the old Labor (or Natural Rights) Theory of Property and of an Inalienable Rights Theory that descends from the Reformation and Enlightenment. Together these theories re-solve the basic problem of distribution in the sense of giving a basis for the just appropriation of property and a basis for answering the question of who is to be the firm, e.g., the suppliers of share capital as in conventional capital, the government as in socialism, or the people who work in the firm as in the system of economic democracy (or labor-managed market economies).
The purpose of this paper is to suggest a rethinking of the common-versus-private framing of the property rights issue in the Commons Movement. The underlying normative principle we will use is simply the basic juridical principle that people should be legally responsible for the (positive and negative) results of their actions, i.e., that legal or de jure responsibility should be imputed in accordance with de facto responsibility. In the context of property rights, the responsibility principle is the old idea that property should be founded on people getting the (positive or negative) fruits of their labor, which is variously called the labor or natural rights theory of property.
This posting is in the series with the theme of libertarians (or classical liberals in the European sense) being unable to stick to their own fine principles whenever it is ideologically inconvenient (as if the fine principles were not their primary motivation!). An earlier blog posting as well as published papers made the point about the whole anti-social-engineering theme of so much libertarian thought (e.g., Hayek and Austrian economics). That theme was much applied to criticize the social planning of socialism in the transition from a capitalist or pre-capitalist society to some form of socialism. But when real-existing socialism collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, liberal neoclassical economists (e.g., the Harvard wunderkinder such as Sachs, Summers, and Shleifer) pushed the strategy of “shock therapy” which involved massive social engineering in the transition from socialism to some form of a private property market economy. Instead of sticking by their fine anti-social-engineering principles, the libertarians, Hayekians, and Austrians suddenly fell silent since it would be ideologically inconvenient to appear as opposing the (shock therapy) transition to capitalism.
In this fifth and concluding part of the review of John Tomasi’s book Free Market Fairness, we look at the invisible hand mechanism of the property system (in contrast to the usual price system) which seems to be invisible to liberal scholars and social scientists since it does not give a satisfactory “account” of the current economic system based on the renting of human beings.
In this Part IV, we consider the rather fake “inalienable rights” theory of classical liberal/libertarian thought that is consistent with a civilized voluntary slavery contract, a nondemocratic pact of subjection, and a coverture marriage contract, all of which are outlawed in the advanced democracies.
In this Part III, we consider the conceptual misunderstanding of what Tomasi calls “productive property” which allows the basic capitalism-versus-socialism misframing of the debate about the so-called “capitalist” system.