October 24, 2014

Centralization Is Insane

The latest much-ado-about-nothing crisis passed, with a result that should seem familiar. In 2008, Americans were told that if the TARP bill (a $787 billion taxpayer-funded welfare handout to large banking institutions) wasn’t passed, the stock market would crash and massive unemployment would follow. After an unsuccessful first attempt to pass the bill amidst angry opposition from constituents, the bill passed on a second vote. Subsequently, there was a stock market crash followed by massive unemployment.

This time, our political/media cabal told us that if Congress was unable to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling, that the government would not be able to meet its short term obligations, including rolling over short term bonds with new debt. U.S. debt would be downgraded from its AAA status, and a default would be imminent. After the melodrama, Congress passed the bill raising the debt ceiling. Standard and Poor’s subsequently downgraded U.S. Treasury debt anyway, and deep down everyone knows that a default is coming as well, one way or another.

We are seeing the end of a paradigm. Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that anomalies eventually lead to revolutions in scientific paradigms. His argument holds equally true for political paradigms as well.

A paradigm is a framework within which a society bases its beliefs. For example, people at one time believed that the forces of nature were the work of a pantheon of gods. Sunlight came from one god, rain from another. The earth was a god, as was the moon. With nothing to disprove the premises of the paradigm, it persisted. People went on believing that sunlight and rain were the work of sun and rain gods because there was no compelling reason for them to believe otherwise.

However, within any paradigm there are anomalies. Anomalies are contradictions – phenomena that cannot be explained within the framework of the paradigm. People have a startling capacity to ignore or rationalize away these anomalies. While it may defy logic to continue to believe that rain comes from a rain god even after evaporation and condensation has been discovered and proven, people would rather ignore the anomalies and cling to the paradigm than face the fact that the paradigm is false.

Once there are too many anomalies, the paradigm fails, and a new one must take its place. This new paradigm renders the old one absurd, even crazy. At some point in the future, people will look back on the political paradigm of the 20th and early 21st centuries in just this manner. There is at least one thing that will be quite obvious to them: centralized government is insane.

Consider the premises upon which this present paradigm relies: All facets of society must be planned and managed by experts. The judgment of the experts trumps the rights or choices of any individual. The choices made by the experts will result in a more orderly society and greater happiness for the individuals who comprise it. There will be better results from one small group of experts controlling everyone than multiple groups of experts controlling smaller subgroups of society.

Of course, libertarians reject every one of these assumptions on its face. A free society does not tolerate “planning” or “management” by anyone. All choices are left to the individual, as any attempt to plan or manage his affairs amounts to either violation of his liberty, looting of his property, or both. However, let’s assume that the first three assumptions of the present paradigm are valid and merely examine the last. Even that does not hold up to scrutiny.

Suppose an entrepreneur starts a business. At first, his market is local. He opens retail outlets that are managed by store managers. The entrepreneur is the CEO of the company and manages the store managers. Even at this point, the CEO must trust day-to-day decisions to his managers. He has no time to make everyday decisions as he tries to grow his business. The managers do this for him and he concentrates on strategic goals.

His business is successful and soon he begins opening outlets outside of the original market. He now has a need for regional managers to manage the store managers. He manages the regional managers and leaves the details of how they operate within their regions to them.

The business continues to grow. With retail outlets in every state, there are now too many regions for the CEO to manage directly. The CEO appoints executive directors to manage larger regions, each comprising several smaller ones. There is an executive director for the west coast, another for the Midwest, and another for the east coast. Of course, the CEO has the assistance of his corporate vice presidents who manage sales, operations, human resources, and other company-wide functions from the corporate office.

Now, suppose that one day the CEO decides to fire the executive directors, the regional managers, and the store managers. He will now have the salespeople, stock clerks, and cashiers for thousands of retail outlets report directly to him and his corporate vice presidents. Would anyone view this decision as anything but insane?

As silly as this proposition sounds, this is a perfect analogy for how we have chosen to organize society for the past century. The paradigm rests upon the assumption that every societal problem can better be solved if the CEO and his corporate staff manage the cashiers and the salespeople directly. Like all failed paradigms, anomalies are piling up that refute its basic assumptions.

This paradigm assumes that centralized government can provide a comfortable retirement with medical benefits for average Americans, yet Social Security and Medicare are bankrupt. It assumes that a central bank can ensure full employment and a stable currency, yet the value of the dollar is plummeting and unemployment approaches record highs (especially when the same measuring stick is used as when the old records were set). It assumes that the national government’s military establishment can police the world, yet the most powerful military in history cannot even defeat guerrilla fighters in third world nations. It assumes that the central government can win a war on drugs, yet drug use is higher than at any time in history. It assumes that experts in Washington can regulate commerce, medicine, and industry, yet we get Bernie Madoff, drug recalls, and massive oil spills.

Hundreds of years ago, the prevailing medical science paradigm assumed that illnesses were caused by “bad humors” in the blood. Based upon that assumption, doctors practiced the now-discredited procedure known as “bleeding.” They would literally cut open a patient’s vein in an attempt to bleed out the bad humors. As we now know, this treatment often killed the patient, George Washington being a notable example. Most rational people today view the practice of bleeding as nothing short of lunacy.

Ironically, this is a perfect analogy for the paradigm of centralized government. The very act of a small group of experts attempting to manage all of society drains its lifeblood. It is the un-coerced decisions of millions of individuals that create all of the blessings of civilized society. It is the attempt by a small group of people to override those decisions that is killing society before our very eyes. Someday, people will look back on our foolishness and laugh as we do now at the misguided physicians who bled their patients to death. The present paradigm is dying. The revolution has begun.

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

© Thomas Mullen 2011

Rights and Responsibilities

There is an old argument about rights that has enjoyed resurgent popularity in these days of “spreading the wealth around.” It is the assertion that while human beings undoubtedly have rights, they also have responsibilities. In fact, it is said that for every right there is a corresponding responsibility that is its complement. One should not be surprised that this line of reasoning appeals to statists of all varieties, because they see in it a way to undercut rights and dress up their schemes of plunder and domination as “responsibilities.” However, it does not take the clear-thinking mind long to see through these sophisms, for they fail to hold up to a moment’s scrutiny.

What are the characteristics of a right? A right is an absolute and exclusive claim to something. “Absolute” because you cannot partially have a right to something. You either have a right to it wholly or not at all. “Exclusive” because that which you have a right to no one else can claim a right to. A right defines something that you are entitled to (there really is a proper use of that word). You do not need anyone’s permission to exercise a right. No one can charge you a fee for exercising it. No government can regulate it. You are entitled to exercise rights without interference by or permission from anyone.

Consider the right to life. Is your right to life absolute or do you only have a right to live under certain conditions? Do you have an exclusive right to live your own life or do others have some partial right to your life? Are you entitled to live, or do other people have a right to charge you a fee in return for allowing you to live? Can any government pass a law or regulation qualifying your right to life?

There are different kinds of rights, based upon their origins. Legal rights derive from a contract. While these rights originate with the consent of others, such as your right to a house that you have purchased, that right nevertheless takes on all of the characteristics described above once you have acquired it. The corresponding responsibility to the right of ownership of the house is the obligation to pay for the house. Your responsibility to pay derives from the contract you entered into. You are obliged to pay because you have consented to pay in exchange for the right to the property previously owned by the seller.

Natural rights are inherent in each person. These do not originate with the consent of others, but are part of and inseparable from our humanity. They cannot be taken away. Even if they are violated, they nevertheless remain. When we recognize something to be “wrong,” it is usually the violation of some kind of right. However, when we recognize something as “evil,” it is invariably the violation of a natural, inalienable right.

Next, let us consider “responsibilities.” A responsibility is something that you are obliged to do. It is an obligation that you must fulfill in order to comply with a moral or legal code. Responsibilities do not always conform to our wishes. We may prefer to do one thing, but have the responsibility to do another. Responsibilities are actions that we are compelled to do, either by religious doctrine, our own consciences, or other people.

This raises the question: When is the use of violence justified in compelling someone to fulfill their responsibilities? Can violence or the threat of violence be used in enforcing all responsibilities? Obviously not. There are some responsibilities that cannot be enforced by other people at all.

For example, those who believe in God feel a responsibility to worship or to pray. While this may be their responsibility, it is certainly not enforceable by other people. If there is an absolute, inalienable right of conscience, then no human may use violence against another for failing to fulfill the responsibility of praying. Certainly God may claim a right to punish someone who has shirked this responsibility, but other people cannot. That is because the obligation related to the responsibility for praying is to oneself and to God, not to anyone else.

To put this into the framework of the argument that we are examining, you have a right of conscience and a corresponding responsibility to act according to the dictates of your conscience. To act against the dictates of your conscience may have negative consequences, but violence inflicted upon you by other people cannot be one of them. Otherwise, you must conclude that it is possible for a right to be destroyed by its corresponding responsibility.

So what responsibilities can be enforced with violence by other people ? It would seem self-evident that since violence is only justified in defense, that the only responsibility that can be enforced with violence is the responsibility not to initate force against someone else. It is only when one person has failed to fulfill this responsibility that others are justified in using violence. If other people were to use violence or the threat of violence under any other circumstances, they would be failing to fulfill their own responsibility not to initiate force.

This is demonstrated by the natural and inalienable right to liberty. Is this a right? Yes. Does it have a corresponding responsibility? Yes, the responsibility not to commit aggression against the equal rights of others. Can others use violence or the threat of violence to enforce this responsibility? Yes. This is the only responsibility that can be enforced with violence. Attempting to enforce any other responsibility with violence is to commit aggression, by definition.

However, it is not the rights to life, liberty, or conscience that the statist has in mind when he begins his sermon about responsibilities. While he may be willing to violate all of these rights as his means, it is rarely his end. No, the statist’s primary object is not your life or liberty, but your property. By property, I do not mean exclusively or even primarily land ownership, but rather that right that each human being has to keep the fruits of his labor and dispose of them as he sees fit. It is here that the statist will stand up to say, “Yes, you have a right to acquire and own property, but you have a corresponding responsibility to pay your ‘fair share’ to society.” Of course, the statist also claims the right to use the threat of violence – the government – to compel you to fulfill this responsibility. But where does this responsibility come from? And is property a natural and inalienable right?

There are only three ways to justly acquire property. One must either take it directly out of nature, create it with materials taken directly out of nature, or take possession of someone else’s property by agreement. This last means of acquisition may be the result of a gift or a trade. It is not important whether the previous owner was compensated for the property transferred from him, but only that he voluntarily consented to the transfer.

Most people acquire their property by exchanging their labor for the property of others. In other words, they are employed by other people to perform a certain type of work. In exchange for this work, they are given property in the form of money, with which they can then acquire other types of property. Depending upon the scarcity of the skills and experience that they offer to purchasers of their services (employers), they may be able to sell their services for larger or smaller wages.

Now, whether the individual in question makes $20 thousand, $200 thousand, or $2 million dollars per year in wages, no one would deny that his labor itself is his property. He has a right to this property, meaning that his claim upon it is absolute and exclusive. He is entitled to own his labor and dispose of it as he sees fit. That is the basis upon which he sells his labor to an employer for the wages he demands in return.

If this is true, then it must follow that he also has an absolute and exclusive right to those wages. After all, he has just exchanged part of his life for them. Who else could claim any right to part of his life? The wage earner will invariably exchange most of his wages for other goods, but his right to whatever he acquires with his wages is identical to his right to his labor itself, which is merely a portion of his life. Denying this right necessarily supposes that other people have a right to part or all of his labor, and therefore part of his life.

There was once an institution wherein one group of people claimed a right to the labor of others. It was quite rightly abolished.

The statist will answer that the wages were a “blessing of society” for which the wage earner owes some portion back. If that were true, one would have to question the rationality and efficiency of this mysterious entity called “society,” which chooses to bestow blessings upon people, only to immediately demand part of those blessings back. Why not simply bless the individual less, leaving both parties square?

In reality, the wage earner has already paid his  “fair share” to society. For the $20 thousand or $20 million he has earned, he has provided exactly $20 thousand or $20 million worth of labor. How do we know that his labor was worth that amount? The same way that we know the market value of anything. It is the price that others are willing to pay for it. Perhaps our wage earner is a painter. In that case, he has exchanged exactly $20 thousand in painting services for $20 thousand in cash. Nothing was given to him by any nebulous entity called “society.” He created that wealth himself with his own labor. To keep it and dispose of it as he sees fit is undeniably his right.

If there is any justification for a corresponding responsibility to society, it can only be the responsibility to pay for some service that “society” has rendered to him. As we have discussed, the obligation associated with a responsibility to pay for something derives from a contract. If one agrees to purchase something, one has the responsibility to pay the previous owner the agreed upon price. This responsibility corresponds to the right of ownership of the purchased property.

So what has our wage earner purchased from society? What has he consented to buy? Accepting the extremely elastic definition of “consent” employed by proponents of constitutional government, he has “consented” to purchase protection of his life, liberty, and property. As Thomas Paine put it, his responsibility is to “surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest.”[1] If there is any responsibility incumbent upon him, it is to pay for these services rendered and no more. Even taxation for this purpose has a dubious moral foundation, for it is apparent to everyone to that our wage earner has never really consented to purchase even this. That is why Paine also referred to government as “a necessary evil.”[2]

However, let us assume that somehow this consent is real. Like the purchaser of the house, the citizen has entered into a contract. His responsibility to pay for protection of his property corresponds to his right to demand that the protection he has purchased be provided.

For the statist, however, this logical connection between rights and responsibilities does not exist. He asserts that there is a responsibility that corresponds to the right to own property, but the responsibility he identifies destroys the right. For him, the citizen has a responsibility to suffer the very crime for which he established government to protect him from in the first place – the invasion of his property. He is not entitled to the protection that he has purchased, but instead has a responsibility to endure its very opposite. As John Locke put it, ”the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own.”[3]

Absurdity is at the root of all statist thinking, producing bizarre and disastrous results. The statist seeks to grant rights to the labor of others, such as healthcare, education, or housing, and corresponding responsibilities to provide these services under the threat of  violence. Neither these rights nor these responsibilities exist. This is evident on its face because the supposed rights are claimed by one person and the corresponding responsibility placed upon another. If one is looking for an explanation as to how a government can get so out of control that it spends all that it can possibly tax from its citizens and all that it can possibly borrow, yet still seems to need more, then false rights and responsibilities enforced by the threat of violence are a good place to start.

[1] Paine, Thomas Common Sense from Paine: Collected Writings Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, NY 1955 pg. 7

[2] Paine, pg. 6

[3] Locke, John Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government from Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration  Digireads.com Publishing Stillwell, KS 2005 pg. 113

Photo by Arvind Balaraman

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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 © Thomas Mullen 2011

>The Constitution Does Not Protect Our Property

>The U.S. Constitution is widely believed to have been written to limit the powers of the federal government and protect the rights of its citizens. Inexplicably, this belief is held even by those who acknowledge that the constitutional convention was called for the express purpose of expanding the powers of the federal government, supposedly because the government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak. That this was the purpose of the convention is not a disputed fact. Nevertheless, most people who care at all about the Constitution continue to believe and promote the “Constitution as protector of rights” myth.

To the extent that the Constitution enumerates certain powers for the federal government, with all other powers assumed to be excluded, it does set some limits on government. When one includes the first ten amendments of the Constitution, it also protects certain rights. Indeed, the ninth amendment makes the very important point that the specific protections of certain rights does not in any way deny the existence of others, while the tenth amendment makes explicit the implied limitation to enumerated powers in the Constitution itself. At first glance, the so-called “Bill of Rights” seems to confine government power within an airtight bottle, rendering it incapable of becoming a violator of rights instead of protector of them.

However, this theory does not hold up well under closer examination. To begin with, the Constitution itself does not protect a single right other than habeas corpus, and that comes with a built-in exception. What the Constitution does do is grant powers, and not just to a representative body, as the Articles of Confederation did, but to three separate branches. That leaves it up to the Bill of Rights to serve the purpose of protecting our rights. Generally, those ten amendments protect our rights under extraordinary circumstances, but not under ordinary circumstances. More specifically, the Bill of Rights provides protections for the individual during situations of direct conflict with the federal government, such as when one is accused or convicted of a crime, when one is sued, on the occasion of troops being stationed in residential areas, or when one speaks out against the government or petitions it for redress of grievances.

Make no mistake, these protections are vital and have provided protections for the people against government abuse of power many times in U.S. history. However, they have proven ineffective against the slow, deliberate growth of government power under ordinary circumstances, when the specific conditions described in those amendments do not exist. This is primarily due to the absence of protection, either in the Constitution or in any subsequent amendment, of the most important right of all: property.

By “property,” I do not mean exclusively or even primarily land ownership, although land ownership is one form of property. By “property,” I mean all that an individual rightfully owns, including his mind, body, labor, and the fruits of his labor. It is specifically the right to the fruits of one’s labor that the Constitution fails entirely to protect. In fact, it makes no attempt to do so whatsoever.

In the Constitution itself, the word “property” appears only once, and that is in reference to property owned by the federal government (an inauspicious start). Nowhere does it make any mention of property owned by the citizens.

The document does grant the federal government the power to tax “to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and the general welfare of the United States.” This is a strikingly unlimited scope for which the federal government may tax its citizens. Arguments that taxes may only be collected to underwrite the subsequently enumerated powers have been struck down. Sadly, those decisions have probably been correct. While the power of the Congress to pass laws is explicitly limited to those “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers,” no such language binds the power to tax. The fact that the explicit limitation exists for lawmaking (which Congress ignores anyway) but not for taxation lends further weight to the argument that the Constitution grants Congress unlimited power to tax its citizens.

One can certainly make the argument that in 1789, the term “general welfare” would have been interpreted much differently than it is today. Indeed, one might assume that the term “general welfare” meant the general protection of each individual’s rights. Perhaps that is what many of the founders believed at the convention. However, it is clear that Alexander Hamilton and his Federalists, the driving force behind calling the convention, had far different ideas about what the term “general welfare” meant. Remember that for Hamilton, the purpose of government was not the protection of rights, but the realization of “national greatness.” This could only be achieved at the expense of individual rights, primarily property rights.

So, the Constitution itself grants Congress unlimited power to tax and does not even mention, much less protect, the individual right to keep the fruits of one’s labor. Certainly the Bill of Rights addresses this deficiency, doesn’t it?

It does not. Like the Constitution itself, the Bill of Rights is virtually silent on the central right of property. Out of all ten amendments, the word “property” appears in only one of them:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Unlike the congressional power to tax granted in the Constitution, the constitutional protections codified in the Fifth Amendment are severely limited to specific, extraordinary circumstances. The entire Fifth Amendment is set in the context of criminal law, granting certain protections to the accused and/or convicted. The phrase “due process of law” is a specific legal term that refers to those accused of a crime being given notice of the charges, opportunity to face their accusers, call witnesses in their defense, etc. This was obviously the intent of this protection of property, rather than a general protection of property rights against taxation.

Even if one discards the clear intention of this clause of the Fifth Amendment and interprets “due process of law” more broadly, the amendment offers no more protection of property than if one interprets the clause narrowly. Since the power to tax is an enumerated power, Congress would be following due process of law simply by levying the tax in the first place.

The last clause of the Fifth Amendment, regarding property taken “for public use,” is similarly limited to extraordinary circumstances. This clause undoubtedly refers to eminent domain, which is a grievous abuse of property rights, but certainly not one that affects a large percentage of the population. Even here, no right is protected. The clause merely requires the government to give the victim “just compensation.” There is no mention of the primary component of the right of property, consent.

Furthermore, there is no mention of how “just compensation” is to be determined, although history has shown that the government itself determines what compensation is just arbitrarily. In a free society, the value of property is determined by the price at which the owner is willing to exchange it. However, since there is no requirement here of the owner’s consent, no such price determination can occur.

As for the remaining protections of property in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, there are none. These two phrases, protecting property under only the most extraordinary circumstances are the length and breadth of the Constitution’s involvement with this most fundamental right. It is this deficiency that has allowed the federal government to grow into the monster that it is, concerned with virtually nothing but the redistribution of wealth.

If you believe the official myth about the Constitution, this might seem shocking. After all, the document was drafted by the same people that had seceded from their nation and fought a long and bloody war primarily to defend their right to keep the fruits of their labor. How could they draft a document to recreate their government, which they said only existed to secure their rights, and not only fail to secure the most important right, but actually empower their government to violate it with impunity? Certainly this was history’s most colossal error.

However, when you consider the political platform of the Federalists, which included corporate welfare, monetary inflation, deficit spending, government debt, and militarism, all designed to maintain the wealth and power of a privileged elite at the expense of the rest of the citizenry, the unlimited power to tax and lack of protection of property seem less like error and more like deliberate intention.

Whenever the subject of “constitutional rights” (a problematic term itself) comes up, people reflexively refer to the right of free speech. This is an important right, and one defended across the political spectrum. However, free speech, freedom of the press, and the other rights protected by the Bill of Rights, without property rights, are inconsequential – the mere window dressing of liberty. It is property that enables one to determine the course of one’s own life. Without it, the right to life is no right at all, but rather a privilege granted by those who own your labor.

George W. Bush was an enthusiastic supporter of the right of “free speech.” During a town hall meeting, an average American who opposed Bush’s policies rose and began hurling insults at the president, eliciting boos from the Bush-friendly audience. Bush reprimanded the crowd, reminding them that this man had a right to speak his mind, even if they did not like what he had to say. It was not the only time that he stood up for free speech. This was no accident. A government that has the unlimited power to seize the property of its citizens can afford to be magnanimous when it comes to free speech. Yet, for the citizen who no longer owns the fruits of his own labor, the right to complain makes him no less a slave.

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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© Thomas Mullen 2010

>Life, Liberty, and Property Are Inseparable

>

The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they chuse and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion, of every part and member of the society: for since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society, that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making; whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence.

- John Locke[1]

Life, liberty, and property were the central, inalienable rights that formed the foundation of the great experiment in self government called the United States of America. The founders of our country never broke apart this sacred triumvirate, because each one of these rights is inextricably bound to the other. No one of these three can exist without the other. Moreover, when all three are secured, it is almost impossible for injustice to exist. Wherever one does find injustice, one invariably finds a violation of one of these three basic rights at its root.

While it is certainly true that today the rights to life and liberty are grossly violated in innumerable ways, they are nevertheless at least spoken of by our politicians. However hypocritically, they at least say that they value life and liberty, even as they pervert those sacred rights as justification for their wars and plunder.

Yet, they never even hypocritically evoke the right to property. No journalist ever challenges them based upon it, and honestly, most average Americans don’t talk about it either. As a principle, property has vanished from our consciousness. However, as all of the great philosophers throughout history have understood, there is no right to life or liberty without property. In fact, property is part and parcel of life itself.

What is property? It is that which an individual rightfully owns. Included among every human being’s property are his mind, his body, his conscience, and his actions. Every act of mind and body undeniably belongs to the actor, including that act which he engages in more than any other: his labor. To deny someone’s right to ownership of his mind, body, or labor is to make him a slave.

It is labor that allows each individual to sustain his existence and pursue his happiness. All consumption must be preceded by production. Production can only be achieved through human labor. In fact, there is no way for an individual to pursue any goal, whether material, intellectual, or spiritual, without exertion. Even the search for God requires an intellectual and spiritual effort – it cannot commence without labor.

For most of us, the bulk of our labor is devoted to providing the basic necessities of life for ourselves and our children. Some portion of it also provides the extras – the toys, the vacations, or the dining out that enriches our lives and adds to our happiness. A further portion is devoted to study, prayer, or just simple reflection – the quest for meaning and purpose in our lives. None of these things are possible without labor; our labor provides them all. Every item in every store is the product of someone’s labor. Every phone call you make is made possible by someone’s labor. Healthcare is someone’s labor, as is education.

However, the actual effort of mind and body is not the most precious aspect of labor. If human beings were immortal, we could afford to spend our labor and its fruits indiscriminately, consuming as much as we wished and providing anything to anyone who asked it of us. If a shoemaker were able to make shoes for the rest of eternity, then certainly there would not be a bare foot on the face of the earth. If the land developer were immortal, we would all live in a mansion.

However, we are not immortal, and it is this fact that places such a premium on our labor. Our labor is not just composed of the exertion of mind and body that is necessary to produce some good or service. That exertion happens over time, the hours or days of the laborer’s life. Every hour of our labor is an hour of our life from a limited supply which cannot be replenished. Whatever we have produced with our labor now contains that portion of our life which we have sacrificed to produce it.

So, when human beings trade their goods or services with one another, they are really trading pieces of their lives. If they have exchanged their labor for money with an employer or customer, that money now contains some part of their lives – a part that can never be reclaimed. That is why the same verb is used for both money and time – both are “spent” in exchange for some benefit. Both also represent each individual’s means of self determination.

Therefore, it is impossible to call a person free if he does not own his labor and all the product of his labor. It is only through his labor that he can provide better food, clothing and shelter for himself and his family, send his children to better schools, or realize the leisure time necessary to grow intellectually and spiritually. His labor is his means to determine the course of his life. Without self determination, there is no liberty.

Furthermore, to deny a human being ownership of his labor is also to deny his right to life itself. Since his labor is his means of sustaining his existence, once his right to ownership of his labor is denied he lives only at the arbitrary whim of whoever has claimed ownership of it. For such a person, life is now a privilege granted by someone else, rather than a right.

To the founders of the United States of America, all of this was self evident. When one reads the writings of Samuel and John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, or Locke, one finds one word that is used many times more often even than liberty: property. Recognizing property as nothing more than the individual’s labor and/or the product of his labor, the founders placed the protection of property as the very highest priority of government. In fact, they often stated that it was the only priority of government. While no high school history book or Hollywood biopic even hints at this fact, merely reading the words of the founders for oneself puts any debate on this point to rest.

Let us apply this concept to a contemporary issue. The unambiguous statements in the Declaration of Independence that all human beings have unalienable rights and that government’s sole purpose is to secure them should absolutely beg at least one timely question from most Americans today. Why did the founders not provide for the right to health care? Why did they not establish Medicare or Medicaid? Given a whole system of government whose purpose was to secure individual rights, why was this right so glaringly overlooked?

Of course, the answer to that question is that the founders recognized that health care was not a right. Health care, like every other good or service, is someone’s labor. No one but the laborer can have a right to it. To say that people have a right to health care is really to deny the health care provider a right to his own life, for it is impossible for both he and his patient to have a right to ownership of his labor. It is no less a crime to forcefully rob the health care provider’s fee from a third party (the taxpayer), for that simply denies the taxpayer’s right to his own life. In either case – whether the health care provider is forced to treat the patient for free or a third party is forced to pay the bill – someone’s labor, some part of someone’s life, is being stolen from him. This is the specific crime that government exists to defend its citizens against. By instead committing this crime, government becomes the most grotesque absurdity imaginable.

This is not to imply that we are at some sort of crossroads because President Obama and his pet Congress are closing in on expanding government healthcare. We came to that crossroads decades ago and quite undeniably took the wrong road. Until our philosophy changes and we recognize that retirement benefits, health care, research grants, corporate subsidies, investment in alternative energy – all money, goods, and services – are really pieces of someone’s life that cannot be seized from them without their consent (not even by majority vote), we will never restore the liberty that we have lost. Instead, we will continue to be the most pitiable form of slave, not bound to one master, but to everyone.

When a fellow human being offers to buy your product or hire you for your services, he has paid you the highest compliment imaginable. That person has offered a piece of his life to you in exchange for something that you have to offer, which is itself a piece of your own life. He is saying that you have value and that what you offer is worth hours or days of his life that he can never reclaim. This consensual interaction between free people is the most beautiful aspect of civil society and has been responsible for every improvement in the quality of human life that has ever occurred throughout history.

Conversely, when a fellow human being points a gun at you and demands that you provide him with some good or service, he commits the most egregious crime imaginable, short of pulling the trigger and ending your life at that moment. For in reality, he is really stealing a piece of your life that you can likewise never reclaim. He may be committing this crime because he wishes to increase his wealth without earning it, or he may desperately need whatever he takes from you, but it is the same crime nonetheless. This interaction is the most evil aspect of civil society and has been responsible for every war and human misery that has ever occurred throughout history.

Government can only be organized to fulfill one of two purposes: to protect your property or to take it from you – for whatever purpose government or its constituents deem fit. There is no third choice. To organize society around competing groups stealing from one another is to create a society whose citizens exist in a perpetual state of war with one another – for the use of force to obtain another’s property without his consent is the definition of the state of war.

Such a society cannot endure indefinitely. Ours has come to the beginning of its inevitable end. Countless empires throughout history – some much more preeminent in their worlds than we are in ours – have disintegrated for exactly the same reason. We can still choose justice over injustice but our philosophy must change. We must again institute a government that secures our rights, rather than annihilates them in the attempt to provide us with the property of others.

This will not happen by any act of government itself. Whether we elect a liberal or a conservative, we will never achieve different results by continually electing different people or parties but asking them to do the same thing – provide us with the property of others. It must be the people who change their philosophy and then demand that government assume its appropriate role according to that philosophy. Our government ultimately gives us what we ask for. For the past century, we have increasingly asked it to make us slaves, seduced by the siren’s song of comfort and security without responsibility. This can only be provided to each of us at another’s expense and can only be provided to others at ours. Once we reject the idea that we can claim a right to another human being’s life, the chains that bind us will be broken. Then, it will matter not who makes our laws.

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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[1] Locke, John Second Treatise of Government Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis, IN (1980) Pg. 111

>The Forgotten Right

>“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”

– John Adams (1787)[1]

It is starting to become apparent to even the most disinterested observer that something much bigger than even a worldwide recession is happening. The seeds of revolution have taken root. Iceland led the way by taking to the streets to force regime change through peaceful demonstration. The French are currently protesting en masse against their government’s bailout of the banking system. One would be naïve to think that these are isolated incidents. It is apparent that these are just early warning signs of a worldwide cauldron that is about to boil over, catalyzed by the financial and economic cataclysm that will plunge untold millions into poverty and desperation.

While I applaud the peaceful demonstrations going on in France and Iceland, I also recognize that they are premature. As did Americans in the last election cycle, these Europeans are demanding “change.” However, also like Americans in the last election cycle, they have failed to first answer the crucial questions, “From what? To what?” They have not looked within to assess who they are, what their society is, and what they want it to be. Therefore, they run the risk of simply replacing one oppressive tyranny for another.

Likewise, we will never regain our freedom in America until we address the fundamental problem in our society. I say “the problem,” because at the root of all of what we perceive as a myriad of problems, including the police state, the welfare state, the warfare state, the military industrial complex, the Wall Street oligopoly, the high cost of healthcare and education – everything – there is one philosophical problem that ultimately leads to them all: the repudiation of property rights.

It is likely difficult for most 21st century Americans to absorb this statement, based upon the fact that they have been told now for generations that property is about greed, that accumulating property is oppression, or even that “property is theft.” However, let us look back at the philosophers who inspired our founders and see what they have to say about property. Of course, as I have written here, the primary philosophical basis for the American Revolution came from Locke. What did Locke have to say about the purpose of government?

““The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”[2]

Certainly this statement must be startling to most 21st century Americans, who believe that they are supposed to look to their government to fight unemployment, manage the economy, ensure access to healthcare, promote democracy abroad, and pursue a myriad of other ends outside of protecting property. Surely, Locke has over-emphasized property rights here, has he not? Certainly he is alone in his simplistic assessment of the role of government, is he not?

He is not. In seeking guidance on how to construct our government, the American founders also looked to the ancients, particularly the Roman Republic. There, we find Cicero writing,

“For the chief purpose in the establishment of constitutional state and municipal governments was that individual property rights might be secured. For, although it was by Nature’s guidance that men were drawn together into communities, it was in the hope of safeguarding their possessions that they sought the protection of cities.”[3] [emphasis added]

The conditioned response of Americans today is to view these ideas as a defense of one class of people at the expense of another. We have been trained to associate “property” as a concern of the “property class,” or in more common American terms, “the haves,” as opposed to the “have nots.” This is a great deception that has lead directly to our ruin. In fact, it is the poor and those of modest means for whom property rights are most important. It is they who, not possessing significant material wealth, must all the more jealously guard the property that they do have. In the end, however, we are all property owners when one considers the most fundamental, most important property of all: our labor itself.

We learn from Locke that all property has its roots in labor. In order to survive, man must work to produce the means of his survival. This is true for people no matter what their financial circumstances. The doctor, the lawyer, the construction worker, the janitor – yes, even the Wall Street financier – must sell his efforts to his fellow man in order to acquire the means of his survival. Therefore, whoever has control over the individual’s labor has control over the individual’s life, and control over the individual’s future. If I steal all of your possessions, you can acquire more. However, if I appropriate your labor, I own all of the property you can ever or will ever acquire. This is an undeniable reality that we have lost sight of, to our peril.

America was founded upon the idea that each individual had an unqualified right to the fruits of his labor.[4] This more than anything was what the founders meant when they spoke the word “liberty.” It was the extent to which this right was respected that made America different than every other society in history, before or since. This was the great secret that made America the engine of prosperity and innovation that it was. This is what made America the land of opportunity to change one’s lot in life. It was this right that gave birth to the American dream.

However, we no longer hold this right up above all others. Instead, we have become a society that is based upon competing groups seeking to plunder each other via the force of government. The rich plunder their neighbors with corporate bailouts, subsidies, and regulatory fascism. The middle class plunder their neighbors with Social Security, Medicare, and criminal unions. The poor are forced to accept legal plunder that they do not want and which provides them with the most miserable quality of life, when the stolen capital that underwrites it could employ them all if it weren’t seized from its rightful owners. Of course, these examples are only the tip of the iceberg; there is much, much more. Virtually every political movement in America is based upon a promise to provide its followers with other people’s property.

This scenario is neither unprecedented nor has it been unrecognized by the great lights of liberty. Bastiat wrote,

“Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are victims. Thus, when plunder is organized by law for the profit of those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to enter — by peaceful or revolutionary means — into the making of laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.”[5]

This vision of Bastiat’s has become reality in America. However, it cannot go on forever. Fortunately for humanity, a society based upon legal plunder is ultimately unsustainable. Just as respect for property rights provides the means to prosperity, violation of them leads to poverty and want. As force replaces voluntary exchange, productivity decreases, and subsequently more force is required to plunder even more. This cycle repeats until society is reduced to an authoritarian nightmare, the first signs of which are becoming apparent in the former “land of the free.” If the people wake up, the nightmare can end. If they continue to slumber, the nightmare can get much, much worse.

This is the great truth that we must rediscover before any revolution can be successful. Before we commit to “change,” we must answer the questions, “From what? To What?” The answers to those questions must be “from a nation of looters to a nation of free individuals who acquire property in the only civilized manner: via voluntary exchange.” We must reject the use of force as the means to pursue our happiness, and renew our faith in freedom. Once this great work has been accomplished, let the revolution begin.

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Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

[1] Adams, John A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787)
[2] Locke Second Treatise Ch. IX, Sec. 124
[3]Cicero, Marcus Tullius De Officiis Book II Chapter XXI
[4] “Individuals” who were included in the system. Of course, the founders recognized but did not remedy the obvious contradiction to this inherent in slavery.
[5] Bastiat, Frederic, The Law

>The Lost Philosopher

>For high school or undergraduate college students, it is probably difficult to imagine how the dusty old books they are forced to read are relevant to their lives. Who can blame the average teenager for caring little about what lights up the face of his eccentric professor, regardless of the passion said professor may exhibit for Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, or Locke? Yet, despite the understandable lack of interest in the worldview of philosophers of several hundred years past, this is probably the last real chance the young student will have to consider them. Once out of school and faced with the realities of life and making a living, there is little time or motivation for one to go back and explore the world of ideas. Ideas and philosophy are for dreamers. This is how a society forgets what it is trying to do.

The enlightenment that inspired our founding fathers was a period of explosive creativity and learning. Newton, Bacon, Sidney, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Smith – these giants were all children of the enlightenment that inspired Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and the rest to create a society based upon reason which recognized that all men were created equal. Today, we tend to think about both the enlightenment and our founders as if they all shared one, homogenous philosophy and one vision of man and society. However, this is far from true.

“The enlightenmnet” did not produce one archetypal philosophy, but three. They were all quite well known to our founders, but only one of them informed the philosophy of liberty that made America the freest, most prosperous nation in history.  It has been the gradual erosion of those founding principles and their replacement by tenets of the rejected philosophies that has led America to the edge of ruin.

The first to talk about “the social contract” during the enlightenment was Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes believed that man in the state of nature (the absence of government or any higher authority) was in a state of perpetual war, or as he put it, “war of everyone against everyone.” This was the result of Hobbes assertion that in that state, man had “a right to everything,” following from his opinion that reason dictated only that man is restricted from doing anything to harm himself. Thus, for Hobbes man was ultimately a depraved creature who needed a strong government – an absolute ruler – to save him from himself. While for Hobbes the law of nature dictated that man should seek peace, man would never find it by employing reason, which would only ensure that he tried to preserve his own life against the “violent death” that threatened his every living moment. The purpose of government, then, was to protect man from his own depraved nature and that of his neighbors with a strong, paternal hand, sanctioned by God.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s vision of man and the purpose of government was quite different from that of Hobbes. Rousseau asserted that the idea of a “state of nature” was a purely academic one, having likely never actually occurred in human history. However, he did use the idea of a state of nature as a philosophical tool to develop his ideas about man in society and the purpose of government. For Rousseau, man had to give up his natural rights when entering society, and while society granted him individual rights, they could be set aside when the needs of society outweighed them. In his own words,

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our coporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

Therefore, government’s purpose for Rousseau was to accomplish the “general will” and achieve the common good, which included economic equality, as Rousseau recognized man’s property rights to end at what he needed to survive. “Having his share, he ought to keep it, and can have no further right against the community.”

John Locke represented yet a third philosophy of man and society. Locke’s view of man in the state of nature was vastly different from that of Hobbes, as was his definition of reason. As he said,

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

So, for Locke, reason did not merely dictate self-preservation, but the Non-Aggression Principle as well. While Locke recognized that man was not safe from harm from other people in the state of nature, he believed that the laws of nature preceded man and society, and thus individual rights were inalienable. Man did not give up those rights when entering society, but instead entered society solely for the purpose of defending them. He had a right to as much property as he could legitimately acquire, whether that resulted in more property than possessed by his neighbor or not. So long as he did not harm another in their “life, health, liberty, or possessions,” he was free to “order his actions as he pleased.” The purpose of government for Locke was to protect life, liberty, and property as the societal extension of the individual right of self defense.  This was also government’s strict limit.

It is interesting to consider how these three philosophies played out during the 18th century. In America, our founders chose the philosophy of Locke, specifically excluding the other two in writing our Declaration of Independence. However, our founders were not of one united mind on their vision of the most effective form of government. In fact, there was a deep divide between two factions, led by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, respectively.  Jefferson believed in the philosophy of Locke, whom he on more than one occasion named (along with Newton and Bacon) “one of the three greatest men who ever lived.”

Hamilton’s view of man and society was much more Hobbesian. As Jefferson put it, Hamilton was “honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern man.” To Jefferson’s assertion that Locke, Bacon, and Newton were the greatest men the world had ever produced, Hamilton replied, “the greatest man that ever lived was Julius Caesar.” While Jefferson asserted that the power of the government was limited to defense against aggression, Hamilton advocated a “more vigorous government,” with the ultimate instrument of control at its disposal – a central bank.

This was the great struggle of ideas in early America. Very generally, it was a struggle between Hobbes and Locke. While Hamilton was able to accomplish many of his goals while serving in Washington’s cabinet, Jefferson’s vision ultimately prevailed by he and his successors winning the presidency, paying down the national debt, and eliminating the central bank (an accomplishment that had to be repeated by Jackson a few decades later). It was his Lockean vision that dominated, albeit under constant challenge, during the great century of innovation and prosperity that followed.

Rousseau’s philosophy did not find footing in early America, but did in France. While America’s revolution was based upon Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, drawn from Locke’s Life, Liberty, and Property[1], France’s revolution was based upon Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. It is no accident that one revolution was wildly successful and the other devolved into a bloody reign of terror and eventual despotism. The French had the same results trying to achieve economic equality through the force of government that later collectivist societies would under communism.[2]

While America lived by Locke’s principles, she enjoyed a meteoric ascent, leading the industrial revolution and creating much of what we now call the modern world. The explosion of prosperity for common people that occurred during America’s first century has been unequaled in human history. Indeed, while many are quick to point out that mass production was invented in America, let us not forget mass consumption – the enjoyment by the common people of the bounty that living by Locke’s principles of freedom and individual rights had provided.

By now, the relevance of these three philosophies should have jumped off the page. While all three competed during the enlightenment, only two have informed the political parties in America for the past century. It is no coincidence that today virtually all Americans feel that they must vote for “the lesser of two evils” when choosing representatives in their government. It is because they are choosing between the Hobbesian Republicans, with their strong, central government, sanctioned by God to save people from themselves, and the Rousseaian Democrats, still striving to use the force of government to achieve their perverse vision of economic equality, despite the tens of millions that have died as a result of that same vision. Gone are the individual rights, liberty, and Non-Aggression Principle of Locke, and with Locke’s philosophy has gone America’s greatness.

Most ominously, the two parties that previously followed either Hobbes or Rousseau are now merging together into a terrifying hybrid, finding common ground in their mutual belief in the absolute sovereignty of the state over the individual. While they may have appeared radically different in decades or centuries past, these two philosophies have always had this in common. In the end, that makes them for all practical purposes the same.

However, all is not lost. While Locke has completely disappeared from the American ethos, his philosophy can never really die. Very soon, the artificial society created by the Hobbes/Rousseau hybrid is going to collapse upon itself, a victim of its own systemic flaws. The supreme justice in the universe is that society cannot violate natural rights indefinitely. Just as market forces eventually reassert themselves in economics, natural law eventually does so in the organization of society as a whole. When the use of force can no longer sustain society, as it ultimately never can, voluntary exchange will take its place. As the illusion of legitimacy disappears from the present paternal state, the Non-Aggression Principle will reemerge to replace it. Do not fear the coming collapse. Embrace it. When the moment comes, let us seize it and shout joyously, not for equality or security, but for liberty.

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[1] Property being implicit in “the Pursuit of Happiness”
[2] Tragically, the cause and effect relationship between the economic policies that accompany a government striving to achieve economic equality (at the point of the sword) and the subsequent famine, war, and destruction that result still eludes us. It was demonstrated in France in the 18th century, Russia in the early 20th and China later in the 20th, yet history seems to have taught us nothing. The voices crying for government-enforced equality, perhaps this time under the guise of “spreading the wealth,” are louder than ever.

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!