There is Still Time to Repent

Those who keep criticising us libertarians for being too dogmatic about our insistence on property rights as the source of other rights, look upon the weird controversy over reserving a few hours for women at the Harvard gym, and repent.

For, the truth is that a dogmatic respect for certain fundamental rights is what enables us to be easygoing about most other things.

An employee who belongs to an orthodox Jewish faith wants to cut a Friday evening meeting short, because he cannot be in a car when Sabbath starts at sundown. Should we accommodate his request? Muslim employees request some changes in meal timings during Ramzan. Should we accommodate them? Obviously, all such requests will cause some inconvenience to others. Is the cost too much? Are the beneficiaries a few or many? Are the the benefits worth it? Are the beneficiaries willing to make other accommodations to compensate?

To me, it seems like a good idea to make reasonable accommodations for people’s religious or other beliefs, where possible. Whether we should in any particular case depends on so many factors, so many costs, so many benefits and the conflicting interests of so many constituencies that it would be highly presumptuous of me to make blanket statements one way or the other. But what I can state is that letting property owners make the decision devolves the decision making to those who are closest to the decision and who have the most stake in the costs and benefits of that decision.

Or, you could turn this into a legal question involving esoteric principles. Well, good luck. When you are trying to make a law for this, you are moving the decision-making up to the top. Your quest for foolish consistency will inevitably lead to foolish decisions, because no law will provide for every nuance that would be involved in individual cases. There is still time. Come to Libertarianism my children!

9 thoughts on “There is Still Time to Repent

  1. Even if all that you said is correct, how does that make the case for property rights being the source of ALL other rights? More specifically, did you consider any boundary cases/ inflection points where definitions of property are unclear or perceived to be unjust/immoral?

  2. Hmm, perceptions causing confusion. For some time I thought you had confused yourself with Amit. Scary thought.

    There are still inflection points to be considered. But some other time.

  3. In this case, the decision making is not devolving to the bottom but to property owners. What is wrong with representatives of the people making decisions? Ideally, the government is the one institution where everyone has an equal stake irrespective of his/her wealth or power. Otherwise, you can always put every issue to referendum, American Idol-style.

  4. I would be curious to learn why you think that a member of parliament elected from Lucknow is in a better position to decide what happens in a Hyderabadi restaurant than the owner of that restaurant.

    Or even better, why it is a good idea for a prime minister elected by representatives from all over the country is in a better position than the owner of that Hyderabadi restaurant.

    Or even better, a law made by those members of parliament ten years back, when they did not have the facts of the Hyderabadi restaurant’s case before them, is a better guide to dealing with a particular situation than the owner of the restaurant, who has the facts of the case and the costs and benefits of that decision in front of him right now.

    Or even better, a law made by “representative” body ten years back, as interpreted by a petty official who has been appointed by a not-so-petty official who has been appointed by a minister who has been appointed by the prime minister who has the “confidence” of approximately half the members of parliament – yes, this looks like a good way to run a country.

  5. When you talk about owners being in the best position to take decisions you are assuming some idealistic situations and I was comparing my idealistic situation with yours.

    A property owner will look out for his/her interests and interests of her class rather than of everyone in that situation/event/scenario. To use that ugly term, not all “stakeholders” would receive their fair share of hearing in the matter. Even if the property owner gives up some of his/her leverage on the matter, it is because of the threat of revenge from the others through political means or outright violence. Thus it goes back to the same centralized political authority which is best placed to flex political muscle and maintain monopoly on violence that people taking matters into their own hands.

    I would be more worried about the concentration of power into certain classes more than safeguarding property ownership. The latter cannot be maintained if most parts of the wider society no longer consider it legitimate.

    A good example is the housing slump here in the US. People here believe strongly in property rights but the scamming and debt has risen to such levels that the stigma attached with foreclosing of houses is vanishing. People are becoming more accepting of “deadbeats” (I wouldn’t call all of them that because some though not all are victims of outright scams with the others being perpetrators of scams). People are not completing their fiduciary duties and everyone accepts that which was unthinkable just a year back.

    If property owners take selfish decisions (and believe me every class/person will take such decisions if they are offered the opportunity and power to do that), the society as a whole will simply change their value system and delegitimize the ownership.

    You yourself talk about cost-benefit analysis before taking a decision. The costs you talk about include such threats of delegitimization, violence, political revenge through the government and general chaos. I would rather have a mechanism that brings in everyone into the decision-making process early than for the property owner to take the decision by himself/herself factoring in those threats. The problem with the latter mechanism is that once in a while the violence will have to be exercised to do away with complacency on part of the property owners. Violence and death are never good. An orderly and peaceful mechanism is the best. I think we already have such a mechanism and it is the democratic governing system, however flawed it may be.

    Sorry for being repetitive. I want to edit what I have written up but its early morning and I am in a hurry.

Comments are closed.