Dan Popp
The common good
By Dan Popp
March 28, 2010

So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community. William Blackstone

The ethical premise of the Marxist is that it's not right that some should have too little, while others have too much. We would prefer not to use coercion to equalize material goods, the socialist may say, but justice compels us. And the end result is a happier, healthier planet.

There are a lot of things wrong with that position. First of all, the definitions for "too little" and "too much" are inherently squishy. Arbitrariness doesn't have anything to do with justice. The foundational statement of the socialist may look like a moral principle, but it can't be one; principles are not matters of degree or of subjective opinions.

Secondly, inequality cannot, by itself, be injustice. The obedient child is not treated the same as the disobedient child, nor is the office loafer rewarded like the Employee of the Month. Equality in those cases, and in many others, would be the unjust condition.

Finally, the end justifies the means only for the deceiver, the conniver, the snake. Even if inequality were injustice, we couldn't rectify that injustice by committing another injustice. It doesn't matter how much more Sam makes than Sue; we can't steal from Sam and claim that we're increasing the total amount of justice in the world.

The upside-downer's moral high ground is quicksand.

What about the claim that "spreadin' the wealth around" serves the common good? The socialist wants us to accept his notion without examination. But this assertion can be tested and, it seems to me, must be tested. Are societies better off when their governments act like Robin Hood?

If the "general welfare" is the justification for rescinding our God-endowed right to own what we earn, then we're honor-bound to make sure that the folks really are better off after the transfer. Can you imagine Harry Reid a few years from now demanding empirical evidence that Obamacare has made America healthier — and if he discovers it hasn't, spearheading legislation to repeal it?

I crack myself up.

The protection of property rights benefits everyone — not just property owners. Private property is valued, cared for and improved upon. Common property is often depleted and neglected.

To recycle an illustration: If you want to sell your house, but it's known that the government could confiscate it at any time, how much is your house worth? Redistributive policies — even uncertainty about them — undermine the value of everything. In other words, we're all poorer when everyone owns everything, than when I can own something.

Counterintuitive though it may be, if you really want to champion the common good, you must defend private property rights. If you're truly concerned for the general welfare, you have to leave individuals — and their stuff — alone.


Some more great quotes about this besieged right to property:

Property is surely a right of mankind as real as liberty. — John Adams

Either we have a right to own property, or we are property. — Henri Frederic Amiel

Try to imagine a system of labour imposed by force that is not a violation of liberty; a transfer of wealth imposed by force that is not a violation of property rights. If you cannot do so, then you must agree that the law cannot organize labour and industry without organizing injustice. — Frederic Bastiat

Our doctrine is based on liberty. In fact, private property and liberty, in our eyes are one and the same; for one man is made the owner of his own services by his right and his ability to dispose of them as he sees fit. Communism destroys liberty, for it permits no one to dispose freely of his own labour. — Frederic Bastiat

No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent. — John Jay

To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it. — Thomas Jefferson

Government has no other end, but the preservation of property. — John Locke

The personal right to acquire property, which is a natural right, gives to property, when acquired, a right to protection, as a social right. — James Madison

Just as man can't exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results, which means: the right of property. — Ayn Rand

The property which every man has in his own labour; as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. To hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbour is a plain violation of this most sacred property. — Adam Smith

© Dan Popp


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