"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." ~ Douglas Adams
What Exactly Is Freedom?
Everybody loves freedom. Everybody wants it. At least, that is a common assumption. But a lot of questions need to be answered. For example: What is freedom exactly, and can it be accurately defined?
Is freedom the same as democracy?
Is freedom the the right to do anything I want - regardless of the impact on anyone else?
Should I have the freedom to:
* Enter your house and steal your money? * Smoke marijuana or inject heroin? * Drive at 150 km per hour? * Say anything I like? * Kill someone, if they ask me to?
These are troubling moral questions. All the more so, because they deal with highly contentious issues.
Is there any received moral code that can answer such questions unambiguously?
In our technologically advanced, but socially backward societies, the answers are usually provided by religious or traditional belief systems. And as such, such issues often end up in a mess of contradictions.
If you subscribe to Proudhon's statement, "property is theft", then you would obviously think your freedom entitled you to take other people's money. If you are a welfare-statist, you probably don't consider a person to have the freedom to take drugs, not when the taxpayer has to pick up the tab. And if you are a fundamentalist Christian, it would be safe to say you wouldn't agree that you have the freedom to kill someone, even if they asked you to.
The truth is, all existing systems of belief and morals are simply not up to the task of clearly defining personal freedom and its limits. That's why we have such a moral and legal mess where the issue of freedom is concerned.
The question is always: "At what point does my freedom impinge on another person's freedom - and therefore nullify such freedom?"
If this "point" could be nailed down, unequivocally, then there would be a rock-solid point of reference for dealing with such thorny issues.
Fortunately, there IS such a "point of reference" - property rights.
After years of thinking deeply about the issue of freedom, both in a personal and social context, I believe that only by reference to property rights can order be brought to the existing chaos.
Enforcement of property rights is the foundation of justice. Justice is a prerequisite for freedom.
Andrew Galambos - the astrophysicist who formed the Free Enterprise Institute in the 1960s - came up with a neat and precise definition of freedom. He said:
"Freedom is the societal condition that exists when every individual has full (i.e. 100%) control over his own property."
This is certainly a radical statement. And I believe it to be 100% true.
Provided the word "property" is understood, then there can be no misunderstanding as to how to apply this dictum.
So, what is property? Well, first of all, you are your own property. Your body is your property. Your mind is your property. When you apply your mind to the creation of a physical good, that is your property. When you apply your mind and body to working for someone else, the money you receive in exchange for your effort is your property. When you buy something off someone else, it becomes your property.
The whole free market is the mechanism by which property is exchanged by voluntarily agreed means. If there was no property, there would be no market.
In fact, proper protection of property is a necessary precursor to any economic advancement. And it is this little-understood fact that is causing so much lack of progress in most of the undeveloped world.
If you establish a foundation of justice, based on the protection of property - then a market economy is the natural consequence.
I don't believe the concept of property is hard to understand, and in fact, it has been understood for millennia.
You could say that property is just common sense. Even children have no problem understanding the concept.
Moral dilemmas arise when my property rights come up against yours. And they can be easily sorted out by reference to exactly whose property is at stake.
Obviously, as my body is my property, then I can smoke marijuana and it's nobody else's business - unless I smoke it in your house without your permission. As for driving at 150 km/hour, that depends on who owns the road - and whether they mind or not. And a reference to property rights also sorts out the issue of euthanasia.
In fact, the beauty of enforcing property rights is that everyone is then 100% free to do whatever they want with THEIR property, and equally 100% NOT free to infringe on anyone else's.
This is the ONLY definition of freedom which ensures that every individual can attain it.
The issue of taxation is easily dealt with. Your money is your property, and no one has the right to force you to hand it over against your will.
What about a really contentious issue - like immigration? What does property rights have to say in that regard?
Well, under a property rights based society, you would have the right to emigrate only if you were invited by the owner of the property concerned. And in the case of a town, or city (for remember, everything would be privately owned - the roads, the buildings, the open spaces), then such an invitation would need to be consistent with whatever "body-corporate" bylaws everybody had voluntary signed up to.
Under a property rights based society, there would be no such thing as the "national" interest - only the interest of the individual property owners.
Property rights morality sorts out the problems of free trade. If I want to sell you something, or buy something from you - then no matter where on earth you are - it is nobody else's business as to what you and I agree to.
What about smoking in restaurants? Easily fixed. Who owns the restaurant? That is the only question needing answering, because the restaurant owner is the only one with the right to determine whether his customers smoke or not.
Are you a landlord? No problem, by reference to property rights, you have absolute control as to who you will rent to - and under what terms.
Every currently divisive social, political and moral issue can be rationally solved by applying the question of, "Whose property is it?"
Once the essence of property rights is grasped, and how such rights define the nature of justice, it becomes apparent that freedom is the natural consequence.
On the basis of property rights, there is no such thing as freedom from hunger, freedom from illiteracy, or freedom from unemployment. All these bogus freedoms are unable to be upheld when put under the microscope of property rights.
In the same way, democracy is NOT freedom, and in fact is most inimical to it. Democracy rests on the notion of majority rule, and of the right to determine morality by counting heads.
More often than not, the democratic system is used to undermine property rights - not protect them.
In a society where property rights were 100% protected, there would be no need for democracy, or voting of any kind. The law would be sufficient to cover all contingencies. Everybody would have equal rights - equal property rights.
But the very term "property rights" has been attacked incessantly by those with a vested interest in looting.
How many times have you heard the cry, "But property rights must take second place to HUMAN rights!".
The fallacy of that statement is in the fact that property rights ARE human rights. More fundamentally, it is impossible to have any genuine human rights, without accepting the preeminence of property rights.
Equally fallacious is Proudhon's statement, "property is theft". For how can you have theft - if there is no property to be stolen?
Under a property rights based society, you wouldn't need a judicially proactive government, forever creating new laws. No, the law could be stated simply and forcefully once and for all. And all that remained would be the need to interpret different situations in the light of the foundational respect of property rights.
Property rights also solves another problem - how to achieve genuine justice. Justice can be defined as respect for, and the enforcement of, property rights. No other justice is required.
So called "social justice" is just a figment of the looters' imagination.
So there you have it - the solution to moral greyness, moral equivocation, judicial activism, and a host of other current social evils.
Next time you read or hear of any contentious issue, try applying the question, "Whose property is involved here?", and you'll be surprised how much clarity it brings to bear.
Don't fall for the idea that equates democracy with freedom, and don't fall for the raft of bogus "freedoms" tossed around with abandon. Protection of property is the anchor of justice, and this would result in all the freedom you'll ever need.