Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fallacious "rights"

As I've mentioned in a previous post about the idea that freedom of speech as a right is a farce I've decided to extend this to other common fallacious claims about certain "rights" people claim to have. This is not to say that we don't possess any rights as humans but that we cannot just claim to have certain rights because we think we have those rights.

So then what rights do we actually have?

To keep this short and move on to farce rights the rights we have stem from self-ownership of our bodies. These are our property rights which extend from our body to our labor to the land from which our labor was mixed with. If it is only ourselves who can claim ownership over our body than it would be illegitimate and wrong for someone to try to claim ownership over your body and thus claim ownership of your labor or land from which your labor was mixed with.

Since you own yourself and it would be wrong for someone to force you to do something it follows that you then have the right to your own life and the right to live free of coercion so long as you do not infringe on the rights of others.

The only rights you have then are over tangible objects like your body and objects you have legitimately obtained or not coerced from someone else.

So this leads us to talk about a couple of "rights" people commonly claim we have but actually don't.

Intellectual Property (IP) Rights:

IP is probably one of the biggest issues that many libertarians argue to the teeth over. Many believe that IP is legitimate property and therefor you have a right over that property. The problem thus becomes convincing these people, libertarians and non-libertarians, that IP is not actually property. As I've mentioned here property is a scarce physical object that no two people could possibly claim ownership at once. If you both could claim ownership to it at once then there would be no need to have property laws, i.e. the air we breath. Ideas are not tangible objects that are scarce. Ideas can be owned by multiple people at the same time. Ideas fail every test of what property is. Some will say that "well if we don't have IP then people won't produce because there's no incentive since someone can just sell their idea that they came up with and worked so hard on." Even if this were fact the utilitarian justification falls short at explaining why we should use force on other people who want to implement the same idea with their own legitimately obtained property. By imposing IP laws you are infringing on the natural rights of people. If an inventor is so worried about his idea being made public then he has one legitimate way of keeping his secret from people, keeping it in his head.

Right to a job/wage:

This is often yelled by those on the Left, socialists, and union workers. That for some reason we are entitled to a job and/or a certain wage. It could be that you are entitled to a job with a minimum wage based off an arbitrary number or off what people consider a living wage, where you get paid enough to live relative to the area you live in. Although it is true that you do have the right to attempt to obtain said job with whatever wage you do not have the right to force someone to give it to you. If you are using force to infringe on the rights of others you cannot possibly claim that your aim is a certain right.


This is another common "right" that the Left and socialists love to spew. For the very same reason as a job you don't have the right to an education. You do have the right to pursue an education but you in no way have the right to force someone into giving you an education.


The next issue the Left and socialists claim as rights is general welfare. For those that don't work or fully work are somehow entitled to things that work would give them. Housing and food are obvious examples of welfare that are given to the poor. Although a noble cause for sure helping the poor doesn't give the poor a right to such things. That is because they must be financed through force i.e. taxation. No one has the right to steal from another person for themselves or for the appropriation of others. I will also contend that doing this actually hurts the poor more than it helps them. But even if it did help them more than it hurts them the logic doesn't hold, for when illegitimate force is used to obtain a "right" it is no right at all.

Gun/Gay/Women/Children/Ethnic/Relgious Rights:

Now I lump all these into one big group that both the Right and the Left fight so dearly for. The first mistake is to believe that certain groups of individuals have rights. This type of collectivism is misleading and leads to completely wrong conclusions about the essence of rights. Each of these groups have the same characteristic though that is often overlooked, that is they all comprise of only individuals. So it is not to say that since groups don't have rights you don't have a right to guns, to being treated equally regardless of sexual preference, sex, and ethnicity, or to practice or non-practice of a religion. It's exactly that since the group comprises of individuals each individual has individual rights that cannot be infringed upon. As an individual you have the right to obtain (legitimately) guns, to be treated the same as all other individuals, and to pursue spiritually whatever you want. I don't often quote Ayn Rand but she hit the nail on the head when she said this about minorities, "The Smallest Minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities."

Now it's especially interesting to talk about rights that are refused to us even though they are rights. Here are a few...


We currently have laws against certain types of speech. Libel and slander are perfect examples of where force will be used to censor your ability to speak. Now in my post about freedom of speech it's not really a right. What you do have a right to do though is express what you want as long as it's on your own property, printed in a newspaper that you can give away or sell, or rent a hall to give a lecture about. Now just because I have said something that is false and malicious towards you doesn't mean you have some right to stop me from saying it. Since I own my body and anything that comes from it I can say whatever I please, so long as I don't infringe on your rights. The only way I would infringe on your rights by speaking is by entering your property and speaking after you've told me to stop. In order for your rights to be infringed upon by my speech then your actual property must be transgressed upon. My actual lie about you does not infringe on your property and the only legitimate recourse you have is to ignore it or produce a counterargument.


Blackmail is another right that has been taken away by the State. If A knows something about B that B doesn't want people to know A cannot ask for compensation from B to keep the secret. Even if B believes that the cost of paying A is worth less compared to the secret going out, making it a mutually beneficial transaction between A and B. A could go and just tell everyone about the secret though as long as he doesn't ask for compensation, this hardly makes sense. The justification used for the illegality of blackmail is based on the reputation that is "owned" by the person being blackmailed. But as Murray Rothbard and Walter Block have both pointed out is that reputations aren't owned by the person being judged, they are owned by the people who are doing the judging. Since the person cannot claim ownership over his reputation the justification falls on its face.


Now bribes is a little more tricky to understand and I go with Rothbard's train of though on this, which he talks about in The Ethics of Liberty. There is nothing wrong, in a legal sense, to offer someone a bribe in order to get something. You have not violated natural laws by giving someone 100,000$ to favor my product over another. In the example of DJ's who have a contract to play the music that best fits the taste of the consumers there's nothing wrong with me giving him 100,000$ to play the type of music I'd like him to play. The illegality does come into play when the DJ has, by contract, stated he would only play what best suited the consumers. Now, by playing music outside of this scope he has not only broken his contract but deprived the ability of other music to be played even though they paid and agreed to the same contract as everyone else.

Insider Trading:

Now insider trading is something we don't really hear much about but I think it is definitely worth mentioning. What is the justification for making it illegal to tell someone something you know about a company and for that person to act on it? I really don't think there is one other than well it's not fair because not everyone is privy to that information. Well what kind of justification is that? People make investments, which are inherent with risk, without fully knowing what's going to happen. People make or don't make investments because they think there is or isn't going to be a return. Someone might have made a large investment into Product A but little did they know Product B was about to be released that would destroy the value of Product A. Well, then by the same logic, since that person wasn't privy to the information that Product B would make his investment a net loss shouldn't we stop the bringing of Product B to the market? Obviously the answer should be no. So just because not everyone knows about the information can you justify the use of force on someone to stop them from investing in whichever way they like based off whatever reasoning they have or don't have.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure about your claim that Libel and Slander are not genuine infringements on rights.

    A reputation is
    * a 'good' (i.e., more of it is better than less);
    * obtained by consistent application by the reputee ('labour'); and
    * can have its value diminished.

    As such it seems that it fits your definition of 'property' (a thing of value that is brought into being by one's labour). It is one of a very few things on which I disagree with Murray Rothbard: the 'production' of reputation is the admixture of the actions of the reputee, and the response of the world at large. The world at large does not 'create' the reputation, except in response to the reputee's actions. Reputation exists in the minds of third parties, but the actions of the reputee are a sine qua non.

    Aggressive attack on a reputation - whether truthful or otherwise - would seem to me to involve an attack on property. The attack may be 'justified' (to the extent that it's based on truth and seeks to remedy a tort), but it's still an attack on property.

    You seem to be sliding into the notion that nothing intangible can have value (a fundamental element of the notion of 'property'): this would be a very grave mistake.

    As an aside, I want to note that my personal view of my own reputation is not relevant: generally speaking I highly value untrammelled freedom of expression, and thus will rarely ever feel that any putative damage to my reputation rises to a level that 'trumps' freedom of expression.

    But it is always a situation of competing principles - a benefit-cost analysis. There exist situations in which deliberate, aggressive damage to reputation causes harm (to me) that justifies a response, up to and including hiring a teenager to hackwipe the offending website.