Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Property Rights are Human Rights: A response to a philosophy professor

This argument is submitted in reply to the video of Clark Butler (Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne), that maybe found at: http://youtu.be/S9JC-uEZ7Fs (A partial transcript may be found below)

In response to the contention that some human-rights include a right to the products of the labor of others:

IF person 'X', has a 'right' to something that must be produced by some other person ('Y'); THEN this implies that 'Y' has no right to the thing ('r') that 'X' has a right to; for IF 'X' and 'Y' have the same 'right' to the same thing 'r' THEN there is an irresolvable conflict of interest over 'r'.

IF 'Y' has no 'right' to some portion of the product of the labor of 'Y' due to the 'right' OR claim of 'X' for the provision of 'r' for 'X', THEN either 'Y' must produce 'r' for 'X', OR else a third-party ('W') must be forced/coerced to pay 'Y' to produce 'r' for the 'right' of 'X' to 'r'. In either case, either 'Y' OR 'W' is required by the 'right' of 'X' to 'r', to produce 'r' for 'X', without any possibility for either 'Y' OR 'W' to voluntarily contract for remuneration for providing 'r'. The involuntary provision of labor without voluntarily contracted remuneration/exchange, fits the necessary and sufficient conditions for material equivalence of a condition of slavery. THEREFORE, IF our initial premise is held to be true, THAT 'X' has a valid-claim or right to 'r', such that 'Y' must be forced/coerced to be produce 'r', OR else 'r' is obtained by paying 'Y' to produce 'r' through the force/coercion/extortion of 'W' THEN either 'Y' or 'W', is the slave of either 'X' OR a third-party person-or-group ('V') who enforces (force and/or coercion) the 'right' or claim of 'X' for 'r'.

If we can assume that a premise or assertion from which we may logically derive a conclusion justifying a condition slavery is ethically unsatisfactory, then we must reject as ethically unsatisfactory the assertion that any person 'X' has a right to the product of the labor of any other person.

Responding to the argument that a portion of the product of the labor of Steve Jobs, belongs to the society/collective-economic-group that provides the economic environment, that makes the success/wealth of Steve Jobs possible:

IF a portion-of-the-product-of-the-the-labor ('p') of person 'S', rightly belongs to a collective-of-individuals-consisting-of-an-economic-environment ('E') because those persons participating in the greater/collective economic environment make possible the success or wealth of 'S', THEN {if this principle is applied universally} 'S' as one part of that collective is therefore owed 'p' (a part/portion of the product of the labor of that entire collective), due to the role played by 'S' in that economic environment; THEREFORE the claim that 'S' owes 'E' a portion of the product of her labor 'p' is negated by the reciprocal debt owed by 'E' to 'S'.
[If the principle is not permitted universally, then there are two different standards of analysis being arbitrarily applied to different persons, creating a condition of debt of one party to another without the possibility for reciprocation, which would result in one party having a lesser fundamental rights-claim than other person (or group of persons), which is an essential premise required for a condition slavery.]


Student: "I really like what you said about, 'Stopping war, by implementing peace, through implementing human rights on earth' but I have a question about the means to do that. How do you implement human rights on earth when governments need to violate rights to exist; in other words...{interjection}"

Professor: "I don't think governments *have* to violate rights, human-rights in order to exist. Human rights are the moral standards by which we are to judge governments and governments should be brought to account if they do violate human-rights and so, it's a difficult challenge but that is the challenge of the 'world human rights movement' and human rights will never be perfectly realized on earth, I'm an 'amelioratist'{?} not an optimist, I think think that tomorrow can {not?} be any better than today. I am a member of the 'world human rights movement' and I invite you to be a member of the 'world human rights movement'. I go by the United Nations understanding of human rights and my book 'Human Ethics' is really just an articulation and defense of the United Nations human rights, from the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights' on. I think that Occupy is a human rights movement too, in my own vocabulary, and in its own way, the Teaparty is a human rights movement too but there is some disagreement about the list of valid human rights."

Student: "There are some rights that we probably can agree on, right? Like I can't come to your house and take your money from you."

Professor: "True. Ok, the right to your own property, if it has not been stolen, is a human right."

Student: "Ok, so the how do you resolve that with taxation?"

Professor: {Begins to tell story about his teacher (John Hospers) who was a one-time mentor of Ayn Rand.}... The Teaparty and certainly the Libertarian party, tends to believe that the fundamental human right is the right to the product of your own labor. That is the basic Lockean human right. That is not what the United Nations believes. That is not what I defend in my book. I defend as a central human right, the first amendment right to equal opportunity of freedom of expression and discussion and dialog as a universal human right that is not realized yet on earth and equal opportunity to contribute to dialog, in the search, in a collaborative search for the truth, has to take place if it's equal opportunity, has to take place on an equal playing field. That means that there are some in discussion, nationally and internationally, who are very weak, and there are others that are very powerful, and rich and I don't say that we all have to be equalized in wealth or income to be equally empowered in freedom of expression but there is a certain minimal amount of economic empowerment that is necessary for some people that may be starving, or be homeless, if they are going to be able to participate on an equal playing field with others in discussion and dialog and have their voice heard too and considered seriously in discussion and dialog so I defend United Nations when it says that freedom of expression, freedom of speech, is the number one central human right but for that to be equally implemented among all human beings as human right and not just a right of the rich and the powerful, we have to also recognize economic human rights, the right to a minimal decent standard of living, the right to food, the right to health care, the right to good public, good education and if it has to be funded by taxing those that are better off, so be it. Now, this gets a little bit off the track, but should I finish the reasoning? ... First, take the idea of the right to the product of your own labor, now to some extent, that is justified, [because] it is motivating because I believe in entrepreneurship and if you didn't get rewarded at all by your labor, then I think you would get demotivated, the United Nations itself recognizes..."{interjection of question}

Student: "But I'm interested in knowing, how do you derive a way to determine to what extent you have a right to the products of your own labor..."{interjection}

Professor: "That's what I wanted to address right now. I believe contrary to Libertarians, that the product of Steve Jobs' labor is a collective and social product. I believe that if Steve Jobs, tried to start up his business with all his intelligence and with all his hard work, and with all his spirit of adventure, if he had had tried to do that in one of the poorest countries of the world, he would have never succeeded and become wealthy because, and I have been to one of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso. I have a friendship with the former minister of human rights in Burkina Faso, and there would be no body of consumers who could afford the things that Steve Jobs would invent and bring to market, so he would, and I know exact examples of people who have tried to create jobs, entrepreneur jobs, that would earn them profit in Burkina Faso and it just doesn't work for various reasons; first, people don't have any money to spend, secondly, there is corruption everywhere, you have to pay M'ba-chiese{?}, the government actually has no police, in many villages, the nearest policeman is fifty miles away and so the village will stop you on the road and take M'ba-chiese{?} so you can travel on and you have to hand money right and left to the government to get anything done, and you have the extended family, as soon as you accumulate some wealth, then you discover you have two hundred cousins with outstretched hands, and so my neice tried to create an enterprise in Burkina Faso, ... and she failed because of these reasons and Steve Jobs would have failed. Therefore, Steve Jobs success as an entrepreneur depends on the fact that he grew up and created his business in an affluent country with a solid consumer population with purchasing power and therefore his wealth is a collective product and therefore, since he owes his wealth to all those Americans who can afford to buy his products, his product were partly due to himself but partly a social product and that justifies society taxing part of his so called product away, which is due to the surrounding affluence of American consumers."

Student: "Didn't he derive his wealth from the people who decided to exchange the fruits of their labor for what he produced for them?"

Professor: "Don't you realize that his success would not have occurred except in a society with affluent consumer population like the United States."

{the video goes on from here but you can watch the video if you're interested}


  1. Contact information for Dr. Clark Butler:

    Dr. Clark Butler

    Director of IPFW HRI

    Image of Clark Butler

    Office: Liberal Arts, Room 05
    Phone: 260-481-6364
    E-mail: butler@ipfw.edu
    Homepage: http://www.ipfw.edu/phil/faculty/Butler/Butler.htm
    Education: U of Southern California, PhD
    Areas of Interest: Human Rights, Hegel, 19th Century Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy, and Metaphysics

  2. A user of Google+ ("Scott"), asked me if it was possible for some kind of arrangment of the 'sharing' of the product of the labor of some person ('Y'); here was my response:

    Regarding the subject of "sharing" 'r' (where 'r' is a product of the labor of person 'Y'); certainly, IF 'Y' would *choose* to share 'r' with person 'X', such that they both agree to the terms of the "sharing", THEN a materially equivalent (which is the fancy-philosopher way of saying, 'there's no significant difference') condition to a condition of slavery could *not* be derived. However, IF 'Y' does not choose to share 'r' with 'X' OR 'Y' chooses to share 'r' with 'X' under certain conditions but (AND) wherein those conditions agreed to by 'Y' are *not* respected by 'X' (ex: 'X' declares the "right" to change the terms of the agreement, at the will of 'X'), THEN 'Y' is not voluntarily participating in the so-called "sharing" of 'r' but rather, 'X' is making an independant claim of ownership of 'r' and the disposition or consent of 'Y' is not then required by the claims of 'X' on the "right" of 'X' to 'r'. THEREFORE, IF 'Y' is *not* free to voluntarily contract the terms for the "sharing" of 'r', then implies that 'Y' does not own 'r', which implies that 'Y' does not own the labor of 'Y', which implies that 'Y' does not own the body/time of 'Y', which implies that 'Y' is "owned" OR in the least, some other party 'V', claims to own, 'Y'; which as I've argued, would seem to satisfy, all of the necessary and sufficient conditions, for what would be other-wise commonly known as a condition of slavery (where one is forced/coerced into a condition of involuntary labor/production).

  3. Devil's advocacy 1.: If 'X' is indoctrinated into a spreading culture of greed and irrationally taught to believe that sharing 'r' with 'Y' to help them out will lead to unhappiness and collapse then a greater good is served by applying force to 'X' until 'X' can see that happiness results from a condition of sharing. Look at Denmark where people are not afraid of redistribution any more, studies show they are happier than people in the Greedy U.S., their economy and government are relatively stable and productive, and the standard of living is egalitarian and adequate. Referring to any application of force whatsoever as "slavery" and therefore unacceptable is simply an appeal to emotions associated with the term "slave".

  4. Weedwackr, I would like to thank you for sharing your concerns. Certainly, we hear such arguments often; that something must be done over the objections of individuals because it would be in the best interest of those individuals; but I think that this argument may have some serious defects (ethically unsatisfactory conclusions).

    If 'V' claims for himself or their-self, the sole right to make a determination of what is in the best interest of 'Y' or 'W', OR that 'V' claims for himself or their-self the sole right to determine the "greater-good", THEN the claim of 'V' is non-reciprocal (which is to say, that 'V' does not extend this same principle to 'Y' or 'W', to allow 'Y' or 'W' to determine what is in the best interest or "greater-good" for 'V').

    THEREFORE 'V' claims a right or legitimate-power-to-act which is not universal, but particular to 'V'.

    THERFORE the claim of 'V' must imply that 'V' has some significant quality that justifies this non-reciprocal principle (ie. a different kind of person/people in possession of some substantially greater-quality: greater knowledge, greater virtue, greater race, greater wisdom), such that 'V' must force/coerce/extort 'Y' and 'W' to do 'v' (some wish/desire/command of 'V') so that the "best interests" or "greater good" can be accomplished.

    IF 'V' claims the sole power to determine the "best interests" of 'Y' and/or 'W', and/or the "greater good" of all, THEN the the "best interests" of 'Y' or 'W' and/or the "greater good" of all, is THEREFORE materially equivalent to whatsoever is desired by 'V'. THEREFORE, the claim that 'V' has the right or legitimate-power-to-act for either the "greater good" or in the "best interests" of 'Y' or 'W' is materially equivalent to the expression, that: 'V' has the right to do, whatsoever 'V' desires, regardless of the thoughts, objections, life, liberty or property of any other person(s).

    THEREFORE, the claim of 'V' is materially equivalent to the claim of a tyrant. "Might makes right; whatsoever I desire is justice."