Do you advocate slavery? Who owns me?
Economics often involves complex discussion of resources and their scarcity. Politics or a given political system can often be boiled down to who owns or controls those resources – or property rights. A property right can be defined as the exclusive right to control a specified scarce resource within a given jurisdiction, such as a city or country. Every political system or theory has a means of assigning ownership rights in the available scarce resources. Socialism, despite what many think, isn’t the absence of property rights. Someone or something still asserts dominion or control over industrial product and capital and people– it just happens to the State. Libertarianism is distinct in how it determines or assigns who is the owner of contested scarce resources. Of course things like oil, factories, gold, and steel are scarce resources. But what about the ultimate scarce resource? Me. You. Each unique individual on the planet. Do we own ourselves? Libertarians say yes. Non-libertarians say ummm, maybe, kinda.
I love Ohio State football. I look forward each fall to watching the games, going to the stadium, listening to the band, and rooting my butt off. Yeah it is somewhat juvenile, but who cares – I love my Buckeyes. Now let’s say I am walking down Lane Avenue on the way to Ohio Stadium in my brand new Buckeye jersey. You, a Michigan fan and slightly deranged (but I repeat myself), are irritated by my choice in clothing and punch me square in the nose. This is aggression. Yeah….what does this have to do with liberty or libertarianism? Not much really except it allows me to introduce the non-aggression axiom.
Probably the central tenet of libertarianism is the principle of non-aggression: that no man or woman (or group of men and women) may initiate force or violence against the person or property of another. Force used in response to aggression, such as defensive, retaliatory, restitutional force, is justified. The entire concept of aggression (and non-aggression) encompasses an implicit acceptance of property rights. To use my example above of my walk to a football game and your assault on me, your punch to my face is aggression and an attack on my property right to my own body. It is aggression because you have used my body as an outlet for your anger without my consent or permission. You have violated my self-ownership of me. Libertarians favor exclusive self-ownership rights to control and use one’s own body and oppose other-ownership. I doubt most people would consider this a radical thought and I bet most people would think they already DO own the exclusive right to control and use their own body. But I posit that in the United States, and in every non-libertarian political system throughout the world, every person in reality is permitted only a partial ownership of their own body. In every country, even the United States, someone else has a claim to your body, a claim on you. Do you think this an absurd statement? I think it is an absurd fact of life and unjust. I will give four examples that show we don’t have self-ownership in our own bodies, but hybrid other-ownership.
Taxes. If you are required to pay taxes that is other-ownership in you. Someone else – the State, no matter how it is dressed up as a “social contract” or patriotic duty, claims primacy over the product of your labor, the efforts of your mind and body. If you do not believe they claim a position superior to yours – don’t pay and see what happens. Eventually threats will be used to make you comply and if you continue to refuse to cede your body’s product (money earned from your labor) to the State then your freedom and/or your life will be at risk. Whether or not taxes should be required or not is another discussion. The fact they are taken without consent (and consent can never be given if done so by coercion, threat, or force) means someone else has claim over me.
Drug and food prohibitions. These are other-ownership in you. Someone else – the State and its’ agents- have determined they have primacy in deciding what you can put into your body. You do not have the exclusive right to make this determination. Someone else has determined what you are allowed to ingest. You do not own yourself. And if you think you do, go smoke a cigarette (or a joint) in any major city restaurant or try and buy some raw milk from an Amish farmer.
Conscription or the “draft”. In the United States, young adults are required by law to sign up for the selective service. In other words, there could be a time when the State can call these young people up and demand they enter the service of the government and order them to kill in the State’s name. It should be obvious to anyone that this is simply slavery under another name. If I own myself, I have the right to use my body as I choose. If I own myself, I cannot be compelled by another to do something I find repellent or immoral. But I do not own myself because the State claims ownership of even my body to use and dispose as it sees fit. The fact that it has not asserted this right in decades doesn’t mean it doesn’t claim ownership in my body. And if I don’t own myself, I am at best just a partial slave. Maybe one with a large amount of discretionary freedom, but any freedom I have is just that – discretionary.
Obamacare. Soon to be mandated or forced upon every citizen. I cannot refuse or the State will punish me. If I do not have exclusive control of even my health decisions, I do not own myself – the State does. And I am certain we can look forward to many more decisions made for our “benefit” in the future. More rules on what I can eat. Maybe the State will require medication for overweight people since their health is now a matter public concern and policy, not an individual and personal matter.
So be clear what you are advocating when you want more government control over our lives. You are asserting ownership over me.