Property, ownership and collectivist pitfalls
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Spot the fallacy in the following:
A medical researcher might make a discovery of great commercial value. He might have worked terribly hard to bring it off. But even so, who trained him? Who moved the subject to the point where the discovery became possible? Who built their lab in which he worked? Who runs it? Who pays for it? Who is responsible for the enduring social institutions that present the commercial opportunities? One who cleverly exploits the social framework has both his cleverness and the framework to thank.So, whats wrong with the above argument? I, for one, was stumped. I knew that there was something sneaky about this argument, but I just couldnt put my finger on what that was. I knew that if one accepted the above argument, it was a short step from there to socialism and then to hell. Yet I couldnt just muster my thoughts properly in the moment; it was a rhetorical stranglehold, albeit a temporary one.
There are two fallacies in the above argument actually:
There is a minor and a major point to recognise. The minor point is that the "framework" is not a person, natural or legal, to whom a debt can be owed, "institutions" do not act, "society" has no mind, no will, and makes no contributions. Only persons do these things. Imputing responsibility and credit for accumulated wealth, current production and well-being to entities that have no mind and no will is nonsense. It is a variant of the notorious fallacy of composition. [Me: This is a fallacy that humans commit all the time: ascribing intentions/responsibility/credit to entities which dont have minds, if only for lack of a better explanation.](Emphasis mine)
Once this is understood, we can move on to the major point. All contributions of others to the building of your house have been paid for at each link in the chain of production. [Me:in the above example, all contributors to the discovery of the medical research have been paid for at the appropriate links in the chain of production.] Value has been and is being given for value received, even though the "value" is not always money and goods, but may sometimes be affection, loyalty or the discharge of duty. In the exchange relation, a giver is also a recipient, and of course vice versa.
.. In a voluntary exchange, once each side has delivered and received the agreed contribution, the parties are quits. Seeking to credit and debit them for putative outstanding claims is double counting.
All the extracts are from "Your Dog Owns Your House", by Anthony De Jasay, a well-known libertarian philosopher.