Blogs > Liberty and Power > Barry Schwartz's Non Sequitur

Jan 7, 2005 11:55 am

Barry Schwartz's Non Sequitur

Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, argues that changing government policy in order to provide more choice (such as in education, health care, and pensions) is not necessarily a good idea because an expanded array of options often makes people unhappy. Granting that dubious premise just for the sake of argument, my answer is: So what? Government’s purpose is not to make people happy or even to protect them from being unhappy. (As if it could do that.) If government has any legitimate purpose (a highly dubious proposition), it is only to protect life, liberty, and property—but I repeat myself.

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Sheldon Richman - 1/9/2005

Lisa Marie: You own yourself. Go get something to eat!

Lisa Marie Casanova - 1/9/2005

If I don't own my own person, who does? As I see it, there are only two choices: I own myself, and therefore have complete authority over my own person and what happens to it. Or, someone else owns me, in which case I am a slave. There really is not another option. So, if I don't own myself, who does? This is a question of some import, as I would very much like to get up out of my chair and go to the fridge for something to eat, but how can I do even this simple thing if I don't own myself? If someone else owns me, don't I need to know who they are so I can get their permission? Please let me know- I'm hungry.

Sheldon Richman - 1/8/2005

Where to begin . . . "One does not own one's is considered by law an independent entity." Laws can't consider things. People consider things, and laws are passed by people in order to influence how other people act. So we're back where we started. Are those people, individually, owners of themselves or not? If not, the situation collapses into absurdity. Where did they get the right to pass laws?

The issue isn't whether rights are limited or unlimited. Everything that exists is limited; that's part of what it means to exist. The issue is the nature of rights. Rights are principles, derived from the nature and requirements of human life, that set boundaries with respect to what each of us may legitimately do in relation to other people. Of course there is no right to violate rights; that would be a contradiction. Thus there is no right for A to poison B by emitting deadly fumes--that would violate his life, liberty, and property. Likewise, you have no right to fire your bullet from your gun into an innocent person's body. But acquiring material values through original appropriation and free trade violates no rights, no matter how much is acquired. To say that the right to property is a right to a "little" property is to play word games. It eviscerates the right altogether because some authority is necessarily endowed with the power to define "little" and to violently interfere with those who disagree and seek to acquire more. Under this scheme men are obviously not equal; the authority is more equal than others. If he can legitimately seize property from someone who has "too much," the authority must have a super-property right. Where did that come from?

Democracy won't get you out of this pickle. How does society possess rights not held by any individual member? If a gang takes an individual's "excess" property, no abstract political theory will transform that act of theft into something else.

chris l pettit - 1/8/2005

I am not stating that there is not a right to property...just that the right is much weaker than you would claim...and subject to many different social, cultural and environmental restrictions. it is not an unlimited right. many libertarians just can't seem to get this through their heads and it fatally wounds their arguments and leads to a virtual supporting of might makes right on an economic scale. THe right to property is a right to a little property, not as much as you can get your hands on through your devices. Either your interpretation of Locke is wrong (which would be my contention), or Locke is wrong (poor guy isn't even here to defend himself). The right to property is submissive to the rights to life, dignity, a clean environment, peace, equality, as well as several others. One cannot use property to deprive anyone else of any of the above rights.

One does not own one's person...this is a is considered by law an independent entity...others have the DUTY not to violate the rights of the independent entity...BUT the entity also has to realise that the rights are not unlimited and are accompanied by duties towards every single other independent entity and society as a whole.


Sheldon Richman - 1/7/2005

Without the right to property (starting in one's person), there can be no right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The author of that phrase, and his inspiration, John Locke, understood that.

chris l pettit - 1/7/2005

life liberty and the pursuit of happiness...NOT property...

hence where many libertarians screw is not all individual rights...there are collective rights that include economic, social, and cultural rights...although they are expressed on an individual level much of the time. THis being said, the property right also means right to some property while acknowledging past and future generations, holding the property in a sort of trusteeship while recognising all social and human rights consequences of actions involving the development and use of that property and ensuring that the rights of all others are respected...hence a pretty absolute rejection of the "free market...I can do whatever I want with the property I have...absolute ownership without regard" philosophy of many mistaken libertarians...including Rand on many occasions I might add. Not to state that you or anyone else necessarily covets this philosophy...just to point out one of the screwy statements in the post.