[ExI] libertarians and inheritance

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Fri May 8 17:58:29 UTC 2009

--- On Fri, 5/8/09, Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:
> At 04:59 PM 5/8/2009 +0000, BillK
> wrote:
> > When nanotopia arrives, *everything* will change. Even
> humanity itself.
> > If a human becomes a vortex of energy spiraling around
> a miniature
> > black hole, it hardly seems relevant to talk about
> 'welfare queens'.
> That's one, apocalyptic picture; I suspect in the short
> term, with partly self-repping matter compilers of various
> kinds, we'd see futures more like Bruce Sterling's "Kiosk"
> or HOLY FIRE--incremental modifications of the current human
> condition. Sure, if there's a "hard takeoff" the future goes
> absurdly weird fairly fast, but, as Keith and Rafal keep
> saying, that looks more like doom for everyone except the
> Exes (to adopt Moravec's term).

Also, it's anyone's guess what happens afterward.  I think the material and cultural conditions will radically change, but the laws of economics will still apply.  (But most people seem to confuse those laws with the caricature of them in mainstream economics.)

>> Is it true that Damien drives round in a 250,000 USD
> Winnebago
> >with a sticker on the back that says
> >'Spending our kids inheritance' ?
> My own behavior is irrelevant; all I did was poke the end
> of a burnt stick into what I saw as a seeping hole in the
> libertarian claim that free loot is dreadfully bad for the
> character--well, unless you have a well-to-do daddy
> (especially if you're a libertarian trustafarian).

This is NOT a libertarian claim.  It's just a claim period.  Also, the strict libertarian view is that it's only rights that matter in these concerns: does the rich parent have a right to spoil her or his offspring regardless of whether this turns them into shiftless layabouts?  Sadly, yes.  Does the state have a right to coerce money from anyone -- rich, poor, whatever -- to give to someone else, including people who might seem very deserving?  No.

Of course, there's the issue of just what constitutes desert.  Strict libertarianism doesn't speak to this matter, and libertarians should be critical of allowing considerations of desert to trump justice (in the libertarian sense).  Of course, since many people who claim to be libertarians are merely modern liberals or modern conservatives with some libertarian leanings (e.g., they might want to legalize porn, drugs, or selling bonds without a license, but they still have core anti-libertarian beliefs that come out in any crisis), matters of desert are often touted by them and, sadly, associated in the public mind with libertarianism.

This is not a minor issue either.  Rights can more easily be applied, detected, and defended.  Yes, they're not perfect, but matters of desert allow too much partisanship and subjectivity to enter the picture.  It's quite easy, e.g., to figure out that if X owns P, X can gift P to Y period.  It's much harder to figure out if Y morally deserves P -- or even if X morally deserves P.  (Still, neo-Aristoteleans, non-naive Objectivists, and neo-Kantians would recognize that even if moral desert were easily determined, this still doesn't mean moral desert would allow force to be used to make sure P went not to the rightful owner, but to a more deserving person.)  I can see a good group of people agreeing on property rights -- even people disagreeing on their foundations.  (Locke, Nozick, and Rothbard, e.g., basically agree on property rights, but Locke was a theist who ultimately grounded such rights in God while Nozick was a neo-Kantian who grounded his
 Lockeanism in tht sort of logic and Rothbard was a neo-Aristotelean.)  But agreeing on desert, as a purely practical matter, would likely lead to a much worse outcome.  I bet, too, desert, if used as a criterion for property would not only result in more initial bickering but even more "boundary" bickering leading to most people feeling less secure or in attempting to curry more favor with social elites -- as property might change hands based on someone losing or gaining desert.  (Having the state interfere, too, only means that now the chances for error are centralized and any changes now become a political matter.  Is politics really the arena where these issues should be settled?  Has it worked well with much else?)

Nozick tried to sum up his libertarian view of property at one point (in _Anarchy, State, and Utopia_; I'm recalling this from memory, so forgive my errors) in contrast to the popular "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his need" slogan.  He cast it as "from each as he chooses, to each as he is chosen."  Of course, that's very simplified, but I think it catches what should be _the_ libertarian stance on inheritance: someone chooses to gift something to someone else and no one else should coercively interfere in that -- even and especially they find thw choice made morally repugnant or just plain stupid.




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