Sunday, August 28, 2011

Martin Luther King on Property

"I am aware that there are many who wince at a distinction between property and persons--who hold both sacrosanct. My views are not so rigid. A life is sacred. Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on; it is not man."

- Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967

12 comments:

  1. That's a fine feeling, but fine feelings aren't reality; for most people property is sacrosanct because property is the result (for most people) of the sale of one's time - of one's life.

    Anyway, the context of this particular quote was the riots in SoCal of the time and police enforcement of property rights via violence. That's what he is complaining about here; enforcing laws against petty larceny with the same force one enforces laws against homicide.

    A different story about property rights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yw3RiMdS7sE&feature=player_embedded

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  2. Gary, I don't think he's denigrating property so much as clarifying the sense in which we ought to respect it. Property is intended to serve life.

    I'm glad you brought up the context of this, because that's largely the point. As DeLong has pointed out a few times w.r.t. property rights - the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The police didn't agree with DeLong, King, or me on that particular point.

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  3. The problem is of course that once those businesses were burnt they never returned, because the people who owned the businesses could not afford to return (for many of them I am sure it ended their lives as business people). Property is more than some mere instrumentality; it is your life. It is in many ways how you define yourself as a person. In the West it is an intimate part of the duality of the private vs. the public (and it is not surprising that "reformers" of all stripes - secular, religious, etc. want to do away with that duality as much as possible so as to implement their unitary vision). Property exists more than simply to serve life; it is a reflection of personhood, of individuality, of petty bourgeois and small-holder values that are an anathema to the modern regulatory state and its desire for uniformity and legibility amongst other things.

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  4. Again Gary, I think you're twisting what is being said (if you're implying that you're arguing against anyone, that is). It's not some "mere intrumentality" - you're right.

    re: "In the West it is an intimate part of the duality of the private vs. the public (and it is not surprising that "reformers" of all stripes - secular, religious, etc. want to do away with that duality as much as possible so as to implement their unitary vision)."

    Well isn't this true anywhere? Liberty is hard to conceive of without property.

    re: "Property exists more than simply to serve life; it is a reflection of personhood, of individuality, of petty bourgeois and small-holder values."

    Now you're getting a little poetic for me, but yes - I'd definietly agree with that.

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  5. You know, you're supposed to have ellipses after "small-holder values."

    Well, I do write a couple of poems of a month.

    King was an advocate of something bigger than the "Great Society" programs (he hints at this in his Viet Nam war speeches); call it "democratic socialism" or "social democracy" or something else. It is a different way of looking at property rights, the rights of the individual vis a vis the state, etc. than a classical liberal vision. So I read the quote in that context as well.

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  6. How is the Aristotle coming, BTW?

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  7. Aristotle is presently being displaced by some apprenticeship work I have to finish up.

    Read relevant passages from Politics and Nicomachean ethics, as well as commentary in the Cambridge Journal of Economics. I also read some stuff by de Roover on the impact of Aristotle on Scholastic economics. The discussion of usury is most interesting to me because - as is usually the case - the discussion is more sophisticated than most people suggest.

    Still, Aristotle is a lot better than Aquinas on usury in my view. Aristotle is completely analytical about it (in the same way that a lot of the mercantilists were), and has a completely different tone from Aquinas which is a lot more moralistic.

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  8. Well, Aristotle was quite analytical; and so were his students for that matter. One of the main reasons we know anything about the pre-Socratics is as a result of such; and of course it lead him to his definition of a species (that we still use today). The sad part (?) is that for the most part, all we have left extant are Aristotle's lecture notes; though that might mean that they are more candid, since they weren't really for general publication, but for internal use at the Lyceum.

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  9. Gary, Daniel, I remember that on another site, a former Vietnam war veteran occasionally brings up the fact that when CRA-demanding rioters burnt down the shop of a very old family business, his family never received compensation from anybody and was even warned off by the authorities that it may be dangerous and unpopular to even pursue the case against those involved. They left shop and had to find work elsewhere, destroying a family's way of life. To this date, no compensation.

    It just came to my mind after reading yours and Gary's posts.

    As a foreigner, I always thought that the CRA was pushed through peaceful and honest means. That is why it was disheartening for me to learn recently that the actions of many members of the CRA movement involved much disrespect for communities, neighbourhoods, police, and the private premises of restaurant owners and boutique shop owners - all of whom made no prior provocation to those people.

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  10. I am aware that there are many who wince at a distinction between GDP and economic health -- who hold both as sacrosanct. My views are not so rigid. Economic health is important. GDP is intended to measure economic health, and no matter how much we surround it with importance and respect, it has no independent importance. It is part of our measuring toolbox; it is not the measured.

    - Silas Barta Sr., Comment on Daniel_Kuehn's blog, 2011.

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  11. Some random links:

    http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/hurricane-irene-as-economic-stimulus/

    http://www.notquitewrong.com/rosscottinc/2011/08/03/so-youre-mad-about-something-on-the-internet/

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  12. Every property is property exactly because at least one individual recognized a casual relationship between a scarce resource and his want-satisfaction. There is no property that "does not serve life". This is like saying "men do not act to satisfy their wants but rather act to dissatisfy their wants"? Or it is like to say "water falls upwards".

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