Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Moral Foundations of a Free Market Society

Richard Ebeling emails:

Dear Bob,

I have a new article on the website of  the Future of Freedom Foundation on, "The Moral Foundations of the Free Market Society."

Based on a paper that I delivered at the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) meeting in Hawaii last week, I explain how I try to get students to understand the intuitive sense that each of us has that murder, thief and fraud is inherently wrong. And that compulsory labor -- slavery -- is equally considered immoral by each of us. This leads to an understanding of the basis of a fundamental ethic by each person should have respected and be secure in his or her individual rights to life, liberty and honestly acquired property.

The hallmarks of the free market society are freedom of choice, voluntary exchange, honesty in all marketplace dealings, and a humility that it is a misplaced arrogance and hubris to believe that any individual, group or government has sufficient knowledge, wisdom or ability to direct, plan or regulate the lives and affairs of all the other members of society.

If these ideas and principles are properly and persuasively communicated, it can serve as a successful antidote to the presumptions behind the growing totalitarian "progressive" intolerance against liberty on too many college and university campuses around the country.




  1. So many gems in this article!

    However, when Ebling says that "murder, thief (sic) and fraud is inherently wrong" I think it is important to note that one of these things (fraud) is not like the others. Fraud is not per se aggressive whereas murder and theft are. Fraud is merely deception. Is there to be a positive obligation on all to be “honest”?

    1. Fraud is a form of theft. If I sell you a supposedly genuine Rolex watch but it's actually a cheap knock-off, that's the equivalent of stealing the difference in price, is it not?

    2. "Fraud is a form of theft. If I sell you a supposedly genuine Rolex watch but it's actually a cheap knock-off, that's the equivalent of stealing the difference in price, is it not?"

      A price is set at the time of purchase, so no.

    3. An exchange of property where one party decieves to enable the exchange is fraud, not theft, sure. But fraud, like theft, may necessitate and justify the defensive use of force to rectify the situation.

    4. "fraud, like theft, may necessitate and justify the defensive use of force to rectify the situation."

      That would be incredibly unjust--not defensive.

    5. Theft is acquiring a party’s property without their consent. If party A misrepresents to party B a product they wish to give up in exchange for money from B, and the trade is agreed to and made; B didn’t consent to give their money to A for the product A knew they would get in the trade. Party A acquired party B’s property without their consent.

    6. Jack,

      Theft is "the action or crime of stealing". Fraud is "wrongful or criminal deception". Indeed, Ebling understands this and differentiates the two concepts throughout the article.



    7. Rick, he distinguishes fraud from robbery, not stealing or theft. Robbery is stealing by using or threatening to use force.

  2. "murder, thief (sic) and fraud is inherently wrong"

    Based on what? Not that I disagree but, on a strictly materialistic worldview, all there is the now and survival; actions and things not conducive to survival (and procreation) of the self are not beneficial and to be avoided.

    Which brings me to the question, what is "wrong"?

    1. Libertarians argue that to avoid, minimize or resolve conflict, we need a system of property rights to determine who has the best title to physical objects (there can only be conflict over physical objects -- bodies or things -- as only one person can use an object at any point in time, whereas with intangibles there is no possibility of conflict).

      If we believe in self-ownership, namely, that you have the best title to your own body, then it would be a breach of your property right -- a "wrong" -- for someone to physically invade your body without your consent (if this is not the case, then "ownership" has no meaning). From self-ownership we argue that if an object is unowned (e.g., an apple in the wilderness), then the first appropriator of that object (using his own body or other legitimately owned property) has the best title to it because he takes control of it without first violating anyone else's property rights. And it would be a "wrong" if someone physically invaded that object after the appropriation without the owner's consent.

      And from there we get the notion that if you own an object you can agree to transfer title over it to someone else, so that someone can become an owner through contract, as well as first appropriation, since in a contractual exchange there also has been no violation of anyone's property right in the object.

      This is what libertarians mean when they say that a "wrong" is the violation of another's body or legitimately owned property without their consent. Thus murder, rape, assault, theft, robbery, enslavement, etc. are all "wrongs." As Jack notes above, fraud is an instance of theft.

    2. You are only considering an individual. Society should never tolerate the presence of someone who habitually lies, cheats and steals. If "you" don't care, the people you steal from certainly do.

      Such a person would find himself exiled, prohibited by the companies that own the homes and businesses in polite towns, from interaction. No pub or grocer or bank would allow him on the premises.

    3. Thanks for your thoughtful answer.
      How is this "belief" arrived? Many societies differ in this self-ownership concept.

    4. I'd be surprised if there were many western civilizations that didn't believe in the self-ownership concept. The issue is less that and more that they don't consistently apply it. That's the genius of libertarianism: it takes (in my view) an eminently reasonable (and moral) principle and demands that it be consistently applied.

      In terms of justifications, Hoppe in his argumentation ethics has claimed that if two people are debating political philosophy with a view to arriving at the truth, that argument necessarily pre-supposes self-ownership, since the act of recognizing your opponent's ability to stand there and argue is an admission that he owns his body, which is necessary for him to freely argue.

      There are other ways to arrive at the self-ownership concept. Political philosophy is the search for a code of behavior for interacting humans. If all men are born equal, in the sense of belonging to the same species, then every man must be subject to the same code of behavior with respect to his fellow humans. If that is true, how can one man own another without the reverse being true? And if we all own each other, how could anyone do anything without getting everyone else's approval? But how could you signify your approval without getting the consent of everyone else? In other words, the negation of self-ownership is circular and unworkable.

      One further way is to consider what "ownership" means. Hoppe has argued that it means having the most direct, objectively identifiable control over an object (without having violated anyone else's control of an object). If this doesn't describe what each of us has with respect to our own body, I don't know what does.