Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ludwig von Mises vs. Bernie Sanders on "Rights"

Bernie Sanders on "Face the Nation"
This morning on "Face the Nation," Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stated a "living wage," healthcare and education. are human rights:

 "In 1944, in a not much publicized speech, it was the end of World War Two, what Roosevelt said, is he said, you know, economic rights are human rights and we have got to guarantee all Americans fundamental economic rights: the right to a job that pays you a living wage, the right to healthcare, the right to education." 
 In Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person, I make the case that there is no such thing as "natural rights" and point out that Ludwig von Mises was in the anti-natural rights camp.


Mises in Human Action:

"There is, however, no such thing as natural law and a perennial
standard of what is just and what is unjust. Nature is alien to the idea
of right and wrong. "Thou shalt not kill" is certainly not part of
natural law. The characteristic feature of natural conditions is that
one animal is intent upon killing other animals and that many species
cannot preserve their own life except by killing others. The notion of
right and wrong is a human device, a utilitarian precept designed to
make social cooperation under the division of labor possible."


"From the notion of natural law some people deduce the justice of
the institution of private property in the means of production. Other
people resort to natural law for the justification of the abolition of
private property in the means of production. As the idea of natural
law is quite arbitrary, such discussions are not open to settlement."
From  Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism by Jörg Guido Hülsmann:
"Traditionally, the champions of democracy had defended this
political form with the help of arguments rooted in ethics or
natural law. All men are born equal, they claimed, and therefore
all men should be equally involved in political decision-making.
But this could only be realized in a democracy. Mises did not
find this line of reasoning convincing. He believed it was rather
obvious that all men were born unequal, and he had little
patience with arguments based on claims about natural law,
which he considered to be a fiction of the intellect. No agreement
could ever be reached on a fiction. Rather, it was to be
expected that everybody made up his own version of 'natural'
law, to buttress his political agenda. Thus natural-law considerations
were simply unfit to be applied in politics, because the
very point of politics was, from Mises’s perspective at any rate,
to resolve conflicts."
Natural rights libertarians try to get around this problem by declaring that there are only natural rights against coercion of another.

For example, Murray Rothbard rights in The Ethics of Liberty:
[T]he very concept of "rights" is a "negative" one, demarcating the areas of a person's action that no man may properly interfere with. No man can therefore have a "right" to compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced. Thus, we may say that a man has a right to his property (i.e., a right not to have his property invaded), but we cannot say that anyone has a "right" to a "living wage," for that would mean that someone would be coerced into providing him with such a wage, and that would violate the property rights of the people being coerced. As a corollary this means that, in the free society, no man may be saddled with the legal obligation to do anything for another, since that would invade the former's rights; the only legal obligation one man has to another is to respect the other man's rights.
But there is nothing "natural" about "natural negative rights," that is, there is nothing in nature, as Mises points out, that is "a  perennial standard of what is just and what is unjust." The negative rights concept is just another declaration of rights, like the Sanders rights, that emerge deus ex machina.

But while there are insurmountable problems with the concept of natural rights, as Rothbard correctly points out, there are insurmountable problems with the utilitarian approach of Mises.

In Foundations of Private Property Society, I solve the natural rights-utilitarianism conundrum by rejecting both and arguing that society based on a  subjectivist individualism solves the problem.

 -Robert Wenzel

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