Do We Need Property Rights Over Our Jobs?

17 11 2011

In my various doings, toss-abouts, and private follies, I’ve known many socialists or quasi-socialists. I don’t know how common that is, to know a lot of socialists; nor do I know if I actually do know “a lot,” since there are probably many people who know lots more. Seems like a lot to me. I guess any would seem like a lot.

Anyway, my point is to say that I always profoundly disagreed with them on a lot of things, but the big one—and the reason I could never be a socialist, or even a proper Marxist—is that I’m big on property. I think reasonably strong property rights are not just important, but fundamental to a working democracy and liberty generally. I think it’s so plainly obvious that it’s not even worth arguing about. Property rights are a funny thing though; libertarians—hard libertarian, not the vague Ron Paul-ish ones—take the extreme view that property rights precede all civil society. In other words, they are inviolably ours, to the degree that the state can have no powers that conflict with that right.

This isn’t a very common view; the Constitution itself gives the government the power of eminent domain in its 5th Amendment “takings clause.” The takings clause allows the government to take any property for a “public use” so long as it is done via due process and pays a “just compensation.” So our starting point, as a society, is that the right to and dominion over your property is not 100% absolute. The debate then settles in on what is an appropriate framework, or the optimal limits, for our property rights.

Consider two examples:

In the first, you are you. You work for a firm as, say, a designer of some kind. You lead a team, but don’t have any management authority. You’re there for five years. You get incremental raises every six months. You’re five years in, and you make $65,000 a year now, and pay about $18,000 in taxes. Now, a management position just under the executives, say, two levels above you, opens up. You interview and you get the job. Now you make $174,000 a year, and pay $55,000 in taxes, or a 5% greater rate. Is that fair?
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Is There a Leftist Case Against the State?

6 08 2010

I feel the tension between liberals and the Left. Being on the political Left in the US puts you in uncomfortable position because the national conversation is extremely narrow, and liberals focused on day-to-day governance are pinched from both sides. Those on the broader Left–the “International Left”–come across as contrarians or as puritanical. Petty liberals–those who, broadly speaking, hew to the center-left line of the Democratic Party, embodied by the Brookings Institute, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and public intellectuals like Matt Yglesias or Robert Reich, and politicians like Barack Obama and, formerly, Ted Kennedy–bristle as much at criticisms from the Left as they do to criticisms from the American right wing, and often are more defensive against those criticisms as they see them as coming from an attitude of “purity” or Utopianism.

Before getting to the problems with statism, it is useful to define what I mean by “liberals” and “the Left”.

It is hard to define terms in this debate, because the political spectrum is essentially fluid and the absence of ideological parties with specific manifestos confound categorization. In general terms, the petty liberal left is redistributionist and mildly statist; petty liberals don’t dispute that the foundations of American society are essentially just; rather, they seek to use extant institutions to address distributive problems.
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