Libertarian Challenge to Charles Murray’s Position on Property Rights
by Walter Block: Spike
Lee and Incitement
on the Cato-Koch Affair raises serious questions about his claim
to be a libertarian and adds further weight to David Gordon’s two
examinations of this question.
True to the
libertarian tradition, Murray cites the importance of private property
rights and the Lockean theory of homesteading as the avenue to acquire
the right of ownership. However, he totally misconstrues Locke’s
perspective which applies only to unowned property.
The Cato Institute
now is, and always has been, owned. Homesteading a la John
Locke thus simply does not and cannot apply to this organization.
There are of course disputes as to who actually owns the Cato Institute
but no one claims it is now in a state of nature, a virgin territory
so to speak. Murray shows a complete misunderstanding of libertarian
private property rights theory when he claims that "Charles
(Koch)’s Lockean property right to Cato ended when he stopped mixing
his money with that ongoing, expanding project." If this statement
were true, then squatting – not property titles – would
be the determinant of ownership.
Murray lends me or rents to me his house or his car for 30 years.
I live in the one. I drive the other, both for three decades. Murray
has nothing to do with either of these capital goods for all that
time. At the end of this period he comes to me and says, "Please
give me back my house and car. I need them now." Would I have
a right to respond: "Your Lockean property right to that dwelling
and automobile ended 30 years ago when you stopped mixing your labor
with those two capital goods. Twas I, not you, who have been homesteading
this house and car for lo these many years. So, take a hike; I’m
now the legitimate owner." He’d have apoplexy, and rightly
Murray is not
a libertarian. Rather, he is a conservative with a few important
libertarian leanings. In his many writings and lectures, throughout
his long and successful career, Murray has done yeoman work in promoting
liberty. I am a particular fan of his Losing
Ground, and his co-authored with Richard Herrnstein book,
Curve. And Murray’s chapter on the right to discriminate
in What it means to be a libertarian was exquisitely
good. But these excellent works do not make him a libertarian.
Promoting liberty is no monopoly of libertarians. Others have done
it, superlatively. That doesn’t make them libertarians, though.
not a lawyer, I believe the Kochs are also legally right in the
Cato-Koch dispute. The Chairman of the Board of Cato, Bob Levy stated:
"Yes, the Kochs proposed a standstill agreement that Cato rejected
because the status quo could not be maintained." Well, that
gives away the entire game. Levy admits that the present institutional
and legal arrangement is one that he opposes. But, that means that
what he opposes exists. If this is not a total concession
as to the legal aspects of the case are entirely on the Koch’s side,
then nothing is.
the charge that the Koch brothers are unwise in pursuing
their rights regarding Cato? Those who hold that view say the Cato
Institute will no longer be seen as an independent source of libertarian
thought; rather, it will become a mere politicized appendage of
the Republican Party. There are difficulties with both of these
charges. First, the Kochs are not at all in thrall to the Republicans.
When and if the Democrats engage in promoting liberty (unlikely
as that sounds) I have no doubt these brothers will support those
initiatives. As well, the present board of the Cato Institute
is disproportionately overrepresented by Republican Party supporters.
Talk about the pot getting into bed with the kettle, to mix metaphors.
charge assumes that the Cato Institute "walks on water"
regarding the promotion of libertarian ideals. Nothing could be
further from the truth. Ed Crane with his "cosmopolitan"
and "beltway" libertarianism, has been guilty of numerous
deviations from the principles of the free society. He posits that
birthright citizenship is at the core of this philosophy; it is
no such thing.
For the libertarian, the Federal Reserve System is anathema; a Sovietized
central planning bureau for the all important monetary sector of
our economy. And yet when Cato holds their seminars on this subject,
guess who figures prominently? Yes, Fed spokesmen. Nor can we forget
David Boaz, Executive Vice President of Cato, who so sorely missed
the boat on the issue of the rights of free association in his 1997
book Libertarianism: A Primer. For many other deviations
from libertarian principle committed by Crane and the Cato-ites,
see here. Further,
Cato sees F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman as two of its most important
guiding lights. No one can deny that they have made important contributors
to the free enterprise philosophy. But more principled libertarians
see these two as altogether too compromising with our philosophy
in all too many cases. On that, see here,
The Charles Koch Foundation generously donates substantial funds
to my employer, Loyola University of New Orleans, which my colleagues
and I use for promoting the study of liberty amongst our students
(pizza, inviting in outside speakers). Further, both Charles and
Ed in the 1970s bought me a sabbatical from teaching which I used
to write articles that later become my book on privatizing
I am very grateful for that support. (Here,
in sharp contrast, is a Cato writer taking the very opposite point
of view and supporting road socialism.)
Let me end
with a personal recollection of Charles Koch that took place in
the 1970s. He and I were in Scotland with our wives attending an
Austro-libertarian conference. One evening we were all four standing
on the sidewalk when along came a drunkard who in a loud and surly
voice announced that the sidewalks were for walking not standing,
and that we should move out of the way so that he could pass
us by. I was amazed at Charles’ reaction: he didn’t say a word,
but got out in front of the three of us and assumed the boxing stance.
The drunk walked around us. A multi-billionaire who would
do such a thing is not someone who is likely to give up his property
rights. Even in the face of criticism and pressure, no one can deny
that Charles Koch holds firm in defending his principles.
Block [send him mail] is a
professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior
fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending
the Undefendable and Labor
Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book
Privatization of Roads and Highways.
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