Viruses and Property Rights

Viruses and Property Rights

By Duncan Whitmore

In recent post on the LRC blog, Michael S Rozeff has attempted to demonstrate that pro-freedom arguments made in terms of self-ownership, private property, or the non-aggression principle are ill-equipped to handle a problem such as a contagious virus. It is not entirely clear whether Rozeff is arguing that “property rights solutions” are inherently unable to address such matters, and/or whether they are merely unpersuasive compared to other arguments that libertarians have at their disposal (such as utilitarian arguments). Either way, however, much of what Rozeff says is severely wanting.

Says Rozeff:

Libertarians who attempt to apply 100% body ownership to every situation run into insoluble problems. They frequently try to solve them by deciding what is aggression and what is not, or equivalently who has rights or not, or equivalently whose 100% body property rights are being violated. Sometimes the suggested solutions involve odd behavior that looks immoral, and the confusing and arguable rejoinder is that body ownership theory is a theory of rights, not morality.

In the first place, it is misleading to characterise the libertarian position as one of “100% body ownership” for it conveys the impression that anyone should be able, quite literally, to do whatever they like with their bodies. The correct position is that you should be able to do what you want with your body provided that it does not physically interfere with the body or property of another person without that person’s consent. Rozeff, both here and later, seems to ignore this basic but important qualification. Continue reading

Is Libertarianism Utopian?

Libertarianism – and any political position that leans towards a greater degree of freedom from the state – is opposed both ethically and economically on a number of substantive grounds. The proposition that without the state we would have inequality, destitution for the masses, rampant greed, and so on is a familiar charge which attempts to point out that libertarianism is undesirable and/or unjustifiable.

A further point of opposition is that libertarianism and the drive towards it is simply utopian or idealistic, and that libertarians are hopeless day dreamers, lacking any awareness of how the world “really” works. In other words, that, regardless of whether it may be desirable, some combination of one or more of impossibility, improbability or the simple unwillingness of anyone to embrace the libertarian ideal renders libertarianism either wholly or primarily unachievable. It is this specific objection that we will address in this essay.

Let us first of all recount the libertarian ethic of non-aggression, which states that no one may initiate any physical incursion against your body or your property without your consent. From this we can state that the goal of the libertarian project, broadly, is a world of minimised violence and aggression. Consequently, the questions we have to answer is whether a world of minimised violence and aggression is unachievable and, hence, utopian. Continue reading