I'm cracking this open tonight finally. The one review of it from the store is glowing and so is a blog post by Tucker.
I believe that this is not available through the literature section, but it is part of the books torrent and I am putting it here for non-torrenters: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=BWJBE04L
Democracy means the opportunity to be everyone's
Many thanks for putting this on megaupload for us non-torrenters, we really appreciate it.
Here's the PDF.
This is, without a doubt, the best book I have read on the principal of property rights. I couldn't put it down.
This is the single most important book of the 21st century (so far). Anyone interested in reading (or re-reading) this book, and then having a full blown discussion of it at the end of the month? I read it about 6 months ago and have been meaning to give it another read ever since.
I am in. I am in the same category. Read once. Blown away. Makes TOO much sense!
There were a few points that stuck out to me that I'm not sure I either agree with or understand. Hopefully this discussion will straighten me out.
Check my blog, if you're a loser
Just got it! I'm in.
Whats this about. You guy are making me want to move this to the top of my reading list?
Alright, lets do it! Lets say we take the whole month to allow everyone to read the book and then we start the discussion at the very beginning of January. I know December is a hectic month for most people, but once you start reading this book you wont want to stop. I am looking forward to this very much!
Whats this about. You guy are making me want to move this to the top of my reading list?
Basically it is a piece of propaganda for property rights and individual freedom. He gives an in-depth view of society as an autonomous, decentralized system versus a hierarchal structure of commands. I know it sounds like the same rehashed stuff in the vein of Adam Smith, but it is quite fresh, citing recent research and events.
It generally has a "no BS" feel to me. He talks about why YOU should favor a decentralized system of law and order, as well as supporting property principles.
Damn you guys. I just spent a bunch of money at the store. Now I have to get this.
Le Master:I just spent a bunch of money at the store. Now I have to get this.
If it makes you feel better, Turbo Tax Geithner believes all your spending is improving "the economy".
Everyone still on for this?
I think we should start the discussion on January 10th. I hope to hear your thoughts on this great book!
I meant to start this a while back, but fully digesting the material of this book took a little longer than expected. Anyhow, here is my review of Boundaries of Order:
ownership? This is the central question
which all individuals in a given society must answer. Is ownership of material property a god-given
right, or natural right? Is it purely
the invention of men seeking power over others, or does the answer to these
questions lie in a more fundamental, primordial concept? These are the questions that Butler Shaffer
seeks to answer in his marvelous new book, Boundaries of Order: Private
Property as a Social System.
This treatise covers
an enormous amount of ground in its 325 pages, but remains focused like a laser
on the core issue of what property is and how private ownership of resources is
essential to the survival of our species, and indeed, all life itself! Professor Shaffer argues that property is not
something that exists because of any “natural law”, but is in fact a part of
reality itself that manifests in the struggle of life to exist. Not only is life subject to physical
boundaries in that it must occupy space to the absolute exclusion of all other
entities, but in order to sustain itself, life must also exclusively control
and consume scarce resources. This is a
biological fact that cannot be denied.
It is from this basic
fact of life that the property principle can be derived. Property is life’s expression of its
autonomy. Modern man has created the
most complex social systems ever known, and in so doing has muddled its own
understanding of the property concept.
Cutting through the confusion in his crystal clear prose, Professor
Shaffer demonstrates that in human society, the concept of property can be
boiled down to three specific elements: Boundary (what can be owned), Claim
(the will to own), and Control (authority and decision making power). Having dedicated a full chapter to each of
these elements, the author clearly demonstrates that all questions of rights
are defined in terms of property, with any political question boiling down to,
“Who has the authority to do what with
what?” Liberty is an idea that can only be defined in
terms of property and decision making power.
As Shaffer puts it, “To the degree control over property is decentralized among individuals, we can
be said to have a free society. Liberty,
then, is defined not in terms of how much property
you own, but how much authority you
exercise over what you do own,” (Shaffer, 128).
The idea of ownership
is not revolutionary to libertarians; however, the basis for such a principle
is often overlooked or misunderstood. As
Butler Shaffer demonstrates, the legitimacy of the ownership claim need not
rest on ideological commitments to “natural law” or “god given” rights, but
that, “ the need of all living things to occupy space and ingest energy from
their external world offers an adequate explanation, and justification, for
their assertion of exclusive interests in property,” (Shaffer, 133). This property principle can be observed in
all levels of nature, with organisms of every levels of complexity staking out
territorial claims for themselves. Far
more important than the simple fact that members of each species have developed
means of claiming territory, has been the fact that members of each species
will respect these claims, and allow the exclusivity of control over
resources. Furthermore, the fact that these
claims only seem to apply to members of the same
species should be enough for humanity to realize that the social rules of
the property principle are a natural phenomena, not a quasi-mystical moral code
invented by men. In the author’s words,
“In a culture that dotes on material values, the ‘claim’ element appears to
have mystical qualities. It has certainly
been the most difficult concept for my students to fathom. But there is nothing any more mysterious
about human beings proclaiming themselves to be the owners of things than there
is for wolves to urinate, birds to sing, or elk to bellow their respective territorial claims,” (Shaffer, 133).
While the property
concept is grounded in the fundamental facts of reality, it is not a law of
nature. It is a social code of conduct that can only exist if species respect ownership claims. Central to all political issues is whether or
not the claim of self-ownership can
be legitimated. Self-ownership is a claim of authority by the individual to the
exclusive control of his or her body and actions. It is a claim of individual self direction, a
principle that institutionalized legal organizations reject outright. At the core any political issue lies the
question of whether authority and decision making power is to be exercised by
the individual or the state. The state,
by very nature of its coercive function, is a de-civilizing institution that
makes a claim to exercise control over the autonomous individuals within its
“jurisdiction”. It is only due to the
fact that humankind has been so quick to deny claims of self-ownership that the
state can exist. By hierarchically
structuring decision making authority in a given society, and using coercion
and force to violate claims of the principle of self ownership (a principle
clearly demonstrated in the life act itself) the state sabotages the ability of
humankind to adapt to the constant flux of changing circumstances in the
world. The state therefore, is
necessarily an anti-life institution. Statism represents the suppression of the
life process itself, and the destruction of humanity. The reader need look no further for evidence
of this simple fact than taking a short survey of the history of the 20th
century; a century in which states across the world managed to end the lives of
more than 170,000,000 human beings during peace
Statist ideology, and
the denial of the self-ownership principle are premised on a model of reality
based upon reductive materialism; a theoretical model of reality which states
that all things are composed of fundamental building blocks (say, atoms) which
simply move and react to one another, and are predictable and
controllable. This idea has given
legitimacy the vertically oriented, or pyramidal, power structures that state
authority uses to enforce its will on societal groups, and has been the core
foundation of all such organizations the world over. Unfortunately, scientific discoveries in the
fields of quantum mechanics and complexity (chaos) theory have thoroughly shattered
this reductive, mechanistic, outlook of the universe. The very foundations upon which we view the
functioning of the universe are being fundamentally challenged, and a new model
is replacing the old. Mechanistic laws
of motion are no longer the basis for the formation of order; rather, spontaneity, and unpredictability, seem to
be the foundational elements in its emergence!
These new discoveries
have a profound impact on the way in which we must now come to view the
world. Pyramidal power structures which
are by their very nature slow to react to changes in the world, are rapidly
giving away to decentralized, informal forms of societal governance. Shaffer argues that the pyramidal model is being
replaced by a more holistic model represented by a spherical, or holographic,
shape in which decision making authority is no longer structured in a top down
method, but through laterally defined social relationships. This decentralization is happening so quickly
due to technological advances, that people are less and less defining
themselves in terms of nationality only, but by other, informal relationships. The spontaneity and complexity of human
civilization has reached a point where states can no longer even hope to
control it. The more that state institutions
try to regulate and control human society through processes of standardization
of social conduct, the more they destroy the very foundations for the order they
seek to establish. Through violence,
states inhibit the free expression of the life process, a process that can only
flourish under the liberty of private property relationships. Until individuals realize that the respect of
self-ownership claims is essential to the foundations of an orderly society,
institutions such as the state will continue to murder and enslave people
across the world. Only by refusing to
participate in such violent and destructive acts will human-kind, the planet,
and all life flourish.
The conclusions of
this incredible book are crystal clear.
It is up to all individuals to decide whether or not they will accept
the liberating idea of self-ownership and autonomous direction, or whether such
authority over the lives of individuals will lie in the hands of others. The character of a society can never rise
above that of the individuals that comprise it, and if society wishes for
peace, then all people must disengage from exercising coercive authority over
others. Rejecting the property principle
is rejecting the very basis for the proliferation of life itself, and can only
end in the destruction of everything that we hold dear.
I cannot stress enough
the importance of this book. As Jeff
Tucker, editor at the Mises Institute put it, “It is the treatise on liberty
and property for the digital age.” This
master work of property theory will become a lens through which you view the
world, and is the kind of intellectual challenge to collectivism that only
comes along every few decades. I tried
to take quotes from the book to include throughout the review, but I found
myself pulling content from entire pages
and trying to work it into the body of this post. I failed to include much of Professor Shaffer’s
own words because of the sheer volume
of quotes and material I found. Every
sentence of this book is important. And
the best part of all? The entire text
has been made available for free
online through the publisher.
Simply put: Boundaries
of Order: Private Property as a Social System is one of the most important
books I have read in my entire life.
This work belongs on the shelf right next to Human Action.
I also posted this on my blog. Check it out if you are interested in my writing...
Excellent description, Sauce.
I think the fundamental issue that should be discussed in this book is related to the example he gives about the island. For those that haven't gotten there yet, Shaffer basically says that if a group of people were stranded on a desert island and one person discovered the only source of fresh water, he would have a very difficult time having others respect his claim to such property. He could not explain the legitimacy of his claim in terms of natural rights or homesteading principles. He would have to resort to utilitarian argumentation. He would basically have to agree to manage the supply in a certain value-enhancing manner.
This is technically not ownership as Shaffer earlier describes, when he says that a true property rights enable the owner to destroy/consume the resource to the exclusion of others. Obviously, the water "owner" does not have such authority. It is more appropriate to consider that the group as a whole owns the water supply. The single "owner" is actually the management agent, acting on behalf of the true owners - all the inhabitants.
Shaffer admits that no one would accept property rights if it meant allowing some individual or group to gain exclusive ownership over resources he needs to survive. That is essentially resource slavery. Shaffer proceeds to say that in practice, property ownership almost never takes this form. Only states have traditionally behaved as such, claiming ownership over such large-scale amounts of resources. Furthermore, states do not properly homestead property, simply claiming it rather than mixing labor with it. Also, they do not respect the property claims of others, using aggressive force to take such property.
Further, how could one actually monopolize fresh water, food, and land? It seems impossible.
Shaffer also says that most philosophies that encourage property rights are based upon a priori normative assumptions. Therefore he regards them as nothing more than opinions. Individuals do not need any specific philosophy to accept property rights - they only need to be convinced of their legitimacy based upon the case at hand. Therefore, the "best" philosophy that supports property rights is simply the most effective argument given some property and some audience whom you wish to respect your claim.
Anyway, that was the part of the book that made my brain black and blue.
Many on this forum have determined that their view of property rights requires no explanation to others. To them, their property rights are legitimate due to a philosophy, not the agreement of others. They believe their property rights are guaranteed simply by their own physical defense of them. Of course, it seems the state is no different in this regard, except for the underlying philosophy.
Many have advocated political solutions for property rights. That is - they say that some philosophy which defends property rights should be the law, for this basis. Once it is the law, people can claim people should respect their property, because it is the law. This approach seems not much different from the above view - property rights by forceful defense. Only in this case, the state is doing a significant share of the defense, rather than just the owners. Furthermore, such approaches will have a difficult time becoming law, as it requires massive numbers of people to digest the same philosophy.
Shaffer's approach instead focuses on decentralized law - agreements made between consenting parties concerning their behavior. In this case, a defense of property rights needs no robust philosophy. It can simply be two neighbors agreeing to respect each other's property rights. Similarly, people can agree to jointly own property. Or we can trade some authority in our property for authority in others. For example, "if you stop parking your car on your lawn, I'll take down my Confederate Flag".
But more importantly it spells out the libertarian challenge ahead.
So long as individuals believe distribution and production can be divorced, that the "haves" must have plundered the "have nots", that monopolization of business or resource ownership is the natural result of free property ownership and exchange (the free market), etc., people will simply not allow property rights on utilitarian arguments. They will attempt to appoint the state as the property manager, acting on behalf of the owners, the voters...society at large.
We must expose the state system as corrupt, not the actors. We must show the environmentalists that private property is the best means of conservation and that the state is the largest polluter. We must show that the poor are most benefited by capital accumulation, not free lunches. We must show that state ownership of capital (actually its the prohibition of private ownership of capital) is both highly inequitable and must lead to tyranny. Etc. Etc.
Great reviews. Mine will be somewhat briefer!
I liked the theme of horizontal structures, and their superiority in terms of flexibility to adapt. I did think that the book took a little long to pick up speed, however I can certainly understand and appreciate why Shaffer wanted to establish the concepts of boundary, claim, and control before getting to the meat and potatoes of it (chapters 7 thru 9).
Chapter 8 (Property and the Environment) was so compelling that I would recommend it as stand-alone reading to any of my enviro-statist friends. The idea that private property is destructive to the environment is so blatantly false, that I get tired sometimes of arguing the point. I can't think of a better illustration of the Tragedy of the Commons than Shaffer's.
All in all, a fantastic book to read for both libertarians and statist 'that-would-never-work" types.