Column on Choice and Rights

Choice and Rights

Tibor R. Machan

It’s about who is to choose! Our rights identify the realm of our choices, where we and not others get to decide about how things go. When rights are violated, the violator deprives the rights holder of his or her proper, morally justified authority to chose.

So often both defenders and critics of private property rights get this wrong. They contend that property rights are mostly about who gets to have something. And while that’s part of it, the more important matter is who gets to choose what happens to something.

If the politicians and bureaucrats extort 40% of my earnings I do not get to decided what happens to this. I might have squandered it, yes, just as that enemy of private property rights Karl Marx argued. But I could also have done something else, such as sent part of it to a charity, contributed it to some innovation, stashed it away so my kids might get it when they grow up, or sent it to a political candidate I support. But this is just what the confiscators of my resources prohibit me from doing. They want to destroy my proper authority to use my resources and use it themselves.

Check me out. In all cases of taxation what happens is that the taxed lose the opportunity to allocate the resources that belong to them and those who tax gain this opportunity without any consent from the taxed. But why should they? Democracy doesn’t justify such confiscation, nor does being some monarch or bureaucrat or whatever, only our permission would. We are supposedly equal in having rights, including private property rights. No one else may, therefore, take what is mine or yours or anyone’s and start deciding what happens to it however good intentioned that tax-taker might be, however noble are that tax-taker’s goals. This is why it is so important to understand that private property rights are about our choices to do one thing, another, or yet another, not primarily about having wealth, about greed or such.

But that is just what the enemies of private property rights, starting with Marx, cannot stomach–our having the opportunity to use and dispose our labor and its results. They want it! This despite all that talk about how labor belongs to the laborer. No, that is not what the taxers believe. They believe, and many of them have actually said this, that your time and labor and skills belong to society! And they, of course, must be the representatives of the people, of society.

But that is a ruse, just as when kings claimed that they are the representatives of society or God or History. No, these folks represent only themselves and when they tax you and me and the rest and deprive us of the choices our rights entail, they are extortionists, thieves, or robbers. But most of all they remove from us the opportunity to exercise free choice with what belongs to us.

Some have tried to refute these points by the fairy tale that all wealth belongs to society, the people, or even the government. Again, these are lies. Sure, our resources are acquired with a lot of support from and cooperation with others, including the lawmakers who enacted sound principles way before we were born. But that’s all irrelevant. Artist, too, paint with colors that have existed way before they started to use them but these colors, once made into pictures, become theirs and no one else has the authority to intrude on what they do with it, not unless it involves the violation of another’s rights somehow.

It is best that whenever politicians and their cheerleaders speak "for us" it is recognized that they are speaking only for themselves and all that talk of "we" or "the people" or "Americans" or "humanity" is meant to disguise this fact. It’s time they are stopped in carrying out this gross deception. If not, they will continue to shut off our choices in life and imposing theirs on us all.

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One Response to Column on Choice and Rights

  1. Beth says:

    Excellent thoughts Mr. Machan. I love it when it gets down to the nitty gritty of the matter.

    I have a question: Taxers and supporters of taxation often claim that taxation is not confiscation since we are getting things back in services such as roads, courts, etc. How does one still answer that taxation even if it pays for things we use is still theft and is still violating our rights?

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