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Kevin Carson on Confiscating Property from the Rich

A few years back, I had a disagreement with left-libertarian Kevin Carson who implied, I thought, that anyone who is “rich”—say, who earns more than $250k a year—earns his money illegitimately, by being part of the state’s exploiting class, and it would be just to confiscate his wealth. See, for example, our interchange in the comments thread to his C4SS post “I’ve Never Seen a Poor Person Give Anyone a Job”.

In some of his arguments (such as in this interview) he appeals to Rothbard for support. As far as I can tell, he is referring to Rothbard’s “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle,” from Libertarian Forum, vol. 1.6, June 15, 1969.1

But of course Rothbard later implicitly repudiated these views, as can be seen in his 1974 article “Justice and Property Rights,” as I’ve explained in Justice and Property Rights: Rothbard on Scarcity, Property, Contracts.

Anyway, if there was any doubt about Carson’s views, which I inferred from his previous writing as made clear in our discussion of the $250k issue, there can be little doubt now: in a recent Facebook post, leftish libertarian Nick Manley posted this from an email interchange with Carson:

“A not 100 percent converted but sympathetic radical leftist I know who respects your work and C4SS wants to know if you favor the kind of direct confiscation of state capitalist or capitalist property say Rothbard advocated in Confiscation and the Homestead principle. He seems to think you have a more Tuckerite “freed markets will solve it” attitude.”

Kevin Carson responded with:

“Oh, I’m totally in favor of confiscating it, at least if the actual occupation is carried out from below (e.g. by tenants, landless people or radical unions). No reason to wait for the market to take care of it. Given the near 100% of Fortune 500 corporations that are only in the black because of economic rents or environmental cost externalization, I’d be happy to treat all those companies as proxies for the state capitalist sector just for starters.”

For more, see:

  1. Here Rothbard writes:

    Let us now apply our libertarian theory of property to the case of property in the hands of, or derived from, the State apparatus. The libertarian sees the State as a giant gang of organized criminals, who live off the theft called “taxation” and use the proceeds to kill, enslave, and generally push people around. Therefore, any property in the hands of the State is in the hands of thieves, and should be liberated as quickly as possible. Any person or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty. In the case of the State, furthermore, the victim is not readily identifiable as B, the horse-owner. All taxpayers, all draftees, all victims of the State have been mulcted. How to go about returning all this property to the taxpayers? What proportions should be used in this terrific tangle of robbery and injustice that we have all suffered at the hands of the State? Often, the most practical method of de-statizing is simply to grant the moral right of ownership on the person or group who seizes the property from the State. Of this group, the most morally deserving are the ones who are already using the property but who have no moral complicity in the State’s act of aggression. These people then become the “homesteaders” of the stolen property and hence the rightful owners.

    Take, for example, the State universities. This is property built on funds stolen from the taxpayers. Since the State has not found or put into effect a way of returning ownership of this property to the taxpaying public, the proper owners of this university are the “homesteaders”, those who have already been using and therefore “mixing their labor” with the facilities. The prime consideration is to deprive the thief, in this case the State, as quickly as possible of the ownership and control of its ill-gotten gains, to return the property to the innocent, private sector. This means student and/or faculty ownership of the universities.

    As between the two groups, the students have a prior claim, for the students have been paying at least some amount to support the university whereas the faculty suffer from the moral taint of living off State funds and thereby becoming to some extent a part of the State apparatus.

    The same principle applies to nominally “private” property which really comes from the State as a result of zealous lobbying on behalf of the recipient. Columbia University, for example, which receives nearly two-thirds of its income from government, is only a “private” college in the most ironic sense. It deserves a similar fate of virtuous homesteading confiscation.

    But if Columbia University, what of General Dynamics? What of the myriad of corporations which are integral parts of the military-industrial complex, which not only get over half or sometimes virtually all their revenue from the government but also participate in mass murder? What are their credentials to “private” property? Surely less than zero. As eager lobbyists for these contracts and subsidies, as co-founders of the garrison state, they deserve confiscation and reversion of their property to the genuine private sector as rapidly as possible. To say that their “private” property must be respected is to say that the property stolen by the horsethief and the murdered [sic] must be “respected”.  []

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Dennis New April 27, 2016, 4:42 am

    I think the confusion lies with conflating “anyone who is rich” with “rich people who *intentionally* (assuming that’s possible to measure) became rich via economic rents”. Don’t you think that the wealth of cops and IP-based companies (who mainly profit from IP-enforcement), assuming such people supported the bad laws, was illegitimately gotten, and thus confiscatable? I’m somewhat familiar with Hoppe’s argument, about how an indirect taxpayer doesn’t have a better claim to that particular wealth, but I’m not convinced. Take for example a thief, who has no will and no heirs — who is the rightful owner of his wealth (which is mixed with “legitimately gotten wealth”)?

    • Matthew Swaringen April 28, 2016, 2:18 am

      “I’m somewhat familiar with Hoppe’s argument, about how an indirect taxpayer doesn’t have a better claim to that particular wealth, but I’m not convinced. ”
      Even if they do have a better claim, their claim is still very weak, no? And if their claim is weak, then they are preventing someone who has an even better claim from claiming it.

      “Take for example a thief, who has no will and no heirs — who is the rightful owner of his wealth (which is mixed with “legitimately gotten wealth”)?”
      Wouldn’t we just say the rightful owner is who he stole from for the portion of the wealth that was stolen? I think there would also be some penalty/fee and perhaps interest, but I don’t think the legitimate wealth would be claimable.

      Honestly, I think the whole argument is too theoretical. I seriously doubt that society will have this dramatic shift to a stateless society where all of a sudden everyone turns on the rent seekers and starts claiming the wealth that they have some just connection to. The closest we would get to that is something disastrous like a socialist or communist revolution which would result in much of the wealth being wasted/destroyed and there is no way people would just be claiming what they have a just connection to in such a mess, as the incentives present in those kinds of situations don’t really fit the desire of this kind of theorizing.

      Gradual, mostly peaceful change I think is the right way to go about things. We need to concentrate on spreading the ideas and forming the foundation in families and communities broadly before any change of the kind we want could occur.

  • Dennis New April 29, 2016, 8:35 pm

    So then who does have the best claim over the wealth of a cop (who proudly enforced bad laws), for example? You seem to be implying that because the answer to this isn’t clear, or perhaps to bribe such evildoers into relinquishing their power (by allowing them to keep their loot, and giving them amnesty), we shouldn’t bother trying to seek justice.

    How about taking all the cop’s money (he probably owes more, for example at least the sum of all his yearly salaries, but his current existing wealth/loot would be a good start), and taking all the money of all the other rent seekers, after evidence reasonably proves that they supported the evil regime and profitted from it, and pooling all this money until the Nuremberg-type investigation is roughly completed, and then dividing it among anyone who can reasonably prove that they opposed the state?

  • Miguel May 20, 2016, 4:25 am

    A question remotely related to the topic.

    I want to know Stephan’s opinion on this (is this a crime or not?). My gut tells me that taking that information is a crime: it would be a crime for the State to take it, so it must also be a crime for an individual to take it (Perhaps this way of reasoning is fallacious?); But I have doubts with respect to the selling and buying of it such illegally obtained information.

    Would you please give me some references about this topic?


    • Dennis New May 27, 2016, 3:10 pm

      (i’m not sure why my reply didnt appear under your one, but rather appears as a separate comment)

  • Dennis New May 27, 2016, 3:07 pm

    It’s not really related to the topic of this blog post :P.

    It’s only a crime insofar as the hacker vaguely probably violated a contract with his internet provider — which, I’m sure, had clauses prohibiting hacking. Although that contract becomes more nebulous and less binding in the case of connections via open wifi access points. In such cases, I don’t think a crime necessarily occurred. I remember Kinsella discussing the legality/ethics of hacking before, for example in a podcast about bitcoins. I forget his position :S. I’m guessing that he would also say it’s not legally a crime, since information can’t be owned — and third-parties (who are not contractually bound) cannot be interfered with. But, I know he also supports the idea of punishing indirect accomplices to crimes (ie. those who pay murderers/hitmen), so maybe he can argue that if a theft results from the fraudulent use of this hacked information, that the hacker, having enabled/supported this event, shares in the culpability. I would disagree though — IMHO only those commiting the evil action itself should be punished. (The others can be ostracized.)

    Why do you think it was a crime? And what do you mean “it would be a crime for the State to take it”?

    • anonymous May 27, 2016, 4:35 pm

      Hi Dennis.

      Suppose you and I negotiate a contract by encrypted email. The State manages to hack the encrypted email or to captue the emails once we have decrypted them, copying and collecting that information without our knowledge or consent. We sign the contract and then an agent of the State intervenes and say “hey guys, we don’t like what you are doing, and even though we don’t have any way to get you in jail, we are going ruin your reputation and to make it impossible for you to make business with anyone.” There is something definitely wrong in that. Even if the message is “okay, we’ve read everything and we like what you are doing, you can go ahead”, there’s something wrong. And if it is not the State the one prying but an organization or an individual, I assume that the problem is essentially the same.

      • Dennis New May 27, 2016, 4:40 pm

        The only[1] thing wrong that I see here is shitty software :p. Especially in the case where the only harm is in “reputation” — since we have no claim on what other people think of us (which is what reputation is.)

        [1] Except for the existence of the state, which is fundamentally immoral.

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