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KOL272-2 | Q&A with Hülsmann, Dürr, Kinsella, Hoppe (PFS 2019)


Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 274-2.

This is the Q&A panel following my talk [KOL274 | Nobody Owns Bitcoin (PFS 2019)] for the Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society, Bodrum, Turkey (Sept. 12–17, 2019). For the four panelists’ talks, see the Program, or the PFS 2019 YouTube Playlist.

Transcript below.

Q&A with Hülsmann, Dürr, Kinsella, Hoppe (PFS 2019)

Unedited Transcript, with Guido Hülsmann, David Dürr, Stephan Kinsella, Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Sept. 15, 2019


M: Hans, congratulations.  Your speech was really good food for thought, and because I want to hear more of it, I’ll try to challenge you and just create a little bit.  You made it seem as if going from a state of more culture as human beings to a state of culture somehow was a conscious agreement between human beings to find tools or artifices to reach the purposes.  And to me it seems like too much of separation between nature and culture because we see among animals quite a lot of complicated languages.


I call them languages, of course nothing compared to the complexity of the human being.  We see tools used by animals, and of course by our ancestors.  So it looks more like a spectrum which emerged out of our nature, and of course then complexities or at some certain level of complexity you can call it a more interesting culture and a more complex culture.  But I think you focus too much on the gulf between the nature and culture.


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: I would doubt that we can speak of animals using instruments.  We can give completely causal explanations for them doing certain things.  It has also never happened that animals were constructing something that they cannot do by nature.  Men can construct instruments that make him – enable him to do things that he could not do by nature.  We can construct a car.  We construct an airplane.  Yes, we have beavers doing – building dams, but no beaver has ever done anything else but building dams or come up with, oh no, we just divert the flow of the river or something of that kind.


So the explanation that we can give for animal behavior, we would not need any reference to human or teleological vocabulary of goals and means and ends and success and failure.  We can – we do that because sometimes we like animals and like to describe them in human terms, but we could easily explain all of that in causal terms just as much.  Also, when animals learn something that they didn’t know how to do before like circus animals or something like that, that we can – again, this learning we can describe in a causal way—reinforcement, repetition, beating them, or not beating them, giving them a piece of sugar and whatever it is.  We never need human terminology to explain their behavior, but in our case, we do.  That is – that would be my point.


GUIDO HÜLSMANN: Actually, the naturalistic position can also be challenged that there are many natural phenomena that we cannot truly explain without a teleological element, such as the function of an eye for example.  Whenever we talk of a function, an eye, a liver, any human organ, a cell, DNA, information content and so on, you cannot just – the old terminology cannot just explain this in terms of the material characteristics and the so-called efficient qualities so what came before, and then what came after.  You need to have a teleological argument.


M: I want to ask whether you will agree and perhaps expand upon this idea that another couple of good examples besides language are law, in particular, complex legal systems that emerge spontaneously over time.  And I think that this argument actually was made by Hayek and Sudha Shenoy as well.  And also, as a second example, as a second additional example, religion, and in particular one aspect of religion, that is, liturgy, different liturgies that embody sophisticated meanings that are transcendent.  I think that these are another couple of examples that can work just as well as language.


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: Of course I agree.  I only took language, so to speak, the most important meta institution that makes lots of other institutions possible.  So there’s no disagreement here.  I – last year I spoke here for two hours, and I thought that might have been a little bit too much, so this time I wanted to be short and sweet.  I don’t know if the sweet thing did occur, but short it was.  There’s no disagreement whatsoever.  I just didn’t have time to go through all other aspects of culture besides the aspect of language.


DAVID DÜRR: I would like to take your example of law, which interests me most.  By the way, I’m not that much on your line, as you know, concerning this question, nature versus culture or however you call it.  And I namely mean that the law could be an interesting example to make another viewpoint.  Many speak about natural law, and this means something.  This means that these are principles that have to be found, not created by man.


Often when one says human law is something agreed upon by man, things like that, but I would say it’s more convincing or more consequent to approach that subject by trying to understand the regularities that are there in nature, regularities of behavior that, in this situation, this reaction will come up.  Even though within – so to speak in the inner view of such a conflict, then there are arguments.  There are purposes.  There are normative goals, things you were mentioning.


Even though within these procedures, things like that happen, I would say from the outer view so to speak these are natural processes.  And they are highly – terribly high complex.  They are so complex that we never will have any chance to get them.  So I think there we are not in the argument or in the aspect.  You mentioned that maybe sometime, but that will be later, we will have the possibility to catch the whole picture or something like that.  I will say we never will reach that possibility.  It will always be beyond our capacity, brain capacity or so.  But nevertheless, or I would say it’s not a cause that it’s a natural phenomenon.


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: When we speak of natural law, we of course speak of something that has a purpose for purposefully acting individuals.  When we speak of something being a conflict, a conflict is something entirely different than banging this bottle against a glass.  We can, of course, metaphorically also say there’s a conflict between that bottle and the glass that it is – that we interpret certain events as conflicts has something to do that we do have purposes.


And one of our purposes is, of course, to overcome conflicts because conflicts are considered by us as some sort of problem that should be solved.  This is not something that either the glass or the bottle considers as something that should be solved in some way.  But, of course, I can say that.  But when I say that, that is just metaphorically speaking so.


M: I completely agree with the importance of purpose and teleology, and at the same time, I think I’m more Raheem and Dapheet about the continuum within complex systems, complex adaptive systems.  We see there’s the central concept of emergence, and that cannot be explained from the lower levels, so you have a qualitative shift, but it’s nevertheless a natural process.  And to get more specific, in animals, in the recent 10, 15 years, we’ve now discovered that they can not just use tools but actually even put together tools that are multi-stage tools so that they would have to see that if I do this plus this plus this, then it will enable me to get the banana off the tree.


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: I think those are all metaphorical descriptions of things that can be fully explained in causal terms.  I think the most important philosopher who deals with this is Peter Janich.  Those people who can read – most of his books were only written in German, but those people who can read German I can recommend the book that deals most directly with this issue.  He has written many books that deal with it more indirectly.  It was called Der Mensch und andere Tiere, who also just shows that all of these interpretations, they use instruments.  And so this is all bull, to be drastic.  Yes, you can, of course, describe what they do in terms as if they make an instrument and then they make another instrument in order to reach some further distant goal.


But you can also describe that in a completely different, simple way.  And what I said before, no animal of any species has ever constructed an instrument that was entirely new, never happened in that species before.  Mankind has constructed artifacts that did not exist ever, completely new things, which all of a sudden become common instruments with the example of cars and airplanes.  Men cannot fly by nature, but we can fly.  Men cannot run very fast, but we can move in a very fast way.  No animal has ever invented an instrument that made it do things that it couldn’t do by nature.


M: One question for Guido and one for Stephan.  Guido, at one point you mentioned that primitive tribes have neither a concept of property nor a concept of gifts.  And I’m curious if this is really true, and this is kind of in a continuation of the previous thread because, in the 1960s, Robert Ardrey wrote this book, The Territorial Imperative.  He was an anthropologist, and he also studied animals, and the subtitle of the book is The Animal Origins of Property and Nations, and he looks at the territorial behavior and so on.


And I think this is actually a strong argument against the socialists and so on that claim that property, etc. is an unnatural thing that was invented by humans.  You can actually see the continuity of where it starts with animals, and we take it to a far more sophisticated level, but the roots are there.  So I’m just curious if you are familiar with this work.


GUIDO HÜLSMANN: Yes.  I mean I had also 30 minutes, so I had to get to the essentials.  What I related was the point of view of Mauss, what he did.  So there’s this anthropological research.  You have people from the west, scholars, go to these islands.  They study societies with the objective there in mind.  But, of course, we have to keep in mind that it was – they were pursuing a cause [indiscernible_00:13:25] maybe less than most, but most definitely had a political ax to grind.  Now, all of this is, of course, likely to bias the result of your research, and there is a huge literature, especially in the past 30 or 40 years, detailing how the results of their other researchers going to these tribes.  And of course, by interacting with the tribe, the fiction is that they’re just observing.  But by interacting with them, they are already modifying their behavior.


Another problem is that the researcher doesn’t go there just – I mean to see these tribes in their state of nature.  These were all colonized areas.  That is, they wouldn’t treat them exactly as they would in a state of nature.  Probably they might have eaten him or at least snacked a little bit on his teeth or something like this.  So all of these are huge problems.  I was just relating from the argument is we go there.  We observe their behavior, and there’s always a tit for tat.  So therefore, the claim is, in primitive societies, there is no such thing as gift.  And of course it’s related to the absence of property – private property as I’ve explained.


M: Stephan, the key thing in your presentation was about ownership, and I would love to see what the definition is of ownership that you consider the – like a good definition of ownership.  What are the criteria?  What are the elements that have to be present for something to be owned?  One of the elements that you mentioned was scarcity, and I just kind of would like to ask my questions and finish the questions here.


The key thing I think with scarcity is that historically scarcity was tied to a material component.  But with the invention of Bitcoin and similar digital entities, you’re not going to have scarcity even though there’s no material component related directly to the scarcity.  And I think that is they key innovation in Bitcoin is precisely that you can have digital scarcity, which previously was not possible.  So I’m thinking that your tying of scarcity to a material element is a historical accident because it didn’t exist previously, but now you can have non-material scarcity.  So I’m just curious about what you think there and the definition of property, of ownership.


STEPHAN KINSELLA: Okay.  So on ownership, I didn’t get into it here.  A simplistic definition would be as opposed to possession or control of a thing that’s a fact is the legally recognized or socially recognized right to control.  But I think even that definition is wrong, and actually I’ve – by analogy to intellectual property, which I oppose the law, but if you understand, say, patent law very well, you understand that the patent right is not really a right to do something.  It’s the right to exclude other people.  So if I invent something new, I can get a patent on it, which can block other – I can use to block other people from doing that.  But it doesn’t give me the right to do it because doing that very invention might trespass on someone else’s patent.  So the essence of that kind of right is the right to exclude.


Now, I oppose the legitimacy of that particular right, but that’s the essence of it is the right to stop or the right to block, which is why I classify patent and copyright as what we call in the law a negative servitude.  It’s a restrictive covenant, and the more I’ve thought about it, I think all rights are like that, and all property rights are basically the right to stop other people from doing something, not the right to do anything.  And I’ve written on this in a couple of blog posts about there’s a common argument used in defense of intellectual property, which is that I claim that a patent gives the owner of the patent the right to prevent you from using your property as you see fit.


And that’s a restriction of your property rights, and the response is typically but all property rights are rights to limit what people do, and they give the example about my right to swing my fist stops where your nose ends, this kind of thing.  So they use this common conception of property as the right to do something and combined with the fact that it’s limited by others’ property rights to say that, well, no property rights are unlimited, so what’s wrong with intellectual property?  And so I think that owning your body or owning a gun let’s say doesn’t give you the right to do anything with it.  It simply means you can prevent other people from doing something with it.  And that gives you the practical right to use it as you see fit as long as you don’t invade their property.  So I think ownership means really the right to exclude others from using the resource, which is why they have to get your permission to use it.  It amounts to the same thing, but it’s a subtle difference that clears up that.  And what was the other part?


M: The material and the scarcity.


STEPHAN KINSELLA: I think this is one thing I had to admit in the slides, but scarcity is another word that has sort of dual meanings.  I think most people think of scarcity as some kind of limitation of supply because it’s the lack of abundance.  What I think we mean in terms of human action is the lack of super abundance, which basically does mean a material thing in some sense, something that can be a means of action.  Now, Bitcoin I think in a sense is not scarce in the economic sense.  It’s not – because, first of all, you can have many Bitcoin chains.


You could say that the digits, the numerals from zero to nine – there’s ten of those.  They’re scarce in that sense.  There’s a limitation of supply.  There’s only ten digit so, therefore, they should be ownable too if you go by that criteria.  So I don’t think scarcity in the lack-of-abundance sense is a criteria of ownership.  I think it’s basically what can be a scarce means of action.  Bitcoins are useful, and they’re ownable in the first sense of Mises.  They’re controllable. 1 But I don’t think they’re subject to legal ownership, which is the point of the talk.2


DAVID DÜRR: Perhaps for that, I wasn’t 100% clear neither after your presentation mainly about what is then the outcome of the fact that you say it’s not ownership?  And what is the sanction so to speak?  If it’s not ownership, well, what would be the sanction in the other case?


STEPHAN KINSELLA: So the consequence of considering Bitcoin to be ownable would be simply this.  If I own this phone and I lose it, the law would consider – I’m still the owner even if – or if someone steals it, someone steals this.  It’s still my phone, so down the line if I find it, I can retrieve it even by the use of force even if it’s in the hands of an innocent third party, something like that.  I still retain ownership of it.  In the case of Bitcoin in the most common cases you can think of where people would call it theft, which is a metaphor, which would be breaking into someone’s home or hacking their computer and getting their key that way and then taking it, it is a type of theft, but it’s a consequence of committing a trespass in the first place.


The only other case where you couldn’t already consider it to be – or a breach of contract.  If you give your accountant or your attorney the key, that’s a breach of contract.  So those two common cases where you could see a Bitcoin actually being taken without the consent of the owner or if the FBI arrests you and they coerce into giving the key, and there’s coercion.  So all three cases there’s some kind of breach of an already existing law that can be accounted for in normal terms.  So the only other case would be if someone guesses or somehow uses a quantum computer or something to guess your private key, and if you owned the Bitcoin that was taken by that means, then the only – that would imply that you could use the legal system to give an order to all the 10,000 node operators on the Bitcoin system.


You need to change – update the ledger to unroll this transaction to give this guy is keys back.  So now you’re giving an order back by force against innocent property owners to tell them how to use their own hard drives.  And I think that’s the difference.  So if you don’t call it legally owned, you would never have that ability.  If you lose, you lose.  You have to get insurance or something to prevent that or choose a cryptographic system or a cryptocurrency that is not hackable in that way.


So that’s the reason, to me, it makes a difference just because I don’t think the law should be able to direct the third parties.  It’s analogous to the trade secret problem.  Most people don’t understand why I’m opposed to trade secret law.  There’s nothing wrong with keeping secrets, but trade secret law allows the so-called owner of the trade secret to use government use, a court order, not only against the employee who left and leaked the secret he was contractually bound not to, but third parties to whom he’s told it.  That’s the problem.  They didn’t have a contract.  They’re not in privity of contract, and the information is not property, so that’s unjust.  So that – to me that would be analogous to the problem with owning Bitcoin.


M: I’m very interested in the controversy between humanism and naturalism in the opposite attitude to see a purpose not only in animals but especially nature.  We have it these days nature is superior in some way to humans, and nature should be conserved how it is.  It cannot rise or fall in temperature, and man cannot meddle with nature, whereas the story of human civilization is exactly meddling with nature and changing nature with purposeful action.  And so I’d like a comment on this nowadays common attitude to see nature as something superior to human beings.


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: I agree with my – in that regard, largely with my teacher, Murray Rothbard, who said nature as such is mostly yuck.  What we like about nature is, of course, precisely culture.  That is gardens that are taken care of.  If you look – if you compare, for instance – let’s say it’s the Alps with the Rockies.  I mean the Alps are far more beautiful than the Rockies because it’s culture.  And the Rockies is just mostly yuck.  So I have – but of course we have to know something about nature to cultivate nature.


I mean every gardener knows, of course, plenty of stuff about plants in order to create out of something that nature provides, something that is more beautiful than nature by itself.  So I love cultivated nature, but – and in that regard, I also think that what the bible advises us to do is absolutely right.  All of these other things are there in order to be taken care of and cultivated by men for human purposes.


As far as climate is concerned, we already talked about that.  Regardless of how the explanation for the climate is concerned, whether that is changing sunspots that do that or CO2 that does that, none of these questions are really clarified up to this point to begin with even though, of course, our brilliant politicians all claim that they somehow know how all these things work even though they cannot even build an airport in one year.


But the all-decisive question in all of this, and I think that’s in all of the discussions almost never mention is the fact even if we would know precisely how to influence the weather, then what is the right temperature or range of temperatures for the world population as a whole with people living here and some people living near the North Pole, some people living near the South Pole, some people living high up in the mountains, other people living in some river valleys.  What arrogance is it of people to say I know the right range of temperatures for the entire world population?  I mean these people should be incarcerated to believe things like this.


DAVID DÜRR: Do you know, by the way, that musical Camelot?  And there is this beautiful song: it’s true/it’s true/the crown has made it clear/the climate must be perfect all the year.  And then comes a lot of beautiful examples, precisely.  I do not recall precisely.  By end of September, the first time snowflakes must come.  And at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the last cloud must disappear, things like that, precisely defined.  And this came to my mind when I hear these programs you’re alluding to.


Nevertheless, I think it’s an interesting question how libertarians do deal with this discussion.  I do not say with these problems.  Maybe there are no problems, but with these discussions.  And I think we – a consequent approach is if people have problems with some developments and if they articulate ten points against them, for instance, do not fly that much around in the world, then maybe there are other people that do not have this position.  And as always, if there are conflicts, one should treat it as conflicts are treated.


It is what I would say as a lawyer is that we have a conflict that must be solved, that some independent instance, some independent procedures should take place to look at the case to maybe consider that if one side should reduce its activity for instance that the other side, at the very least, should compensate it for reducing it.  So all these victims of environmental pollution are probably the payers in such litigation and not those that are – just gets the advantage.


So generally I would say it’s an issue to be judged, not decided that should be dealt with in a horizontal way, some parties fighting together and then trying in some objectivizing procedure to find the solution, and not in a vertical way.  It is to create some imaginary instance, of course, the state or a conglomerate of states that then decides just because those up there are of this opinion.  They do not balance conflict.  They decide according to their ideology, and I think that’s the problem.  It’s the way how we deal with it that we do not make it in a horizontal way but instead, unfortunately, in a vertical way.


M: I have a question for Professor Hoppe and anyone else who would like to add anything to it.  The reflections with which you began your lecture made me think of similar but related, perhaps slightly different questions.  It seems one way of describing the reflections with which you began the lecture a different way is that man is in nature but not of nature.  He is part of nature but is not quite the same.  He is, if you like, imminent but also transcendent.  And this makes me curious about if you would – curious whether you would be willing to offer a metaphysical – some metaphysical reflections on the subject matter.


Would you, as many earlier philosophers, some idealists, or Platonists or what have you, would you say that the things that separate man from nature are essentially supernatural or exist in a different realm in some sense that man is always in nature, yes, but also trying to grope towards something outside of nature or something purely spiritual or, at any rate, something different that only metaphysical philosophy can explain?


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: I’m not quite sure if I understood the question right.  I’m not quite sure how to answer it.  I tried to make the point that there are different aspects.  Yes, of course, man is part of nature.  I mean who would deny that?  In that regard, we are no different from whatever, plants and animals.  Yes, we are animals too as I mentioned that title of book by Peter Janich from Der Mensch und andere Tiere, of men and other animals.  Yes, we are animals, but there is an aspect to it that cannot be covered by the natural sciences in the same way as we can cover and fully explain the behavior and the emanations of animals and plants.  We can – metaphorically speaking, we can use all terms that we apply to men, also to other objects.  I mean I can describe the behavior of a stone as if it was a teleological phenomenon.  Why does a stone fall to the ground?  Because a stone wants to fall to the ground.  First, it wants to fly a little bit.  And then it sort of takes a certain curve, and then it decides to fall to the ground.


There’s nothing wrong with describing that in this way, but we should be aware of the fact that it is a metaphorical way of speaking.  So I’m pleading in favor of dual – a dualism of aspects when it comes to treating men and human history.  Both things do play a role.  Lots of causal events influence how people act.  Lots of causally explainable things change how we behave.  When we explain historical events, it’s not only purposes of people who explain historical events, not only the choice of means that they make in order to reach the ends.  There are also external events that have a causal explanation that define what the situation is in which we then have purposes and choose certain means in order to reach our ends.  I don’t know if that answers your question.  It was a complicated one.


STEPHAN KINSELLA: It just reminded me I was reading a patent one time, and the claim that defined the invention was – it was a computer-related invention with a processor and it defined things it did, took measurements.  And then there was a step in the claim that said wherein the computer believes X to be true. 3 And of course that patent allowed it.  I mean so metaphors are rampant.4


W: I was wondering.  Let’s say that if we are allowed to leave the club, as you said, the state for example, since there is a need to pay compensation in most cases, is there now a possibility that we will be extorted by the state, that they will make us pay immense amounts of compensation?  And is there a way around this, or what do you think?


DAVID DÜRR: If I understand you correctly, what are the principles of that compensation?


W: For example, if they make you pay immense amounts of money in order to cross or…


DAVID DÜRR: In order to keep you back and/or…


W: Exactly.


DAVID DÜRR: Well, I mean let’s say within these private law provisions that I presented stemming from Roman law ultimately, these compensations developed out of these processes, the compensation to be paid against getting or against getting this right to passage, there you have actually a first question.  Is it just a compensation for the marginal costs created to your neighbor in case he has some more work to maintain this way or so, some additional cost to the cost he had anyway?  So this marginal cost.  This is usually – in these private law legislations this is the case, namely, in the so-called emergency rights of way [German_00:37:11] in German.


So that if there are no other ways that you have to have there, you cannot choose anywhere. You have to choose the suitable way, and then you have to compensate for the additional costs.  So then you have the chance that there is already a street or a way fitting to your needs.  Then actually – usually then you have the possibility just to pay this relatively small – usually small amount.  There is – you can look at it from another point of view too when you combine it with the other question.


I came back then at the end of my presentation.  Well, so to speak, you have a choice either being a member and paying the full membership tax of course on the one side, or being a customer and paying only what you take.  And there, there is a completely different principle, which has nothing to do with what I explained today.  I had a presentation on that two years ago when I made an analogy to rules of cooperatives.  One could say your membership with the state, that’s like being a member of a cooperative.


This is also a bit ideology of the state [German_00:38:40] which means Swiss cooperative so to speak.  And there you have in this also old rules, not that old rules.  That’s not Roman law.  These are rules developed mainly in the 19th century when this cooperative movement came up in Europe and in the United States.  There, you had a very high principle that you cannot be forced to remain in the cooperative.  You have a right to leave it, and the cooperative is not allowed to hinder this too much, for instance, by claiming too high contribute to leave and then to use the service as a customer.  So from these both sides there are certain reluctance to have too high prices for that.


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: You know, the time dimension you had not really included, but the time dimension also should play a role.  I mean, for instance, in damage cases, so I establish a certain property.  I have no immediate neighbors.  I emit smoke from the place where I live.  Then later on, somebody moves into my vicinity.  Should I have the right to continue polluting the air?  Because when I established my property there, there was no neighbor.  The neighbor who moved into my property – into my neighborhood knew that what he appropriated was polluted.  Does he have the right to stop?  I would say he doesn’t.


I have acquired my right to pollute earlier, so in this [German_00:40:50] problem, I would also think somehow the time dimension would have to be included in solving the problem.  People would have the right to move to certain places when there was nobody there before.  Now somebody moves into my neighborhood.  They should continue to be able to move through there obviously with some sort of marginal cost considerations, whatever he adds to the – in costs in terms of maintenance of said property.  But if he was earlier there, it is different than he came later.


DAVID DÜRR: I see the point.  I could not now comment more precisely what this rights of way is concerned, but generally this aspect that the situation becomes tenser [German_00:41:51] which is quite often the case in urban situation that earlier he was far away, and in the meantime they come closer.  An interesting example I can make here is a situation like that in Switzerland around the airport with the noise and pollution perhaps but mainly the noise from the airport.


In the time when people bought a house relatively near that airport, depending on the time there was no such noise yet, but later it became more and more.  And then there was a big litigation with many, many parties around this airport.  I think not all cases are finished so far, but there came in a principle that that court said apart from a certain date it was, if I recall correctly, the date when it was known that this airport was going to build some additional runways or so, that from that time point on, if somebody buys a house or just moves there, he knows that this kind of additional [indiscernible_00:43:21] will arise.  And therefore, these do not have a right of compensation or a lower one while those that were there earlier, they have a higher compensation.  Maybe it has to do a bit with such situations.


STEPHAN KINSELLA: Let me – I think the common law addresses your idea with what’s called the doctrine of coming to the nuisance.  So if someone pollutes, that can be a nuisance, and it can be stopped.  But if you come to the nuisance, the nuisance was there first, so it’s already in the law I think, at least in the common law.


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: No, no.  I’m aware of that.  I was just trying to bring up the question how that would apply to ways of right or rights of way.  And obviously we would have to take this coming to the nuisance somehow into consideration in order to solve also this problem.


M: And focusing more specifically on where he claims that the state has an obligation to provide a living for the man with some assistance from himself, does Mauss give any indication of what that proportion of self-effort versus communal effort should be?  And secondly, does he identify the state as being something completely different from man?  Who is the state, and does he recognize where the state acquires resources?


GUIDO HÜLSMANN: Thank you.  No, so he doesn’t really address these questions at all.  I think it was a matter of principle.  He takes an opposition against what seems to be the libertarian societies, society built on private property rights, on individual decisions that are made at the margin and so on.  He says, well, actually that’s an unnatural situation as we can see a reference to the study of primitive societies, which are natural.


So we are nature distorted, and they are nature pure, so these are the good guys.  We are looking at them and say, yeah, there’s tit for tat.  There’s always the claim and obligation.  Everybody has some or a little claim there, and it’s all sorted out by custom.  You don’t decide these things, and probably there shouldn’t be – there is not one single institution that makes these decisions.  So it’s completely vague.  The whole point was to attack the principle that there are decisions of this sort.  You can judge these things only by considering the totality of all situations, so there’s a full-blown attack on methodological individualism as a scientific procedure.  You analyze partial relationships and then take into account more and more.  Partial relationships will come to a judgment of the whole, and he says, well, this is all baloney.  We need to look at the whole from the outset, and only if we look at the whole picture can we understand or hope to understand what truly counts.


W: David, I actually have a question for you.  I was wondering if you would win this and people can actually sort of hand in their metaphoric membership.  Would the idea be that since there would have been a precedent created for voluntarily leaving that there also should be voluntarily entering?  Or is that not as an idea present?


DAVID DÜRR: So you mean my daydream of this class action against…


W: Why not?


DAVID DÜRR: Why not?  So it’s without illusion but serious.  I would say the approach is that this organization in Switzerland for instance, so called [German_00:47:05] is just an organization.  It’s like a firm.  They have 40,000 employees, quite a considerable firm, but a firm.  They – you know they have a right to allegedly represent all eight million people in Switzerland but what they do.  But it’s a firm, and this means, and namely because it’s a cooperative, the aspect I mentioned before, you have the right to leave it.


This is one of the arguments.  And of course those who want to remain there naturally they have the right to remain there.  They can maintain, and they can continue this organization if they like to be ruled that tightly from morning to night and to pay heavy taxes that – okay, that’s – if it’s voluntary I would not object again.  Now, you asked – your question is it’s also a right to enter into, and there again I would say it’s again these cooperative traditions.  This is really not just an analogy.  I think really a fundamental element of structure of the state is a cooperative one.


And there in these rules I mentioned before where you have this right to leave whenever you want.  There is also a principle that once you are ready to follow the principle of this organization, then you have a right to be admitted if you comply with all these rules they have.  So that should be I think the rule they will then have.  If they don’t, well, that’s their problem then.


W: I was thinking more in the sense of if it should be decided that, in fact, people can legally leave, that that would actually imply that they would also not necessarily, by default, in the sense of they’re born and they’re a member that they should also should not be, by default, a member just because of being born in a certain area.  So that, in fact, that then would imply also that they would have to actively enter, sort of like you have to actively say yes if you want to be an organ donor.


DAVID DÜRR: So I mean the formalities to me, so to speak – well, actually, it’s other – it’s within this daydream, and there I would say the most consequent approach would be really to handle it like a cooperative.  And perhaps one should then first articulate the will to leave this organization and then to send it there and then, depending on the reaction, to make more steps.


M: I agree that animals instinctively act in a way in line with the fact that natural laws are time-invariant and universal, yet they do not understand this fact.  They simply act in this way, and therefore, that animals can be fully explained or their behavior can be fully explained in scientific terms.  Yet men have experiences, and they can use non-contradictory discrimination.  That is, they can use logic to discover this fact that natural laws, physical laws are time-invariant and universal.  And I would argue that it is this ability of man to recognize this fact and to have and to be logical, which sets him apart from all other animals.  But this capacity to non-discriminatory – non-contradictory discrimination is also possessed by artificial intelligence.


And so if a man is an animal but an animal which has a capacity for non-contradictory discrimination that is logic, which is also possessed by artificial intelligence, and artificial intelligence can be fully scientifically explained, then doesn’t these two things together make that man is an animal and as the thing that artificial intelligence also has can be fully explained in scientific terms?


HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: No.  Look, artificial intelligence is not intelligent.  You see that when machines break down.  Can a pocket calculator calculate?  And the answer is no.  It doesn’t calculate because it can break down, and it doesn’t know that it breaks down.  We know that it broke down because we know what the result should be according to our purposes.


So talking about that machines are intelligent or something is all nonsense.  It’s all just metaphorical speech.  They are not intelligent.  We are intelligent.  That’s why we can build them, and we can recognize if they don’t work, what they are supposed to do.  All machines can somehow break.  How do we know?  The machine doesn’t know.  Even if the machine breaks, that can explain – can be explained in causal terms.  There are processes going on within the machine that explain, so to speak, why it broke.  But only we can – because we designed them with a certain purpose, can determine whether they do what they are supposed to do or whether they fail.


But in any case – so I think we should just now stop this question-and-answer session.  What you noticed here is that there are vigorous disagreements sometimes among us here even though most people think that all of these libertarians are all of the same mind, and they’re completely intolerant when it comes to deviating opinions.  I tell you I’m very, very intolerant, but certain people I tolerate even though I see that they don’t agree with my opinion.  So long live the libertarian movement.  Thank you very much.  We’ll see each other.


  1. As Mises wrote:

    “Ownership means full control of the services that can be derived from a good. This catallactic notion of ownership and property rights is not to be confused with the legal definition of ownership and property rights as stated in the laws of various countries. It was the idea of legislators and courts to define the legal concept of property in such a way as to give to the proprietor full protection by the governmental apparatus of coercion and compulsion, and to prevent anybody from encroaching upon his rights. As far as this purpose was adequately realized, the legal concept of property rights corresponded to the catallactic concept.“ Human Action, Ch. XXIV, sec. 4.

    He elaborates in Socialism:

    “Regarded as a sociological category ownership appears as the power to use economic goods. An owner is he who disposes of an economic good. … Thus the sociological and juristic concepts of ownership are different. This, of course, is natural, and one can only be surprised that the fact is still sometimes overlooked. From the sociological and economic point of view, ownership is the having of the goods which the economic aims of men require. This having may be called the natural or original ownership, as it is purely a physical relationship of man to the goods, independent of social relations between men or of a legal order. The significance of the legal concept of property lies just in this — that it differentiates between the physical has and the legal should have. The Law recognizes owners and possessors who lack this natural having, owners who do not have, but ought to have. In the eyes of the Law ‘he from whom has been stolen’ remains owner, while the thief can never acquire ownership. … Economically, however, the natural having alone is relevant, and the economic significance of the legal should have lies only in the support it lends to the acquisition, the maintenance, and the regaining of the natural having.”

    As I note in What Libertarianism Is, in the law, “possession is actual control—“the factual authority that a person exercises over a corporeal thing.” Yiannopoulos, Property, § 301 (emphasis added); see also Louisiana Civil Code, Art. 3421 (“Possession is the detention or enjoyment of a corporeal thing, movable or immovable, that one holds or exercises by himself or by another who keeps or exercises it in his name.” [emphasis added]). []

  2. Nobody Owns Bitcoin. []
  3. See, e.g., US Pat. No. 7,048,877, “4. The method of claim 1, further comprising servicing a second query from the OS, wherein the OS believes the fake line-based interrupt is shared by the device and a second device of the computer system.”; or US Pat. No. 7,395,064, “16. The method according to claim 14, wherein, when a respective AP [Access Point] receives a leader election message, if the respective AP currently believes no other node is a leader AP, then an initiator of the leader election message is declared the leader AP, and the respective AP forwards the leader election message, and if the respective AP already has a leader AP, then the respective AP picks, as the leader AP, an AP with a lowest medium access control address.” []
  4. On the Danger of Metaphors in Scientific Discourse. []
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