Carson previously discussed the seemingly vague concept of non-aggression in certain libertarians’ philosophies. Protecting property involves state coercion just as forced taxation involves state coercion. Most libertarians would say that this isn’t comparing apples to apples. Protecting property rights is a prime role of government while wealth redistribution is just some modern gross misinterpretation of the role of the state. But, as Carson points out:
…this response doesn’t hold up, because it presupposes the institution of property rights, which are a social institution with certain rules about what it means to own something. Among them are rules about when it is permissible to use physical force against another person. It’s an assumption about the existence of property rights, not the non-aggression principle, that’s doing the work here.
Property rights are just as much a societal construct as the welfare state, in my opinion. “Rights” in general are just things we as a society came to agree upon all people should be privileged with (unless, of course, that person is under 18/21, mentally retarded, a convicted felon, or for a long time: not a member of the white, male, Protestant, land-owning class). They only exist because laws say they exist – and even then they can be horribly abused.
It’s hard to find a convincing justification for property rights other than the fact that they exist because they make us all better off. Without property rights, economies wouldn’t function and the prosperity that ensues from competitive capitalism would fail to emerge. Thus, we’d all be worse off. But that’s a consequentialist justification. They don’t exist because God said they do, they exist because we all realize we’re better off. Hernando de Soto believes the only thing keeping developed countries from reaching the prosperity of “the West” is well-defined property rights. But I digress.
From this, “property rights” should be given no more superiority than the right of a child to get a good education that comes via forced taxation and wealth distribution. Our societal conception of social justice is just as flimsy and societally formed as our conception of natural rights. Why should using coercion to protect Mr. Burns’s money be considered morally superior to using coercion to feed a starving child?