>“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”
– John Adams (1787)
It is starting to become apparent to even the most disinterested observer that something much bigger than even a worldwide recession is happening. The seeds of revolution have taken root. Iceland led the way by taking to the streets to force regime change through peaceful demonstration. The French are currently protesting en masse against their government’s bailout of the banking system. One would be naïve to think that these are isolated incidents. It is apparent that these are just early warning signs of a worldwide cauldron that is about to boil over, catalyzed by the financial and economic cataclysm that will plunge untold millions into poverty and desperation.
While I applaud the peaceful demonstrations going on in France and Iceland, I also recognize that they are premature. As did Americans in the last election cycle, these Europeans are demanding “change.” However, also like Americans in the last election cycle, they have failed to first answer the crucial questions, “From what? To what?” They have not looked within to assess who they are, what their society is, and what they want it to be. Therefore, they run the risk of simply replacing one oppressive tyranny for another.
Likewise, we will never regain our freedom in America until we address the fundamental problem in our society. I say “the problem,” because at the root of all of what we perceive as a myriad of problems, including the police state, the welfare state, the warfare state, the military industrial complex, the Wall Street oligopoly, the high cost of healthcare and education – everything – there is one philosophical problem that ultimately leads to them all: the repudiation of property rights.
It is likely difficult for most 21st century Americans to absorb this statement, based upon the fact that they have been told now for generations that property is about greed, that accumulating property is oppression, or even that “property is theft.” However, let us look back at the philosophers who inspired our founders and see what they have to say about property. Of course, as I have written here, the primary philosophical basis for the American Revolution came from Locke. What did Locke have to say about the purpose of government?
““The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”
Certainly this statement must be startling to most 21st century Americans, who believe that they are supposed to look to their government to fight unemployment, manage the economy, ensure access to healthcare, promote democracy abroad, and pursue a myriad of other ends outside of protecting property. Surely, Locke has over-emphasized property rights here, has he not? Certainly he is alone in his simplistic assessment of the role of government, is he not?
He is not. In seeking guidance on how to construct our government, the American founders also looked to the ancients, particularly the Roman Republic. There, we find Cicero writing,
“For the chief purpose in the establishment of constitutional state and municipal governments was that individual property rights might be secured. For, although it was by Nature’s guidance that men were drawn together into communities, it was in the hope of safeguarding their possessions that they sought the protection of cities.” [emphasis added]
The conditioned response of Americans today is to view these ideas as a defense of one class of people at the expense of another. We have been trained to associate “property” as a concern of the “property class,” or in more common American terms, “the haves,” as opposed to the “have nots.” This is a great deception that has lead directly to our ruin. In fact, it is the poor and those of modest means for whom property rights are most important. It is they who, not possessing significant material wealth, must all the more jealously guard the property that they do have. In the end, however, we are all property owners when one considers the most fundamental, most important property of all: our labor itself.
We learn from Locke that all property has its roots in labor. In order to survive, man must work to produce the means of his survival. This is true for people no matter what their financial circumstances. The doctor, the lawyer, the construction worker, the janitor – yes, even the Wall Street financier – must sell his efforts to his fellow man in order to acquire the means of his survival. Therefore, whoever has control over the individual’s labor has control over the individual’s life, and control over the individual’s future. If I steal all of your possessions, you can acquire more. However, if I appropriate your labor, I own all of the property you can ever or will ever acquire. This is an undeniable reality that we have lost sight of, to our peril.
America was founded upon the idea that each individual had an unqualified right to the fruits of his labor. This more than anything was what the founders meant when they spoke the word “liberty.” It was the extent to which this right was respected that made America different than every other society in history, before or since. This was the great secret that made America the engine of prosperity and innovation that it was. This is what made America the land of opportunity to change one’s lot in life. It was this right that gave birth to the American dream.
However, we no longer hold this right up above all others. Instead, we have become a society that is based upon competing groups seeking to plunder each other via the force of government. The rich plunder their neighbors with corporate bailouts, subsidies, and regulatory fascism. The middle class plunder their neighbors with Social Security, Medicare, and criminal unions. The poor are forced to accept legal plunder that they do not want and which provides them with the most miserable quality of life, when the stolen capital that underwrites it could employ them all if it weren’t seized from its rightful owners. Of course, these examples are only the tip of the iceberg; there is much, much more. Virtually every political movement in America is based upon a promise to provide its followers with other people’s property.
This scenario is neither unprecedented nor has it been unrecognized by the great lights of liberty. Bastiat wrote,
“Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are victims. Thus, when plunder is organized by law for the profit of those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to enter — by peaceful or revolutionary means — into the making of laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.”
This vision of Bastiat’s has become reality in America. However, it cannot go on forever. Fortunately for humanity, a society based upon legal plunder is ultimately unsustainable. Just as respect for property rights provides the means to prosperity, violation of them leads to poverty and want. As force replaces voluntary exchange, productivity decreases, and subsequently more force is required to plunder even more. This cycle repeats until society is reduced to an authoritarian nightmare, the first signs of which are becoming apparent in the former “land of the free.” If the people wake up, the nightmare can end. If they continue to slumber, the nightmare can get much, much worse.
This is the great truth that we must rediscover before any revolution can be successful. Before we commit to “change,” we must answer the questions, “From what? To What?” The answers to those questions must be “from a nation of looters to a nation of free individuals who acquire property in the only civilized manner: via voluntary exchange.” We must reject the use of force as the means to pursue our happiness, and renew our faith in freedom. Once this great work has been accomplished, let the revolution begin.
 Adams, John A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787)
 Locke Second Treatise Ch. IX, Sec. 124
Cicero, Marcus Tullius De Officiis Book II Chapter XXI
 “Individuals” who were included in the system. Of course, the founders recognized but did not remedy the obvious contradiction to this inherent in slavery.
 Bastiat, Frederic, The Law
>One might be tempted to celebrate the “growing” number of people here in America that associate themselves with the “freedom movement.” As encouraging as it may be to see a loss of confidence in the present “neo-con” ruling class, there is certainly no reason to think that what most people would replace them with would result in any more liberty. Sadly, as was the case in Germany in the early 1930’s, the opposition to the present tyranny simply thinks their form of tyranny is better. Using Bastiat’s terms, they don’t object to legal plunder, they just have a different idea of how to divide up the loot.
While professing to be staunchly against tyranny, it is apparent that most people don’t seem to understand what tyranny is, and most importantly don’t understand its motivation. Perhaps many do not WANT to understand, because their solution may not be substantively different. Let me clear the air in the hopes that the 800 pound gorilla hiding in the corner of this tea party we call the “freedom movement” can cease to be politely ignored. In all of human history, there has only been one motivation for tyranny: plunder.
No conqueror in history has gone to the expense and trouble of raising, training, and feeding an army, marching them across vast distances, and risked his own position and wealth for the purposes of suppressing free speech. Neither has he done so to suppress freedom of religion, the writ of habeas corpus, or the right of the people to freely assemble. While he may have attacked all of these rights, he did so only as a means to one end: plunder. Every tyrant that ever lived has violated the rights of his own people and of those he has conquered for no other reason than to gather wealth that he did not earn.
The reason that most people don’t understand tyranny or its sole motivation is that they don’t truly understand liberty, either. If your understanding of liberty ends at freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to due process, then you are omitting the heart and soul of liberty – property rights. Without a right to keep the fruits of your labor, there can be no liberty, no matter how fiercely the other “civil liberties” are protected. The right to the fruits of your labor is the central right, the foundation of liberty. Without controlling the fruits of your labor, you have no control over your life. Whether you have nothing to eat, a little to eat, enough to eat, or enough to save for another day all depends upon your control over the product of your work. However, it is the violation of precisely THIS right that is the sole desire of the tyrant.
This is why Jefferson said that “’the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it” is the “first rule of association.” Samuel Adams called it “self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.” It is the reason that John Locke devoted an entire chapter of his 2nd Treastise on Civil Government to property, and the reason he said that “The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”
Plunder is the violation of this central right. Plunder is the use of force to divest people of the fruits of their labor without their consent. When it is done by individuals or groups outside of the law, it is recognized as a crime. When it is done by government, it becomes what Bastiat called “legal plunder.” Legal plunder by government generally falls into two categories: welfare and warfare. While cosmetically different, these two practices are essentially one and the same. They represent the use of government force to plunder the property of the individual. One merely does so farther away than the other – a relatively minor difference.
Recognizing that the right to property is the most important civil liberty (without which there can be no liberty), and recognizing also that plunder is the only true threat to liberty, Bastiat devoted much of his brilliant essay “The Law” to the subject of legal plunder. Like Locke, our founding fathers, and all philosophers in the liberal tradition, he recognized that government in a free society has only one purpose, beyond which it may not be permitted to go. Its sole purpose is to protect life, liberty, and property. According to Bastiat, the minute that government goes beyond fulfilling this role, it must necessarily attack life, liberty, and property. This is the fundamental principle of government which must be understood before one can begin answering questions of liberty.
Bastiat correctly concluded that there are only three alternatives for a society in determining how to address the question of plunder. Only by choosing the last of these can a society be free. It is not surprising that our two political parties generally align themselves with one of the other two. I will take the “liberty” of inserting their names in parenthesis next to the alternative they advocate:
1. The few plunder the many. (Republicans)
2. Everybody plunders everybody (Democrats)
3. Nobody plunders anybody (Freedom – the position of neither party)
Like the unfortunate child in the middle of a game of “pickle in the middle,” Americans have been running back and forth between the first two alternatives offered by their political parties for decades. It has never occurred to the great majority of people that NEITHER ONE can benefit them in the end. There are only two possible reasons for this. Either the great majority of people do not understand the true nature of liberty and tyranny – that they both revolve around property rights – or the great majority of people DO NOT WANT TO UNDERSTAND. This may be because they secretly do not want to let go of the possibility that THEY ALSO might benefit from legal plunder. This second possibility is even more pathetic than the first. Like the gamblers in Las Vegas, they should know by now that the House always wins.
Rather than objecting to legal plunder itself, false prophets of freedom frame the debate into organizing opposition to the present ruling class on the assumption that the loot should merely be divided up differently. At the moment, the Democrats position themselves as against the war in Iraq, not because it is wrong, but because the Republicans started it. Their position is no more the position of liberty than was the Republicans’ in objecting to President Clinton’s war in Kosovo, or their ludicrous impeachment of him over a sex scandal. They are merely looking to divide up the loot differently.
However, politicians will be politicians, and I am much more concerned about the average American than I am about them. In the end, politicians can be bought with votes. If the vast majority of voters demand liberty, liberty is what they will get. However, when the vast majority of voters are persuaded to demand legal plunder, then it becomes clear why Madison described democracy as “the most vile form of government.”
For those interested in finding their way through this maze of false assumptions, I offer the following examples of common arguments made on current issues and their implications for true liberty.
If you are (rightly) against the war in Iraq, but go on to say that the money we are spending on that war should instead be spent on providing healthcare to uninsured Americans, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.
If you are opposed to the recent bailouts of the banks during the mortgage crisis, but like False Prophet of Freedom Lou Dobbs go on to say that the government should instead help average Americans that are in danger of losing their homes, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.
If you are against the fascist alliance being formed between large corporations and government, but suggest taxing the profits of corporations more heavily to fund some public redistribution of wealth, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.
If you are concerned that Social Security and Medicare are imminently insolvent, and go on to argue that they must be “reformed,” rather than abolished (or at least phased out), then you are not against legal plunder. You are merely concerned that you won’t get your share of the loot.
These are only a few examples of the lapses in reason so common even among those who claim to be part of the “freedom movement.” Presently, average Americans are running from the Republicans (the few plunder the many) to the Democrats (everybody plunders everybody) in their perennial game of pickle in the middle. They still haven’t noticed that no matter which side they’ve run to over the past century, they never actually get to catch the ball. However, the implications are more ominous than this.
After at least a century of practicing legal plunder in one form or another, the inevitable end to which such a society comes is now in sight. Having given up the central civil liberty – property rights – Americans now see that the government monster they have built is coming to gather up the rest of the rights that people have deluded themselves that they retain. It is vital to realize that the police state measures and the perpetual war that we now find ourselves confronted with are not an aberration of the Bush administration BUT THE LOGICAL END OF DECADES OF LEGAL PLUNDER. This was Hayek’s central point in his classic The Road to Serfdom – that Naziism was the natural result of socialism, and that England’s and America’s socialism of the 1940’s would eventually lead to the same results in decades to come as Germany’s socialism of the 1870’s had led to by 1933. He was not only correct in theory, but seems to have correctly predicted the duration.
In conclusion, there will be no “freedom movement” until Americans recognize and understand the nature of freedom and tyranny. Until Americans cease to marginalize or ignore property rights, and again recognize them as the MOST important rights, as our founding fathers did, we will not move one inch toward freedom. In fact, even if we were able to completely end warfare for several presidential administrations in a row, our practice of welfare would lead us right back to our present circumstances.
Do not look to your politicians to offer you Bastiat’s third alternative. They have seduced free people throughout history with the prospect of sharing in legal plunder, while keeping the majority of the loot for themselves. It is left up to every American to reject the notion of legal plunder on their own, to reject the false prophets of freedom, be they named McCain, Obama, Clinton, Dobbs, Paulson, Bernanke, or Roosevelt, and again take responsibility for their own self preservation, and thus regain the right to determine it themselves. This is the ONLY path to freedom.
 Jefferson, Thomas Note in Destutt de Tracy’s “A Treatise on Political Economy,” 1816. ME 14:466
 Samuel Adams The Rights of the Colonists (1772) The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772 Old South Leaflets no. 173 (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1906) 7: 417-428.
 Locke Second Treatise Ch. IX, Sec. 124
 Bastiat, Frederic The Law (1850) (words in parenthesis inserted by the author of this article)
 Madison, James Federalist #10
I am writing to express my wishes in the strongest terms that you veto the housing bill that is likely to pass in the U.S. Senate tomorrow (Saturday July 26, 2008). This bill is an outright violation of the most basic property rights that our society is founded upon, redistributing tax monies paid by me and other citizens (who have no choice but to pay them) to those who either borrowed or lent in poor judgment. I am a homeowner that most likely paid too much for my own home, but would not consider using the force of government to extort “relief” from my fellow citizens. I deny their right to do likewise to me.
I have received a letter from U.S. Senator Mel Martinez stating that “we must use the resources of the federal government in a reasonable and responsible manner in order to mitigate future losses and put our housing market on the pathway to recovery.” I remind you, Mr. President, that those “federal funds” are nothing more than my property, paid in taxes for no other purpose than the protection of the rest of my property. My government, even by majority vote, does not have the right to dispose of my property to fund “grants for communities to purchase and renovate abandoned properties,” nor to “assist families facing foreclosure,” nor to prevent the bankruptcy of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, lending institutions that should never have been sponsored by government in the first place.
We were once a country where each individual was guaranteed unalienable rights. Now, it seems that our rights can be voted away whenever the legislature believes it will win favor with an uninformed electorate. I remind you of your oath to the Constitution, Mr. President, and beseech you, as the last line of defense of my rights, to veto this bill. Thank you for your time and kind consideration.
– Samuel Adams The Rights of The Colonists (1772)
Although the United States has the reputation as the most capitalist nation on earth, she is fast moving away from the principles of laissez faire capitalism, while formerly communist countries like China and Russia are moving closer to those principles. This is not surprising, given the 20th century history of China and Russia. Each rejected capitalism for communism, and each have already seen where the end of that road leads: poverty, starvation, mass murder, and totalitarianism. Russia and China have already had to face the fact that communism doesn’t work and reject it for a more free market economy, or face collapse and annihilation. To the extent that they have become freer, they have become more prosperous. To the extent that they still cling to the old ideals of communism or socialism, their progress is retarded.
The United States has not yet faced economic calamity on the scale of that faced by Russia or China, and that is due to the far lesser degree to which the United States has embraced socialism. Along with the western European countries that stood against communism throughout most of the last century, the United States has chosen the path of the “mixed economy,” attempting to mix elements of free market capitalism and socialism in an effort to more “equally” distribute the fruits of production, and to build a “social safety net” for those who at some point in their lives are unable to produce enough to meet their own needs.
However, if there is one common characteristic to the mixed economies of the west during the past century, it is economic decline. Certainly, there are temporary recoveries here and there by one country in relation to the others, but the overall quality of life for people in the mixed economies has been diminishing almost from the moment that they have decided to try to mix socialism with capitalism. Most people do not see the European Union for what it is: a temporary solution for a group of countries that became unable to sustain themselves economically on their own. This was not a result of new competition from emerging nations as much as the natural result of plundering the more productive members of society to support the less productive. Combining their economies under one currency and centrally planned economy merely allows the European Union to pool the productive capabilities of all of their societies, in order to create a larger surplus to plunder. However, the same forces that caused those nations to fail economically on their own will eventually overcome the group of nations together, as will be the result for the United States.
The United States has been able to avoid the economic collapses of the European economies largely due to the fact that it has “mixed” its economy with less outright socialism, at least in decades past. However, the compromises it did make with socialism were the cracks in America’s economic foundation, and as it has moved farther and farther toward socialism in recent decades, those cracks have begun to widen. Now America sits on the edge of the same economic precipice that overcame the economies of Europe. Those realities will become apparent within the next presidential term, possibly under dire circumstances.
Why doesn’t a mixed economy work? The answer is that even a mixed economy violates a fundamental moral and economic principle: property rights. While some might argue that a mixed economy attempts to combine a moral solution (economic equality) with a pragmatic one (productivity), a clear understanding of property rights shatters this fallacy. Violating property rights even for the purposes of achieving what some might regard as more “just” distribution of wealth is both ineffective AND immoral. If there is some transcendent justice in the world, it is that the practice of violating property rights is never successful in creating a sustainable economy.
It takes no monumental exercise of reasoning to see why capitalism has produced such enormous wealth so quickly wherever it has been practiced. In a complex society of millions of people, with each person making the most advantageous exchanges of property that they can, and with an incentive to consume less than they produce in order to realize savings for either capital or future retirement, productivity soars. Productivity in excess of what is consumed produces savings, or capital, which increases the means of production and results in even greater productivity. This was the system that made the United States the wealthiest nation on earth in one short century.
Thus, in economic terms, we have two identifiable extremes. Freedom is defined by the universal recognition of an unalienable right to the fruits of your labor. In contrast, slavery is the complete absence of ownership of the fruits of your labor. More than anything else, it is where a society falls between these two extremes that determines whether or not a society is free. The United States was once as close to the freedom extreme as may be possible for a society of flawed human beings.
Socialism does not recognize a person’s ownership over the fruits of his labor, nor his right to freely exchange those fruits with others. In a socialist system, the fruits of labor are distributed by the state as the state deems fit, not by the free exchanges between their citizens. Thus, their citizens do not enjoy the most basic right that makes them free, nor does the economy benefit from the fundamental building block of productivity.
Even in a mixed economy, where citizens retain some property rights, some of the fruits of their labor are still taken by government and redistributed without their consent. In the United States, this occurs through massive social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Public Welfare. While Social Security and Medicare are funded partially by the contributions of the beneficiaries, there is no effective controlling mechanism to distribute benefits proportionately according to contribution, although Social Security has a crude methodology attempting to do so. More importantly, these programs violate the vital principle of consent. The participants in the programs do not participate voluntarily, but under the coercive power of government. Thus, ownership of the fruits of their labor is not respected in terms of the monies taken from them to fund the programs.
The violation of property rights does not stop with providing for the poor or elderly, but for corporate welfare as well. In an attempt to “manage the economy,” public funds are also used by the government to bail out failed corporations that are deemed “too big” or “too important” to be allowed to go bankrupt. This not only violates the rights of the people whose property is confiscated in order to underwrite these bailouts, but also causes distortions in the economy.
Rather than some type of compromise between freedom and slavery, which sounds bad enough, the mixed economy makes a more fundamental break with the principles of liberty. In a mixed economy, the citizens no longer have an unalienable right to the fruits of their labor, or property rights, but rather have the privilege of keeping that property that the government does not choose to take. Changing property from a right to a privilege is a monumental change in the principles that a society is founded upon. It crosses the majority of the divide between freedom and slavery. The moral argument against socialism or even a mixed economy is that they both violate property rights: the most important, most basic right that people have.
It is also easy to see why even a mixed economy is not sustainable economically. As it violates those property rights on a regular basis, it is siphoning off the surplus productivity from those producing more than they consume and distributing those savings to those consuming more than they produce. Thus, savings and capital are diminished at first, and eventually destroyed when the incentive to save is eroded. In practical terms, the laborer of today no longer saves for his retirement, partly because he is unable to due to the sizeable portion of his property that is seized to pay the benefits of present beneficiaries, and partly because he knows (or at least believes) that future generations will pay those benefits for him.
One need look no further than the present state of the American economy to see this argument proven out. After decades of growth of socialist programs like Social Security and Medicare, the United States has gone from being the world’s largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor. Its people and its government are mired in debt, and its economy has a negative savings rate. No longer is the American worker the highest paid or most productive in the world. One by one, the United States has lost its dominance in almost every economic sector, no longer producing the majority of goods and services it consumes. While our politicians may try to lead us to believe that economic cycles “just happen,” a sober look at the departure we’ve made away from our founding principles reveal the true reason for our economic decline. The foundation of this departure has been our violation of property rights.
We are now at a crossroads. Socialism, even “diluted” in our mixed economy, has lead us to where it always leads: to the verge of economic collapse. During the next presidential term, the United States is going to face an economic crisis that will startle even the most disinterested and apathetic of its citizens. The question is not so much “what is to be done?” as it is “who will you believe?” Already, politicians and the media are framing the debate on the assumption that it was capitalism and too little regulation over “greedy speculators” that caused our problems. False prophets of freedom, like Lou Dobbs, are masquerading as champions of the people while emphatically calling for more government regulation, and not denouncing wealth redistribution, but merely criticizing the way the loot is split. A new edifice is being built in the capital of the empire of lies.
No matter who gets elected, no matter what policies are made, an economic crisis is coming, and it will be painful. The only way for America to recover from it will be to rebuild its awesome productive capacity that once made it the greatest, wealthiest nation on earth. That cannot be done without rejecting the socialism – even the mixed economy variety – that has ruined her. She must again be an example to the world that liberty and individual rights are the only sustainable economic and political system. It will not be easy for America to choose this path. The voices of liberty have grown few and those advocating socialism have the media, the politicians, and the guns. However, as difficult as it may now seem, we must convince the American people that this calamity was not a failure of capitalism, regardless of what they are told. Economic upheavals spawn revolutions. In Russia and Germany during the early 20th century, those revolutions ended badly. We must educate our neighbors so that we choose a wiser path. Make no mistake; the danger is real. Lies and ignorance in the midst of this crisis can enslave us for generations, but the truth can surely set us free.
 Samuel Adams The Rights of the Colonists (1772) The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772 Old South Leaflets no. 173 (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1906) 7: 417-428.