Life, Liberty and Property

Robert R. Livingston

Image via Wikipedia

I’m bringing back some of my earlier posts since my readership is now larger and besides, they make some points that need reinforcement. I specifically asked a couple of my newer subscribers who happened to mention they were reading a lot here but, if you’ve seen something you would like to see again, let me know. This is one of them. How often these will run is obviously somewhat dependent on outside forces, since I react to current events, so there is no schedule. So by request: “Life , Liberty, and Property.” 

I know, you are thinking I misquoted Jefferson. Actually, I didn’t. I seem to remember that the first draft read, after markup:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and Property the pursuit of Happiness.

Again recalling from hazy memories, it came from Edmund Burke originally. That implies that it is quite an old concept, as indeed it is. It goes on back to the  concept that ” A (free) man’s home is his castle”. Thus we see that it is very deeply ingrained in Anglo-Saxon (and associated) cultures, indeed. The wording changed because it caused a ruckus in committee (some sources say because of slavery).

You’re probably thinking it a small change. In some ways it is but in some ways it’s not so small. Let’s look at the next big revolution, the French and their slogan “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. Specifically, think about the difference between “Created equal” and “equality”. Would I like to be equal to Sam Walton? Yeah, but I don’t want to work that hard.

Judith Miller (and others) assert that revolutions are plays in three acts, and they are correct.

Act 1: The people get fed up with the ruling class and revolt.

Act 2: The people erect a new form of government.

Act 3: A (or a group of) despot takes control of the revolution and takes tyrannical power. (see Robespierre and Napoleon, or Lenin if you prefer)

Always happens that way, except once: The American Revolution. Our Revolution stopped after Act 2. That’s what we mean when we talk about America as still the original revolutionaries.

Why? the French and Russian revolutions were revolts of peasants. I mean no disrespect, they are as worthy of respect as anybody, but they were uneducated peasants. The American patriots were educated freeman. Boy, were they educated. They had read Plato, and Plutarch, and Cicero, and Burke, and Voltaire and who knows who else. Two (Jefferson and Franklin) were members of the Royal Society many had been military officers (although mostly not regulars) and most were men of property and substance.

What’s my point? They knew history, they knew what happens to men of property when the mob takes over and they took care that it didn’t happen here.

And what did they create? The last greatest hope of private property on earth. Is it important? You tell me. What has America meant to the word in the last 235 years? Do you suppose concepts like individual freedom, equality before the law, the right to earn what you are worth, freedom of speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from illegal search and seizure, freedom of religion, and all those other things we believe in, resonate in the rest of the world? If they don’t, how did America become the beacon of freedom to men all over the world? Why isn’t it the French Dream?

You know they do, and they are all based in the right to private property. Private property is nothing less than a subset of a man’s right to himself. Private property, whether it is your house or Sam Walton‘s Wal-Mart, is nothing less than Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand made visible. It is what the market has decided that your work, your creativity, your skills, your thoughts, your determination are worth to the rest of us. It is completely objective. If I think Wal-Mart shirts are better than K-Mart shirts and most people agree; K-Mart will have to reduce the price of their shirts till we think they are worth the price asked. It really is that simple and elegant.

Capitalism is individual freedom and private property in action; nothing more and nothing less. Freedom of the individual is inconceivable without capitalism. America became the Indispensable Nation late in the 19th Century and we still are but, we have been coasting since at least the 50′s. That’s when in Ben Franklin’s words we began selling our freedom for some temporary safety, not necessarily from foreign invaders but from being responsible for ourselves.

America really is the Old West: The timid never started (they’re still in Europe, or the rest of the world), the weak died and the strong survived and thrived. That’s the real world, my friends. If you don’t work, neither shall you eat is the other quote. Someone should tell our occupiers (or maybe their parents). What little I have, I worked hard for. If you want what I have you can damn well work too. Don’t send the sheriff with his gun to take it for you, I earned it, you can, too. I earned the right to keep it, too. (Rant over, for now!)

What else over the years has made America different? Honest justice has. One had a very reasonable chance of getting actual justice in an American court, until recently, anyway. How does this tie in? This way: if the courts (backed by the police or army) are corrupt, if you don’t suck up to the right people, you have no chance of keeping your property.

This is a critical point, if you are Henry Ford and you just started producing the Model T, what would you do if Louis Chevrolet took Ford Motor Company away from you in a corrupt court? Raise money to build the Model A? I wouldn’t, I’d probably give up and make enough to feed my family and let the dream go. Think it doesn’t happen? It does, all over the world, all the time, that’s what started the Arab Spring. That’s also what happened to the bondholders in General Motors and Chrysler in the bail outs.

The way wealth is created is this: The creator of that wealth, owns it, to do with as he will. If he wants more, he invests it, thereby creating more wealth (and jobs!) if he doesn’t, well that’s up to him, it’s his wealth. He nearly always does, though, greed works for the common good, after all.

One more thing on property, don’t forget intellectual property when you are thinking about this. Giving a starving man a fish is good. What’s far better is teaching him to fish, knowing how to catch a fish is a very elementary piece of intellectual property. Knowing how to fish may not only feed you but, feed your family and maybe village too. That intellectual property in action. And more than a few fortunes have been founded on fishing, by the way.

What started me down this road, yet again? I was reading the other day over at Greenmountainscribes, their article on An Effective Campaign to Eradicate Poverty and I was struck by this passage:

Frankly there is not much new in this type of activity. For more than fifty years governments and charities have been focused on rushing aid to the poor and starving. Yet none of these efforts address the basic reason poverty exists in the first place. The solutions which call for more and more aid simply respond to the visual effects of poverty such as starvation, ignorance and poor health. None truly address the cause. As a result, rather than easing the situation, the number of poor continue to grow.

Most of the current anti-poverty efforts focus on redistributing funds from wealthier nations to poorer ones, either through mandatory taxation or charitable donations. This system ignores the fact that tomorrow the poor need to be fed again. Taxpayers or the voluntary donor must dig into his own funds yet again to help. The process is repeated daily, each time the poor recipient is only temporarily helped, as the tax payer or the donor become poorer themselves. Meanwhile, as massive funds are moved in and out of governments, bureaucracies are institutionalized to run the system. More and more money goes to feed the machinery of poverty than gets into the hands of the intended poor. Such a system sustains poverty rather than eradicates it.

I highly recommend that you read the entire article. They do an extraordinary job of dissecting the problems in welfare programs (nationally and internationally) and proposing an effective solution.

I don’t really think the Sudan needs “Black Friday”, but they’d probably like to feed their families.

Life, Liberty and Property.


About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

18 Responses to Life, Liberty and Property

  1. JessicaHof says:

    A powerful and eloquent expression of a fundamental truth. The American Founding Fathers were those rarest of revolutionaries – they did not want power for themselves. They knew, before Acton said it, that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It was why the built a balanced constitution complete with in-built checks. Whenever any commentator writes about the need for a more stream-lined form of government, you guys should look to your guns.

    Private property and the rule of law are critical for any free society; but so is the ability to protect same.


    • Thank you, Jessica.


      • JessicaHof says:

        Your’re welcome – that’s such a powerful post. You hit so many key points in it 🙂


        • I know, it goes beyond the conventional a bit, the editing although I understand why, was detrimental to the thrust of the Declaration.


        • JessicaHof says:

          I really, really like it. It is because you’ve really thought through to the foundations of what guarantees real freedom.


        • Thanks, yes the roots of freedom are very deep and many do not see the relationship.


        • JessicaHof says:

          Living here, I am struck particularly by the necessity to be able to defend yourselves. Final analysis here is we can’t.

          Incidentally, C liked your appreciation and, as you can see, agreed to contribute today. I think I have persuaded him for tomorrow. He wrote a piece of Cyril and the Jews which I like, but which he is reluctant to publish. It was used locally, but he worries about being misunderstood. I see that, but don’t think he will be.


        • You’re right of course, your Parliament threw away that right years ago, according to David sometime before WW II. One of the perils of an unwritten Constitution. I would find, I think, your society thoroughly stifling, I’m not overly happy with ours, as you know.

          Good, I always read C’s work, and enjoy it, although I often feel like a 3d grader at a graduate seminar, which is why my comments are rare, I’m learning a lot, though.

          In the world we live in, truth is often misunderstood but, in the end, it stands on its own/


        • JessicaHof says:

          I’ll tell C – who agrees on the weapons too – though oddly enough, he has never held a gun in his life. He did come a shoot once and called me Annie Oakley for about a week after 🙂


        • Speaking of Annie Oakley, wonder what the world would have been like if she had missed the Kaiser’s cigar, and shot him, instead. 😛


        • JessicaHof says:

          🙂 – or just shot off the edges of his moustache 🙂


        • 🙂


  2. boudicabpi says:

    Reblogged this on Boudica BPI Weblog and commented:
    “Our Revolution stopped after Act 2. That’s what we mean when we talk about America as still the original revolutionaries.”

    I believe we are previewing act 3 with Obama and the play will start act 3 if he is re-elected.


    • So do I.


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