Saturday, April 3, 2010


Once upon a time, a group of people lived on a small, isolated island. They soon discovered the importance of property rights: the rights to the stuff they created, the fish they caught, the food they grew, the things they received in trading. So they selected a small group of people to create, interpret, and enforce a set of rules.

Over time, this small group had a strong incentive to justify their expansion and increase their control. They started to view their role as the wise people who knew better than the other islanders and started to create laws telling the islanders what to do, not just resolve issues of individual rights. Because they no longer fished, grew food, or created things, they lost the perspective of those who did these things. They rigged the system so that the islanders found it very difficult to replace them with people more like themselves. Besides, most islanders had no interest in doing the ugly work these governing people did.

Before long, the governing people didn't like the fact that some of the islanders were very successful at fishing, growing food, and creating things, so they started making rules that took the stuff away from the successful people and gave it to the unsuccessful people. They called it "Social Justice", even though it made no sense from a justice point of view. "You have lots of stuff, so you must have taken it from the others," they said. Having no experience in fishing/growing/creating, they incorrectly assumed success was a zero-sum game.

And the circle of property rights came back to where it started.

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