Positive Rights, Not Capitalism, Require Violent State

Jacob Britton, Contributing Writer

It was only a matter of time before a fellow Oberlin student would respond to my right-leaning op-ed condemning wealth distribution. Jordan Ecker begins his refutation by stating that my article is a mere “rehashing of key libertarian talking points,” then goes on to respond with his own rehashing of leftist talking points (“Libertarian Economics Crudely Misguided,” The Oberlin Review, April 7, 2017). Therefore, it is only appropriate that I disprove his rebuttals one-by-one since it is in this same format that he responded to me.

Ecker opens his response by attempting to refute my argument on how only certain kinds of taxation are justified if the activities of the state being funded by the taxpayer are essential functions of the government. He says my argument is “nonsensical” because I provide no legitimate distinction between essential state activities and non-essential state activities. The distinction I will provide is quite simple: The state can protect rights, but it cannot provide them. This is derived from two very important definitions of rights. The first is positive rights, which Ecker obviously adheres to. Providing services such as welfare and social security are examples of positive rights. Positive rights can only operate by forcing others to give up private property through authoritarian means. No individual has a right to coerce another person into paying for a service. On the flip-side are negative rights. A negative right is a when the government protects your rights from external forces. This is why activities such as peaceful assembly, religion and speech are essential human rights. Such rights exist without the need for coercion. Therefore, taxation used to provide positive rights is immoral, whereas taxation for the sake of protecting negative rights is justified.

In his second refutation, Ecker states that capitalism is naturally coercive due to the relationship between the wealthy and the poor. Ecker states that capitalism promotes the process in which “the worker is faced with the decision to accept a contract or starve.” This argument is completely factitious because it forces the reader to assume that capitalism is inherently violent in nature. It should be noted that free-market capitalism would prevent such acts of coercion due to the fact that job availability as well as strong, private-sector unions are products of what Adam Smith called the “division of labor.” If the marketplace were freer, employees would have more jobs to choose from and unions would provide strong incentives for capitalists to abide by. So it is the constrained marketplace that allows for coercion, not the capitalist system.

Ecker then goes on to question my views on radical equality without providing any moral bases for why radical equality is so important in the first place. As I stated in my previous column, equality is only a coherent goal if it is absolute. Otherwise, it is an ambiguous goal that can be difficult to achieve. In my view, “radical equality” is a meaningless value, particularly in regards to equality of wealth or abolishing money-based hierarchies. If Bill Gates has a net worth of $80 billion and my net worth is $90,000, what moral atrocity has been committed? Why does this inequality need to be rectified through the tyranny of the state? Why should the state and the capitalist system be overthrown in order to remedy this disparity? I am more than happy to agree that poverty is a serious problem. However, such issues are separate from income equality and are more properly addressed when discussing entry barriers for small businesses and consumption taxes that create incentives for investment amongst lower income families.

In his next counterargument, Ecker confuses a supply-driven economy with an economy where supply outweighs demand. This is a false claim. A supply-driven economy is an economy where long-term investment helps to produce entrepreneurship, mass expenditure and widespread employment. According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship council, 86.2 percent of corporations in the U.S. in 2012 were small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. Long-term investment is essential when establishing and growing these businesses. This simply goes to show that demand comes after supply, not the other way around.

In the same paragraph, Ecker also states that democratic interventionism is essential to the stability of the market. This argument completely ignores the reality of the 2008 boom-and-bust, which was the result of government-insured mortgages offered to low-income investors who couldn’t afford homes. This policy led to high-risk investment among patrons who couldn’t afford to pay back their loans to the banks. Combine this with consequential Wall Street bailouts and the result is mass economic injustice and artificial inequality caused by state intervention. Once again, if the markets were freer and the incentive for low-risk investment was higher, the recession would never have happened.

Lastly, Ecker responds to my hypothetical example about how redistribution of the CEO of Walmart’s wealth would only grant each employee a pay raise of $9 by offering the morally reprehensible solution of not merely expropriating the money of the CEO, but coercing the entire Walden family out of their money through forceful means of the state. I do find it quite comical that the supposedly benign political left is willing to use just about any violent tactic to establish their utopian vision of society.

In total, Jordan Ecker is a good leftist. He would prefer to see certain people’s property arbitrarily taken from them against their consent by the state to satisfy his view of a perfect society rather than accept the fact that economic disparities are the product of individual freedom. It is either that, or he believes in the abolition of the state altogether and advocates the expropriation of all property with help from the violent force of the proletariat. Neither of these scenarios sound very good to me.