Monday, March 25, 2013

Expaining Yglesias's non Hypocrisy

Jon Chait notes that conservatives are all a twitter about how Matt Yglesias just bought a Condominium.

"Conservative blog Ace of Spades and the Daily Caller gleefully seize on thisYglesias tweet:" 



The concept of "redistribution" falsely implies that the existence of property is prior to the existence of the state. 

Saying this shows hypocricy demonstrates a limited vocabulary.  Yglesias did not assert that property is theft or that property rights don't exist. He made a claim about when not whether property rights came into existence.  I assume a priori that Ace of Spades does know what "prior" means.

John Locke asserted that property rights existed before the social contract based on one line in The Bible.   Yglesias contests this claim asserting that property rights are civil rights not human rights, that they are rights under the laws and not prior to law. His claim is that private property was created by law (as Washington DC was) and not prior to law (as the rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness were).

In this he is probably following Michael Walzer who stressed that claim in, for the only example I read, "Just and Unjust Wars".   

Jefferson's position in the Yglesias vs Ace of Spades debate is ambiguous.  The liberal trinity had been "life liberty and property" replacing "property" with "the pursuit of happiness" might be interpreted as a mere euphemism.  It is more naturally interpreted as implying that Jefferson did not consider it self evident that natural rights related to the pursuit of happiness correspond to then (and now) existing laws regarding private property.

In any case, Yglesias doesn't deny that we currently have property rights.  Furthermore he doesn't suggest at all that this is a bad thing.  Yglesias clearly thinks that the invention of private property was very useful (I will now abandon all restraint and guess that, like me, he considers it less useful than fire but more useful than the wheel).  Notably he is a very outspoken opponent of restrictions on the right of landowners to build tall buildings on land in DC which they own.

In fact, his regular diatribes about the DC height restriction are all to consistent with the activity of trying and failing to find a nice condo in DC which costs less than $1,200,000.

I continue to believe that Yglesias is a principled egalitarian who believes (as I do) that the profit motive is often a powerful force for equality.  I utterly reject the hypothesis that he is just a home buyer who can't get his mind off the terrifying prices demanded by home sellers.  But, far from contradicting his writings and showing he is a hypocrite, the recent purchase fits all to well with one of his favorite arguments.

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