I think I stumbled on something today, in a discussion with Arto.
Here’s the idea. The right to free speech has some natural limits – the classic statement of this being “shouting fire in a crowded theater” – a phrase with a very interesting history. Similarly, very few people think that the right to bear arms should include, say, personal nuclear weapons.
So what if the right to property has a similar natural limit. Let me give an example, which I will call the Pleasure Yacht Attending The Titanic. (PYATT)
Here is the scenario. A boat is sinking, and two survivors are clinging to a piece of wreckage. A boater comes by in their Pleasure Yacht and simply cruises by the people in the water, allowing them to drown.
Clearly this is wrong – murderous behavior, or perhaps manslaughter. A crime.
However, the rich person watching a famine unfolding in a foreign country is in exactly the same moral position. They have the personal means to prevent somebody else dying, and they choose to do nothing, and this is condoned.
So here’s my thought: PYATT shows clearly that there are limits to the natural rights of property, specifically letting other people die when using your property could save their lives. Note that this is an entirely different foundation from the schemes which give rise to, say, taxation. The goal here is not to legitimize socialism – “taxation is theft.”
However, to exactly the same degree that taxation is theft, allowing people to die of starvation while you have more money than you can spend in the bank is murder.
There is a limit to the natural right to property.