Liberty, Property, and Welfare Rights: Brettschneider’s Argument

JAN NARVESON
LIBERTARIAN PAPERS 5 (2013)

Abstract: In “Public Justification and the Right to Private Property” Corey Brettschneider takes up an important project.* Brettschneider’s special contribution is to defend the welfare state on the ground that it is required by the very property regime that libertarianism so crucially proclaims. Brettschneider argues that the granting of property rights to all entails a right of exclusion by acquirer/owners against all others, that this exclusionary right entails a loss on their part, and that to make up for this, property owners owe any nonowners welfare rights. Against this, Narveson argues that exclusion is not in fact a cost. Everyone is to have liberty rights, which are negative: what people are excluded from is the liberty to attack and despoil others. Everyone, whether an owner of external property or not, benefits from this and thus rationally exchanges that liberty in exchange for a like abandonment of it by others. The proper social contract trade is thus liberty for liberty—not liberty for owners and positive welfare rights for nonowners (though the latter in fact benefit greatly from the property rights of owners).

* Corey Brettschneider, “Public Justification and the Right to Private Property” in Martin O’Neill and Thad Williamson, Property-Owning Democracy—Rawls and Beyond (Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons, 2012).