Our next step, now that we have established the natural duties not to murder or assault an individual’s body, is to prove that each man owns his justly acquired property, i.e., via initial appropriation of unowned goods, production, and exchange.
Let’s first consider two abortive attempts to demonstrate this.
First is the observation that when Smith controls an item X, he expects to use it in some way in the future. His has plans for X. If Jones robs Smith, then Smith’s plans are shattered.
Yes, that is an evil that accrues to Smith. But perhaps Jones, too, has an eye on X, hoping to do something with it. We should expect him to ask Smith to sell it at the mutually agreed upon price. But why not do something easier and steal X? This is an apparent good that accrues this time to Jones. The situation is unlike our previous argument in which we have seen that the evil done is accompanied by no good whatsoever to anyone and is for that reason utterly proscribed. This time, moreover, since we cannot compare utilities interpersonally, we cannot say that the evil to Smith outweighs the good to Jones.
Second, we could try to propose that it is man’s nature to produce for his own temporal salvation and enjoyment. But a robber like our Jones rejects his natural impulse and instead is a parasite living off Smith. This is somehow “unnatural.”
But why? Jones surveys his surroundings and locates in them, among other things, Smith. It is just as “natural” for him to pluck apples of an unowned tree as to pluck them of a tree controlled by Smith. We might find a natural duty on the part of Jones not to deprive Smith of so much that Smith starves or freezes, etc. to death (under moderate scarcity). But whence the duty not to plunder him at all?
At this point, we need to know economics. We start by pointing out that even if Jones is all-powerful, nevertheless, Smith for him is some kind of a natural resource. But nature, including its resources, in order to be commanded, must be obeyed. For all his might, Jones is powerless to use Smith other than according to Smith’s inner nature.
So then, if Jones can with relative ease despoil Smith of the goods Smith controls, then Smith enjoys no security of property rights and will simply curtail any and all production beyond that absolutely necessary for him to survive (and we have just seen that Smith has a natural right to at least that). As a result, Jones’ first spasm of expropriation and confiscation will also be his last. The incentives to Smith ensure that Jones himself will in the longer run be poorer than is possible for him to be.
Insofar as Jones loves and so wills good to himself, Jones needs to find out how to use Smith most efficiently. I’ve already discussed the Soviet system of “social orders.” Thus, in order to ensure that Smith produces, Jones can enslave him. But slave labor is terribly unproductive. In the longer run, again, Jones can do far better. How about tax serfdom? This is better but still is remarkably inefficient from Jones’ own point of view.
Jones secures his own interests only under a regime of freedom, private property, and laissez-faire. Jones’ own self-interest, which includes being wealthy and prosperous, impels him to respect Smith’s own control of his property and recognize his “natural” rights to it and to its unfettered enjoyment. Only this way will production hum at the fastest possible speed, thereby benefitting everyone in society in the long run more than any other conceivable system of social cooperation, such as Jones but also, as a remarkable result, Smith the former dead man, slave, or tax serf!
As a result, it is Smith’s nature to be used properly as an organism that produces wealth for the rest of society that causes him to possess his natural rights to lawfully acquired property. Without such rights, everyone is worse off, both Smith and Jones; with such rights, everyone is better off, again including Smith and Jones. Trampling on Smith’s natural rights to property hurts everyone in the long run and most plausibly overall, as well. To that extent, violating one’s natural duties to others is senseless.
Since we must generalize from our tiny society to the world as a whole, we obtain that everyone has natural rights like Smith’s. A law, such as the natural law we are discovering, is by its nature a universal, i.e., something that applies to many, in this case to every human being by virtue of his humanity.