“There’s nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view I hold dear.” ― Daniel C. Dennett
I try to keep my political ramblings and my parental ruminations as separate as possible. However, there are occasions when the two intersect, and I feel compelled to comment. This is one of those times.
I’m a libertarian. Sometimes, though, my fellow libertarians embarrass me. When the offenders are fringe wackos, I generally don’t go out of my way to respond to them. When the offenders seem to be the majority, or at least a sizable mainstream minority, I have to speak up. So, here I am; I’ll keep this short and simple.
Far too many times I’ve heard that socialism begins in the sandbox. That is, the road to forced wealth redistribution and the welfare state begins in childhood, when a parent forces a child to share a toy with another child. This, by a frightening number of libertarians, is regarded as some kind of affront to private property and an attempt to teach kids that the collective is more important than the individual. This is utter hogwash. Let’s take each part of the argument in turn.
Axiom: All individuals own themselves an have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property.
I have no beef with this axiom, but I don’t like to see it abused.
Assertion: Children have the same natural right to private property as adults, and should not be forced to share it or otherwise use it in ways contrary to their wills (as long as they don’t harm others in the process of exercising their wills).
Rebuttal: Children have an inalienable right to life. However, as far I’m concerned, their rights to liberty and property are superseded by their parents’ rightful authority over them. Just how far that authority goes and how it should be prudently and compassionately exercised is a topic for another day.
Conclusion: Daddy can make Johnny give Billy the dump truck to play with – or simply take it away – because a child’s right to property is subject to parental authority.
Assertion: If a toy is said to belong to a child (e.g., Johnny’s truck) that toy is his private property. Forcing him to share it is a violation of his right to private property.
Rebuttal: My kids have very little private property. When you have three under four, that’s kind of unavoidable fact of life, if you want to keep your sanity and money in your bank account. Our home is no commune, where all property is commonly owned. It’s a dictatorship, and the parents own the toys. We let the kids use them as long as they can do so without inducing wailing, screaming, screeching, or injuries.
Conclusion: Forcing a child to share a toy isn’t a violation of private property if the toy isn’t, properly speaking, his. Children (at least very young ones) aren’t really owners of property; they’re more properly regarded as stewards.
Assertion: If a child is forced to share a toy, or is the recipient of said toy, he will learn to disrespect private property and grow up with an attitude of entitlement.
Rebuttal: Parents and the State are apples and oranges.
To all but anarchists, there is such thing as rightful authority, and distinctions can be made between legitimate and illegitimate authority. Socialism is involuntary redistribution of wealth by neither its rightful owner nor a legitimate authority. The State ceases to be a legitimate when it interferes with individuals’ natural rights. The State is not Mommy, Daddy, or Nanny, and has no natural right of authority. It exists to protect rights; it cannot create or destroy them. It should not have the power to confiscate and redistribute property as though the populous were children.
Conclusion: Billy doesn’t have a rightful claim to toys belonging to Johnny (or his parents); don’t take them from Johnny and give them to Billy just because Billy threw a tantrum. Whiners aren’t winners. Disappointment isn’t deadly.
Don’t want your kid to grow up with an entitlement mindset? Try saying no to him once in a while and enforcing household rules consistently and fairly.
Parents have a natural and rightful authority over their children. Therefore, children have no absolute or inalienable right to private party within the family; the State has no such rightful authority. Even if kids had a absolute right to private property, parents have a legitimate claim of ownership over toys in/from their home. That is, Johnny’s property rights aren’t violated if the truck given to Billy doesn’t really belong to Johnny. Billy will only feel entitled to the use of others’ toys if you give him reason to. If Johnny wasn’t using it, or even planning to use it, let Billy use it and don’t let Johnny disturb the peace with whining, a tantrum, or violence. If Johnny is, or soon will be, using the toy, don’t let Billy use and don’t tolerate whining, a tantrum, or violence from Billy.
Teach your kids:
- the difference between legitimate and illegitimate authority
- to respect others’ property rights
- to want something doesn’t mean we have a rightful claim to possessing it
- that whining, tantrums, and violence are unacceptable ways get their way or protest not getting it
That seems like a good way to keep peace in the sandbox without turning your kids into socialists, doesn’t it?
BTW, it’s a bit beyond the scope of this post to address in detail, but I’d like to state for the record that I’m no objectivist, and I do not cherish selfishness or eschew altruism the way they do. The goal of giving Billy Johnny’s truck to play with isn’t to teach either kids disrespect for private property, but to encourage kids to willingly and generously share their wealth with others. In my view, the Philosophy of Liberty only tells us what we mustn’t do to others without their permission, not what we ought to do for others who are willing recipients. Anyhow, a full discussion of this should take place another time on another blog.