Who's Living in the Stone Age?

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In 1974, the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek won the Nobel Prize for economics. In his book New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, Hayek describes man’s evolution from primitive, tribal society to modern capitalism. Specifically, Hayek observes that:

The great advance which made possible the development of civilisation and ultimately of the Open Society was the gradual substitution of abstract rules of conduct for specific obligatory ends, and with it the playing of a game for acting in concert under common indicators, thus fostering a spontaneous order. (p. 60)

In other words, men advanced from cavemen led by an alpha male to the division of labor, and the individual liberty which such division of labor made possible, by recognizing certain rules.

What rules? As Hayek continues:

The rules which gradually developed, because they made this game most effective, were essentially those of the law of property and contract. (p. 62)

What is the law of property? Under the common law, which the American colonies inherited from England (and under the Roman law as well, for that matter), "property" is the right to use, enjoy, and dispose of an object without restriction. Property includes the right to exclude others from using the object. The object in question, by the way, might be real estate, or it might be a bicycle.

At any rate, the idea of property implies control by the owner.

There are, however, always those persons who fail to respect the property rights of others. Thieves, for example, take what they want without regard to ownership. Governments, via taxation, do essentially the same thing.

As do special interest groups in unlimited democracy. Like the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

As the Washington Post reports, this special interest group, and its chairwoman Martha Burk, is upset that none of the 300 members of Augusta National golf club are females.

Ms. Burk is reported as stating that her special interest group is "making a good-faith effort to urge the club to be fair, to not discriminate against women and basically to come into the 21st century."

Memo to Ms. Burk: the right of property includes the right to exclude. Augusta National, as a private club, is not required to allow you, or anyone else, to become a member.

Taken to its logical conclusion, Ms. Burk’s position would destroy even the existence of women’s groups. Logically, the National Council of Women’s Organizations cannot exclude men if Augusta National cannot exclude women. And there is then nothing to prevent enough Polish-American war veterans joining the NCWO and turning it into a Polish-American war veteran’s organization.

Which could then be overwhelmed by any other group with more members.

You get the idea.

Ms. Burk, unfortunately, does not. The alternative is that Ms. 21st Century does not respect the notion of private property. Her declared intention, should Augusta not accede to her demands, is to ask sponsors to boycott the Masters tournament.

It is not Augusta National which needs to "come into the 21st century." As Friedrich Hayek observes, the development of modern civilization was made possible by the recognition of the idea of property.

It is Martha Burk and the National Council of Women’s Organizations who need to advance from their primitive, tribal disrespect of property.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2002 David Dieteman

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