Property and Ownership

President Obama recently touted the epitome of distributive justice. President Obama declared that,

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

The reason why this is so important is because it has serious implications for how we, as a people, perceive of property rights -and more importantly, the justification of being able to have property rights.

Obama’s tune is monotone, at best; we have heard the same melody before. Elizabeth Warren declared the following,

there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You build a factory out there, good for you, but I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers that the rest of us paid to educate.

What is the basic philosophical idea at play here? Well, it deals with the nature of property and the implications that property has on the individual and society at large. There are two issues that will be subject to our evaluation; first, ownership and the corresponding elements of justice and market efficiency; and second, the issue of fairness in justice and the potential negative consequences that may actualize for large segments of society.

The theories of property are both complex and vague. I mean, have you ever thought about why we own property? Or, more significantly, how we are able to own it (how we are justified)? Some philosphers (such as David Hume [1739] 1888, pp. 484–98)) have suggested that property only makes sense under conditions of scarcity and that the corresponding relations that are created under the conventions of free agents, establish and fortify this necessity. One possible problem with this view is that there are things that do not fall under the guise of scarcity; things like intellectual property, or owning certain complex financial tools when altered by no time constraints -however, those things can be said to fall under the set of “property.”

Others have argued, following Hume’s lead, that it all comes down to some-type of economic and social conflict resolution-generating system. That is, that a society needs to, or has an interest in, avoiding conflict and systems that create outcomes that are less than desirable (this could be efficiency, equality, etc…). With situations of conflict, cooperation, production, and exchange are virtually impossible; so, the necessity of a convention that automatically resolves such conflict is the establishment of private property norms (Benn and Peters 1959, p. 155). This view has its weaknesses, because all it establishes is that there ought to be some rules -not necessarily private property. Indeed, several human societies have existed for millennia without the need for anything akin to modern property laws. The argument, however, that I would make to support Benn and Peters is that private property is the most efficient system possible and the only self-directing automatic system that can be created with respect to individual perception and action — assuming the existence of randomness (more on this later).

Before proceeding, a distinction must be made regarding the types of property that exists. The types of property that exists include: private, collective, and common property. In a common property system, resources are governed by rules that ensure the consistent availability and use by all or any members of the entity that possesses the property. A tract of common land, for example, may be used by everyone in a community for grazing cattle or gathering food, but it can exclude others who do not meet the criteria or are not part of the controlling entity.  Collective property is a very different. Here, the community as a whole, determines how important resources are to be used. These determinations are made on the basis of the social interest through mechanisms of collective decision-making  —anything from a leisurely debate among the elders of a tribe to the forming and implementing of a Soviet-style ‘Five-Year Plan’ is included in the set of collective property ( Waldron 2012).

Some philosophers and historians point out that private property is a relatively new system and that it still relies on a vast and secure set of social rules. The owner of capital is still subject to both the usability permissions granted him by society, and the protections given him by society. So, property owners, in many instances, are free to own property but they cannot often do whatever they want with it. Also, if a property owner’s resources are under siege, he can request the assistance of the police free of charge for the protection of his property! Obviously, there is a point to be had here. Some anarcholibertarians would merely point out that the police should be paid by the land owner in question, but that would open up the door to a whole slew of incentives where the poor may become mere chattel to be trampled under the feet of the rich and powerful. The fact that society is essential for the propagation of property rights both in how the rights are structured and how the rights are preserved creates a philosophical divide amid absolute ownership and conditional ownership (i.e. rents).

It is also important to be aware of the fact that property and collective influence is not all or nothing. As previously explained, in a modern society there are common property rules that transcend even the most free market society; these rules allow society to benefit in immense ways -consider a park or a road, for example.  There is also collective property that has special rules excluding members of society whom do have a interest in the property (e.g. military bases), yet the people still benefit from it.

The previous two paragraphs form the standard justification upon which  Mr. Obama and others rely. That is, that private property is not absolute anyway, and that the positive externalities create incentives and systems that are necessary to a efficient, happy, and free society (I am sure that equality is also included as a “good” incentive).  To decompose the structure of contingent ownership, we need to evaluate what are the  theoretical justifications. The view that society has contributed a collective effort to ensure that that various conditions are conducive to the ability for individuals to possess objects, have rights to their inventions, or sell a good that they have produced, relies on what I call the “Inverted Lock” and the argument from Rawls.

The Inverted Lock (derived from John Lock’s theory of property) holds that society has a share of ownership in all goods produced within that society given that society has, directly or indirectly, mixed their labor with the various system and structures that directly give rise to other forms of property.

The position held by John Rawls entails that we should not be concerned so much about ownership of property but the aspects of justice that attach themselves to how property effects those who are the least well-off. Furthermore,  the advantages to those who profit from private ownership outweigh the costs to the underclass in many instances. The total amount of suffering, the high level of poverty, and the economic/political problems associated with the exploitation of the underclass calls into question the necessity for institutions to protect or allow for private ownership of property.

In response to the justification by Rawls, if we take the individual rather than a notional entity like ‘the social good’ as the focal point of moral justification, then there ought to be something we can say to each individual why the institution we are defending is worthy of her support. Otherwise it is not at all clear why she should be expected to observe its rules (except when we have the power and the numbers to compel her to do so). Additionally, as an aspect of justice, the incentives that are commonly created under a system of centralized ownership or conditional ownership of property, allow for tyrannical exploitation of resources, poverty, and market inefficiencies. In fact, history has largely demonstrated that the power structures present in the government tend to exploit collective systems rather than compliment them. The consequential argument that the harm done to the underclass by private property warrants its removal or regulation, is largely false. Since more countries have adopted free market and private property systems, the level of income for all classes is higher, the standard of living is significantly higher, the innovation level is leaps and bounds ahead of competing systems, the productivity of such a society is progressive, average life expectancy is higher, and, as Milton Friedman pointed out, the level of political freedom is significantly higher -thus, the ability to alter the rules that dictate the use of property is rendered null. Obviously, the consequentialist must be concerned about these points (in fact, when considering the political implicates and such, it seem fairly obvious that a system that abolishes private property is less preferable than one that may pose the risk of unfairness). If private property involves the wiser and more efficient use of resources, it is because someone has exercised virtues of prudence, industry, and self-restraint. People who languish in poverty, on this account, do so largely because of their idleness, profligacy or want of initiative. Now, theories like this are easily discredited if they purport to justify the actual distribution of wealth under an existing private property economy (Nozick 1974, pp. 158–9; Hayek 1976).

In considering the Inverted Lock, it is interesting to see how proponents of free market principles usually point to Lock in justifying private property (recall that Lock felt that as an extension of self-ownership, one may own something by possession, and the integrating of labor in with the object owned). However, the question that must be answered for this argument to hold waters is: can someone own something merely by having inspired or contributed to its actualization? Or, maybe, does indirect labor in terms of inspiration, contribution, or protection entail ownership under the lockean principle? It appears that it does, yet to a very limited extent. The first part of Locke’s philosophy involves individuals satisfying their needs out of the common largesse in this virtuous and self-reliant way. The second part involves their exchanging surplus goods that they have appropriated with one another; rather than saying that such surpluses lapse back into the common heritage, Locke allows individuals to acquire, grow, or make more than they can use so that markets become possible and prosperity general (Lock 1689, II, paras. 46–51). With markets and prosperity, however, comes inequality, avarice and envy, and the third and last stage of Locke’s account is the institution of government to protect the property rights that have grown up in this way (ibid., II, paras. 123 ff.)So, it appears that Lock would claim that government protection and contribution by way of infrastructure only protects the right of individuals to fulfill their fundamental duty of self-preservation.  Government cannot hold the right of self preservation given that government is a mere amalgamation of people and systems.

There is another issue to be had here. The claim that others can own parts of something given that someone had done something to contribute to the creation of someone else’s property, establishes a risky regression argument. First, were this true, then no direct ownership of anything is possible regardless of the system created -this is because the system would be prosaic and terminally weak in bother enforcement and economic incentives.  The regression disallows any system to be established within the context of ownership; even collective ownership requires that a line of demarcation be drawn for things like: control, transfer and, benefit is derived from the object in question. This problem renders collective ownership null and contingent upon the actions of  all others forever in time.

The next point of contention deals with the fact that private ownership is not absolute and that it requires collective participation. Hume touches on this subject,

I observe, that it will be for my interest to leave another in the possession of his goods, provided he will act in the same manner with regard to me. He is sensible of a like interest in the regulation of his conduct. When this common sense of interest is mutually express’d, and is known to both, it produces a suitable resolution and behaviour… (Hume 1978 [1739], p. 490).

This brings me to my final conclusion. In connection with Hume and Smith, I would argue that  private property meets the necessary and sufficient conditions of efficiency. Mainly, that a system of private ownership allows for “Pareto-improvement” by ensuring that resource use is allocated to its maximal potential and that waste, poverty, and environmental destruction are natural and marginally acceptable predicaments. The negative consequences of these ‘predicaments’ are necessary to the stabilization and direction of the system -the system actually, given that it is automatic, benefits form the negative externalities and spillovers (stabilizers).

It is important to note that the reason for why a system of private property creates ‘Pareto-improvement’ lies in our nature. The inherent self-interest that drives men to seek resources for his betterment, well-being, and pride ensure that strife and contention of goods will always persist. To mitigate such strife, as Hume and Peters theorized, we establish systems that tend to progress toward optimization of conventions and coordination. This falls in line with the economic calculation problem: Is a given ton of coal better used to generate electricity which will in turn be used to refine aluminum for manufacturing cooking pots or aircraft, or to produce steel which can be used to build railway trucks, which may in turn be used to transport either cattle feed or bauxite from one place to another? In most economies there are hundreds of thousands of distinct factors of production, and it has proved impossible for efficient decisions about their allocation to be made by central agencies acting in the name of the community and charged with overseeing the economy as a whole. In actually, existing socialist societies, central planning turned out to be a way of ensuring economic paralysis, inefficiency and waste (Mises 1951). In market economies, decisions like these are made on a decentralized basis by thousands of individuals and firms responding to price signals, each seeking to maximize profits from the use of the productive resources under its control, and such a system often works efficiently. Such efficiency is seen only in decentralized and privatized markets; this is because private markets provide a mechanism through which human selfishness and rapaciousness is naturally allocated. The allocation in question, establishes strong incentives to play by rules and to produce, innovate, and act morally in a way that creates conditions that provide for a future or immediate payoff.


Do Spiritual Experiences Provide Evidence of God?

This post is a reponse to a very nice blog post by a friend. You can find it here.

When one speaks of “spiritual experiences” or “religious experiences” what comes to mind? Often we discount religious experience as nothing more that excessive emotional rambling, mysticism, ritualism, or blatant lies that reinforce a false hope. I don’t particularly buy these claims, but they do act as the standard dismissal for most atheists or a-theologians.

In the aforementioned blog article, the author discusses these claims generally by pointing out several issues that he has with religious experience, and its seemingly non-justified position among the dictums of proof.

His points are as follows:


Religious experiences tend to be culturally specific and socially influenced. Most people’s religious experiences tend to lead them to believe in either the religion they were raised in, or the religion of their friends. Our feelings in general tend to be strongly influenced by our peers, and religious feelings seem to be the same.

This is reasonable and acceptable. I think there is little debate to be had about the claim that human interaction and belief structures are strongly influenced by association, but how does this not provide evidence for the existence of God? Is it possible that the only way to come to a personal knowledge of God’s existence may be via some type of person-specific reality? I mean, given that God may exist outside of our observable universe or (as I hold) that we are likely to exist in some type of Turing-type world that is largely digital, personal experience may be the only way to adequately transcend the bounds of the observable world or create a nexus amid our reality and that of God’s. Additionally, you can really never know if the experience a person is having is not some type of Gettier-like situation that just happens to be correct -which, while by accident, the person does have of evidence.

I would also call upon the works of Joseph Campbell and his comparative mythologies. He was able to demonstrate that mythologies and religion do map to common elements: things like eternal life, Deity, and other supernatural conditions [1]. So, if all religious experence are rooted in a set of basic common elements, is it not possible that maybe those things are similar to any other type of basic truth or trivial piece of scientific evidence? Arguably, it would seem as such.


Religious experiences often contradict each other. If you think one religion is right, you have to admit that most people’s religious experiences lead them to the wrong conclusion. Even people who have been exposed to the “right” religion have experiences that lead them to other religions.

They may contradict each other in their particulars, but not necessarily in their basic components (as I pointed out in the previous response). However, can science and the observations of well trained men not do the same? Having spent time working as a researcher, I can say with certainty that scientific experience -and any experience, in general- is subject to the same criticism that is being leveled here. Indeed, many mathematical theories have generated fierce debate and dogmatic followings, scientific systems have also claimed to be the only and most explanatory system of a subset or part of some observable phenomena while all the others are not. This criticism is a problem for mankind -a fallible creature who fancies his observations and feelings to be tantamount to the truth and beauty found in a mathematical proof.


Memories change over time. Powerful religious experiences are often not recorded clearly and specifically until long after they’ve occurred. Especially when a story is retold several times, its main points tend to be increasingly emphasized and then exaggerated over time. The memory itself will change accordingly

So what? I mean, I don’t think this objection differs from the last one. It still relies on fragility, which runs the gamut in science and any system that requires some type of consistent dogma or testability (the sad thing is that in science and other “testable” studies, they just falsify data or twist it to where it does not need to change as per it is always a lie). Again fallibility does not mean that the experience that was actualized in the first instance was not an actual representation of some proof or personally-derived evidence for God.


Confirmation Bias causes us to remember the experiences that confirm our beliefs. We tend to forget all the times we prayed or “had impressions” and nothing remarkable happened. We also go through so many experiences, that what seem like amazing coincidences are actually very likely to occur occasionally. If those seemingly amazing coincidences confirm our beliefs in some way, you can bet that story will be remembered and shared.

Psychologists have long proven that the tenants of confirmation bias extend into virtually every facet of human thought. Scientists, and the layman, are both subject to this vexing characteristic of the human mind. Professors defend, until their last breath, outmoded philosophical systems, archaic scientific theories, or even things that are contradicted. This is not a problem that would remove any evidence derived from experiences that we might have. This is especially true given that since all religious experience is a particular type of empirical observation, the truth value of those observations is not directly knowable to those who could not have participated in the experience. Thus, it follows, that levying any criticism against an experience by labeling it as confirmation bias may just as well apply to the critic as well as the criticized, and the result is an unwarranted and unfruitful deduction that leads to a dead-end.


Even very spiritual people are often wrong. Even blessings from Apostles sometimes do not come to pass.

Its not about being right as it is about proof. People can be wrong in instances, and that does not mean that the general conclusion that is their faith, is equally wrong. If that were true, then I don’t know how we could read any book on physics and remain confident that basic theories like gravitational forces exist. This is irrelevant from the point of the article.

The conclusion:

All of this is to say that spiritual experiences are not surprising. In order for evidence to provide strong confirmation of a theory, the evidence must be different than what we would otherwise expect. Given what we know about human psychology, most spiritual experiences do not meet this standard, and hence do not provide strong confirmation of either the Gospel of the existence of God. I conclude that religious experiences, although powerful, are not reliable guides to truth. I am all for seeking after and having spiritual experiences in our lives, and I try to nurture myself spiritually (meaning mentally and emotionally) as well. But when determining the nature of physical reality, I think that reliable, repeatable, and verifiable evidence should definitely have precedence.

The second sentence of this conclusion is false. Why would a theory have to be subject to alternate expectations in order to be confirmable? That is not a necessary condition for confirmability in any regard. We can have expectations that some outcome X possess properties Y; we could even test X to get Y, and this would not effect confirmability. Actually, a theory has to have the following conditions to warrant it as true (and confirmable): A theory must exhibit consistency (it cannot cause contradictions in other theories upon which it relies), theories must be testable either empirically or rationally, and a theory must be logically possible. Spiritual experiences may not in their particular accounts meet any rigorous definition of theory, but their general implication may. That is not to say that particular instances of experiential claims are not important, it just means that they may be outside testability or may be subject to human fragilities and, thus, are unable to meet certain standard due to explanatory barriers. However, that does not defraud or remove them from being types of evidence -even if the degree is low.

The declaration at the end, “But when determining the nature of physical reality, I think that reliable, repeatable, and verifiable evidence should definitely have precedence” makes a nice point. Indeed, I think that no theist would debate this, for I am confident that a theist would argue that the physical reality with which this author is dealing is limited to the observable universe only. He would have to agree that his perceptions cause that reliability holds only the the limits of what it is that he senses, wants, and can physically test; he would have to assent to the claim that the Problem of Induction renders repetition in testing nothing more than a game of Russian Roulette with respect to verifiability and truth generation. Not to mention the large amount of faith that one must have in the physical extensions of mankind.

We know that the observable universe is not all there is. We know by way of basic mathematics that dimensions exist, in vast complexity, outside of our ability to directly experience them. The same system of mathematics which has proved this and provided the language scientists use on a daily basis has also proven logically that there must be a world among all possible dimensions in which a being that possesses all potentials exists. Moreover, by probability theory the chances that all things that we witness and perceive of were the act of pure random outcomes is so small that, when speaking of rationality, I have better odds of believing that a unicorn will bring me a leprechaun who will grant me three wishes while I feast in Valhalla with Odin on a six-sided square table.

[1] Written between 1962 and 1968, Campbell’s four-volume work The Masks of God covers mythology from around the world, from ancient to modern. Where The Hero with a Thousand Faces focused on the commonality of mythology (the “elementary ideas”), the Masks of God books focus upon historical and cultural variations the monomyth takes on (the “folk ideas”). In other words, where The Hero with a Thousand Faces draws perhaps more from psychology, the Masks of God books draw more from anthropology and history. Campbell also expounds on common elements of symbolism and belief structures present in virtually every culture and religious system dating back to the ancient world.

The Fear of Death

The fear of death is merely fear of the unknown, but on a larger scale. The natural reaction to the unknown is to irrationally over anticipate undesired outcomes; this tendency has consumed atheists by blinding them to the alternatives that are more probable, and far more reasonable. 

Fairness, Equality, and Russian Roulette


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I usually tend to be quite exhausted following my work at night, and to compound my fatigue, I usually put myself to work finishing some remodeling or cleaning; once I am done with that, I usually start an hour or so of study. I often end with a light news reading at the end of the night. While finishing my studying, I turned to an article on my Ipad and found something interesting. The article was on Autism, and a link can be found here

In sum, the article discusses some trivial data regarding economic potential and Autism. The main point of the article was to show how being rich and educated, or having more resources, lead to better performance for children with Autism. The article makes no effort to gloss over the contrapositive: that the poor tend to do far worse than the rich. In fact, one specific statement made in the article hit me as particularly moving, “…being poor is bad for you. It’s that simple. And it’s not fair. Especially when you are a kid.” 

Why do we think this?  Why do certain writers, researchers, and political leaders think that this is not fair? When discussing fairness, we usually are dealing with conditions that can be controlled. For example, children know when something is unfair merely by verifying a bias -intentional or unintentional- committed by someone else that is acting  with respect to them or others. The quintessential example involves a parent breaking a cookie in half. The children may know that one half is not equal to the other and, often, become resentful that the parts were not equal. Later in life, we learn that conditions in the world do not favor equality. Sadly, however, we are also often indoctrinated to believe that certain adverse conditions or the suffering that people experience because of these conditions, are the result of some god, or some force that is outside us. This, then, transfers our resentment to a mystical conception of reality -be it god or whatever is said to be responsible for the inherent wrongs that take place in the world around us. The transferal of our resentment on the holder of these conditions also, I believe, maps our ideals of fairness as well. This is truly unfortunate, for it is not a correct description because the mapping of one’s own resentment and ideas of fairness and equality to the actions of some possible agent is foolish. We cannot hold possible things morally responsible. 

The previous conception describing how some people may unknowingly and ignorantly ridicule the natural conditions of the world as unfair given that some being has done so, is only a problem for those who tend to hold some religious belief. Even then, however, it is not a fair description in the slightest, but that does not rule out the point under consideration. Since we cannot hold possible beings morally responsible for conditions, we cannot hold conditions themselves morally responsible. This is trivial, for moral responsibility only applies to things that can be moral, and the natural functioning of the world is not, by definition, a moral agent. So, when we see children dying, people in pain, and all types of unfortunate occurrences happening around us, we cannot say that it is not fair. We cannot even qualify it as good or bad. I, personally, feel that those who are not religious or were raised in secular households tend to map their resentment on society for not preventing the bad conditions from taking hold.

The problem of fairness is greatly exacerbated when dealing with moral action, or conditions that are controllable by human action. Nonetheless, human action is not above the system; it is by-no-means external to the dictates of nature. There are basic economic laws that determine how conditions will play out, and those conditions determine how people will live their lives.  Among these basic laws is human behavior. We cannot change, regardless of our hopes, how people will act. We cannot, regardless of our wished, create a system in which perfect cooperations obtained –indeed, it is not even rational to have such a system (I am referring the the Nash Equilibrium here). Betrayal and moral havoc are facts of life. They are essential characteristics to free (or seemingly free) agents that are merely attempting, in the own right, to procure time and space for themselves. The characteristics are the reason why no political system, no religion, no morality, and no ideal has been able to purge the world of suffering, crime, injustice, and poverty. Thus, inequality is a fact of life. It is byproduct of interaction and the thinking of finite agents with limited empirical and rational faculties. It cannot be repaired, amended, or cured by way of policy or controls -for all you are doing is limiting someone’s action and thus making them less equal to he who sets the prohibition, or you are creating conditions which incentivize black  market creations and/or proliferation.

Basically, life is a game of Russian Roulette in the physical world, and a game of strategy in the moral world. The strategy is always being played with the intent to betray or to -at least- ensure that one’s own values are actualized by one’s self this leads to cases of unfairness, but like blaming nature, we cannot blame the conglomerate outcome of non-coercive human action as responsible for economic inequality. If we do attempt to blame society or some system of society for being morally wrong, we are merely blaming some set of conditions are, thus, we run afoul of the same type of foolishness discussed prior.

I feel this is where liberals have made a mistake. They tend to case moral stones toward objects that are either not acting morally suspect, or toward things that cannot be morally accountable. In the case of fairness and equality, liberals tend to point out that some small group of rich men are playing cards with the poor people’s lives, but they tend to ignore the simpler answer: that is the product of exchange and modern economic action. 

We should, then, remove moral terms that attempt to paint an economic or natural condition as bad or good; fair or unfair; equal or unequal. It would do us well to merely step over some of the envy and reactionism by looking at the incentives and conditions formally with firm footing in logic. 


The Malthusian Redux, a Failure to Reason

Recently there has been much talk about resource scarcity, population growth, and environmental degradation; the extent of the standard conversation ranges along the lines of perceived problems and limitations. So, people will often say things like: the price of oil is going up because there is less oil, or they will often complain about the blight of poverty increasing given that there are too many poor people, the rich are consuming to much, or that there are not sufficient natural resources. People who engage such ideas usually succumb to immediate and intellectually myopic solutions that take the course of pithy economic reasoning. Some of these solutions involve pointing out the fact that given consumption and distribution problems related to a perceived population increase, we should limit births, or that we should ensure some type of distribution system to slow down the income differentials in such a way so as to create social and economic equality.

These solutions and considerations are not new. Indeed, since about the 1820’s talk of  population excess was already running swiftly through political economy and philosophy.  Thomas Robert Malthus’  famous treatise, An Essay on the Principle of Populationargued that the dangers of population growth would preclude endless progress towards a utopian society: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. Malthus wrote several editions of his work (six editions if memory serves me). Malthus attempted to update and respond to the many criticisms of his position; the most prophetic and, perhaps powerful, response that Malthus exhibited was his point regarding the enviable limitation of war, physical allments, and poor distribution systems. His exact point is seemingly  poignant:

The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world

My purpose of writing this post is not to provide an analysis of Malthusian thought in general, but to respond to what I call “neomalthusianism”. If you want a glimpse into neomaltusianism take a look here.

The two basic propostions that neomalthusians take up are as follows:

1) There is a a limit to economic growth. This limit is achieved largely by excess and over-consumption of natural resources.

2) Population overgrowth will eventually outpace technology and, thus, cause famine and pestilence.

Regardless of the metaphysics associated with limited resources and exponential growth,  the malthusian world view is problematic given that (2) fails to account for how technology advances and that the human mind is, in-and-of-itself, a resource of infinite potential and capacity. For example, Marx and Engles predicted that science would solve the problem of an inadequate food supply by altering growing conditions, energy availability, and distribution inefficiencies; we see that Marx and Engles got the general idea correct: the mind can create solutions for any economic problem. Basically, to solve any serious economic problem, we need the most valuable resource of all: human  minds. The solution-generating ability of the sciences and abstractions of the philosophers are only possible with the continued proliferation of more human minds.

Additionally, the neomalthusian ignores supporting empirical evidence for increased population influencing how fast and in what way science advances. Indeed, Ester Boserup wrote in her book The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure, that population levels determine agricultural methods, rather than agricultural methods determining population (via food supply). A major point of her book is that “necessity is the mother of invention”. Ester’s point is extremely important because it demonstrates how innovation tends to actualize itself. Innovation is conditional, it depends upon a set of circumstances that drive necessity. This ‘necessity’ is the main claim behind Nassim Taleb’s recent conception of market fragility, in which the market is to be considered an anti-fragile object such that when it breaks, it strengthens -or, think of the clasasical Nietzschen conception of, “what does not destroy me, only makes me stronger”. So, even if we had exponential growth, and no natural celling (holding capacities) or Batman-like Gradient, we would merely become more motivated , as a species and as individuals, to innovate and evolve.

Neomathusaism also ignores some basic economic facts: incentives effect behavior. Case in point, Julian Simon one of the many economists who has challenged the Malthusian catastrophe, cites that there are two conditions that cause (1) to fail; first, the existence of new knowledge, and educated people to take advantage of it, and second,  “economic freedom”, that is, the ability of the world to increase production when there is a profitable opportunity to do so. It is important to note that profitability is a product of human action, it moves with consumers; nix the consumers (and producers), you nix the profit motive and some of the innovation incentive. You add to the pool of possible consumers, you increase the incentives, and thus the possible innovations that may come to fruition. Now, in conjunction with Julian Simion’s point, it behooves us to address the common soapbox of “the free markets causes a malthusian catastrophe”. First, the free market, or the market being liberalized, has caused more wealth and better standards of living for the greatest number of people than any other human event since the birth of fire.

There is no good reason to fall back on the malthusian crux. His theory has been, and will continue to be, defeated and proven false by the actions of free men. I think Tolstoy had it right when he exclaimed:

It would seem as though they were scientific deductions, which had nothing in common with the instincts of the masses. But this can only appear so for the man who believes that science, like the Church, is something self contained, liable to no errors, and not simply the imaginings of weak and erring folk, who merely substitute the imposing word ‘science,’ in place for the thoughts and words of people, for the sake of impressiveness.