Of late I’ve begun to realize how amazingly insightful David Hume was on several important issues:
- Hume recognized the importance of scarcity in the definition of what property is. Austro-libertarian political philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe relies heavily on this aspect of property in chs. 1-2 of A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, far more explicitly than previous political theorists. Even Rothbard and Mises did not focus as intensely on this crucial issue. (See my post Hume on Intellectual Property and the Problematic “Labor” Metaphor.) (( See also Wendy McElroy on Benjamin Tucker: “Tucker, however, asked the question in more fundamental terms; he asked why the concept of property existed at all. What was there in the nature of man and of reality that made such a concept necessary? He postulated that property arose as a means of solving conflicts caused by scarcity. Since all goods are scarce, there is competition for their use. Since the same chair cannot be used at the same time and in the same manner by two people, it becomes necessary to determine who should use the chair. Property arose as an answer to this question. “If it were possible,” Tucker wrote, “and if it has always been possible, for an unlimited number of individuals to use to an unlimited extent and in an unlimited number of places the same concrete thing at the same time, there would never have been any such thing as the institution of property.””
- Hume recognized that Locke’s use of “labor” in his homesteading argument was really just figurative and that no assumption of labor-ownership is needed for Locke’s homesteading argument to work. Without the Lockean labor confusion, much of the intellectual case for IP evaporates (and we might have avoided the spread of the labor theory of value that infects Smithian economics and Marxism). (See my post Hume on Intellectual Property and the Problematic “Labor” Metaphor.)
- His recognition of the is-ought gap. Writes Hans-Hermann Hoppe: “one can readily subscribe to the almost generally accepted view that the gulf between ‘ought’ and ‘is’ is logically unbridgeable.” (A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, p. 163.)
- His explanation that the state is able to maintain power only because most people give it their tacit support. (See Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, p. 179.)
- His insight that any supply of money is optimal, also a key Austrian insight. (See Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p. 194; Block & Barnett, On the Optimum Quantity of Money.)
- His realization that you could never empirically observe causation. As Hoppe writes, citing Hume: “there exists no ‘band’ that one could observe to connect visibly certain variables as causes and effects.” (A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, p. 124; see also The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, pp. 289, 298.)
Update: See also Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s brief discussion of Hume in the video clip below.