A Bit On Self Ownership

by Ron Burkham

The simple explanation of self ownership is that every person has the moral right to control their own body and life. This logically includes your labor and the fruit of your labor, since those things come from your self. The concept is called, by some, the Sovereign Individual. The only legitimate means of transferring your “self” is through voluntary transactions. You can make a gift of your self or you can trade your self. This only makes sense and very few people would deny it.

It could be argued that slavery (the state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household) and involuntary servitude (a condition of compulsory service or labor performed by one person, against his will, for the benefit of another person due to force, threats, intimidation or other similar means of coercion and compulsion directed against him) are the same thing. The minor difference being that as a slave you are property and under involuntary servitude you are not. Both, however, are contrary to the idea of self ownership. The only legitimate means of acquiring someone’s labor or fruit of someone’s labor is through voluntary transaction. To be truly free, you must retain self ownership.

So, what’s the big deal? Everyone owns themselves; we did away with slavery, right? We did and we didn’t. I can think of a few examples that, if we follow the line of thought that leads us to believe in self ownership, would fall short. Lets look at some of them.

Income Taxes

To me this is the most prominent and easily identifiable area were self ownership is thrown out the window.

I know what some of you are already thinking. “Oh no, here it goes. The old rant that taxes are theft. Social programs are evil. Blah blah blah, heard it all before.” Well, you may be right. You may have heard it all before, but please bear with me. What I want to point out is that to maintain a consistent principle, sometimes we have to accept facts that we don’t agree with. If you don’t believe in self ownership, what are the other rights you are giving up? What things do we give up when we say there are instances were self ownership takes second stage to others rights or needs? Lets go over some other things and I will get back to taxation in a little bit.


Here is the big “A” word. Here is one of the things that seem to grip US politics. The principle of self ownership says that a person has the complete moral right to their own bodies. That includes the right to say who can and can’t use your body. Some people would argue that the principle of self ownership doesn’t apply in this way to a fetus. They will say that the act of intercourse is giving the fetus permission to reside inside the woman’s womb. To me that idea is ludicrous. It seems like saying, “The act of putting a gate in your fence means anyone can camp in your yard.” Since everyone has the right to self ownership, the idea that a fetus has the right to exist inside another person can’t be justified. I will talk more about abortion at a later date. Lets move on for now though.

Drug Prohibitions

It isn’t hard to convince most people that marijuana should be legal. After years of study, it looks like the beneficial effects on health and well being far outweigh any possible detrimental effects on the body. But what about other drugs? Drugs people consider to be hard drugs, like heroin and cocaine? Well, what are the effects on the people other than the user? If they rob someone, we have laws against that. If they kill someone, we have laws against that. Really, the idea of self ownership is that anyone can do anything they like as long as they aren’t interfering with the rights of others. I see no reason that someone using drugs is any of my business, unless they violate my right to self ownership (since all valid rights come from self ownership) in some way. And like Thomas Jefferson said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

So Back To Taxes

If I have the right to self ownership, to my property and the fruits of my labor, how can taxation on my income be anything other than;

a.) Theft by the government
b.) Involuntary servitude

I think the answer is, they can’t. And by extension, programs that are funded by that taxation are exploitation. Can we really, in a civilized society, excuse that type of action by our government? I know I can’t.


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