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The Problem of Social Order

Alone on his island, Robinson Crusoe can do whatever he pleases. For him, the question concerning rules of orderly human conduct – social cooperation – simply does not arise. This question can only arise once a second person, Friday, arrives on the island. Yet even then, the question remains largely irrelevant so long as no scarcity exists. Suppose the island is the Garden of Eden. All external goods are available in superabundance. They are "free goods," just as the air that we breathe is normally a "free" good. Whatever Crusoe does with these goods, his actions have no repercussions – neither with respect to his own future supply of such goods nor regarding the present or future supply of the same goods for Friday (and vice versa). Hence, it is impossible that a conflict concerning the use of such goods can arise between Crusoe and Friday. A conflict is possible only, if goods are scarce; and only then is there a need to formulate rules that make orderly, conflict-free social cooperation possible.

In the Garden of Eden only two scarce goods exist: a person’s physical body and its standing room. Crusoe and Friday each have only one body and can stand only at one place at a time. Hence, even in the Garden of Eden conflicts between Crusoe and Friday can arise: Crusoe and Friday cannot occupy the same standing room simultaneously without coming into physical conflict with each other. Accordingly, even in the Garden of Eden rules of orderly social conduct must exist – rules regarding the proper location and movement of human bodies. Outside the Garden of Eden, in the realm of all-around scarcity, there must be rules that regulate the use not only of personal bodies, but of everything scarce, such that all possible conflicts can be ruled out. This is the problem of social order.

The Solution: The Idea of Private Property

In the history of social and political thought, myriad proposals have been offered as solutions to the problem of social order, and this multitude of mutually incompatible proposals has contributed to the widespread belief that the search for a single "correct" solution is futile and illusory. Yet a correct solution does exist. There is no reason to succumb to moral relativism. Indeed, the solution to the problem of social order has been known for hundreds of years. The solution is the idea of private property.

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