Synonyms Across Disciplines: Free Riding, Involuntary Transfer, Discounting, Theft – But Morally It’s All Just ‘theft’

[M]urder, violence, destruction, theft by physical appropriation, theft by fraud, theft by fraud using omission, free riding, privatization of commons, socialization of losses, conspiracy, invasion, conquest – all deprive others of that which they have acted to obtain an interest in, against their will. ie: theft – the taking of that which is not obtained by voluntary exchange or first-use.

Humans reject, universally, and punish, universally, “theft”. But when we talk about ‘theft’, each discipline uses slightly different language

    1) In legal terms resolvable under the common law, the word we use for involuntary transfer is ‘theft’. That is the most general categorical name we have available to us.

    2) Now, the PROBLEM that arises with cooperation is called ‘free riding’. The “problem of free riding’ is how it is discussed in the literature. In the context of social science, and in the context of economics, the term ‘free riding’ refers to that category of involuntary transfers (thefts).

    3) In moral philosophy we must identify first causes. I have borrowed the term ‘involuntary transfer’ from law, in which title is forcibly transferred by the state without consent of its owner. This was the most general and unloaded term I could find. (I should note that Jan Lester uses ‘forced costs” or something of that nature, for the same purpose.)

[I] do not need to get into a semantic debate on normative terminology. I need only define my terms. “Free riding” is the broadest category I can use in the context of cooperation. While “involuntary transfer” is the broadest categorical term I can use in the context of moral philosophy. And “theft” is the broadest categorical term that I can use in the context of dispute resolution (law).

However, whether talking about cooperation (free riding), morality (involuntary transfer), or dispute resolution (theft), the human action they all refer to, is that act which transfers that which one has acted to accumulate or acquire without his informed consent.


Leave a Reply