Salrep Essay, Research Paper
1. Essentially, two positions have been put forward regarding thecorrect libertarian attitude toward public property. a. There is the view put forward by Salerno, Hoppe, and others thatso long as public property exists, the de facto controller of theproperty (I can’t tell who this is — the state, the majority, themost local unit of government have all been suggested) can andmay prescribe rules for the use of that property just as if the de factoowner were the legitimate owner. b. The view I have put forward, which is that public property shouldbe treated as unowned property in a state of nature. Hence, the onlyrules that apply are the same rules that apply in a state of nature:people may not aggress against other people; may not take theirlegitimate property; and may not stop them from homesteading unownedproperty. The argument against my view, so far as I can tell, is simply thatit would lead to chaos. People would quit wearing clothes, tryto sell soccer balls on the NJ Turnpike, etc. I answer that… i. For standard coordination game reasons, most such bizarre usesof public property are highly unlikely. No one will set up tents onthe Turnpike because they would get run over. Most people won’t runaround nude because they would be embarassed. (The latter is subjectto empirical proof — in Berkeley the failure of the city to arrestthe Naked Guy did not lead to a breakdown in the wearing of clothes,even among drugged-out Berkeley residents.) ii. Moreover, you are merely pointing out the negative effects ofrespecting people’s right to use unowned property in bizarre ways. But why should the negative effects have any bearing upon their rightto do so? It has no more relevence from a rights-based perspective thanthe negative effects of promoting illegitimacy. iii. Finally, strictly adhering to my view would have the effectof making privatization vastly more attractive. You, in contrast,seem to want to do everything possible to make public ownership “work.”I see nothing nihilistic in wanting to see illegitimate methods ofownership become very unattractive to everyone. It would only benihilism if I wanted to see legitimate methods of ownership becomeunattractive, which I do not want to do. My argument against the “de facto owner can treat public property likeprivate property” is rather stronger than the worry that nudists willrun amuck. My argument is that your principle would justify everyand all acts of state intervention which ever occurred and ever willoccur. In short, your argument is compatible with (although it doesnot necessarily imply the advocacy of) the most hellish forms oftotalitarianism which can be imagined. For example… i. The Nazi Party, the de facto owners of Germany’s streets,declares that Jews may not travel on German streets, nor enterGerman airports, nor German ports. Nor may anyone travelling on
Germany’s roads, airports, or ports do so with the intent of supplyinggoods to Jews. Your principle thus gives the Nazi Party a foolproofmeans of starving all Jews to death. ii. The government of the U.S., the de facto owners of the streetsof the U.S., declares that no libertarian may use the streets, exceptfor the purpose of leaving the country. Your principle thus givesthe U.S. government a foolproof means of enforcing the mass expulsionof people based upon their political beliefs. iii. The government of the U.S.S.R., the de facto owner ofeverything in the Soviet Union, declares that no member of thebourgeoisie may use ANYTHING in the country. Your principle thusgives the CCP a foolproof method of exterminating undesired socialclasses. I will leave aside the tenuousness of the “de facto ownership” concept. Suffice to say that if de facto ownership justifies whatever rulesthe de facto ownership chooses to enforce, then there is everyreason to acquire de facto ownership by any means necessary. Thus,if the South asserts de facto ownership of public property in the South,the North can acquire the “right” to rule the public property of theSouth merely by successfully crushing the de facto Southern owners. In short, while my view of public property justifies some minorinconveniences, your view justifies ANY status quo whatever. Ofcourse, you need not favor the aforementioned murderous uses ofpublic property by de facto owners. But as I am sure you know,advocating an action and advocating a person’s right to perform anaction are two conceptually distinct advocacies.Secondly, I wish to answer this charge of “nihilism” and “seventies-style libertarianism.”I cannot directly comment upon what libertarians were like in the1970’s because my youth precludes it. I have however intenselystudied many of the libertarian periodicals of the period, fromthe Journal of Libertarian Studies to Reason to Libertarian Forum,and I judge it to have been a time of great progress for libertarianscholarship along a number of dimensions. If it was a period ofdrug-induced stupor and hatred of the good for being good, I can onlyassume that this was not reflected in much libertarian writing. (Incidentally, a large fraction of the sympathy for the left-wingcounter-culture came out of Rothbard’s Libertarian Forum.) Finally, I come to the charge of “nihilism.” If someone says thatX is good and I say it is bad, you can hardly accuse me of nihilism. Even if I am wrong, I do not want to destroy the valuable qua valuable. What you actually mean, I think, is that I disagree with you aboutwhat is valuable. For example, if I want to see public propertyabolished, it is not nihilism unless I simultaneously hold thatpublic property is good. And I don’t. Incidentally, the same goes, a fortiori, if I declare that religion,nationalism, and deference to tradition are evil. It is not nihilismbecause I attack them in the name of other positive values in whichI do believe.