Archive for the ‘#propertyrights’ Tag

Have We Lost Our Minds?   2 comments

I like my house. When we first bought it, it was painted grey, which I didn’t like so much because on rainy days or winter days (and we have a lot of winter days), it just looked sad and depressed. Besides, the previous owners had messed up on the application so it was peeling less than two years after they painted it. So we power washed off the grey, re-primed and painted the house a kind of dark peach with green trim and it now looks more cheerful no matter what month of the year you see it. I am told by a neighbor who knows the folks we bought the house from that the wife doesn’t like our color choices and that’s okay because she no longer owns the house and we do. She can paint the house she owns any color she likes and I won’t critique it — though I was awfully glad when the new owners of the house across the street painted their black house (with red trim) a nice brown with white trim. I complimented them on the paint job, though I never said word one about the red-on-black scheme to the previous owners, because it was their house and not mine.

But imagine how I would feel if I came home one day and discovered that a renowned artist whose paintings were considered art treasures by experts had graffitied my house. Imagine if it were your house and that happened.

It’s my property, so — unless I really, really liked the graffiti, I’d immediately start cleaning the images from my house. So would you, I suspect. If they didn’t ask my permission, I’d want to sue them for whatever it cost me to restore my house to its preferred condition. You would too.

Then imagine that a few days later, you find you are being sued for breaking a law that protects public art of “recognized stature”. Because the artist who tagged your house is considered by someone to be a great artist, you must pay $6.7 million for whitewashing graffiti from your home.

That’s exactly what happened to Jerry Wolkoff, a Queens real estate developer, when he whitewashed dozens of graffiti murals at the 5Pointz complex, violating the Visual Artists Rights Act, “which has been used to protect public art of “recognized stature” created on someone else’s property.”

Wolkoff purchased the 200,000 square-foot former factory buildings in the 1970s for $1 million. Graffiti artists approached him in the 1990s, asking if they could display their art on the vacant five-story building. Wolkoff agreed. He wasn’t using the buildings and it seemed like a community-friendly thing to allow. In November 2013, Wolkoff decided to demolish the building in favor of new stores and apartments. He contracted painters to whitewash the decades of graffiti away under the cover of night to avoid conflict.

“It’s like a Band-Aid, I just wanted to take one rip off in one time. I felt it was best for them and I,” Wolkoff said. “I had tears in my eyes when I painted this morning.”

Okay, he probably shouldn’t have sneaked behind folks’ backs, but given them a chance to photograph and otherwise document what is ordinarily considered temporary works of art, but he knew what would happen — a long, drawn-out battle over the demolition which would harm his company’s bottom line. Twenty graffiti artists filed a lawsuit against the developer and in March 2017, Judge Frederic Block of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn ruled that their case could go to trail.

The New York Times declared this a great victory for the New York artist community and, indeed artists everywhere. I’m going to mea culpa here and admit that my daughter is a graffiti artist. After a close encounter with an angry building owner when she was 18 that resulted in having to clean his building to avoid jail, our beautiful anarchist renaissance woman now asks permission, often taking suggestions from willing participants, and then takes photos because she knows such art is temporary and adhered to other people’s property. When she travels back through a town, she looks for her murals and is always pleased when she finds them, but she also accepts that one day they may be gone. I haven’t had an opportunity ask her what she thinks of this. If she agrees with the artists, I expect her to change her mind after we’ve discussed it.

Wolkoff contended the graffiti artists knew that it wasn’t a permanent thing and one of them even admitted that in the press. Wolkoff granted only temporary permission. As the area around the complex was redeveloped, it should have been obvious to everyone that he was going to redevelop it and make some money from his investment. After all, it was his private property and he should be able to maintain his property as he sees fit. The fact that he knew announcing demolition would cause a court battle with the people he’d been so generous to for decades says he’d been thinking about how to resolve this issue for a long time before he took action. He had provided them with a place to legally do their particular kind of art and his decades-long willingness to provide that blank canvas for them helped to shift perceptions about graffiti and establish it as a celebrated folk art. Maybe they should have thanked him for that opportunity. Instead, in November 2017, a jury found the developer had violated the Visual Artists Rights Act in 45 cases and awarded the artists $6.7 million — the maximum damages possible.

Have we lost our minds?


It is essential for society to have a legal framework that doesn’t undermine private property rights. This happened in the United States where we are supposedly protected by the Fifth Amendment.  This wasn’t communist China where the government has granted itself the author to violate the liberties of its people. This is the United States where we’re supposed to be secure in our persons, property and papers. And a federal judge handed down this ruling.

Some people would argue that this is just a minor inconvenience to a rich developer. We all have to follow certain rules to live in society. He held onto those buildings for years without making substantial money from them, renting them to artists and small manufacturers. He could have developed the interiors and left the graffiti in place. People like graffiti … or if they don’t, they should recognize it as folk art that must be protected … Right?

In order for society to achieve economic prosperity there must be a legal framework that doesn’t undermine property rights. Take a look around the world and you find that the wealthiest nations have strong private property rights protection while the poorest nations do not. If I can come home tomorrow and there’s graffiti all over my house that undermines not only my resale value, but my neighbors’ property values, and I’m not allowed to correct the defacement of my property, that’s a problem … not just for me, but for everyone who owns a home or building or anyone who might want to in the future. One man’s folk art is another woman’s defacement and it is our property, not the graffiti artists’.

But in America today, you can actually find people who have no understanding of what private property rights mean. There’s three dimensions.

  1. The exclusive use of a resource
  2. The right to services or utilities rendered by it
  3. The right to exchange it at any price one considers appropriate.

Here’s a nice link for a deeper discussion of the topic. What happens when these rights are somehow restricted, limited or flagrantly violated by law?

The answer is found in the incentives those laws have created. From an economic point of view, an incentive is a potential pecuniary reward that moves someone to do something. When economists say that incentives matter, they mean that a legal framework that establishes the right incentives will result in economic growth and prosperity while the wrong incentives can lead a country into inescapable poverty. If you think this is just economic theory divorced from reality, Venezuelans might beg to differ since they’re living in the real-life consequence of price controls that violated their property rights..

There are many ways to violate property rights and governments do it a lot. Excessive tax burdens, regulations limiting the right to use your property (as happened to Jerry Wolkoff) or asset seizures by government are blatant violations of private property rights that end up depriving economic agents of incentives to create wealth, thereby demolishing one of the most fundamental pillars of prosperity.

Private property rights are incredibly important for any kind of prosperity … or for that matter, liberty … to exist.

So, again, I ask the question – have we lost our minds?

Founders on Property   Leave a comment

A friend commented the other day that Americans have become so self-centered, not willing to share from their “excess” and the Founders would be so ashamed. I quoted the highlighted section of this James Madison document, but she didn’t believe me. “That’s one of those made up quotes,” she said. I found it for her, but here you go … all you people who have swallowed the socialist statist propaganda. Not only is the quote not made up, but the larger context gives weight to the singular quotes. Property, to the Founders (to THE Founder who mostly wrote the Constitution) was something inherent in an individual and that property included not just houses and lands, but rights.


29 Mar. 1792Papers 14:266–68

This term (Property) in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.

In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.

In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.

He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.

He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.

He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.

In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.

Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, tho’ from an opposite cause.

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.

According to this standard of merit, the praise of affording a just securing to property, should be sparingly bestowed on a government which, however scrupulously guarding the possessions of individuals, does not protect them in the enjoyment and communication of their opinions, in which they have an equal, and in the estimation of some, a more valuable property.

More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man’s religious rights are violated by penalties, or fettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man’s house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man’s conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.

That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest. A magistrate issuing his warrants to a press gang, would be in his proper functions in Turkey or Indostan, under appellations proverbial of the most compleat despotism.

That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens that free use of their faculties, and free choice of their occupations, which not only constitute their property in the general sense of the word; but are the means of acquiring property strictly so called. What must be the spirit of legislation where a manufacturer of linen cloth is forbidden to bury his own child in a linen shroud, in order to favour his neighbour who manufactures woolen cloth; where the manufacturer and wearer of woolen cloth are again forbidden the oeconomical use of buttons of that material, in favor of the manufacturer of buttons of other materials!

A just security to property is not afforded by that government, under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species: where arbitrary taxes invade the domestic sanctuaries of the rich, and excessive taxes grind the faces of the poor; where the keenness and competitions of want are deemed an insufficient spur to labor, and taxes are again applied, by an unfeeling policy, as another spur; in violation of that sacred property, which Heaven, in decreeing man to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, kindly reserved to him, in the small repose that could be spared from the supply of his necessities.

If there be a government then which prides itself in maintaining the inviolability of property; which provides that none shall be taken directly even for public use without indemnification to the owner, and yet directly violates the property which individuals have in their opinions, their religion, their persons, and their faculties; nay more, which indirectly violates their property, in their actual possessions, in the labor that acquires their daily subsistence, and in the hallowed remnant of time which ought to relieve their fatigues and soothe their cares, the influence [inference?] will have been anticipated, that such a government is not a pattern for the United States.

If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.

The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 16, Document 23
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of James Madison. Edited by William T. Hutchinson et al. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1962–77 (vols. 1–10); Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977–(vols. 11–).

Indian Property Rights   Leave a comment

So now that we’ve laid some myths to rest, let’s look at what the Indians got right. While the tribes occasionally suffered from the “tragedy of the commons,” most American Indian tribes understood the importance of getting the incentives right. Personal ethics and spiritual values were important, but those ethics and values worked along with private and communal property rights. YES, property rights that strictly defined who could use resources and acted to reward good stewardship.

In a short story like “Bridge at Adelphia”, I could not really explain pre-Columbian Indian institutions and how they differed and correlated with the modern context of law, government, and property rights. The Indians didn’t lack rules. Sometimes they were customs, other times they were formal, but history is replete with examples of how Native American property rights conditioned human interaction with the natural environment.

Indian land ownership/control systems varied considerably according to tribe. Some tribes had completely or almost completely communal systems, while other tribes had systems that were hardly less individualistic than our own. The degree of private ownership reflected the scarcity of land and the difficulty or ease of defining and enforcing rights. Truly communal property was scant among American Indians. In my mother’s tribe, the tribe allocated plots to families, who farmed them and harvested the bounty to be stored in the family’s own storehouse. Boundaries were marked and the agricultural land was considered privately owned by a family or clan rather than by individuals.

Families among the Mahican Indians in the Northeast possessed hereditary rights to use well-defined tracts of garden land along rivers. Away from the rivers, however, where the value of land for crops was low, it was not worth establishing ownership.

In the Southeast, where Indians engaged in settled agriculture, private ownership of land was common. “The Creek town is typical of the economic and social life of the populous tribes of the Southeast,” writes historian Angie Debo. “Each family gathered the produce of its own plot and placed it in its own storehouse. Each also contributed voluntarily to a public store which was kept in a large building in the field and was used under the direction of the town chief for public needs.”

Fruit and nut trees, which required long-term investment, were privately owned and usually inherited. “So important were the piñon resources that groves of trees were considered family property in several locations” within the Great Basin area of the West, says a historian (Fowler 1986, 65). In one case a Northern Paiute reflected that his father “paid a horse for a certain pinon-nut range,” suggesting that the property rights were valuable and tradable.

Where Indians depended on hunting and fishing, it was imperative that they controlled access to hunting territories and to specific harvest sites. Hunting groups among the Montagnais-Naskapi of Quebec between Hudson Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence recognized family and clan hunting areas, particularly for beaver. Similar hunting groups and rules existed in other regions.

Quoting Indian informants, anthropologists Frank G. Speck and Wendell S. Hadlock report that for Indians in New Brunswick,

It was . . . an established “rule that when a hunter worked a territory no other would knowingly or willfully encroach upon the region for several generations.” Some of the men held districts which had been hunted by their fathers, and presumably their grandfathers.

They even had a colloquial term that translates to “my hunting ground.”

Indian tribes of western North America defended their hunting, fishing, and gathering territories against trespass. Steward reports that among Paiute Indians of the Owens Valley in California, “communal groups stayed within their district territory,” which was bounded by natural features such as mountains, ridges, and streams.

Each distinct Apache band “had its own hunting grounds and, except when pressed by starvation, was reluctant to encroach upon those of a neighbor. . . . Each local group had exclusive rights to certain farm sites and hunting localities, and each was headed by a chief who directed collective enterprises. . . . ” Keith H. Basso

Customs and norms regulated the harvest. There was a district head man who determined where and when to hunt based on his knowledge from the past.

In the Pacific Northwest, Indians had well-defined fishing rights. To capture salmon returning from the ocean to spawn in freshwater streams, Indians placed fish wheels, weirs, and other fixed appliances at falls or shoals where the fish were naturally channeled.

Unfortunately, the white man’s law usurped these secure Indian fishing rights and replaced them with a system that encouraged the tragedy of the commons.

Their technology was so efficient that they could have depleted salmon stocks, but they realized the importance of allowing some of the spawning fish to escape upstream. Robert Higgs quotes a Quileute Indian born about 1852: “When the Indians had obtained enough fish they would remove the weirs from the river in order that the fish they did not need could go upstream and lay their eggs so that there would be a supply of fish for future years.”

Relying on salmon as their main source of food, the coastal Tlingit and Haida Indians established clear rights to fishing locations where salmon congregated on their journey to spawning beds. The management units could exclude other clans or houses from their fishing territories. When territories were infringed upon, the trespasser was required to repay the owning group or potentially face violent consequences. The eldest clan male who was the “keeper of the house” had the power to make and enforce decisions regarding harvest levels, escapement, fishing seasons, and harvest methods.The upshot was that salmon runs were sustained by rules made locally.

Unfortunately, the white man’s law usurped these secure Indian fishing rights and replaced them with a system that encouraged the tragedy of the commons. It was “economically inferior to the property system originally established by the tribes,” one scholar concludes.

Even where activities were communal, positive incentives, including incentives quite similar to ownership, made success possible.

Faced with the reality of scarcity, Indians understood the importance of incentives and built their societies around institutions that encouraged good human and natural resource stewardship.

On a buffalo hunt, the successful hunter was “entitled to keep the skin and some choice portion of the meat for his family,” writes Steward. An elaborate nomenclature was used by the Omaha to describe rewards for those who killed and butchered buffalo. “To the man who killed the animal belonged the hide and one portion of tezhu [side of meat] and the brains.” Brains were used to tan the hide, so it makes sense that the brains would go with the hide. Other portions were as follows: “To the first helper to arrive, one of the tezhu and a hind-quarter; to the second comer, the ugaxetha [includes the stomach, beef tallow, and intestines]; to the third, the ribs [tethi ti].”

Hunters marked their arrows distinctively, so after the hunt, the arrows in the dead buffalo indicated which hunters had been successful. Disputes over whose arrow killed the buffalo were settled by the hunt leader.

In sum, faced with the reality of scarcity, Indians understood the importance of incentives and built their societies around institutions that encouraged good human and natural resource stewardship. Ethics and spiritual values may have inculcated a respect for nature, but an elaborate set of social institutions that today would be considered private property rights rewarding stewardship.

And, hey, those of you who share my white DNA — myths are not a solution to modern environmental problems. Let’s look at what really worked with Indian society’s interaction with the environment. They devolved authority and responsibility to the local level because they understood that resource conservation is best done by the people who are there and who love their own land. Rather than shunning property rights and insisting that is what is wrong with modern society, we should embrace them, as did my mother’s people.

Property as Foundation for Freedom of Religion   1 comment

“Shame on you! As a Christian, you shouldn’t be for private property! Read your Bible!”

This was the reply to a comment I made in an Alaskan newspaper.

Don’t challenge me if you don’t want to hear my full opinion.

Many Christians, while they cherish religious liberty, are uncomfortable with the concept of property rights, and the commerce that arises from the establishment of property rights. They feel it is somehow un-Christlike to want to own land and stuff or to make a profit in business. This is contrasted with some of the agnostic free marketers I know who insist that all we need is property rights and the rest will take care of itself.

Pope Francis is often held up as an example of a Christian who reads the New Testament as a treatise on socialism. He views commerce as grubby business purely based on self-interest, tending inevitably toward exploitation, and the opposite of charity. This flawed reading of the New Testament is similar to Karl Marx. Marx was militantly opposed to religion, but praised Christianity in what he saw as its declamation against private property in the name of an otherworldly denial of self.

Christians had a hand in founding both the Fabian socialists in the United Kingdom and the Progressive Movement in the United States. Why? Well, a couple of reasons. Some of these future socialists took their inspiration from Jesus’s insistence that Christians should take care of the poor. That was an admirable basis. The second strain of Christian progressivism held that since Jesus came down to earth, our task as Christians is to build a heaven on earth. Many early Quakers believed that, although there is absolutely no Biblical basis for that teaching. Although many socialists were atheists, many Christians allied with them for either or both of these reasons.

In today’s America we can see the heart of the leftward movement in our government is a claim against property that insists that the divisions among us are as deep as they are because of economic inequality, and if we do not address that inequality today, it will worsen tomorrow. Many well-meaning and misguided Christians think this way.

The most formidable enemies of property rights are formidable precisely because they know better than to separate the issue of property rights from the issue of other freedoms, including freedom of conscience and religious liberty. They recognize human beings are an odd integrity of soul and body. Marx understood clearly that if you like the way the human being is organized then you are going to have to protect it all. If you do not like that integrity, then you are going to have to uproot it all. Thus he made clear in the Communist Manifesto that overthrowing the age-old institution of property will involve “the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.” If private property is going to be abolished, everything will have to be abolished. Marriage and religion are two prominent targets for elimination in Marx’s writings.

Several decades later, in the Fabian Essays in Socialism that led to the founding of the British Labour Party, George Bernard Shaw and others tried to downplay that side of Marxism. They claimed that they intended only to destroy property rights—that socialism is not about getting rid of the family or religion. They weren’t entirely convincing because they didn’t really believe their obfuscations. Shaw, for instance, wrote that “a married woman is a female slave chained to a male one; and a girl is a prisoner in the house and in the hands of her parents.” Graham Wallas, co-founder of the London School of Economics, argued that it is inefficient for families to eat their meals separately in their houses, and lamented that it would be a long time “before we cease to feel that an Englishman’s home [is] his castle, with free entrance and free egress alike forbidden.”

Clearly, the Fabians’ ideal society involved more than the redistribution of wealth.

There are obvious parallels in our own time and country. In 2008, President Obama campaigned on the idea that we should “spread the wealth around,” and had little to say about the family and religious liberty. Money wasn’t the only thing he and his allies wanted to change, however. After he was elected, the President altered his position about the nature of marriage, and now the enforcement of a new understanding of gender identity is pressed upon us through powerful legal and social means. A friend who is an administrator at a small Christianity college says the staff there have had conversations with their legal advisors on whether it will remain legal for them to separate their student body into dormitories for men and women. Will the swelling chorus that denies any connection between nature and sex to conjure up countless new so-called genders compel colleges built around faith concepts to join the new zeitgeist or close their doors? It is not inconceivable that Biblical teaching may soon be declared hate speech and therefore become illegal. So this fight is not just a fight about property.

On the other hand, let’s analyze it as if it were.

I own myself, which means I have a right to control my life. So, let’s say my son decides he wants to go to this college. He’s 18, so owns himself and that constitutes a right to control his own life. He wishes to live in a dormitory with similarly-minded other men because he recognizes that as a good way to not have sex until he’s married. The school owns the dormitory, so should be able to set standards for the facilities. They offer housing to students and to their parents, who are often footing the bill, based upon the contractual obligation that this is a good clean environment in which young people can concentrate on learning. That is the product they’re selling and the parents and students are buying. That’s a free monetary exchange of property value for property value.

If the school is forced by the government to open dormitories up across gender lines, then the school has been deprived of a primary marketing tool, which is another property value. They can no longer advertise their school as a wholesome environment for Christian students. Therefore, a theft has occurred. If parents and students decide students would rather remain at home and attend college digitally, then the school has been deprived of tuition and the students and parents have been deprived of the right to spend their money as they see fit (yet another property value).

A theft has occurred.

The converse of this is that there are private colleges that want to open dormitories across gender lines and market themselves as an exciting alternative to the Christian school experience. Again, the college has a right, by virtue of property ownership, to market themselves in this way and students and parents have a right, by virtue of their property stake in their money, to buy that experience. To deny them that right is to steal money from both the college and the parents/students.

I know a lot of Christians who would get angry that I am saying this, but the fact is that we have been denying “the world” its property rights for a long time, so now that the worst of secular society has decided to turn the tables on us, we shouldn’t be surprised. Which is not to say that we should embrace the tyranny. You do not recompense the theft of one person’s property rights by stealing the property rights of the original offender. The only moral solution is for all powers to stop stealing from one another.


Owning Oneself   2 comments

We have relatives visiting, which is one reason I’ve been re-posting the articles of others. I love my sister-in-law and her husband. I really do. They are fun. He’s not too townie about the woods. She’s trying. The other day it was raining. I mean RAINING, so we were stuck in the house staring out at the flooding streets and that meant talking.

Alaskans don’t really do small talk and we aren’t afraid of the subjects of religion and politics. As a culture, we see nothing to get long-term upset about. We believe in airing our differences and sometimes learning from one another. You could probably tell that from my blog.

My inlaws are New Englanders who were taught to stay away from the subject of religion and politics at all costs. But they’re living in our house and Brad started the conversation, so — it turns out they’re liberals. No big. My brother is a liberal. Our daughter is (temporarily) a liberal (she’s 23). For 15 years, I worked in a social work agency where three-quarters of the staff were liberals. I talk to liberals all the time and I’m friends with most, but liberals in Alaska don’t assume that everybody thinks like them because this is a very libertarian state. So very few liberals in Alaska would ever give me this sort of fodder for my blog. The following is a synopsis of what we learned from our conversation on Saturday.

Liberals generally concede the right of every individual to his “personal liberty.” You have a “right” to freedom to think, speak, write, and engage in such personal “exchanges” as sexual activity between “consenting adults.” Liberals attempt to uphold the individual’s right to the ownership of his own body, but they deny his right to “property,” . There is a typical liberal dichotomy that upholds “human rights”, but denies a person’s right to own material objects. To Brad and I and libertarians in general, rights and property ownership are completely dependent upon one another..

Liberal socialists advocate for government ownership of all the “means of production” while upholding the “human” right of freedom of speech or press. That begs the question – How is this “human” right to be exercised if the individuals constituting the public are denied their right to ownership of property?

For example, if the government owns all the newsprint and all the printing shops, how is the right to a free press to be exercised? If the government owns all the newsprint, it also the authority to allocate that newsprint. If the government decides not to allocate newsprint to news outlets it disapproves, then someone’s “right to a free press” becomes moot. Since the government must allocate scarce newsprint in some way, the right to a free press of “subversive” anti-socialists would be of less importance than that of pro-socialists.

Similarly, if the government owns all the assembly halls and allocates those halls as it sees fit, then freedom of speech becomes moot. In Soviet Russia, the atheistic government, decided not to allocate many scarce resources to the production of matzohs, for Orthodox Jews, rendering their “freedom of religion” a mockery. In communist China (even today), you have a “right” to attend a state-sponsored church of your choosing, but there are Communist Party officers standing against the back wall making sure you don’t say or do anything that isn’t sanctioned … like declare a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The basic flaw in the liberal separation of “human rights” and “property rights” is that people are treated as abstractions. If a man has the right to self-ownership, that would include control of his life. Logically, he must also have a right to sustain his life by laboring to transform resources. Therefore, he must be able to own the ground and the resources on which he stands and which he must use. To sustain his “human right”—or his property rights in his own person—he must also have property right in the material world, in the objects which he produces. Property rights are human rights and are essential to the human rights which liberals attempt to maintain.

There are no human rights separate from property rights. The human right of free speech is simply the property right to hire an assembly hall from the owners or, better yet, to own such a hall. The human right of a free press is the property right to buy materials and then print leaflets or books and to sell them to those who are willing to buy. There is no extra “right of free speech” or free press beyond the property rights we can enumerate.

Discovering and identifying the property rights involved will resolve any apparent conflicts of rights that we might encounter.

Liberals generally concede that a person’s “right of freedom of speech” must be curbed in the name of the “public interest”. We’re all familiar with Justice Holmes’ famous dictum that no one has the right to cry “fire” falsely in a crowded theater. Holmes and his followers have used this illustration again and again to prove the supposed necessity for all rights to be relative and tentative rather than precise and absolute.

My more libertarian friends will explain that the liberals (and to a certain extent, libertarians) fall into discussing a vague “freedom of speech” rather than basing our arguments on the right of private property. So here goes my analysis of freedom of speech as a property right.

I could probably start a stampede by falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, but I wouldn’t because I’m smarter than that, but let’s say the one doing the shouting is either the owner of the theater or a paying customer. If the provocateur is the owner, he has committed fraud on his customers. He has taken their money in exchange for a promise to put on a movie or play which has not disrupted by falsely shouting “fire”. He has welshed on his contractual obligation and, in effect, stolen the money of his patrons. They own their money, which they traded for a performance, so he has violated their property rights.

If the shouter is a patron, she is violating the property right of the owner and the patrons. As a guest, he has gained access to the property on certain terms, which include an obligation not to violate the owner’s property or to disrupt the performance. His malicious act violates the property rights of the theater owner and of all the other patrons, because they bought access to the performance with their money.

The individual right to freedom of speech need not be curtailed to prevent unnecessary stampedes at the theater. The rights of the individual are still absolute; but they are property rights. The provocateur is a criminal because he has clearly and obviously violated the property rights of another person. It has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with property rights. He can still be punished for falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater because, although he retains full right to speak as he will, property rights curtail him from depriving the owner of his right to sell a material good (a performance) and the patrons’ right to buy attendance at that performance.

Rather than building a case on a shaky concept of freedom of speech, it is far easier to figure out what is and should be legal in terms of property ownership.

Posted June 18, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Liberty, Uncategorized

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