Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Don't Tread on Me

Via A Stitch in Haste

James Hetfield, the lead singer of Metallica determined that there was a problem with vandals on his private property and decides to erect a fence to keep people off of it. Sounds pretty straightforward to me (although not necessarily to MSNBC given the obvious tilt of the headline).

Of course, when the definition of "public use" involves the use of one's land by non-owners of that land, and the "public" thinks that they should have access to that land, things start to get a bit messy and needless controversy arises. I agree with Kip on all points, and for any defender of property rights, this is a no-brainer:

- The property is owned by James Hetfield. It is his and his alone to do with as he wishes so long as it doesn't violate the rights of others.

- It is his right, exclusively, to enter into an agreement that allows people access to his property on terms that he finds acceptable.

- If a municipality is unable to reach an agreement with Hetfield (or any other landowner) on terms regarding an easement (although libertarians would argue this is not a legitimate function of government), private individuals or associations of individuals can reach out to Hetfield and attempt to negotiate an easement at terms Hetfield would accept.

- If these measures fail, then access to the land is not granted.

This isn't the first time Hetfield has been in a situation where his stance towards protecting his own property has drawn criticism. I recall many upset Metallica fans circa 2000 when the band sued Napster.

Situations like this one remind me that the distinction between what is public and what is private is virtually non-existent. Worse, if we follow the tortured logic of the Supreme Court's abominable ruling in Kelo v New London, all a hack bureaucrat needs to do is argue "public use" as "public purpose" and argue a public benefit of keeping the hiking trail open to attempt to take the land via eminent domain. I am not arguing such an event would occur or it would be successful in the event that it would occur. However, the fact Kip or I would even think about eminent domain in this situation speaks volumes about the utter disregard many people have for private property rights.

Inspiration for the post title here.

So bad that a Malkin Award may not be sufficient?

I think so...

Via Andrew Sullivan:

"Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn. Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die." - Orson Scott Card

I find it so comforting that we have people among us who show so much respect for a government that would respect the rights of others by simply leaving them alone that they would want to destroy that government and replace it with the sort of society where he can impose his will on others. Using the word "insane" to describe a Constitution that would protect such rights only reinforces why Madison was concerned about factions. That "insane" Constitution keeps people like Card from using "democratic process" (i.e. unbridled majoritarianism) from violating the rights of others. I'm quite thankful for that, although there is much work to be done.

As a side note, his attempt to elevate marriage over property rights, which he does in his editorial (which I will not link from this blog) is absurd (along with the rest of the piece). Others can have fun using it as a punching bag. At this rate, I may as well be taking lessons on civil liberties from Michelle Malkin.

I don't know if the Malkin Award is appropriate here*. Maybe Andrew should create an Orwell Award for tripe of this sort. If anyone has a better idea, I'm all ears.

Putting lipstick on a pig?

Discussing libertarian paternalism, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, in an opinion piece in the Financial Times, write:

In this light, it is not surprising that policy teams for Barack Obama, the US Democratic presidential candidate, and David Cameron, the Conservative party leader, have shown an interest in nudge-like solutions to social problems. In dealing with the credit crisis in the US, Mr Obama favours a policy of disclosure and transparency. His mortgage policy is designed not to preclude choices, but to ensure that consumers have a better sense of what they are getting. In dealing with environmental problems and crime, Mr Cameron seeks to enlist the power of social norms, pricking people's consciences to inspire them to do better. Ideas of this kind suggest the development of an approach we call "libertarian paternalism", by which governments try to move people in good directions without imposing penalties, mandates or bans.

"Libertarian paternalism" has nothing to do with libertarianism and everything to do with paternalism. Speaking of "friendly nudges" where mandates, penalties or bans are not imposed, I think a mortgage policy makes a great example as to why this notion is absurd. Let us assume a policy that, as the authors put it, ensure that the consumers knows what he or she is getting into. Like any regulatory scheme, such a program would require (mandate) lenders disclose certain information to borrowers, require lenders maintain compliance with this and will directly penalize violators via fines. I do not see how it would work any other way. How else is the law enforced? What is also going in is that 1) the policy would impose a cost to lenders in terms of increased compliance costs, and 2) the policy would imposes additional costs to taxpayers with respect to the cost to enforce the new policy. How is forcing everyone, through law, to come along for the ride libertarian? Sunstein and Thaler may want to read Frederic Bastiat.

Furthermore, the so-called libertarian paternalists claim that they aim for policy goals that seek to promote the general welfare without eliminating the freedom of choice. They may claim, as Sunstein and Thaler do, that Obama's mortgage policy is designed not to preclude choices to consumers but it would very likely, as I speculated above, force lenders into regulatory structures that they themselves would rather avoid when given a choice. Shouldn't individuals who are pursuing their own entreprenurial interests in a way that violates the right of no one be allowed to do so as he or she sees fit? Wouldn't the market-friendly solution to a lender that refuses to disclose some of the information a consumer wishes to achieve is for the consumer to do business with a lender who does?

Unless there is something I am missing (I have not read Sunstein and Thaler's paper), libertarian paternalsim seems nothing more than a dressed-up form of liberalism that attempts to address the issues important to libertarians. In other words, they've put lipstick on a pig.