Re: The new death penalty

Kragen Sitaker (
Tue, 3 Aug 1999 11:20:44 -0400 (EDT)

Jeff Bone writes:
> What I want to know is this: what gives anyone else the right to
> claim or exercise control over *my* resources without my explicit
> consent, ever, under any condition?

Let's look at it from the other side. What gives you the right to
exercise control over or claim *any* resources, ever, under any
condition? Why should I refrain from driving off with the car you just
bought, or building a house on that land you own in Oregon that you
camp on once a year?

I suspect I know what your answer will be: that the right to property
is innate and natural. This is hard to argue with; it is a dogma, an
axiom, not a conclusion from logical bases. And I disagree with it.

I have a different answer, with two pieces.

One is that commons tend to be overgrazed. Ownership of things tends
to encourage people to take care of them. Such ownership can be
distributed over an individual or over a small group; small-group
ownership tends to discourage people from doing unusual things with
their property, which is both good and bad.

The other is that unquestioned ownership tends to decrease conflict.
People can spend a lot of unproductive time disagreeing over whether
land should be built on or conserved as a wilderness, and sometimes
these conflicts become violent; people with an unquestioned right to do
as they wish with their property will be less likely to come into

Neither of these reasons is absolute. Both of them are simply means to
an end -- social harmony and collective well-being. My dogma is that
people should be good to each other and live together harmoniously so
that they can develop their intellectual, artistic, and spiritual
capacities. I suspect many people agree with this dogma. I believe
that, in some cases, private property can be justified on the basis of
this dogma, as outlined above; I think that it might even be
justifiable to enforce the existence private property by force in these

But when the principle of private property comes into conflict with
this goal, it should be abridged. If you hold a resource that other
people need, and you are causing them to suffer by withholding it from
them and letting it lie fallow, you are not decreasing conflict or
preventing overgrazing. This is a misuse of the principle of private
property, and should receive no protection from the rest of society.

I fail to see how giving inheritance to one's heirs deserves our

<>       Kragen Sitaker     <>
Tue Aug 03 1999
96 days until the Internet stock bubble bursts on Monday, 1999-11-08.