Archive for the ‘Parks and such’ Category

Property Rights and Public Space

It might be so easy as with a walk in the park that we can reveal the issue at hand today: property rights. Or who owns what?

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Right at the entrance of a park nearby there is a big sign saying: “No access for dogs and cyclists.” As many public signs, it tends to be ignored, but this does give local law enforcement reason to traul the place for potential sources of income (fines). Well, what does this tell us?

The fact that my city authorities (the local government) are allowed to set rules to be followed in certain places (like the park), means they act in some manner like the owners of those grounds. Wether or not that right is legitimate, they can act as if they are rightful owners – they can exclude certain people, they can forbid certain behaviour, they can set the rules of activity in these places.

So, doesn’t the public own the parks?

It may seem so, yet, there are certain things an owner can do, and since we are not allowed freedom of behaviour (nor can we, for instance, build a house in that place), it means we cannot act like the owners of such place. There is no distinct piece of the park that we can identify as our own. The structure of ownership is not even that of a public company with shareholders. The only connection the public has to the park in regard to property rights is, in theory at least, the democratic vote. Or otherwise: the public votes for the politicians, and these exert property rights over the parks – “in the name of the people.”

So this means the politicians are a kind of “custodians,” acting in the name of the real owners which are members of the public. The politicians pass laws, which should express “the will of the people,” and so, the entire process looks voluntary.

It would be as if the politicians sign a sort of contract with members of the public, and by that authority to weild political power (and to enforce it legitimately). But what is the nature of this contract?

It’s implicit, says theory. People make an implicit agreement between themselves, which binds them all to some sort of higher authority (which is the government). If it were written, it would look a little like THIS.

What? Hold on a moment! Who is stupid enough to sign themselves into slavery? You are, I am, along with everybody else. We might not be aware of this fact, but we did. I tell you, we did!

This is where theory takes a turn away from reality. In order for a contract to be valid, it requires the acceptance and acknowledgement of the parties involves. A contract does not bind other parties than the signatories. And also, both parties must be clearly delineated.

The first point fails. People are bound to the contract, wether or not they even know about it, let alone agree to it.

Also, everyone is bound to the contract, even if they might have disagreed with the terms.

Finally, it is quite unclear what the parties of the contract are. Neither “the people,” (“the public”) nor “the government” are clearly defined. In the general theory, these entities have a collective nature. This means that they have a separate being, and are capabile of action outside the component individuals.

Now, that’s a rather shakey conceptual foundation on top of which to build a political theory. If collectives are those doing the action (and sign this contract), it means that these collectives are responsible and bound to the agreements. If the collections act, the individual members are not bound, neither liable. If the individuals act, then these individuals must sign the agreement. But they have not.

So the next time you walk through a public park and see a sign such as: “no smoking” know this does not come from the legitimate right of the legitimate owner, but the blind authority of those most capable of violence.

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