Archive for the ‘Social Contract’ 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?

parcul-copou.jpg
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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If the Social Contract Were Real

From: (A T Furman)

Newsgroups: ba.politics

Subject: Re: Social contract?

Date: 14 May 92 08:53:22 GMT

 

We’ve all heard of the “Social Contract” — the unwritten agreement between individuals and “society” (i.e. the government.) The following is an attempt to write down, once and for all, just what the contract is that we’ve all supposedly agreed to.

 

SOCIAL CONTRACT

Between an individual and the United States Government

 

WHEREAS I wish to reside on the North American continent, and WHEREAS the United States Government controls the area of the continent on which I wish to reside, and WHEREAS tacit or implied contracts are vague and therefore unenforceable,

 

I agree to the following terms:

 

SECTION 1: I will surrender a percentage of my property to the Government. The actual percentage will be determined by the Government and will be subject to change at any time. The amount to be surrendered may be based on my income, the value of my property, the value of my purchases or any other criteria the Government chooses. To aid the Government in determining the percentage, I will apply for a Government identification number that I will use in all my major financial transactions.

 

SECTION 2: Should the Government demand it, I will surrender my liberty for a period of time determined by the government and typically no shorter than two years. During that time, I will serve the Government in any way it chooses, including military service in which I may be called upon to sacrifice my life.

 

SECTION 3: I will limit my behavior as demanded by the government. I will consume only those drugs permitted by the Government. I will limit my sexual activities to those permitted by the Government. I will forsake religious beliefs that conflict with the Government’s determination of propriety. More limits may be imposed at any time.

 

SECTION 4: In consideration for the above, the Government will permit me to find employment, subject to limits that will be determined by the Government. These limits may restrict my choice of career or the wages I may accept.

 

SECTION 5: The Government will permit me to reside in the area of North America which it controls. Also, the Government will permit me to speak freely, subject to limits determined by the Government’s Congress and Supreme Court.

 

SECTION 6: The Government will attempt to protect my life and my claim to the property it has allowed me to keep. I agree not to hold the Government liable if it fails to protect me or my property.

 

SECTION 7: The Government will offer various services to me. The nature and extent of these services will be determined by the Government and are subject to change at any time.

 

SECTION 8: The Government will determine whether I may vote for certain Government officials. The influence of my vote will vary inversely with the number of voters, and I understand that it typically will be minuscule. I agree not to hold any elected Government officials liable for acting against my best interests or for breaking promises, even if those promises motivated me to vote for them.

 

SECTION 9: I agree that the Government may hold me fully liable if I fail to abide by the above terms. In that event, the Government may confiscate any property that I have not previously surrendered to it, and may imprison me for a period of time to be determined by the Government. I also agree that the Government may alter the terms of this contract at any time.

 

_____________________________

Signature

 

_____________________________

Date

 

 

Copyright 1989 by Robert E. Alexander.

May be distributed freely.


(taken from here, also posted here )