Regarding land in its natural state, pre-ownership, is ownership established over a walkway merely by man walking over it? Or is this temporary use not sufficient to establish ownership? If it is sufficient, how would a man establish that he was the first to walk it? If only repeated use is sufficient to establish ownership, what would happen when two objectivists simultaneously claim first rights of ownership? What if it is 10 Objectivsts - or 100? Wouldn't rational men conclude that it would be most efficient to share ownership of the established way? Ultimately, doesn't this rational decisionmaking lead to the establishment public ways with voluntarily chosen shared ownership rights and obligations? Aren't we, Objectivists, ignoring the nature of land and man's relationship to it, when we espouse the concept that ALL roads should be privately owned?
The topic of establishing original ownership of property is discussed in Ayn Rand's book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Chapter 10, "The Property Status of Airwaves." The article points to the Homestead Act of 1862 as a model for "establishing private ownership from scratch, in a previously ownerless area":
The government offered a 160-acre farm to any adult citizen who would settle on it and cultivate it for five years, after which it would become his property.... The citizens did not have to pay the government as if it were an owner; ownership began with them, and they earned it by the method which is the source and root of the concept of "property": by working on unused material resources, by turning a wilderness into a civilized settlement. Thus, the government, in this case, was acting not as the owner but as the custodian of ownerless resources who defines objectively impartial rules by which potential owners may acquire them.
The article goes on to explain that this pattern was not followed in the case of radio frequencies, but should have been. The article describes all the problems created by the idea of "public ownership" of radio frequencies and of broadcasters as duty-bound to serve the "public interest," and how that will end in outright censorship of broadcasting if the trend is not reversed. The article concludes:
The airways should be turned over to private ownership. The only way to do it now is to sell radio and television frequencies to the highest bidders (by an objectively defined, open, impartial process) -- and thus put an end to the gruesome fiction of "public property."
The question, however, concludes:
Aren't we, Objectivists, ignoring the nature of land and man's relationship to it, when we espouse the concept that ALL roads should be privately owned?
The issue of property rights extends far beyond roads. Ayn Rand's article begins with the following:
Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property -- by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.
This is not a denial of "the nature of land and man's relationship to it." On the contrary, it is a recognition of the law of causality, of the fact that the man-made is man-made, and that the makers rightfully have the first claim to it. Most roads, for example, are not merely "beaten paths," but have to be built and maintained. By whom? By what right does anyone else presume to exercise ownership over the builders' achievements? If the builders want to make their roads available to others voluntarily in a trade of some kind, either as business-to-consumer or in association with other owners as part of a larger enterprise, it's their right to do so; the right to property includes the right to offer it in mutually voluntary trade. (And "beaten paths" previously managed by government can be auctioned off as a means of converting them to private ownership.)
answered Nov 23 '13 at 01:04
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