Ancapistan was rocked by controversy recently when one of its leading citizens, comic Dave Smith, suggested homeless people living in public parks designed for children should be removed by the police. His argument is based on the homeless people using drugs and engaging in lewd behavior in the presence of children, a situation virtually everyone agrees is undesirable. It’s what to do about it that is at issue.
The dilemma proceeds from the unfortunate reality that the ancap population is not living in its home country, but rather held captive, Babylonian Exile-style, in what purports to be a democratic republic – with the “democratic” part increasingly in the ascendant. That raises the question of how to try to apply libertarian principles in a decidedly unlibertarian world.
The argument against calling the cops goes like this: The parent taking his children to the park doesn’t own the park; it is “public property.” And in public spaces, the inalienable right to liberty trumps any individual’s preferences for rules of conduct. After all, the parent doesn’t own the park and one’s rights are limited to what one owns. So, he has no right to eject anyone from land he doesn’t own. The homeless person has as much right to be in the park as the parent, the children, or anyone else.
Not to mention it is decidedly unlibertarian to call the police, the domestic occupying force of the empire, for any reason.
Here is the problem with the argument against ejecting the homeless people. It is not true that the parent doesn’t own the park. He does. Like the public roads, he hasn’t consented to own it, but rather has been dragooned into ownership by the state. Depending upon how the park is funded – from property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, etc. – he may or may not have contributed to the creation and maintenance of the park. As money is fungible, he has at least indirectly contributed if he has paid any taxes at all, which are mostly collected to provide benefits to people other than the taxpayer.
But contributing to the associated costs is not a condition of ownership of the park, which is just one of the reasons “public” anything doesn’t work. Public property is owned by every citizen of the polity in question (the town, the city, the state, or the nation) equally. Therefore, the homeless person is also an equal part owner in the park, no more voluntarily so than the parent, but an owner all the same.
It should not be assumed the homeless person has contributed zero funding. He likely has paid sales taxes on items he has purchased. That his contribution is probably miniscule compared to the average parent in the neighborhood reveals another defect of public property: ownership and voting rights over disposition and use are not proportional to the financial contribution made.
That said, doesn’t the homeless person have as much right to be there and do what he pleases in the park as the parent bringing his children to play on the swing set, even if statist rules against “loitering” or “vagrancy” might be employed by the state to remove him?
Of course not. He doesn’t have that right here in Democratica and he wouldn’t have it in Ancapistan, either. In an anarchist society, all property would be privately owned. While it is true that some property may be jointly owned by multiple parties, those cases would be governed in precisely the same way jointly owned private property is governed here in Democratica – by an agreement between all parties as to how the property would be used, what each partner was entitled or not entitled to do with the property, etc.
The only difference in Ancapistan would be that use of the park would be governed solely by the rules agreed to by the partners, without additional rules dictated by an outside force like the state. And the park would be entirely underwritten by the owners, with no outside parties forced to fund it.
Obviously, in such a scenario, no single owner or partnership would invest in the land and equipment necessary to create a park for children and allow homeless people to live in it or commit lewd acts in it in front of children, just as Disneyworld doesn’t allow these things here in Democratica.
Like the roads, the libertarian living in Democratica is not obligated to abstain from using the public park he has been forced to partially own. After all, he likely did pay for them, whether voluntarily or not. But how to settle the dispute between him and his partner in ownership of the park, the homeless heroin addict?
In Ancapistan, they would fall back upon the terms of their consensual agreement. In Democratica, they have no choice but to refer to the terms imposed upon them by their so-called elected representatives. These would be the laws or regulations imposed upon users of the park by the flawed, democratic system which created the park in the first place.
No, it is not a perfect solution, and neither would perfect solutions be available in every situation in Ancapistan. But it is the best solution available to the libertarian forced into a partnership with the homeless person by the state.
As to the libertarian revulsion with using the police, it is understandable but also flawed. Should libertarians ever be allowed to return from exile to Ancapistan, they would find it a similarly imperfect world, albeit a better one. There would still be crimes (violations of property rights) committed there and we would still need to use force to restore equity (there is a proper use of that word) to the victims.
You can call them something else if you want, but we would still need cops to go out and get perpetrators who refused to voluntarily show up for private arbitration hearings or whatever we’d call dispute settlement procedures. There would still be a need to physically remove the occasional trespasser who refuses to leave. And just like no libertarian believes he would be making his own shoes or drilling his own oil in Ancapistan, we would employ professionals to do this work.
Public property doesn’t work. From drilling oil on public land to what is taught in public schools to how fast one can drive on public roads, there is constant conflict and unhappiness with the way public property is governed. That’s why “public property” should be considered an oxymoron. If it’s owned by everyone, it’s really owned by no one for all practical purposes.
It is interesting that some libertarians are concerned about this particular situation. It seems unlikely they would similarly object to physically removing a person screaming in a public library every day or a rich person parking his Mercedes in the center lane of a public highway. Why the homeless guy masturbating in a public park is different is anyone’s guess.
The only just solution to this is to abolish public property and the state along with it. If and until that happens, libertarians should do their best to approximate Ancapistan within the rules dictated at gunpoint by the tyrannical state. If the state has forced them into a partnership with homeless people not following the rules of the partnership and prohibited them from “taking the law into their own hands” to settle the dispute, they should call the cops and ask them to throw the bums out.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.