Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A question

Let's say you own 100 acres of land. Except, this land has certain problems:

  1. There are no roads for getting to this land, and landowners surrounding this land don't want other people driving across their land.
  2. This land is in an area that has no law enforcement, meaning that you have difficulty keeping trespassers and squatters off of your land without engaging in actual gun battles -- and woe to you if your trespassers outgun you.
  3. There is no water on this land, and no water district to provide water to you.
  4. The courthouse burned down and has never been rebuilt, so all records other than those in your possession which say you own this land have been destroyed. And Joe the Plumber says he has papers saying he owns the land.
To recap: No access, no law enforcement, no water, no clear title. How much is this land worth? Well... in my experience, not much. Maybe $1,000 if that.

Now, let's say that you own this other piece of land. It is 1 acre of land. It is comprised of four lots with city water and sewer already on site. A city street runs in front of it, and it is a few blocks away from a major freeway heading into a major thriving coastal city. The local police department is quick to respond if you report a trespasser or squatter on your land. Your title is dutifully registered in the courthouse and is clear. How much is this land worth? Well, probably around $800,000 or so even in today's rough real estate market, or roughly 80,000 times more per acre than the first piece of land.

So here's a question: given that we have now determined that government can make a piece of land literally 80,000 times more valuable than no government, how in the world can anybody get away with saying "government is a drag on the economy and should be abolished"? Hmm?

-- Badtux the Baffled Penguin


  1. Sad to say, I almost sprained something pondering your question.

    Are you familiar with the city farms in SF? 18th & Rhode Island, Hayes Valley, etc. That came to mind as I was reading and came to your example of the 1 acre of city land.

    There are ways to make water available in that space surrounded by plumbers named Joe, provided you can get to it and cultivate it so it's not just wasted and covered with rubbish and abandoned cars.

    Getting Joe out is going to be problematic and I don't know how that would happen, though. Maybe he could be baffled with legalese? Maybe offer to show him how to grow potatoes and distill his own vodka? That's a distraction.


  2. Becaus taxes taek away waht I ernned!!1one! its my money an d the governmnment stold it

    [ironic verification word vis-a-vis NY Times op/ed pages: douth. wtf?]

  3. If an anti G person was debated on this and this person was made to stay on point they would lose.

  4. No, no, no. The value of the urban plot is due to the thriving economy surrounding it - you know: free market capitalism.

    Them roads and sewers and everthing was paid for by money the gumment STOLE from me.

    That's why I hates gummint!

    jXb the Glibertarian trombonist

  5. So the 100 acres of land, the 100 acres of land with *no* government involvement, should be worth 100 times more, right? I mean, it's even free-er, right? It's free of them evil soshalist government roads thingies, nobody's taking taxes out for them evil soshalist government police or courts thingies, and so forth, so surely that land should actually be worth MORE than the land infested with all that "government" involvement, in Libertopia where pink sparkle vampires ride sparkle ponies and unicorns are real!

    -Badtux the Still-baffled Penguin

  6. bingo... bingo. government has a function. "movement conservatism"/ #GOP has essentially interpreted all governmental activity as "socialist", with the exception of governmental activity that serves as a conduit for public monies flowing seamlessly and without oversight into the profit margins of the private sector.

    the essential theory is "trickle down".

    the result is Corporate Plutocracy.

    the Liberal guarantee of individual liberty for all is a collective endeavor and it requires governance.

    and government, regardless of form, always sets the conditions of the market place.... even if that government defaults to corporate plutocracy.

  7. See, this why I suggested someone show Joe how to make his own hooch.

    He'll be too distracted and three sheets to the wind to put up much of a fight. And don't you tell 'im how to live his life, or what to pour down his gullet. *hic*

    Anyone see Jon Stewart's takedown of Glenn Beck? Glenn says he educated himself for FREE at the library. Jon had to spell it out that public libraries are funded with..... TAX DOLLARS. Free, huh?

  8. Why do you constantly tag these as "LIBERTARIANISM" instead of "ANARCHIST"? Based on your constant confusion over those two words it appears that you are in such strong favor of keeping it large that you can see no difference at all between the concept of "small gov't" and "no gov't"...

  9. Ghost Dansing said...

    "movement conservatism"/ #GOP has essentially interpreted all governmental activity as "socialist", with the exception of governmental activity that serves as a conduit for public monies flowing seamlessly and without oversight into the profit margins of the private sector.

    Don't forget -- a lot of "conservatives" also approve of any government activity that involves punishing and killing people deemed to be "bad", especially if their skins are swarthy and they live in foreign lands...

  10. Purple, I've previously pointed out Cato and Mises Institute publications basically pooh-poohing the need for government (they claim that even police and courts can be handled by private enterprise!) and Ronald Reagan's famous declaration that "government is the problem, not the solution". You appear to believe that the Libertarian Party -- a political organization that, by its very definition, believes government is necessary (otherwise they wouldn't be trying to be the government!) -- somehow represents all Libertarians or even the mainstream of Libertarian thought. That is not true.

    The question is not big government or not big government. The United States has 300 million people in it. Any government capable of meeting the goals of "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" for 300 million people is by definition going to be big. The question is what the proper role of this government should be. I hold that the proper role should be:

    1) Defense of individual liberties against those who would take them away. Police forces, food inspectors, etc., all defend my right to life against those who would take my right to life away from me via crime, adulterated food that kills me, and so forth.
    2) Provision of common shared services that are not economical to provide via private enterprise. It would not be economical, for example, to set up toll booths on every city street corner so that everybody who drives on a city street can pay a toll to pay his part of the upkeep of the city street. That would require hundreds of thousands of tollbooths in the typical city and would reduce traffic to a crawl because everybody would have to stop every block to pay a toll. Instead, everybody in the city tossing money into a streets maintenance pool, then having the streets maintenance pool handle maintaining the street, is much more effective and efficient.
    3) A mechanism for arriving at a set of common rules for how society should handle issues of public safety and shared services, and a mechanism for enforcing them. If there is not a set of common rules, if everybody is allowed to make up their own rules, then the only way to resolve disputes where two people disagree on the rules is via violence. Voting, courts and juries, legislatures, and police are all important for setting up and enforcing a common set of rules agreed upon beforehand by a majority of the people in the society.

    My disagreements with the current U.S. government is in how it is failing to meet the above standards -- we are not being protected from adulterated beef or from cars with bad computers that make them accelerate out of control, we are not getting the services such as well-maintained streets that we expect from our governments, and the process of making rules has somehow gotten hijacked away from We The People and is now being made by special interests, mostly business interests since they're the ones with the money to bribe legislators (oops, "campaign contribution", not bribe, what's the difference? Beats me!). But size? Size doesn't even enter into it.

    -- Badtux the Governmental Penguin

  11. Badtux, as an ex-anarchist I feel I'm in a good position to evaluate arguments like this, as I'm aware of the case against you while not being biased in its favour. I just don't see what you've presented here as particularly compelling, because, for instance, near where I live in the country, there are many "communities" where a private developer has provided every single one of the things you imply could not be had without government. And they don't put tollbooths on every corner!

    This sort of argument will get you lots of slaps on the back from people already convinced you are correct, but won't (and shouldn't) convince anyone on the fence.

  12. Gene, I suggest that you look more closely. The streets in those huge developments you talk about were, in fact, built by the developer, as was the water system and the sewer system and so forth. But once the developer sells out (in Arizona, I believe the number was 80%) all of that becomes property of the home owner's association. And as I've pointed out repeatedly, home owners associations are the smallest form of, uhm, government -- membership in the HOA is mandatory, paying your taxes err HOA fees is mandatory, fines can be levied, and if you do not pay your HOA fees or fines, the HOA can foreclose on your home and sell it at auction for back fees, using force to evict you if necessary. Mandatory, taxes, use of force... sounds like government to me.

    In short, your argument relies on a definition of "government" that does not include homeowners' associations as governments. But HOA's decidedly meet the requirements to be called government. And if you clicky over on the right margin, you'll note that I in fact use HOA's for some of my examples of where government is more efficient than individual action in doing things like, say, street maintenance -- it is simply more efficient due to economies of scale to let one contract for repaving all the streets in the complex, than for each individual homeowner to negotiate a contract for the half-strip of street in front of his own home.

    Regarding Hoover and liquidationism, Hoover may not have himself been a liquidationist, but his administration was largely captive to them and Hoover's own actions were ineffectual largely because the slapdash hodgepodge of relief efforts that his administration put together to try to reduce some of the real misery was devised so that it would hopefully not interfere with the liquidation that everybody around him was telling him was necessary. Herbert Hoover was not an evil man, and allowing Americans to starve in the name of liquidationism was not something he would contenance. But he had no plan beyond that.

  13. I agree that HAs are quasi-governmental institutions. But you still have the 20% of the time that the developer doesn't sell. All an anarchist needs is to show this could work, and your decisive argument collapses. Now, as I mentioned, I'm an ex-anarchist, and my point here is just to help you shore up your argument but pointing out its weak spot.

  14. Uhm, no, the anarcho-capitalist has to show that it *has* worked and the objection to anarcho-capitalism crumbles. Contradiction by example only works if you HAVE an actual example, as vs. an imaginary one that has never, ever, occurred anywhere.

    Building roads within a large swathe of land owned and controlled by a single entity has occurred many, many times over the course of the centuries, heck, I can take you to ranches here where the road to the ranch house was cut into the sides of hills decades ago and is still maintained by the owner of the ranch house. But I was, and am, specifically talking about common infrastructure -- infrastructure used by more than one person where it is impractical for each user to individually maintain a portion of that infrastructure on a private basis. At that point the whole edifice crumbles because of the deadbeat problem, which typically results in use of force to either force the deadbeat to pay his share, or evict the deadbeat from the premises. At which point the anarcho-libertarian complaint about government force becomes rather ridiculous, because force is force, whether it is applied by a body calling itself "government" or by a group of homeowners evicting a deadbeat from their community.

  15. Yes, by "could" I meant by showing where it *has* worked -- and that would be the 20% of communities where the developer doesn't sell, which all seem to work fine.

  16. Color me baffled. You are saying that because the developer maintaining the roads works while the developer is actively using those roads to sell lots or homes, it works after the developer is no longer using those roads to sell lots or homes, at which point the developer has either declared bankruptcy (and thus ceased maintaining the roads) or has turned the roads over to the HOA (government) for maintenance? WTF?

    If you are going to make an argument by counterexample, at least give me a counterexample!

    Note that once the roads have been turned over to the HOA, the developer is just another lot-owner within the complex, with the same responsibility for paying dues to the HOA, and whose lots can be seized and sold at auction just as any other landowner in the HOA. And in fact that has happened when developers did not live up to their responsibilities -- the HOA has used government force to seize the developer's property and sell it at auction to meet the developer's obligations to the HOA. You might want to read the legal classifieds in the Arizona Republic sometime...

    Oh wait, we're in government land again, not in anarcho-capitalist land, where unicorns are real, cotton candy grows on trees, and none of this can happen. Alrighty, then!

    - Badtux the Amused Penguin

  17. Um, Badtux, sometimes the developer continues to maintain and own the community as a whole. You might see the extensive work of Spencer MacCallum on proprietary communities. They exist, and seem to work fine.

    I'm starting to think you are not really very serious, but only, like almost all political "voices" today, just interested in shouting slogans.

  18. Hi, Gene. I will investigate what you mentioned. I will say, however, that we have a name for proprietary communities out here, we call them "rental communities" ;). You still have mandatory fees that must be paid by all members of the community to the organization that is maintaining the roads, and you still have that organization being able to use government force to seize and auction off your property if you fail to pay those fees. Really, all you've done there is substitute one party -- a private developer extracting rent from the residents of the community -- for another party -- an HOA committee. You've exchanged dictatorship for democracy, a form of government change, not a change in the fundamental nature of the governance of a developer-created community.

    And the question of how well it works in the long run is a good question: google "Pulte Anthem Lawsuit" where homebuyers allege that they are being charged fees far in excess of what they would pay in a non-private situation, for example. This points out that once you have buy-in to a private rental community of this sort, the organization charging the rents can charge far higher rents than the HOA fees would be in order to make as much profit as possible. Rent-seeking behavior is inevitable when the people paying the maintenance fees for the roads and common facilities are not the same as the people who own the roads and common facilities. That is inherent in the nature of capitalism -- fees will go up until they are just below the amount that would motivate people to move. Given that it costs 10% of the price of a home to move, on average, this gives a lot of leeway for raising fees beyond the margin needed to do the actual maintenance.

    Regarding shouting slogans, exactly what slogans have I been shouting? So am I, a defender of a properly operating banking system and private health insurance companies, some kind of commie socialist who shouts "Power to the People!" slogans? What ideology, exactly, am I supposedly shouting slogans in favor of? Other than an ideology of "don't be stupid"? One thing to remember is that you are coming in to this conversation somewhat late. Another thing to remember is that I do not suffer from a foolish consistency -- if new facts come in (and I will check yours to see if they are something I don't have), I reserve the right to change my mind, sometimes drastically (like when I worked the numbers for private health insurance and realized that it was simply impossible for health insurers to be responsible for our high medical costs, despite what I'd said earlier). So if you have interesting information, I'm quite interested in hearing it. But really, if you get tired of arguing with a penguin, there's no reason to stay, I'm sure there's an echo chamber somewhere where you'd feel welcome ;).


Ground rules: Comments that consist solely of insults, fact-free talking points, are off-topic, or simply spam the same argument over and over will be deleted. The penguin is the only one allowed to be an ass here. All viewpoints, however, are welcomed, even if I disagree vehemently with you.

WARNING: You are entitled to create your own arguments, but you are NOT entitled to create your own facts. If you spew scientific denialism, or insist that the sky is purple, or otherwise insist that your made-up universe of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees is "real", well -- expect the banhammer.

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