NYT Writers on Property and the West

First of all, you don't really own anything, so get that out of your heads.
An idea common among conservatives — and surely an assumption of the protesters in Oregon — is that the past fully explains private property. For example, perhaps you paid for your phone or were given it as a gift. That’s why you are entitled to it. So in general we might say that if you paid for something or were given something, then you are entitled to it.

But is that true? Suppose I steal your car and sell it to my friend Dugald. Is Dugald entitled to the car because he paid for it? You probably want to say “no.” Buying something doesn’t give you entitlement unless the seller was entitled to the thing first. So a transfer of property from one person to another is rendered illegitimate if the seller got the property through unjust means.

But now think back to your smartphone. What are the chances that the money you used to buy your phone can be traced backward through your employer, your employer’s customers, and so on back through history without passing through the hands of a serious injustice? Slim to none. The same can be said for the seller’s side of the transaction. Chances are excellent that your phone arrived in your hand only after the exploitation of workers, abuse of the environment, theft, fraud, human trafficking, or any number of deal-breaking injustices....

So despite its appeal to conservatives, the idea that history alone explains private property is hard to make good on. On this theory, the mere fact that we were given things or paid for things won’t determine whether we are entitled to those things. At worst the historical theory implies that no one is entitled to any private property. And if our property isn’t legitimately private, it’s hard to see how it’s unjust for the government or anyone else to take it from us.
Got that? It's hard to see how it's unjust for "the government or anyone else" to take your property.

So, should the government own all the land out West? Absolutely -- unless we give it back to the Native Americans.


Cassandra said...

These folks really are looney tunes.

I'd love to see their reaction to someone actually seizing *their* property because it was purchased with tainted money :p

E Hines said...

In other words, McBrayer's writing implements don't belong to him. His paycheck--he didn't earn that; it came from shameful exploitation...somewhen.

I want my cut of the paycheck that's sent his way. It's only fair. Oh, and with how many homeless--the truly dispossessed of land, commons-held or otherwise--is he sheltering in his commons-owned apartment?

On the other hand, he asks the questions Why does justice demand that the land and resources belong to the locals instead of the commons? What makes property private?

Let's turn those around: Why does justice demand that the land and resources belong to the commons instead of the locals? What makes property public? After all, it's the same land, obtained by whomever the "owners/possessors" are, through the same ill-gotten means, via the same illegitimate sequence of events.

On what basis does McB presume to implicate all of us--collectively, we are the commons, after all--in this injustice?

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

Funny, when I think about taking something away from someone else, I usually start with why I'm entitled to take it, not why he's entitled to keep it. I don't see property as an over-arching mystical right, but I do think that hesitating to grab your neighbor's stuff is a necessary prerequisite to living together in peace and amity. On rare occasions, I may be forced to intervene and take something away from someone because of an inherent injustice, as in the confiscation of stolen goods held by a burglar--but it had better be pretty concrete and immediate.

raven said...

Do our lives, as well, belong to others? Seems like the next logical step in the sequence. When he takes the property from me, that I have spent years of my life toiling to acquire, he is stealing my life, as it is expressed in days on this earth. And of course my liberty follows right behind, as if I will not work to obtain goods to which I am not "entitled", the only way to get me to work is as a slave.
It almost makes me yearn for the Soviet Union, just so we could have a gulag or two handy to show his stupid commie ass what he is wishing for. Wonder if he ever bothered to read any Solzhenitsyn?

As an aside, we are gonna have to go back a lot further than the "native American" population if we are to return this continent to the first human inhabitants. And why stop there? Surely the woolly mammoth and saber toothed cat and the cave bear preceded man here- just give it back to them. In fact, I am 100% behind the concept of finding cave bear DNA, and making brand new specimens to populate their ancestral grounds, such as Washington DC, Manhattan Island, Seattle and Denver. Perhaps a few Dire Wolves could be thrown in to spice up the action.

Cassandra said...

I have pretty much decided (based on this conversation) that all the property in the universe belongs to Ta-Nehisi Coates.

How depressing :p

E Hines said...

Wonder if he ever bothered to read any Solzhenitsyn?

Or Hayek. Or de Soto. Probably, he rejects Locke.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

Probably, he rejects Locke.

Not just probably, explicitly.

I don't buy Locke's explanation either, though. My sense is that property rights are like other rights -- they are rooted in the mutual defense bargain that underlies any society. The reason your property rights are real is that I have a duty to defend them, as you have to defend mine in return. The reason we make these bargains is that it is necessary for human flourishing: the same reason I defend your (and you defend my) right to free inquiry, freedom of religion, free speech, and the right to self defense (as well as the duty to defend this order against aggressors and criminals).

ColoComment said...

"If a rancher pumped a certain amount of water out of the river back in 1875, made good use of it, and left enough water in the river for downstream users at the time, then he gained a right to that same amount of water year after year."

What a boob. He may have a background in philosophy, but he should have spoken with a water rights lawyer (or consulted that ultimate information source, Wikipedia!) before pontificating on that topic.

There is no obligation whatsoever for the senior rights owner to "leave enough water ... for downstream users." The owner of the senior water rights gets to take his full appropriation. Downstream users divvy up the remaining water according to seniority, and EACH TAKES HIS FULL SHARE before the next junior owner gets any.

Cassandra said...

I read a fascinating novel a while back on water rights in the Southwest after a catastrophic draught that was probably caused by Al Gore's Ginormous Carbon Footprint or some such...

It was called The Water Knife. Just Googled it - here's a review:


If you like sci-fi/fantasy, I thought it was fairly well done. Entertaining, and also an interesting coverage about water rights - something I had absolutely no knowledge of. Still pretty ignorant on the topic, but it made me think (which is usually a good thing).

Eric Blair said...

I just had a conversation over lunch with a former coworker that pretty much boiled down to he's pissed that his current profession is intermittent piece work, and some how that's the fault of all the more well off people in the country. (and maybe the world).

When I (and another coworker) pointed out that his situation (and ours) was a result of the choices we had made in life, he sort of got pissed and shut up.

My inclination is to have all that so called "Federal" land in the West revert to the individual states and let them manage it or whatever.

Ymar Sakar said...

That's what the cord wood stacking is for.

If you like sci-fi/fantasy, I thought it was fairly well done. Entertaining, and also an interesting coverage about water rights - something I had absolutely no knowledge of.

So you haven't heard that rumor that Global Warming is causing the draught in California by artificially seeding the atmosphere with chemicals?

MikeD said...

This author reminds me of nothing less that the average "communist" I would get into arguments with in college. They were all about "property is theft" until I then asserted that the computer they were using therefore could be taken away from them. "No!" they'd explain, "I bought it! It's mine." The irony never even crossed their minds.

This McBrayer strikes me as no more self-aware than those college students. As for his claim that all money I have ever earned came in part by "exploitation of workers", et al... I have never once encountered one of these people who could adequately explain how to exploit labor out of someone who is not a slave. Especially in a land where you cannot be beholden to your employer for basic survival needs. Starbucks cannot "exploit" a worker who can freely quit and work elsewhere, or even not at all, and still be able to feed and house themselves, thanks to the public support network. If an employer DID try to exploit a worker today (excluding those who are literally breaking the law by holding people in servile bondage), they would rapidly find themselves without employees.

And let us be clear, the example of reselling stolen goods is a crime. Goods obtained through illegal means are illegally gotten goods. My smartphone, purchased from the service provider with money I obtained legally from my employer does not qualify. Regardless of if the employer got some of that money from selling legal goods to someone who as at some point gotten money illicitly or not. Neither my smartphone, nor the money used to purchase it were the product of a crime. Therefore, ownership is clear. Regardless of what this shallow thinker seems to believe.

Cass said...

That's gonna leave a mark :p

Grim said...

This McBrayer strikes me as no more self-aware than those college students.

It looks to me as if he is a college student who just has enough seniority to have become an 'associate professor,' which is the lowest tenure-track position. His bio suggests he's done nothing except go to school his whole life: Bachelor's 1998, first MA 2003, second MA 2005, Ph.D. in 2008.

Probably a nice enough young man, just one whose theories have had little chance to be applied to reality.

Ymar Sakar said...

Zombies aren't known for being self aware, having souls, or exercising free will.

Probably a nice enough young man, just one whose theories have had little chance to be applied to reality.

Probably a Leftist sleeper cell that will start shooting the place up when his God King Messiah gives him the trigger.

Grim said...

Somebody will have to teach him which end of the gun is the pointy one.

You know who this guy is? He's the guy who wrote that piece called "Why Our Children Don't Think There Are Moral Facts" that we discussed a few months ago. Some of you really liked that piece, as I recall, although I thought the distinction he was trying to eliminate was helpful.

Ymar Sakar said...

Isn't that why they are importing in Islamic mercenaries like Islamic State and the Caliphate, to teach their other active cells which end is which...

As for Leftist mind control propaganda, they need to be pretty powerful and shaped before they can breach my firewall, then I'll be aware of them.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Left tried to use home grown stuff, like Ayers' cell, and look what happened. They can't even make a proper bomb work right. Islam, is pretty good at learning, pressure cookers even if binary explosives don't work for em.

The Left is pretty good at capturing and brainwashing women, though, like Patricia Hearst. At least they got that in common with the Islamic Jihad SOP.

David Foster said...

So, a thought experiment: What if all Federal which is not required for actual governmental purposes WAS "given back to the Indians"...specifically, to those tribes which were historically resident there...AND the various laws & regulations which treat the Native Americans as dependents were abolished, ie the tribes were truly sovereign, subject only to the constraints of the Constitution.

What would happen?

Ymar Sakar said...

For the tribes to be truly sovereign, I think Eric Flint had the right of it. They had to become states, recognized as equals under the US Constitution. Or maybe something like Puerto Rico, at least.