Stephan Kinsella: How to Think about Property (41m)

This episode features a talk by libertarian theorist and patent attorney Stephan Kinsella from 2019. He explores the roots and structure of property rights. Purchase books by Stephan Kinsella on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (41m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Legislation, Laws, Not the Same Thing

How much do you respect and obey laws? How much should you? I suppose that depends on what you mean by “laws.”

Most people confuse legislation for laws. Laws were discovered — usually thousands of years ago — while legislation is made up by politicians and imposed under threat of violence as if it were law. Occasionally, legislation is written to copy or reflect law, but not often.

Law concerns respecting the rights of others, while legislation is almost entirely written to give excuses for government to violate individual rights. Thus “don’t murder” is a law, while “pay this tax” is legislation.

Laws don’t need to be written down for you to have the right to defend your life, liberty, or property from violators. Nor do laws have to be enforced. People must only be allowed to defend themselves and others from anyone who violates law.

Since most people use the word “law” for legislation, I’ll make things simple and switch to following the common usage below. Just keep the difference in mind.

I have lived in many places. Each time I moved to a new place I was subjected to a new set of laws. I never felt glad about the laws that were being enforced in my new location. Not even once. I have, however, often been glad about the laws that either hadn’t been written or weren’t being enforced.

I’m much more likely to comply with a harmless policy, even if it’s arbitrary, if I’m asked nicely than I am if someone puts it into legislative language and turns it into a threat. I see all laws as a negative; a drain on society. The fewer laws, the better.

In the Tao Te Ching, written in the 6th century BCE, Lao Tzu wrote: “The more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become … The more laws and commands there are, the more thieves and robbers there will be.”

So, thousands of years ago, smart people had already realized that laws aren’t good for society. Politicians and their hired guns still pretend otherwise.

I once asked a retired deputy sheriff — a former legislation enforcement officer — whether something was “legal.” He replied, “By the time a person sits down to breakfast they’ve already broken a bunch of laws, so don’t worry about it. Just live the best you can without harming anyone else and you’ll be better than most people.”

Great advice for everyone, unless you suffer from a law fetish.

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How Republicans Can Win Back the Immigrant Vote

Today’s immigrant voters are heavily Democratic, but ’twas not always so.  As Open Borders explains, immigrants were almost evenly split during the Reagan era.  It’s not hard to see why.  At least rhetorically, Reagan nearly endorsed open borders:

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

What changed?  The Republicans I know focus on immigrants’ changing national origin.  When you look at the data, however, Republicans have lost favor among immigrants around the world.  European immigrants are Democratic.  So are Indian-Americans – the richest and most socially conservative ethnicity in the country.

What gives?  I say there’s been a vicious feedback loop.  Once Reagan left the stage, Republicans started feeling more negative about immigrants, which made immigrants more negative about Republicans, which made Republicans more negative about immigrants, which made immigrants more negative about Republicans.  And so on and so on.

You could say, “Tragic, but Republicans are stuck.  If they don’t keep out immigrants, their party will perish.”  Yet common decency aside, the path of exclusion has worked poorly.  A vocally anti-immigrant Republican president has totally failed to permanently rewrite immigration law.  Even if he gets reelected, Trump will soon be a lame duck.

What’s the alternative?  Lose the American’t attitude that “Immigrants hate Republicans – and there’s nothing Republicans can do about it.”  Massive partisan realignments really do happen; look what happened to white Catholics over the last fifty years.  Or to be more more precise, partisan realignments don’t “happen”; rather they come to fruition.  The secret: Far-sighted statesmanship.  Start magnanimously showing respect to people who don’t yet vote for you.  Search for common ground, and accentuate the positive.  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  And always shuck your tamales.

P.S. Some readers object to the Reagan cartoon’s implied comparison between the Berlin Wall and immigration barriers.  There’s a world of difference between keeping people in and keeping people out, right?  For private property, yes.  For countries, however, the distinction between “keeping people in” and “keeping people out” is far more complicated than it looks:

Suppose, for example, that the East German government closed its airspace to Western aviation and used the Berlin Wall to prevent anyone from leaving the surrounded city of West Berlin.  Honecker could have even told his citizens, “You’re free to move to West Berlin, but since we’ve got it surrounded, don’t expect to enjoy too many Western luxuries.”  Despite his oppressive intent, Honecker would, grammatically speaking, be keeping West Berliners out of East Germany, not holding East Germans in East Germany.

To make the hypothetical even starker: Imagine the East Germany government legally granted independence to a one-mile strip of land along its entire border.  Call it Mauerland.  All of the citizens of Mauerland are former officers of the East German border guard; their country is just one big, deadly wall.  East Germany then abolishes all laws against emigration; everyone is free to leave.  Unfortunately, the sovereign state of Mauerland refuses to grant visas or overflight permission to anyone without the East Germans’ approval.  When challenged, they say, “Mauerland, like the United States, has every right to keep foreigners out.  You keep out Mexicans.  We keep out East Germans.”

See my dialogue on “The Berlin Cage” for more.

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Autumn Leaves

Nobody asked but …

This time of year you have to deal with them, every one, sooner or later.  The coloring and the fall of the autumn leaves is a miracle to behold, but the phenomenon presents a few problems as well — TANSTAAFL.  You have to deal with them covering your property, choking gutters, gracing the bottoms of fish ponds, fountains, or pools.  I recommend mulching the leaves where they lay, but what about the ones which have strayed to places where they should not lay — roofs, walkways, roadways, barns, waterways.  If the leaves must be handled, can one deal with them as a collective or one-on-one?

Some people refer to the activities as leaf collection, which may signal a mistaken belief that there is a collective, one-size-fits-all, easy answer.

We pay a price for those winter etchings against the sky, those springtime blossoms, that summer greenscape, the technicolor of Autumn, the holiday platform for the twinkling lights.

Think of this annual chore as the rent you pay to Mother Nature.  You must deal with the leaves one-on-one.  Maybe that will allow you to appreciate the wide range of beauty in every leaf.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Law, Legislation, or Unholy Writ

Related to, and expanding on, yesterday’s ENMN column:

I have less than zero respect for what passes for “laws” these days– in other words, for legislation.

Law was discovered; legislation is made up.

Law isn’t subject to anyone’s opinion.

Legislation is nothing but the foul opinions of perverted thugs.

Law doesn’t change nor does it get added to.

Legislation changes all the time and continually grows like some sort of alien blob monster.

Law is about recognizing natural human rights– and respecting them.

Legislation is about finding excuses to violate natural human rights.

If it protects rights, it is law.

If it violates life, liberty, or property, it is legislation.

Laws include: don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t kidnap, don’t steal, don’t trespass, don’t vandalize.

Legislation includes: pay this tax, don’t smoke that, don’t have consensual sex with that person, don’t sell that, don’t add on to your house, wear your seat belt, don’t park your car on your own property, don’t paint your house that color, don’t drive faster than this arbitrary speed, don’t open a business there, etc.

Legislation is counterfeit “law”. It harms individuals and therefore it harms society.

I know law when I see it. I am clueless about most legislation details. That seems to suggest I could reasonably (but not “legally”) call myself a “lawyer”, but not an attorney. Maybe that’s why so few attorneys call themselves “lawyers” anymore. If they are that self-aware…

Cops are “Legislation enforcement officers” who violate law in order to enforce legislation. That makes them bad guys, even when they sometimes do the right thing. They’ll go right back to doing the wrong thing at the first opportunity.

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Clashing Values

Different people have different values. It’s not that anyone’s values are necessarily wrong for them, it’s that when you impose a “win/lose” system someone is going to be on the losing side.

Just a couple of examples–

Compassion for refugees vs defense of “your culture”.

Compassion for LGBTQ vs respecting the rights of those who aren’t.

Compassion for rape victims vs compassion for the falsely accused.

Values clash. Or they can seem to if you think it has to be either/or.

But anytime they appear to clash, liberty is the solution. Respect for everyone’s life, liberty, rights, and property. It’s where the balance lies; how you respect both sides without enslaving either one to the other. Anything less is uncivilized.

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