Kinsella on Liberty Podcast: Episode 390.
In the second half of a discussion on Disenthrall (for Part I, see KOL389 | Disenthrall: With Patrick Smith and Larken Rose the Morality of Copyright “Piracy”), host Patrick Smith and I discussed recent changes to the Libertarian Party Platform related to aggression and property rights; see Aggression and Property Rights Plank in the Libertarian Party Platform. We also touched on other issues like abandonment of property.
Youtube of show:
Odysee version of entire show:
- Property Title Records and Insurance in a Free Society, Mises Blog (Dec. 4, 2010)
- Homesteading, Abandonment, and Unowned Land in the Civil Law (Mises Blog, 2009)
- Further Thoughts on Abandonment and Alienability in Contract Theory: Discussions with Jay Lakner
- Left-Libertarians on Rothbardian Abandonment
- How To Think About Property (2019)
- Libertarian Answer Man: Abandoning Property on your curb for the trash man: who owns what?
Some of my further thoughts that I sent Patrick via DM after the show (lightly edited):
More thoughts re abandonment.
I think if you pick up a stick in the forest and use it for an hour then discard it, it’s now unowned again. The reason is you didn’t take the steps necessary to establish a publicly visible (objective, observable; intersubjectively ascertainable) link. As far as others are concerned, it’s unowned–maybe they don’t know it was ever owned. Hell, when you pick it up and use it, you don’t know if someone had used it previously and then abandoned it. So in your own use of an unowned thing, you yourself make assumptions about its current unowned status. Can you complain if others make assumptions about the resource if you skedaddle?
Imagine someone who sells you a car and then later tries to get the car back, by saying “well I was just joking or pretending when I said you could have it”. We would not let him do that, because we would look at what his words and behavior actually reasonably and objectively communicated, right?
Likewise, suppose some guy owns a little lot and never develops it, and he leaves town, leaving behind a sign saying “I hereby abandon this; finders’ keepers” and he puts a notice to that effect in the paper. Someone else then homesteads it and builds a home on it. A year later the guy comes back and says he wants his land back, that he was “only joking.”
Another example: if A owns some land and has no heirs, and he dies, then it’s now unowned and up for grabs. But how do we know he died? What if he goes off to fight a war and it’s uncertain, and we hear reliable reports he was killed. So eventually he’s declared dead and someone homesteads the land. But then 20 years later he shows up and claims it. Why did he wait so long?
One more example: A owns it and has no heirs, and he fakes his own death (for his own reasons–maybe to torment an ex-wife or a parent or to escape his enemies). So everyone assumes he’s dead, and someone else, B, homesteads the land. 15 years later A shows up and wants his land back. He says he never died, he only faked it. Now as between A and B, who has the better claim? Did A abandon it, or not, by his act of faking his death, by his allowing people to believe this and act in reliance on it?
Let me know how you think about these cases. If you tend to agree with me, then I think you’ll see where I’m going and how it’s relevant for acquisitive prescription. If you neglect your property for too long, and others are uncertain or misled, and start to use it, and you never show up to correct their misimpression, or to object to their use, you can see that over time, people would start to disregard your claim to reclaim your original title.
One more thing: you mentioned title insurance. I’ve written about that briefly here —Property Title Records and Insurance in a Free Society. I do think this would play more of a role in a private society. So you could imagine–suppose there is a world like the one you envision, where there is no such thing as tacit or implicit abandonment. So some guy leaves town and is long lost. Someone wants to use his land but they don’t know where to find him–they don’t know if he is dead, if he still considers himself an owner, or what.
Now in today’s world, then at a certain point the owner is considered to have lost it—to acquisitive prescription or whatever (if the new guy just starts using it, then after a certain number of years his new ownership claim can’t be overturned if the old guy shows up out of the blue). But imagine we don’t have such a rule. So I want to use the land but am not sure whether some day some guy will show up and oust me. So what would I do? I would buy property title insurance. Some company would review the situation and issue me a policy. They might estimate that the odds are very low that the original owner will ever show up. If the guy shows up 15 years later, then my insurer either pays him a fee to go away, or, if he recovers his property and ousts me, my insurer compensates me. So even if we went with your no-implicit-abandonment set of rules, insurance services would arise to take care of this problem. Agree?