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States cannot own property

September 21, 2004

MSNBC has a transcript of some events at a speech given by Mrs. Bush at a public hall attached to a firehouse (also see this article. A mother, wearing a shirt saying "President Bush, you killed my son", started objecting in the middle of the event. She was arrested outside of the hall, while she was being interviewed by several reporters. It is clear that the reason she was arrested was to silence her (the charges were dropped). Some libertarians who have been discussing this online have argued that no-one has a right to protest on someone else' private property. This argument would be valid if the event were held on privately owned property, and not on property positively controlled by the State. States cannot legitimately own land.

Due to the way that States are created, obtain their funding, and obtain their land -- fundamentally, due to the nature of the State itself -- it is simply impossible for a State to have a property right in anything. There are several ways that States can come to positively control land, none of which gives them a normative private property right in that land:

1. By buying the land from previous owners. Since usually States must be financed by taxes (stolen money), any acquisitions made by States are illegitimate. Even in the States of old that did not tax, they were still coercive monopolies on protection (that is, they violently prevent anyone from competing with them in the rendering of protection). Thus, we cannot claim that the money they obtained was legitimate -- they wouldn't have obtained that much if not for violently preventing competitition.

2. By decree. Unoccupied land is "declared" to belong to the State. This is not a legitimate way to come into ownership of land. To obtain a property right over something, you must first homestead it. Simply pointing around yourself in a 360-degree circle and saying "mine" doesn't constitute homesteading. Actually working the land does.

3. By conquest. This is outright robbery.

4. By emminent domain. Again, outright robbery, except of the States' own citizens.

5. By actually "working" the land. Still, this does not give a property right. Working land is one requirement for coming into ownership of it. The other requirement is that the tools you use to work it were rightfully yours in the first place. If I steal your plow to work a plot of land, that plot of land isn't legitimately mine. If I enslave you to plow a plot of land, that land isn't legitimately mine. In short, it is impossible for States to homestead land.

Summarily, because no State can ever possibly be legitimate, no State can ever possibly rightfully own (have a property right) in anything. Of course, States positively control things. In the same way, if I hold you up at gunpoint, and steal your money, I positively control it. That doesn't mean I own it, or have a normative property right in it.

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