Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Tue 24th Jan, 2012

Private Stupidity

Kate and I heard a talk on the radio the other day in which a German-sounding American professor, or pundit, or something, tried to establish that actually we needed a society where everything is owned. Obviously it's hard for me to know his full thesis, because we started listening in the middle of the talk and switched off in disgust less than a minute later. But of the bit we heard all of it was, basically, complete rubbish.

His idea seemed to be that public property was a real problem - that it made things difficult because then you had to have laws and police and you had people sponging off the public good and abusing public property. Then you had to pay all these taxes to keep everything going and it was all very draining and stopped people just doing whatever they wanted with their stuff. Yes, a nice straw man argument, but then the alternative completely baffled me. According to him, in addition to owning your own property you'd also have to be a kind of shareholder in the road in front of your street, and the footpath, and the fences between your neighbours and yourself.

What baffles me here is that he clearly didn't see this going much further. Presumably he stays in his own street, grows all his own food, has an amazing naturally-occurring spring of fresh water in his back yard, and doesn't use electricity or the internet. Because as soon as you start looking at where all those things come from, you realise that they're all some kind of shared property. Once you drive outside your street, you need to be a shareholder in the company that owns that street, and so forth. I can only assume the pundit doesn't have any friends, because they moment they come and visit him they're going to have to pay a fee to his street-ownership-company to get there and park. He may well never use a public hospital, gone to a public school, gone to a public park, flown in public airspace, used the public radio spectrum, or have to claim unemployment benefits, but only because he's most probably a well-off white male.

I'll hopefully save my readers the tedium of reading through the first course in a standard lecture on Government and Democracy. It's just incredibly irritatingly bizarre to hear someone spout this kind of nonsense which almost naturally disproves itself. He probably even thinks the world will be a better place if they followed his philosophy. I'd like to invite him, publicly, to stop using all our public resources and only use the ones he actually privately owns. Then, when the oxygen starts running out in a couple of hours, he may like to reconsider. Meanwhile, get off my public broadcasting network and pay for your own publicity yourself.

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