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Thursday, February 3, 2005 - 9:52pmSanction this postReply
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(Please suspend your disbelief on the implausibility of this scenario; it is designed to probe moral and philosophical questions related to the origin of property rights)

It is the present day.  John, a wealthy Canadian man, is sailing the ocean alone in his private ship.  Miraculously, he comes across a large island not on any map.  Somehow, he has discovered a piece of land completely missed by explorers and satelites! 

The beautiful tropical island is rich in resources - oil and gold particularly - and the soil is rich for farming.  However, the island is not uninhabited.  A primitive tribe called the Kikis lives there.  The Kikis are a proud hunter/gatherer people who live a hand-to-mouth existence.  Given their society is little more than a collectivist commune, they Kikis have virtually no notion of property rights.

Although communication is difficult at first, John and the Kikis somehow establish a line of communication.  John shows them some of the marvels of modern technology that he happens to have on his boat (televisions, power tools, electric lights, air conditioning, two way radios etc.)  and the Kikis are amazed and intrigued.  John tells the Kikis that he will will return with a whole boatload of such goodies if they let him develop portions of the land to drill for oil and mine for gold.  The tribal elders meet to discuss John's offer, and eventually decide to decline.  The Kiki elders tell John that the Great Sun God has intended them to live in their traditional ways for all of eternity, and that they cannot upset the Sun God.   John attempts to reason with them, but they will not even negotiate - they are impervious to reason.  John eventually decides to leave the island. 

The end.

Now, here are a few quick questions:

1.  Does John have the moral right to return to the island with some oil drillers and simply start harvesting the resources, even if it pisses off the Kikis?  After all, the Kikis certainly aren't making any use of them!  Or, do the Kikis posess 'aboriginal' rights to the land since they were there first?  In other words, should the modern world just leave the island alone?

2. If John were to claim any or all of the land, is the island John's own country, or does it belong to Canada?  Or does it belong to the nearest landed country in geographic proximity?




Post 1

Thursday, February 3, 2005 - 10:23pmSanction this postReply
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The Kikis sound to me like the jerks who inevitably would hold out for 2, 8, 28 times the value of their strip mall, (in the absence of eminent domain,) in order to extract the maximum possible from the public that just wants to get home before it is time to wake up and go to work again.

Jon




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Post 2

Friday, February 4, 2005 - 2:16amSanction this postReply
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I'm still in my early stages of relativism deprogramming, but I'll take a whack here...

You mention the Kikis have virtually no notion of property rights. It would reason then that John's proposal to displace them would have no affect on them regardless what the trade is. Their refusal implies some understanding that John would disrupt their lives, i.e. their ability to use the island for whatever eternal traditions they desire. Whatever understanding the Kikis have of the island, by your description they seem to think of it as 'theirs'. So...

1) The Kikis possess aboriginal rights to the land and have the ability to use the land as they wish. Anything done to the island by the 'modern world' would cause a forced disruption, so John does not have the moral right to do so.

2) Technically John would be an invader by force, and the island would belong to the Kikis regardless. But say the island was uninhabited and unclaimed. John could make his own country or join another, as people can do with their private islands.
As for belonging to the nearest landed country in geographic proximity, that would be a pretty crazy way for countries to gobble up land. It would be like a bizarre game of RISK.

Unless you were trying to say that the 'collectivist commune' is immoral giving John some moral sanction? I wouldn't agree with that either, since the Kikis supposedly volunteer to join the commune... I'm starting to assume a lot.


But this hypothetical brings up another topic I've found intriguing, that is property rights via claiming. Take the moon. Who has claim? Do you have to 'arrive' on the land to claim it? Can you just 'call' it yours? 'Calling' property rights sounds counterintuitive to me, but that was what happened on the moon. "A declaration of ownership was filed with the United Nations as well as the US and Russian governments 25 years ago by Mr. Dennis M. Hope of the Lunar Embassy, to ensure that a legal basis for the ownership of the properties sold here can be claimed. On that wonderful day in 1980, the Lunar Embassy was born. (www.lunarembassy.com)"

Actually this makes sense, as the first person to perceive value in unclaimed/previously nonexisting property and act to create/appropriate it should deserve the title. Any holes in that? Help me understand.

-Stephen




Post 3

Friday, February 4, 2005 - 10:04amSanction this postReply
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I'm with Stephen on this one.

The Kiki's do have some sense of property as they refused the offer. Just drilling for oil regardless would be an initiation of force - not on. The more I think of eminent domain the more I think of " ... to those according to their need.".

John's better approach would be to explain the advantages of trade. Maybe some will trade more. This may cause dissent and break up the "communal system" after which he may be able to make his offer again.




Post 4

Friday, February 4, 2005 - 3:36pmSanction this postReply
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Actually this makes sense, as the first person to perceieve value in unclaimed/previously non-existing property and act to create/appropriate it should desrve the title. any holes in that? Help me understand.

There is a big hole in it: the word "appropriate." Property rights are earned from use of the unused, not by claim.

"Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property - by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort."
- Ayn Rand, "The Property Status of Airwaves" [my emphaisis]
Jim




Post 5

Friday, February 4, 2005 - 3:58pmSanction this postReply
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The Kikis are a proud hunter/gatherer people who live a hand-to-mouth existence.
I don't see how any human being who purposefully lives hand-to-mouth can be proud, but back to the point:

1. The "Kikis" don't own anything, only the individuals living there do. There is no such entity as "the Kikis". So, John has the moral right to return and drill and such so long as he doesn't violate any individual Kikis' property (their individual huts say). They can't lay claim to the whole island just because a) they all call themselves Kiki's or b) they happened to have been born on that island and walked on it. All they are is a bunch of individual human beings; that they hold themselves as part of some clan doesn't grant them any mystical rights over John.

2. Land doesn't belong to "countries", for the same reason that it doesn't belong to "Kikis" - it only belongs to individuals. Perhaps John could end up owning most of the island if he developed it, but he doesn't own it simply by saying he does, any more than any Kiki owns it by saying he does (Jim's point).




Post 6

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 7:17amSanction this postReply
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1.  Does John have the moral right to return to the island with some oil drillers and simply start harvesting the resources, even if it pisses off the Kikis?  After all, the Kikis certainly aren't making any use of them!  Or, do the Kikis posess 'aboriginal' rights to the land since they were there first?  In other words, should the modern world just leave the island alone?
The Kikis have the moral right to the land since they have been using it for some time. It doesn't matter if they do not have a system of individual property rights among themselves, as a group they have the right to retain the land they have been using as a group. 

They do not possess the moral right to the oil underneath the land. How John gets access to the oil is up to him, he can either drill from the sea or bargain for access rights with the Kikis, unless there are unused parts of the island he can claim as his own.
2. If John were to claim any or all of the land, is the island John's own country, or does it belong to Canada?  Or does it belong to the nearest landed country in geographic proximity?
In a libertarian society, a country, or rather a government, wouldn't "own" land, but could govern it, in terms of protecting the property rights associated with it. The Canadian government may want to register and protect the property right discoveries of its citizens (just as it would register and protect property rights for a new invention for example), although this may be costly and there may be cross-subsidiation issues. Alternatively, if John wants to set up the island without the benefits of Canadian sovereignty, that should be his prerogative. The proximity of other countries is irrelevant.



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Post 7

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 9:30amSanction this postReply
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Jim, thank you for clarifying.

Shayne, brilliant point about individuals not comprising a larger entity with superceding rights. A small problem I see then is the fact that the individual Kikis are hunters and gatherers. Hunting/gathering requires land as natural habitat for plant/animal/mineral resources for the Kiki to use. Therefore, according to Ayn Rand's definition of private property in Jim's post, the Kiki may be using considerable land on the island for their purposes and this makes the land their property by right. Perhaps the entire island is used for these purposes by some individual Kiki or another, so John once again has no moral right to the island.

If there is a piece or pieces of the island where no individual Kiki is applying any knowledge or effort, then it would follow that John indeed can earn property rights to that piece by developing it.

Better?



Post 8

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 9:41amSanction this postReply
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The Kikis have the moral right to the land since they have been using it for some time. It doesn't matter if they do not have a system of individual property rights among themselves, as a group they have the right to retain the land they have been using as a group. 
A group could share ownership in a jointly developed property, but they don't own the whole island unless they've developed the whole island. If they live on one side of it say, and wander to the other side to hunt now and then, then certainly they don't own that side. Would you also argue that the Indians "owned" the American continent?




Post 9

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 9:50amSanction this postReply
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Try this scenario:

John lands on the island. The Kikis have a rule "trespassers to our island will be eaten", they proceed to kill John, roast him and eat him. John had a video camera and a satellite link on his ship which captures the whole thing and sends the images home. As John's survivors what would you do? What would you have the right to do?



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Post 10

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 10:14amSanction this postReply
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A group could share ownership in a jointly developed property, but they don't own the whole island unless they've developed the whole island. If they live on one side of it say, and wander to the other side to hunt now and then, then certainly they don't own that side. Would you also argue that the Indians "owned" the American continent?
Living as hunter/gatherers, requires use of a large amount of land. If the land is so large that taking a piece of it wouldn't interfere with the hunter/gatherers, nor their availability of food and supplies, then the argument can be made that the land taken wasn't owned. However, to respect the property rights of others, we must take into consideration the amount of property they are using if they haven't established a system of property rights amongst themselves. To do otherwise, to take land that they are using, and deprive them of well established resources for their survival and preferred manner of life, would be to violate their rights -- every bit as much as confiscating land already owned in America, or any other western country, because the land was bought as an investment, or left undeveloped because of its beauty.

If they have been using the land and use it for their chosen method of survival, then the land is theirs, and they have a natural right to it.

Craig (Houston)




Post 11

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 10:38amSanction this postReply
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A group could share ownership in a jointly developed property, but they don't own the whole island unless they've developed the whole island. If they live on one side of it say, and wander to the other side to hunt now and then, then certainly they don't own that side.
The point I was making is that groups of people, such as communes for example, can own land. Hence the individual/group distinction may not be very useful in this example. But yes, the general rule should be that rights should only be recognised in relation to actual usage.

So in your example, although wandering across to one side to hunt now and then may not justify outright ownership, there may be a reasonable claim for ongoing hunting rights or rights of passage.

Would you also argue that the Indians "owned" the American continent?
No!




Post 12

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 10:41amSanction this postReply
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do otherwise, to take land that they are using, and deprive them of well established resources for their survival and preferred manner of life,
Just because someone "prefers" something doesn't make it a valid claim. They may "prefer" to hunt/gather on a vast area of land (the whole American continent say), not visiting any area twice in the same year, but that doesn't mean that they can lay objective claim to all those areas.

If their preferred mode of survival isn't possible because of a rights-respecting society, then it's too bad for them, or rather, time for them to grow up and live like human beings (i.e., a creatures who adapt themselves to make the best possible life given the circumstances).
every bit as much as confiscating land already owned in America, or any other western country, because the land was bought as an investment, or left undeveloped because of its beauty.
No one validly owns vast sections of undeveloped land.




Post 13

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 10:51amSanction this postReply
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The point I was making is that groups of people, such as communes for example, can own land. Hence the individual/group distinction may not be very useful in this example.
That's kind of like saying that arithmetic isn't very useful to algebra. This is a bizarre statement because arithmetic is a prerequisite - one can't understand algebra without understanding arithmetic (though one could teach someone, as though he were a monkey, to appear to be doing algebra). Likewise, the only proper way to comprehend "group ownership" is by starting with the concept of individual ownership. For starters, one would realize that if an individual in principle can't own something, then neither can 2, 10, or 10,000,000.




Post 14

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 11:19amSanction this postReply
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No one validly owns vast sections of undeveloped land.
Have you been to New Mexico?

Every inch of the continental US has been claimed as property, but there are still large areas which have not yet been developed. Moreover, people have a right to own land for other purposes than farming or ranching. Private Parks are certainly legitimate concepts under Objectivism, but many parts of such parks lay completely undeveloped.

With regard to the hypothetical tribe, if someone moves onto the island and makes use of property which necessarily interferes with the tribe's hunting, then how can it be said that this person is not violating their property rights. A right is supposed to protect someone, in a given context, from the actions of other people. If the tribe is forced to change its hunting patterns, or means of survival from previously established patterns, then how can it be said that their property rights were not violated, when these sorts of things are precisely what a property right is designed to protect.

It's a judgement call, sure. If the tribe only visits a certain part of the island once every two years, then it's quite questionable whether they own the land there. Keep in mind, though, that in certain western states in the US, there are squatting laws (as I understand it), which allow swatters to take ownership of land that they've managed to occupy for seven years or more. Note that the owner need only come around once every six years to maintain the claim on his land.

Sincerely,

Craig (Houston)




Post 15

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 12:06pmSanction this postReply
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Craig (Houston),

No I have not been to New Mexico, and I don't see what that has to do with this.
Every inch of the continental US has been claimed as property, but there are still large areas which have not yet been developed.
Having been claimed as property doesn't make it property.
Moreover, people have a right to own land for other purposes than farming or ranching.
True. There's also housing and industrial complexes for example.
Parks are certainly legitimate concepts under Objectivism, but many parts of such parks lay completely undeveloped.
A park is an extremely tiny section of land used by surrounding residents for recreational purposes. All the parks I've seen are developed and maintained. Unless you're thinking of Yellowstone National "Park" - a place that no one owns but the government arbitrarily enforces its own invalid conception of property rights on.
With regard to the hypothetical tribe, if someone moves onto the island and makes use of property which necessarily interferes with the tribe's hunting, then how can it be said that this person is not violating their property rights.
Because the tribe has no rights to any of the land to begin with. You don't own something just because you wandered there and killed some things. If you've been wandering around some big area for a while, killing and eating things here and there, and then civilization creeps in and starts to eliminate the places you happened across, you're out of luck (a rational hunter-gatherer would count himself lucky - he could then become part of that civilization). You have no right to keep living in that mode merely because that's what you'd been doing for 1, 10, or 50 years. As Ayn Rand pointed out, there is no "divine right of stagnation".




Post 16

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 1:01pmSanction this postReply
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What if individual Kikis ARE using the oil? What if the Kikiís say to John:

ďWe know all about the oil. We have seen it bubbling up on this island for generations. Kee-kee-kluck-tee, the guy over there, with all the oil on his face, he is in charge of the out-bubbling. He discovered it and its usefulness as makeup and for starting fires. He collects it and trades it with us for snails and coconuts. The shit hasnít hunted or gathered in over a hundred moons. He says rapid extraction will ruin his barter position. Now go away.Ē




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Post 17

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 2:02pmSanction this postReply
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Because the tribe has no rights to any of the land to begin with. You don't own something just because you wandered there and killed some things. If you've been wandering around some big area for a while, killing and eating things here and there, and then civilization creeps in and starts to eliminate the places you happened across, you're out of luck (a rational hunter-gatherer would count himself lucky - he could then become part of that civilization). You have no right to keep living in that mode merely because that's what you'd been doing for 1, 10, or 50 years. As Ayn Rand pointed out, there is no "divine right of stagnation".
I find this to be an incredible statement. You're saying that a hypothetical tribe, on a previously undiscovered island, whom have been hunting and living there for countless generations, has no rights to any of the land to begin with, because they failed to establish a written system of property ownership.

Individual rights do not come from paper. They come from the requirements for man's life. Following your definition of rights, this tribe would be left penniless, poverty stricken, and starving, the moment that others moved in and claimed all the land. Would you exempt the land the huts were built on? If so, why? The huts make use of the land for one humand need - shelter, but the hunting land makes use of another -- food. There's no epistemological, nor moral, difference.

The individuals in the tribe have every right to continue living in whatever manner they choose -- even as a hunter/gatherer tribe. Even if it's not the best standard of life, it's still THEIR choice. To deny this is to deny human volition, and to deny everyone's property rights. One's approval of how they use the land is not a requirement to respect their property rights.

Sincerely,

Craig (Houston)




Post 18

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 2:12pmSanction this postReply
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Snowdog,

If John were so inclined, would he have the right to hunt there, too? If he and the Kikis deplete everything worth hunting, then both will have to find new ways to survive, right? No oneís rights have been broken, itís just time for everyone to adapt.

Jon




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Post 19

Saturday, February 5, 2005 - 2:30pmSanction this postReply
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My previous point was, whatever the "culture" is of the Kikis, there will be bound to be profound differences with western culture. How do you resolve these differences if there is contact between the two cultures? At what point do you say: Nope, that's not acceptable behavior. The same with property rights. Do we have truly objective [conform to reality] property rights laws? If we believe we do, are we comfortable with imposing these rules on a different culture? If not, why not?

Aren't there people who own open land and use it only for their own private hunting preserve? There's the precedent for the Kikis land use. If they remain peaceful, but don't want to sell or trade, I think you have to leave them alone.

Another scenario:

After settling this particular rights issue, you find out that the Kikis haven't been there very long. In fact, they just arrived about 2 years before you did. Perhaps a commune from some big city heard about this unknown island from some wayward traveler. They arranged to move there and "go back to nature". They didn't place any legal claims on the island because they didn't want anyone to know about it. How does this affect your previous conclusions about their property rights?


Pete, thanks for starting this discussion, it's an interesting one.



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