Tired of the Paparazzi? Privatize the Roads and Other Spaces

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The checkout lanes at the grocery stores are filled with indispensable last-minute things. Things filled with sugar and sodium without which our lives would be boring. For some, however, life would be even more boring without a good dosage of cheap and crude tabloid. For who can honestly say that they don’t take a peek when their items are being scanned at the register?

Tabloids "enjoy" a reputation that few would voluntarily seek. Oftentimes they are tied up in lawsuits regarding the veracity of their possibly libelous content. But the juiciest parts of all are the photos. The photographic smorgasbord that our eyes feast upon do not really consist of wonderfully composed frames or vibrant colors. Instead, we get to see people, almost always celebrities, caught naked or almost naked, smoking weed, crying, fighting, bathing, eating (usually massive amounts), kissing (or worse). And most of the people featured in these highly entertaining publications complain, quite correctly, that their photographers are just bounty hunters looking for the most shocking and embarrassing shot possible.

Libertarian code tells us that going outside to take photos is not, per se, a violation of rights. That is, there is no uninvited border crossing. This does not mean that anything that does not violate rights is desirable. Rather, it means that those activities that do not violate private property rights must not be punishable. Thus, it would seem that there is no solution to the paparazzi problem. Celebrities will always be followed and if they do not want to be photographed, they need to stay home or go out in disguise.

Not so fast.

The problem with paparazzi, beyond the fact that they are annoying (though this itself is not punishable under the libertarian code), is that the government is the de facto owner and manager of the road, meaning that we are living in one giant area operating under a tragedy of the commons scenario.

Traditionally, though this varies from country to country, governments set more or less inclusive policies. Everyone is allowed by default and every so often you need a permit to hold a protest or parade. People can go out for a stroll, walk their dogs or drive their cars. Paparazzi are also included in this group, for they would complain of being discriminated against if some government were to outright ban them.

The market solution to the paparazzi would involve the privatization of roads, sidewalks and as many public areas as possible. The owner would then be totally justified in establishing rules and policies that the user/guest must follow. One such rule, if there is such a demand by those living in the contiguous areas surrounding the roads and sidewalks, could be a provision whereas anyone found compulsively stalking residents (or celebrities) and photographing them must be banished.

The scenario imagined above is fully compatible with libertarian law. Given that the road owner is entitled to set any policy on his property, then a prohibition against photographic stalking is justified.

We can go on further and imagine that people living in an area surrounded by private roads have contracted with an insurance company who handles security for said road. The insurance company has also contracted with the residents and guaranteed that they will be safe from paparazzi. Absolute certainty is impossible to achieve. Yet it behooves the insurance company, in order to not pay out monetary damages to the insured, to minimize their costs. Minimizing their costs would indeed imply figuring out ways to keep the paparazzi out of the road. Maybe they can offer rewards to anyone who spots paparazzi and calls the road police (presumably the same would happen with burglars and other known criminals). At any rate, there would be market incentives to cope with this issue.

Compare the working of the market to the debacle that are state-controlled public areas, including roads. Virtually anyone can do anything he wants because otherwise, in our super-sensitive and politically correct society, the political risks of establishing restrictive policies is simply too great. But the government still sets some rules. In most places you will be arrested for public intoxication or sexual activities, for example. These rules, however, are still under the Totally Arbitrary government rubric. Surely some people would not only like to see but participate in these activities. Are their rights not being violated if they are threatened with force by government agents if they try to do something that the State does not want them to do in public places?

There is no reason to believe that there would not be areas established explicitly to appeal to groups that want to behave in particular ways. There would be areas where the usage of crack and heroine is accepted or others were only activities sanctioned by the Bible are permitted. Restaurants and clubs today get to establish their own policies and dress codes. You can find places that range from fine dining to hole-in-the-wall greasy spoons. It need not be hard to imagine that a marketplace of roads, sidewalks, and parks would work the same way.

The tragedy of the commons is eliminated with private property. In one’s home, there exists the freedom to do anything from enjoy a classical piece of music to engage in debauchery of biblical proportions. This is not the case with government roads and other public spaces. The government has illegitimately taken control of that land and has imposed its own rules.

Still not convinced? Let’s look at New Orleans, where in its French Quarter area drinking on the streets is allowed and partial nudity is tolerated. The result? A healthy number of tourists flock to the city year round (and not only during Mardi Gras) to take advantage of the fun partly because it is prohibited where they live. There is a real demand for public drinking and New Orleans satisfies it. The same would be possible in a society where roads and sidewalks are under private ownership.

To conclude, the answer to the paparazzi is simply for the owner to not invite them. If they do get in, they can be kicked out, just as if they were a trespasser on your yard.

Manuel Lora [send him mail] is a freelance TV producer and multimedia specialist in New Orleans.

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