The Enemies of Privatization
by Manuel Lora
by Manuel Lora
The Causeway is the 24-mile bridge that spans Lake Pontchartrain in the New Orleans area.
Earlier this week, Jefferson Parish President Broussard proposed that the bridge should be leased or sold to an international consulting firm. The council, of course, is shocked by the idea. One councilman has called it "ridiculous" while another is "flabbergasted" because the Causeway is a "public bridge" and "it belongs to the public." Finally, a third council member believes that it "is not in the best interest of the Causeway or the residents of Jefferson Parish."
One must wonder how it is possible for a single human being to know with certainty whether a particular course of action benefits or hurts society. Yet this is exactly what is claimed when we hear that something is or isn't in the "best interest" of everyone else. This is merely an assertion backed by economic ignorance and political pandering. Indeed, because public works are financed through taxation, it is not in the best interest of everyone; some would have preferred an alternate use for their money.
Dealing with the comment that the bridge belongs to the public requires resorting to libertarian principles. If the bridge (or anything else) was built with taxes, then I believe that the bridge should not* be sold to a company that does not have a better claim on the state-managed property. That said, however, that does not mean that I am against the de-socialization of everything. In fact, my libertarian view of this is simple: return the property to the victims to the extent that this is possible (there are various theories on how to do this but those are beyond the scope of this article).
The argument that the members of the council make is that because it belongs to the public, no one company or organization should be allowed to buy it. To be fair, this is not entirely objectionable. What is objectionable is their support for the creation and subsequent managing of public property (I prefer to call it state-managed property). Thus, their objection only gets it half right — they prevent the improper privatization of public resources on the grounds that it belongs to the "public" but it does not go far enough. For if they really and coherently believed that taking from the public gives the public a right to their tax-financed resources against a potential buyer, then it seems to me that they would have to apply the same at the individual level. That is, private property should give the owner the right against a potential buyer/confiscator.
Now it can be argued that the council does not have a problem with taxation in general and that would be true. After all, they form part of the parish's executive branch and implicitly (and often explicitly) support socialism to some extent. But even here the council would have to resort to economic reasoning to support their claims. Thus, we are back where we started. Because of faulty understanding of human action, they are unable to realize that preferences are ordinal and subjective and can only be demonstrated through action. Since taxation is aggressive and one cannot demonstrate a preference for alternate uses of money, the council takes away freedom of choice and socializes policy in the name of "efficiency."
*As a market anarchist I support no state action other than its disappearance. The council should manage no property. My case is simply against further victimization. The victims should have first right of rejection on state-managed property. If reasonable methods to return the stolen property fail, then it seems to me that the property in question is then up for grabs — it can be homesteaded. The state must control nothing at all.
March 22, 2008
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