Private Ownership vs. Public “Ownership”

In his letter to the editor praising the legislation passed by President Clinton “protecting” 1.7 million acres in Utah from development, William H. Meadows of the Wilderness Society claims that this and similar acts of legislation have made each individual US citizen an “owner” of 623 million acres of land. Using this same reasoning, if the government were to forcibly expropriate all land and private property, he could claim that each citizen would then own all the land and property in the entire country.

 Of course, when a government expropriates property, whether in the case of the US government expropriating a piece of land or a Communist government expropriating an entire economy, the exact opposite is true: each citizen becomes completely deprived of the prerogatives of ownership, and is left economically powerless to determine how the land, or any other commodity, is used.

Mr. Meadows also says that US citizens have a “duty” to the unborn to use the coercive powers of the state to prohibit the development of various wildernesses by special economic “interests.” In fact, the citizens of a free country have no unchosen duties to the unborn. The government of a free country, on the other hand, does have a moral and political obligation to protect the economic rights of its living citizens. In the case in question, this means that the US government has an obligation to sell off its vast land holdings in the West and in Alaska so that they can be put to whatever use the citizens most desire.

German Philosophy vs. Freedom

In his letter to the New York Post, councilman Sheldon S. Leffler chastises the Post’s editorialist for reviving the allegedly “long-discredited” interpretation of Nietzsche as being an influence on Nazi ideology. I wonder how the councilman would interpret the following, which are Nietzsche’s own words:

 “There is only nobility of birth, only nobility of blood”; “Mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a single stronger species of man — that would be an advance.”; “The beginnings of everything great on earth [are] soaked in blood thoroughly and for a long time.”; “Let a tyrant lay his yoke upon you and say ‘Obey, gnash and obey,’ and all good and evil will be drowned in obedience to him”; “Where are the barbarians of the twentieth century?” (All quotes are taken from “Nietzsche and Individualism,” an essay discrediting the common misinterpretation of Nietzsche as being an individualist, in The Objectivist Forum, April 1986.)

As demonstrated by philosopher Leonard Peikoff in “The Ominous Parallels,” the existential horrors of Communism and Nazism were not accidents visited upon mankind from heaven; rather, they resulted from the political and economic implementation of the ideas of German philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Yet there is a further irony in Leffler’s defending German philosophy while simultaneously claiming to be a spokesman for the “American Way.”

Leffler says that mayor Guilliani, in supporting the rights and freedom of businessmen to locate their stores where they wish and consumers to shop where they wish, is acting as a Nietzschian “ubermenschen” (superman) by refusing to give “the public a voice [i.e., Leffer’s voice] on the siting of megastores in their own communities.” In fact, Guilliani’s defense of megastores represents an implementation of the Lockian and Jeffersonian (i.e., the American) principle of holding the rights and freedom of the individuals comprising “the public” above any potential tyrants attempting to act as “its” spokesman. Conversely, the principle held by Leffler, that a government official has the right to use the coercive powers of the state in order to implement a mystical voice of the public, is the political implementation of the collectivism espoused by German philosophy, which has been applied most consistently in totalitarian states.

Bureaucracy vs. Economic Rights (published in NY Post)

In the debate over whether Mayor Guilliani should allow megastores into New York City “as [a matter] of right,” city councilman Sheldon Leffler’s attack on the Mayor—”If you are a zealot, a former prosecutor, an ubermensch, you may not feel you have to listen to what ordinary citizens of this city have to say. But allowing some meaningful community input is the American way.”—speaks volumes on the mentality of statist bureaucrats such as himself.

In a free country, “ordinary citizens” express their economic preferences democratically, by means of an economic vote, every time they choose to shop in one store (such as a megastore) rather than another store (such as a small retailer), thereby determining which store will survive. As identified by the great economist Ludwig von Mises, for a government official such as Leffler to intervene in such a process is akin to his forcibly overruling the results of a democratic election whose outcome he disagrees with.

It is the function of a Communist or Nazi dictator to divine the will of the citizens as a whole, and then to issue orders, backed by the threat of government-initiated coercion, to implement that “will.” On the other hand, it is the function of a limited Republican government—the kind of government envisioned by the founding fathers—to protect the rights of all individuals to be free from the initiation of coercion, either from the government or from private criminals, so that they may think and act freely. In the particular case in question, that is, the case of protecting the rights of those individuals of outstanding business ability who have risen to the top of the economic realm by means of lowering the prices and/or improving the quality of the goods they sell, the result of re-instituting such protection would be the kind of economic progress and prosperity that was once the norm in the United States and New York City.

[Note: In reprinting the above letter, The New York Post omitted the final paragraph and printed a lengthy letter from Leffler in which the councilman defended his use of the word “ubermensch” while praising the philosophy of Nietzsche. In order to present the content omitted from my original letter, and in response to Leffler’s praise of Nietzsche, I wrote a follow-up letter, “German Philosophy vs. Freedom.”]

Abolishing Rent Control (published in NY Post)

The reasoning behind Jack Newfield’s analysis of the dynamics between New York City’s landlords and tenants (“Talk to tortured tenant before hiking rent,” column, May 21) leaves much to be desired.

Under rent control, government bureaucrats are able to demand, under the threat of criminal penalties including imprisonment, that landlords charge less than half the market rate for their services (in Mr. Newfield’s example, $354 a month for an apartment apparently worth $1,050 to its current tenant), while simultaneously demanding that they maintain or even improve such services.

On the face of such fascist-like legislation, is it any wonder that many landlords feel compelled to abandon or set fire to their properties, or resort to strong-arm tactics themselves? Further, it is any wonder that New York City apartments are in such short supply in relation to demand, thereby driving the rents in non-controlled apartments sky-high? Who in their right mind would want to be a landlord under the condition of having a potential gun pointed at your head by a legally sanctioned government thug, compelling you to act against your own interests and leading you ultimately to financial ruin?

Mr. Newfield’s solution: create a new group of tax-supported bureaucrats who would require government licensing of potential landlords, thereby further reducing the supply of both landlords and rental housing, while simultaneously driving up rents and taxes.

What’s the real solution? In a word, freedom: the abolition of all coercive legislation directed against the interests of landlords and tenants, such a price controls, building regulations and zoning laws. Thereafter, the profit motive would act powerfully as an incentive to radically increase the supply of rental housing, while freedom of competition would act to decrease the rents and increase the quality of such housing.

Privatizing The Subway (published in NY Post)

In the debate over the proposed MTA fare hikes, New Yorkers should not lose sight of the fact that they are being forced to pay for the use of our subway system indirectly through taxation, as well as directly through (soon to be increased) fares. Given the failure and collapse of Socialism around the world and the wretched state of the socialized sectors of our own economy, it is not surprising that our transportation system is both expensive and crumbling.

The solution is obvious. Privatizing the subway would both decrease its cost and radically improve its quality.