Against Libertarian Hedonism

There has long been a debate in libertarian circles between thin libertarianism and thick libertarianism. Thin libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the acceptable use of force, saying that initiating the use of force is never acceptable and using force to defend against a force initiator is always acceptable. Thick libertarianism says that this is insufficient and views conservative or reactionary views on social issues as threats to liberty. This is not news to anyone who is well acquainted with libertarian discourse, but there is a particular manifestation of thick libertarianism which is both quickly growing and extremely troubling.

There are people who enter into libertarianism not because they seek to advance peaceful societal organization, voluntary provision of necessary services, or the protection of rights against infringement, although they may do this to the extent that it benefits them personally. Nor do they enter because they seek to form homogeneous communities, dissociate from people they dislike, or put their prejudices into practice on a larger scale, although they may do this to some extent with those who share their particular behaviors. These people come into libertarian circles simply because they seek a safe space for the practice of their vices, whatever they may be. Leftist elements within libertarianism provide them with this safe space because doing so is an easier way to grow the movement than authentic proselytization, then attack those who criticize this practice as bigots, reactionaries, and generally ignorant people.

While the toleration of vices is required by the non-aggression principle as long as said vices do not lead to assaults upon people or destruction of their property, there is a difference between tolerance and encouragement. A successful libertarian civilization must have a well-functioning market economy and be capable of both stopping common criminality and repelling external invasions. Those who abuse drugs, engage in sexual promiscuity, gamble excessively, and so forth may not be directly harming anyone other than themselves, but these behaviors practiced frequently on a large scale not only fail to make a successful libertarian civilization, but endanger its continued existence and flourishing by weakening its members and attracting people who will fake being a libertarian for their own selfish ends while undermining the community.

People who are addicted to substances are less likely to make good decisions, be productive in a trade other than manufacturing or selling drugs, or perceive reality as it is. This would be bad enough, but the impairment that drug use causes can lead people to commit acts of aggression against people and property that they would not commit if sober. While the decriminalization of drugs that a free society requires would lower the price of a drug habit, such a habit would still divert resources to finance destructive rather than productive behavior and could still lead people to steal property to finance a habit.

Sexual promiscuity has the consequences of spreading diseases and causing unwanted pregnancies, even with modern birth control, abortion, and prophylactic methods. When the costs of such behavior are not paid for by the people involved, they will be pushed onto the rest of the community regardless of whether there is a welfare state, private charity, or neither, as most people are too compassionate to allow natural selection to work against people who have brought misfortune upon themselves, let alone the children they produce. Single motherhood is strongly correlated with negative outcomes for children, so it is in the best interests of a community to discourage behaviors which produce it.

While a certain amount of gambling is necessary for the most efficient allocation of capital and speculators perform several necessary market functions, an excess of gambling diverts resources from other purposes and encourages the acquisition of wealth by chance rather than by labor. The poor decision-making habits that problem gamblers develop can spill over into other areas of one’s life. The end result is a general deterioration of work ethic and quality of service throughout the community.

When Hans-Hermann Hoppe wrote that people need to physically remove advocates and practitioners of individual hedonism (among others) from a community in order to maintain a libertarian order, he was predictably condemned by left-libertarians. They argue that this restricts the liberty of hedonists for no legitimate reason and may even constitute aggression, but this is not true as long as those performing the removal are rightful owners of private property who consider hedonists to be unwelcome inside their lands. While people should be free to pursue their own destruction if they so choose, they have neither the right to do so where their presence is unwanted by private property owners nor the right to bring non-hedonists to ruin with them. A stance against libertarian hedonism that stays within the confines of the non-aggression principle is not only acceptable, but in need of promotion.

Eight observations on the death of Irwin Schiff

On Oct. 16, tax protester Irwin Schiff died in prison at the age of 87 from lung cancer. Schiff was best known for claiming that the United States income tax only applies to corporate profits, and that individuals have been tricked into paying it. Schiff was serving a 162-month prison term for federal tax offenses and contempt of court that began in 2006. His son Peter had asked for a compassionate release of Irwin as he neared death, but this request was tied up in bureaucratic limbo at the time of death. As a result, Irwin died while shackled to a hospital bed in a guarded room. Eight observations on the event follow.

1. Irwin Schiff was not a criminal by an objective moral standard. For a crime to occur by an objective moral standard, a person or their property must be aggressed against. Schiff was caged because he refused to pay taxes, helped others refuse to pay taxes, and refused to comply with the rulings of the judge during his trial. None of these activities constitute an act of aggression against a person or their property. Someone may argue that his activities caused harm to be visited upon those whom he helped to evade taxes, but the responsibility for this harm falls entirely upon those who did the harm, not upon Schiff.

2. Those who imprisoned Schiff are criminals, but will not be punished. A government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area. This enables people in that group to do with impunity that which is criminal for anyone else to do. Because Schiff committed no act of aggression and government agents used force to kidnap and cage him, the government agents who arrested, tried, and held him prisoner committed acts of aggression against him. But because they were government agents acting in the performance of their duties as such and the government exercises a monopoly on criminal punishment, they will not be punished for their crimes against him unless vigilantes decide otherwise.

3. Challenging the government in their court system is not a recipe for success. A tax case will be heard in a government building, presided over by a government judge, argued by a government prosecutor, and decided by a government-convened jury using laws made by government legislators and procedures given to them by the government judge. This is an enormous conflict of interest that no one would accept as legitimate in a matter that does not involve the government. Imagine, for example, having a dispute with your neighbor and having the matter argued and arbitrated by his family and friends who have loyalty to him and no concern for you. No rational person would consent to this. The incentive of people who are part of the state is to encourage the health of the state, which means erring on the side of expanding the size and scope of government.

4. It does not matter whether Schiff’s theories were correct. Because of the aforementioned nature of tax cases, those who sit as judges in such cases get to decide the meaning of tax laws. This need not be in keeping with common usage or dictionary definitions because there is no effective challenge to their power once the appeals process is exhausted. In fact, this need not even be consistent or impartial because they have the monopoly and their word stands unless their successors revisit a matter and decide otherwise. As such, even if Schiff’s theories were correct, the court can (and did) simply rule otherwise and punish him regardless. Again, the incentive of people who are part of the state is to encourage the health of the state, which means that whenever the law is against what government agents wish to do, its agents can simply change the law or enforce their own meaning thereof.

5. The prison system is atrocious and dehumanizing because prisoners have little value to the state. In Schiff’s final years, he was moved from a low security federal prison camp to a federal correctional facility. While this was ostensibly done to give him better access to medical care, he received no medical care to speak of. He developed cataracts that left him legally blind as well as skin cancer that metastasized to his lungs and several other places, none of which was treated. During his final month of life, he could not talk with his family because the lung cancer changed his voice enough to make it unrecognizable to the prison phone system. When he had to be hospitalized, he was kept shackled to his bed despite being in no condition to attempt escape or even offer resistance. This sort of callous disregard for prisoners occurs for two reasons. Jeffrey Tucker explains the first reason in Free Bernie Madoff:

The problem with prisoners is not that you are treated like an animal. Would that they had it so good! At the zoo, the animals are fed and groomed and cared for. They have value because they elicit affection from paying customers. Even slaves are in a better position, for at least they are valued to some small degree by their masters.

Prisoners, on the other hand, face a kind of metaphysical transformation. They go from being valued members of society to being treated like blobs of flesh taking up space. Their wardens see them as objects. They are abused by fellow inmates and live in a state of incredible degradation everyday.

All prisoners are therefore living amidst a kind of torture. It isn’t modern. It isn’t even medieval. It is contrary to all principles of civilization. Perhaps we should allow it for the most violent members of society, pending some other solution. But that doesn’t apply…to some ¾ of all the prison population.

As for the second reason…

6. Schiff was given a harsh sentencing and treatment for a chilling effect. A common tactic of government agents is to make an example out of someone, especially a high-profile defendant who is viewed unsympathetically by the public. This allows them to say, “Remember Irwin Schiff? If you don’t want to end up like him, pay us what we say you owe us.” Obedience is what government agents demand from their victims, and they will use fear and intimidation to get it if they must.

7. The state’s treatment of Schiff will likely backfire. The shortfall of the strategy of creating a chilling effect is that it breeds resentment and creates feelings of desperation. After all, people have a natural desire to destroy that which they fear. If government agents had dealt with Schiff in a more lenient manner (or perhaps had not victimized him in the first place), then future efforts of tax resistance would probably be more civil. After this, however, those who find themselves facing a lengthy prison term for refusing to pay taxes are more likely to conclude that death in battle with government agents is preferable to the sort of treatment that Schiff received, and take up arms rather than submit to government agents who attempt to arrest them.

8. Events like this will keep happening until people put a stop to it. The life and death of Irwin Schiff show us how far government agents are willing to go to enforce their edicts upon those whom they have subjugated. There are only three options when dealing with government agents: obey, be victimized, or defend yourself. The question now is, how far will we go to prevent such atrocities from happening in the future?

The Free Rider Benefit

A common defense of the state made by statists is the public goods argument; that there are certain non-excludable and non-rivalrous goods and services that a person can consume without reducing their availability to others, and that these must be provided by the state. Examples include military defense, infrastructure, and legal systems. The obvious retort is to ask a statist to prove that a certain good or service must be public and monopolized by the state, as this amounts to an inexhaustible proof by exhaustion; every other possible method must be examined and proven not to work. The usual method of demonstrating uniqueness, that of positing a second solution and showing that it equals the first, does not work in this case because a government monopoly is unlike any other arrangement.

But suppose we do not make this move. What argument will the statist make next? If there must be public goods, then there is a possibility for a tragedy of the commons. A person acting on rational self-interest will realize that one can benefit from a public good without contributing to its provision. This leads to what is called the free rider problem, where some people either consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good. This situation is frequently taken to provide a rationale for government intervention, but the case for this is fallacious. Let us examine why.

If we wish to have a rational discussion, it is essential to define terms. A problem is an undesirable situation which can be remedied. This is because a situation which is not undesirable presents no problem to solve, and an undesirable situation which has no remedy is just a fact which must be tolerated. The free rider “problem” is a situation of the latter type, as it is impractical to make sure that everyone pays exactly what they should pay for the amount of public goods that they consume. That government monopolies destroy competition, and thus the market price system, makes the free rider “problem” impossible to solve, as the information needed to determine how much each person should pay for the amount of public goods that they consume is destroyed beyond repair.

The concept of the free rider problem also proves too much. If taken to its logical conclusion, the idea that no one should be able to consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good means that the state should be eliminated, as the very presence of a state means that some people are consuming more than and paying for less than their fair share of the total wealth in the economy, as states are funded by coercive means which violate private property rights. Those who receive government welfare payments, bailouts, grants, or any other form of government funding are free riding upon the backs of taxpayers and anyone else who uses currency printed by a government’s central bank. The latter group of people are forced riders who are required to pay for public goods from which they receive insufficient benefit. Charity would also be unjustifiable if the concept of the free rider problem is taken to its logical conclusion, as those who receive charity are not paying the full cost for what they are using.

But suppose we ignore this as well. If we accept for the sake of argument that there are public goods and that no one should be able to consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good, then the result will be a massive distortion of the economy, as both the state and private charity must go. While the demise of statism is nothing to lament, the absence of any form of private charity would lead to the very sort of Hobbesian war that statists fear and think that they are preventing. It must also be noted that the money for payments for public goods which are now being made was once being put toward another purpose. Whether that purpose was spending on other goods and services or investment (which is really just another form of spending), the diversion of spending away from these purposes and toward public goods will eliminate some other economic activities that were occurring. To ignore this, as most people who argue for the free rider problem do, is to commit the broken window fallacy.

It is clear that the idea that free riders are a problem is fallacious at every level. But how can free riders be beneficial? There are two ways in which free riders can be beneficial. Some people will argue that free riders are responsible for higher costs, but they are actually signalling that a good or service is overpriced. While degenerate freeloaders do exist, most free riders who are aware of their free riding are willing to pay for what they are receiving but believe that said goods or services are overpriced. In the state-enforced absence of another provider, they choose to “pirate” the public goods rather than pay the cost which they believe to be too expensive. If there are rational, knowledgeable people in charge of a public good that has many free riders, then they will respond by lowering the cost to convince more people to contribute, which can actually raise the total contribution.

The above result is rare, of course, as rational, knowledgeable people tend to be productive rather than become part of the state apparatus. The more useful role of free riders is to crash government programs which cannot be ended by normal political means. Most government programs help a few people by a large magnitude while harming a much larger number of people by a much smaller amount. This means that an irate and tireless minority will work to keep their sacred cow from being gored, while the majority is not being harmed enough to take action to end the harm. Thus, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program, and it is politically impossible to abolish entitlement and welfare programs. While the strategy of overloading such programs was first proposed by leftists who wished to replace them with far more expansive redistributions of wealth, it could also be used by libertarian-minded people who wish to replace such programs with nothing. The potential to roll back or even eliminate state power by causing a hard crash and reset is the free rider benefit.

Bring Back the Joust: A Modest Proposal

Every election season, people complain about the ineffectiveness of democratic voting as a means of achieving meaningful change. This is because major parties have conspired to keep minor parties from having a chance of success, wealthy donors determine who has enough money to stay in a primary contest long enough to win, and incumbents are able to use the considerable perks and powers of their offices to campaign for re-election. Voting also serves to sanitize statism and hide some of its inherent violence from the population. There must be a better way, and perhaps there is one that does not require a popular uprising or a cultural shift. To improve the future, let us consider something from the past: the joust.

Cavalry games date back to Roman antiquity, as does the idea of chivalry. The dearth of recorded history during the 5th to 8th centuries makes a link between the Roman hippika gymnasia and medieval jousting difficult to establish. What is known is that jousting tournaments were a development of the High Middle Ages and continued through the early Renaissance. Their invention is credited either to Henry the Fowler (876-936, r. 919-936) or Geoffrei de Preulli (d. 1066). The earliest known use of the word ‘tournament’ dates to 1114, and refers to the keepers of the peace in the town leaving it ‘for the purpose of frequenting javelin sports, tournaments and such like.’ Regular events of this type were held during the lifetime of Charles I, Count of Flanders (1084-1127). By the 1160s, the sport of jousting had developed into the form it would maintain into the 14th century.

There were two major types of joust; the joust a plaisance, which used blunted lances and was expected to be non-lethal, and the joust a l’outrance (also called joust à la guerre), which used sharp lances and was fought until surrender or death. Joust a plaisance was used for tournament contests while joust a l’outrance was common during wartime or for dispute resolution.

During the 14th century, jousting became more regulated and less lethal. A barrier between the riders was added and specialized jousting armor was produced which was too heavy for any other practical purpose. The sport declined due to the invention of the musket in 1520, the death of Henry II of France in a joust in 1559, and the rising popularity of the theatre as a form of entertainment. The final jousting tournament was held on March 24, 1624, but revivals of the sport have been attempted since the 1970s.

A combination of joust a plaisance and joust a l’outrance could serve as an alternative to political elections for determining who should hold government office. Rather than have candidates seek ballot access, advertising time, media appearances, campaign contributions, and debate access, all candidates for a particular office could be put into a jousting tournament bracket, much like the joust a plaisance of old. But the contest should be a l’outrance; a candidate must advance through the tournament bracket by either killing one’s opponents or by making them surrender to avoid being killed. The exact nature of this may vary by jurisdiction and office. In some cases, all contests would be to the death, with refusal to deal a coup de grace being punishable by death. In others, surrender would be not only an acceptable alternative, but the encouraged outcome. A surrender might allow one to try again in the next tournament, or perhaps it would bar one from seeking government office again for a number of years or for life, thereby substituting political death for physical death. A case where both contestants in a match either die or forfeit would create a bye for someone in the tournament unless it occurs in the final match. If a double death or forfeit should occur in the final match for an office, then the office may either be filled by another tournament or left vacant until the next political term has ended. A person who declares candidacy and is unopposed may not take office; all who take government office must joust at least once. Incumbents may or may not have to joust at least once per tournament, depending on the jurisdiction and office. A government office which cannot be filled after several tournaments have been held in an effort to fill it should be abolished.

This system presents several advantages over contemporary democracy. The joust severely curtails the influence of money in politics. The difference in electability between a candidate of a major party and a candidate of a minor party is usually far greater than the difference in jousting ability between the equivalents. A great expense on riding lessons, quality horses, and quality equipment will certainly bestow an advantage, but not as much as the advantages that establishment candidates currently have over outsiders or minor party candidates. The influence of money could be diminished further by standardizing the horses and equipment used for the joust.

Second, the jousting system eliminates two problematic types of politician in the current system: the chicken hawk and the oathbreaker. A chicken hawk is a politician who advocates for wars and other military actions while having refused to enter the military oneself and/or acting to keep one’s children out of military service. The jousting system ensures that no one can get into a position of power to be able to declare, fund, or carry out a war without risking one’s own life in combat. Thus, all who would vote to declare war would have at least some degree of combat veterancy, even if with antiquated weapons. Some oathbreakers could be weeded out in the tournament, as they display cowardice when faced with mortal combat and are punished accordingly. Other oathbreakers could be challenged in a recall joust, which would function as an analogue of contemporary recall elections.

Third, the jousting system channels political violence into a more controlled format. Assassination attempts should be far less common, as one may legally kill an unpopular politician by entering a jousting tournament against that person and winning. Even the threat that this may happen should make politicians treat their constituents with far more dignity and respect than they do now, and could lead unpopular politicians to resign more frequently.

Fourth, the jousting system would disabuse everyone of the notion that government is anything other than an institution of violence. Seeing their would-be leaders careening at each other on horseback while aiming sharp lances at each other would make clear to everyone that these people are intent on exercising a monopoly on initiatory force against the civilian population, to the point of being willing to kill people for the opportunity. The reaction of people to staring this reality in the face is likely to change the political climate for the better, toward less of a belief in a role for the state in society.

Fifth, the jousting system would essentially create term limits, as it is a very dangerous activity that leads to many injuries. After a certain number of jousts, a competitor will be sufficiently injured as to be ineffective. This would spell the end of the era of career politicians who stay in office for decades until dying of natural causes. While term limits can create perverse incentives in an electoral system, the joust mitigates those incentives as discussed above.

The joust would also have some non-political benefits. The code of chivalry developed alongside the joust, and the return of jousting could lead to a resurgence of chivalric values, such as courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and charity. The sport would also be a great source of entertainment, especially if a plaisance tournaments for fun and profit were held in addition to the political contests. Sports gamblers would have yet another subject for betting, and sports bars would have another subject to bring in customers. Merchandise could be made not only for those who joust, but for fans of jousting in general or champion jousters in particular.

Of course, we may anticipate some criticisms. One is that by abolishing voting, the joust takes us back to a time when the common person had even less power. The truth is that a voter has very little power; in some cases, the odds of deciding an election are less than the odds of being killed in a car accident on one’s way to the polling place. Unlike the historical jousts, this proposal allows anyone to seek office by entering. After all, titles of nobility, entry fees, and other such historical and contemporary encumbrances are rather petty in light of volunteering to fight to the death in order to hold government office. Another related criticism is that women and racial minorities may be disempowered by the change from elections to jousts. This is truly meritless; most of the energy delivered by a jousting lance in a collision ultimately comes from the horse, and any woman or person of color may enter the joust, just as a white man may enter. It may be that there would still be a minority of women in government office, but this should be expected regardless of the methods used to choose rulers simply as a matter of biology. There is also the matter that a highly skilled jouster may be nearly impossible for an ordinary person to challenge and defeat, but this is still more likely than an ordinary person with ordinary means challenging and defeating an establishment politician. Finally, one may wonder why all of the effort should be made to re-establish jousting when firearm duels could achieve many of the same objectives. The answer is that the joust provides a lengthier entertainment, requires more skill, and (most importantly) involves less luck.

Admittedly, it is unlikely that this method of choosing politicians will ever be implemented, and it is not the answer for creating a libertarian society. But as shown above, replacing elections with jousts could do far more good than harm. Bring back the joust!

A Man Who Owns a River

On August 5, agents of the Environmental Protection Agency released more than 3 million gallons of pollutants into the Animas River. At the time, I wrote an article about how private property rights in a stateless society offer a better solution to the problem of water pollution than government environmental regulations. A response that I received in a discussion group regarding that article posed a variant of a common criticism of anarcho-capitalist theory, namely that of a wealthy person buying up vast swaths of land and using private property rights over those lands to perform malicious acts, such as encircling people to trap them on their land. In this case, the proposed troublesome scenario is that of one man owning an entire river from source to sea and using his property rights over the river in a way that harms other people. Let us examine this scenario.

We must begin by asking what it means to own a river. We can deduce this from what it means to own something in general. Ownership is a right to exclusive control over a scarce resource. Such ownership is rightfully gained in a state of nature by mixing one’s labor with unowned natural resources. This is because one owns one’s physical body, and therefore is responsible for the actions committed with that body. Once a property right is established, it may be sold or gifted to another person if the property owner so chooses. Given this theoretical framework, the river owner owns the land upon which the river flows, and ownership of the riverbed may be gained by laboring upon it, such as by dredging the river to make it more navigable or by growing aquatic crops in it. However, the water in the river is not labored upon and is not static upon the property. It will eventually either evaporate or flow into another body of water that is outside of the man’s property claim. Wildlife that resides within the river are likewise unowned, but the man may claim them by mixing his labor with them in the form of foraging, fishing, or hunting. Finally, we may expect that the man would own a reasonable clearance above his river, large enough to allow him to peacefully enjoy his river but not large enough to impede commercial air or space travel overhead.

Next, let us consider the various types of rivers. A river may end through evaporation, through infiltration, or through emptying into an ocean, a sea, a lake, or another river. Rivers that infiltrate back into the water table or flow into another body of water have all of the concerns of an evaporating river plus more, so we will concern ourselves only with these types of rivers.

Now let us look at the problems that a man who owns a river may cause and the issues he will face. The whole discussion is moot if it is impossible for a man to gain control of an entire river in the first place. In order to do this for a river of any significant size, he must either have an enormous amount of money or perform an enormous amount of labor, depending on the extent to which the river is currently owned or still in a state of nature. There are unlikely to be any rivers which are not claimed in part by someone, so a man who wishes to own a river will need to buy at least part of the riverbed. If an owner does not wish to sell and cannot be persuaded, then the quest to own the river ends in failure. Unlike a statist society, there is no eminent domain power in an anarcho-capitalist society that the man can call upon to force the owner to sell him the riverbed. Even if there were, the use of such force by the man or his agents and accomplices would be legitimate cause for the riverbed owner to employ any amount of defensive violence necessary to stop the aggressors who are trying to force the riverbed owner to sell the property. Unlike a private citizen taking up arms against the military might of a state, the riverbed owner in an anarcho-capitalist society is not limited by government laws restricting certain weapons and can have as much military might as he or she can afford, and the man who seeks to own a river is likewise limited by his finances. Even if the man wins such a fight, he is likely to face economic ostracism and attacks from other people, as his disrespect for the property rights of other people would estop him from making claims against other people for disrespecting his property rights in turn.

Regardless of what theories a group of people have concerning the legitimate ownership of property, the fact remains that one’s effective property is whatever one can take and defend. And defend it one must; just as there are people in communist societies who oppose communism and there are people in democratic societies who oppose democracy, we may safely assume that there will be people in anarcho-capitalist societies who will oppose anarcho-capitalism. It is also safe to assume that common criminality will not suddenly vanish when the state is abolished. (These are really two ways of saying the same thing, as the only way that one can act in opposition to the functionality of anarcho-capitalism is to commit crimes against people and/or property.) Therefore, the man who owns a river must take measures to secure his property if he wishes to have an effective ownership. A river of any significant size is going to present an enormous logistical challenge. Over hundreds or even thousands of kilometers of riverbanks, one must either keep watch to repel squatters, thieves, vandals, and other such undesirables or learn to live with their offenses. Doing the latter for a long enough time period constitutes abandoning the property, which defeats any purpose of acquiring the river and loses the man the principal of his investment therein. To take on such an obligation would require some enormous benefit in order to make the venture worthwhile, and there is likely to be no such benefit that could not be gained by owning only a section of the river, which is smaller and easier to protect.

Now let us suppose that the enormous barriers against acquiring and defending a river have not deterred the man. He will still face several concerns which will place limits upon his use of the river. The right to own property is a logical consequence of the right to own one’s body, as discussed above. That which is dependent cannot supersede that upon which it is dependent, so one person’s right to property cannot be used to aggress against another person’s right to life and liberty. This has several important implications. First, the man cannot use his ownership of the river to prevent everyone from crossing or navigating it. As long as a person’s life and/or liberty depends upon crossing or navigating the river, the person does not stay in or on the river longer than necessary, the person does not violate the life and/or liberty of the river owner, and the person does not damage the river owner’s property, the person must be allowed an easement. Second, the man cannot pollute the river. While he owns the riverbed, he does not own the water in it; he only has the right to make use of it as it passes by or to take some of it out of the river for his personal use. If he pollutes the water, he will be sending his pollution downstream to a location owned by someone else, whether it is an ocean, a sea, a lake, an aquifer, or another river. This is an act of aggression against that person’s property, and perhaps that person’s liberty and/or life as well should the pollution cause illness or death. The owner of that property would be justified in using any amount of defensive violence necessary to stop the man’s pollution and get restitution for the damage done. Third, if the river flows into a sea, a lake, an aquifer, or another river, then the man cannot dam the river in such a way as to deprive anyone downstream of the water that they need to survive, as this would be an act of aggression against that person’s life.

It is clear that a man who owns a river faces nearly insurmountable challenges for insufficient benefit, and that he can get all of the benefits with less of the drawbacks by owning only part of the river. It is thus extremely unlikely that this problem would ever occur without a state. Before concluding, it is worth mentioning that this is yet another problem which is theorized to occur without a state but actually occurs with a state. Unlike a person in an anarcho-capitalist society, a state does not observe the non-aggression principle and does not usually face military defeats when using force against its citizens to make property claims. The end result relevant to the issue at hand is that governments have monopolized control of the waterways within their geographical areas. Politicians could therefore cause all of the problems discussed above if they so desired, and they have a long history of doing so. Governments have a habit of using rivers as boundaries and refusing to let people cross them, especially if those rivers are used as a border between nation-states. Treating the waterways as common spaces also creates perverse incentives. No one owns a common space, so everyone is incentivized to exploit it as much as possible and do as little to maintain it as possible. Pollution is also not prevented by government regulations, but rather is limited in quantity, with much of the damages for exceeding the limit coming in the form of fines paid to the state rather than damages paid to those affected by the pollution. Governments also like to build dams to create reservoirs and hydroelectric power plants, and to alter the path of a river. This tends to destroy homes and deprive people of water that used to flow next to their properties without their consent (not that consent could truly be given, as any such consent would be under duress).

It is best to choose that which may work (and in this case, is almost certain to work) over that which is proven not to work. A stateless society clearly provides better protection against abuse of property rights on water.