The title got my attention.
I am glad someone takes the recent "debate" of wishful-thinking libertarians at Reason to task. (I started to post on it earlier this week but I just found their discussion too dry and boring and empty to hold my attention.) But I guess Belle Waring perservered through it and concluded that if what it is all about is what they say, then If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride -- A Pony!. The specific example offered involves condemnation of private property, a subject near and dear to my heart so the post got my attention.
Its trump line, as she so cleverly shows, is that for libertarians there is always "some private mechanism" which will arise -- or descend from the heavens -- to solve problems which had -- hey! -- been thought the special province of government. An example? Say you want to build a rail line and you need to buy the land of 100 people. Ninety-nine agree but there is one guy who refuses; maybe he's got some butterflies living there. The governmental mechanism is to institute a law suit and "condemn" the property through a forced-sale. That's anethema to libertarians; they would suggest a "private mechanism" to deal with the reluctant seller--- some private mechanism "and a pony" --- but they never produce the pony! He's always sweet-tempered and has good conformation; and he's very inexpensive. But we never see him! He's always the private-mechanism pony grazing out in some far-away field. (Now, the obvious private-mechanism pony is of course the self-help of a very privately-wielded gun. It's a private-mechanism and it works, but it is not the sort of thing to wave around in public when you are trying to persuade. Or is it? Maybe the lesson is simply that libertarianism grows out of the barrel of a gun?)
My own conclusion on libertarian thinking on land use issues is that it is no surprise that it has had virtually no influence as it has nothing practical to offer. It is good for "what ifs" in law school property classes -- and that is indeed a social benefit -- but little more. It does stretch your mind so as exercise it is good. But practically-speaking --- for example, should we have building codes or not? --- it offers zilch. Wish it were otherwise as our current land-use regulatory system (speaking specifically of Seattle) is in great need of reform. But reform, not demolition. Yes, government today can learn and be inspired by the imagination of libertarian thinking...but the answers will always be within a government structure And it could not be otherwise. Libertarian-thinking on land-use always involves ponies. (I always wonder how many of these folks actually own any real property or have any direct experience with "the material." There is usually something strained about the way they use the terms...as if it's a foreign language.)
I guess this blog is getting less and less libertarian when it comes to land use. Well I tried. It's where my heart is. But my brain says that the traditional way we have evolved actually has more than a little bit of value and we should not throw it over in hopes of...a pony wandering down the road and into our barn. (Though I'd prefer a horse, and it need not be a large one.)
Via Crooked Timber