A Tale From Our Libertarian Present

by Mike Kimel

A Tale From Our Libertarian Present

I’ve been getting a lot of calls on my cell phone from telemarketers lately. So has my wife. Our numbers on the do not call registry, but just to be safe, we registered them again. I’ve had random conversations with people about this, and found that some people are having similar experiences – lots of calls from telemarketers – while others aren’t getting any at all. Very odd, but it seems the do not call registry is becoming useless. This morning I got one such call at 1:40 AM.

To me, this gives us a clue as to what a libertarian society might look like. Because it doesn’t matter how many laws and rules and regulations a society has, if they aren’t enforced, they don’t matter. And it seems that the do not call registry is, for practical purposes, no longer enforced.

So what does that mean? Well, my cell phone number, like my home, and my internet access, is my property. I pay for it. I pay for that property because I want to be able to use it in certain ways. I like to be able to pick up my cell phone and reach family, friends, and business associates. I like to be able to be reached by family, friends, and business associates. I do not pay for these services to get calls from telemarketers at 1:40 in the morning.

But there are others who want to use the property they pay for in ways that affect me. They want to have a dialing machine call me up at 1 in the morning, just on the one in a million chance that I might buy whatever they’re trying to peddle. And why not? The cost to them is infinitesimal. Which means I not only have to pay a price for my property, but I also have to pay an additional price to keep other people from using my property.

That’s already true with e-mail. We all have a spam folder. But there’s a cost to that spam folder – false positives. Every so often you find out that you didn’t get a message you needed to get. I just discovered that I was supposed to confirm a speaking engagement for a conference… and that notice ended up in my spam file somehow. That provides no cost to people producing spam, but their use of my property, their placing things I do not want in my e-mail account, costs me money.

This issue of other people using one’s property rights has long existed with physical property. If you’re neighbor doesn’t wish to keep the music or odor or pollution he produces on his property, which is usually the case, he exports onto other people’s property. Causing an earthquake on someone else’s property is not an issue of bargaining over conflicting property rights, its taking someone else’s property rights away. Ditto placing toxic fumes on other people’s land. Because the party producing those fumes only has the right to place those fumes on its own property, not to someone else’s. If the music one neighbor produces crosses the boundary onto property someone else is paying for, the producer of that music is trespassing.

Sure, to some degree, everyone produces externalities, but the question is, how big can the externalities be before they must be regulated? As laws cease to be enforced, the government’s footprint diminishes and we move closer and closer to a libertarian society. And the sad truth is, what libertarians haven’t thought through and realized is that such a society is one where individuals have to spend a lot of resources keeping other people from taking their property. And its a society where we are all poorer. All of us, even the captains of industry. How much work would Howard Roark do, how productive would Dagny Taggart be, how much use for life would John Galt himself have if their respective neighbors decided to build a nuclear reactor and dispense with any effort to contain the radiation from crossing property lines?

PS. The call came from this number: 972-280-7286

(Dan here…minor grammatical corrections made for flow.)