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North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › The Role of Government re Traffic Laws on Roads, at Sea, and in the Air, Etc.

The Role of Government re Traffic Laws on Roads, at Sea, and in the Air, Etc.

Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 747
I was having a discussion with Santiago about this general topic, including whether there would be traffic laws anywhere (e.g., roads, at sea, or in the air), which prompted me to look up a few quotes by Ayn Rand. I found the following excerpts to be particularly interesting regarding public vs. private areas, what would make public lands or the airways private, and the nature of the police power, including on public or private property.

The proper functions of a government fall into three broad categories, all of them involving the issues of physical force and the protection of men's rights: the police, to protect men from criminals--the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders--the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws.

These three categories involve many corollary and derivative issues--and their implementation in practice, in the form of specific legislation, is enormously complex. It belongs to the field of a special science: the philosophy of law. Many errors and many disagreements are possible in the field of implementation, but what is essential here is the principle to be implemented: the principle that the purpose of law and of government is the protection of individual rights.
Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, The Nature of Government (Emphasis added.)

For the same reason, the state must not intervene in another aspect of men's intellectual life: the realm of production and trade. The state must not undertake to provide men with economic standards or benefits, whether in regard to goods, services, or conditions of trade. A proper government offers freedom from coercion (including fraud), not from the responsibility of self-sustenance. It protects men from thieves, swindlers, and killers, not from reality or the need to create one's values by one's own mind and labor. Politicians, therefore, must have nothing to do with production or distribution; they may not build, manage, or regulate schools, hospitals, utilities, roads, parks, post offices, railroads, steel mills, banks, and the like, nor may they hand out subsidies, franchises, tariff protection, social insurance, minimum-living standards, minimum-wage laws for workers, parity laws for farmers, insider-trading laws for investors, fair-price laws for consumers, and so on. No one but the creator may dispose of the products of his thought or determine the process of creating them. In this field as in every other, the goal of a proper society is the opposite of compulsion. Here, too, the goal is to make value (in this instance, wealth) possible--through the protection of freedom.

Even in regard to its legitimate functions, a government may not justifiably initiate force. It must operate jails and military installations, but it may not demand that men serve in the police or the army against their own judgment, nor may it finance its activities by seizing property without the consent of the owners. (Rational methods of financing a government are discussed by Ayn Rand in chapter 15 of The Virtue of Selfishness.)
Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism:The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Chapter 10--Government (Emphasis added.)

Men who are immune to facts and logic have no alternative but to traffic in fantasy. Hence the senseless projections we hear today about life under pure capitalism: "What if roads were private property and the owners refused to let people drive on them? .... What if commercial firefighters charged a million dollars to put out a fire? .... What if unregulated television networks aired nothing but commercials and genitalia?" All of this is like asking: "What if bakers refused to let people buy their bread? .... What if surgeons charged a million dollars for an appendectomy? .... What if an unregulated press brought out papers filled only with ads and obscenities?" (One rarely hears anybody ask: "What if, under socialism, a clerk in the People's Planning Commission nurses a hatred for some helpless worker?" or "What if the top leader turns into a monster?"--yet these are daily realities under every version of collectivism.)
Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism:The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Chapter 11--Capitalism (Emphasis added.)

Only one aspect of sex is a legitimate field for legislation: the protection of minors and of unconsenting adults. Apart from criminal actions (such as rape), this aspect includes the need to protect people from being confronted with sights they regard as loathsome. (A corollary of the freedom to see and hear, is the freedom not to look or listen.) Legal restraints on certain types of public displays, such as posters or window displays, are proper--but this is an issue of procedure, of etiquette, not of morality.

No one has the right to do whatever he pleases on a public street (nor would he have such a right on a privately owned street). The police power to maintain order among pedestrians or to control traffic is a procedural, not a substantive, power. A traffic policeman enforces rules of how to drive (in order to avoid clashes or collisions), but cannot tell you where to go. Similarly, the rights of those who seek pornography would not be infringed by rules protecting the rights of those who find pornography offensive--e.g., sexually explicit posters may properly be forbidden in public places; warning signs, such as "For Adults Only," may properly be required of private places which are open to the public. This protects the unconsenting, and has nothing to do with censorship, i.e., with prohibiting thought or speech.
The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. III, No. 2 October 22, 1973, Thought Control--Part III (Emphasis added.)
Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 755
A notable example of the proper method of establishing private ownership from scratch, in a previously ownerless area, is the Homestead Act of 1862, by which the government opened the western frontier for settlement and turned "public land" over to private owners. The government offered a 160-acre farm to any adult citizen who would settle on it and cultivate it for five years, after which it would become his property. Although that land was originally regarded, in law, as "public property," the method of its allocation, in fact, followed the proper principle (in fact, but not in explicit ideological intention). The citizens did not have to pay the government as if it were an owner; ownership began with them, and they earned it by the method which is the source and root of the concept of "property": by working on unused material resources, by turning a wilderness into a civilized settlement. Thus, the government, in this case, was acting not as the owner but as the custodian of ownerless resources who defines objectively impartial rules by which potential owners may acquire them.

This should have been the principle and pattern of the allocation of broadcasting frequencies.

As soon as it became apparent that radio broadcasting had opened a new realm of material resources which, in the absence of legal definitions, would become a wilderness of clashing individual claims, the government should have promulgated the equivalent of a Homestead Act of the airways--an act defining private property rights in the new realm, establishing the rule that the user of a radio frequency would own it after he had operated a station for a certain number of years, and allocating all frequencies by the rule of priority, i.e., "first come, first served."
The Act of 1927 did not confine the government to the role of a traffic policeman of the air who protects the rights of broadcasters from technical interference (which is all that was needed and all that a government should properly do).
Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, The Property Status of Airwaves (Emphasis added.)

In considering this, I still have a few questions.

But at this stage of my review, it appears that the public/private distinction is not entirely dispositive regarding the police power. For one, it appears Ayn Rand thought that the police power does extend to private property. For example, she explained that a person does not have the freedom to do anything he pleases even on a private street and a person should not be able to post explicitly sexual material on a publicly viewable billboard even if the billboard is on private property.

If the corollary on an individual right to see or do something is the right to not consent to see and do certain things, it would seem the government must establish dividing lines (i.e., laws) to avoid collisions among the individual rights to consent and not consent, including on behalf of protecting the children who do not have the capacity to consent. Going back to the top, this is where Ayn Rand explains:

These three categories [of proper government function] involve many corollary and derivative issues--and their implementation in practice, in the form of specific legislation, is enormously complex. It belongs to the field of a special science: the philosophy of law. Many errors and many disagreements are possible in the field of implementation, ...

For another, the seas and skies would not appear to be the subject of continuous, exclusive use and possession for any significant period of time. Perhaps in the future the technology will be developed to take exclusive possession of a defined portion of the seas or skies, like 160 acres of land in Oklahoma, and making it productive for five years such that giving it private property status would be warranted. Until then, unless it is something like an offshore platform or a 1,000 foot tower into the air, it seems that any exclusive possession of a portion of the seas or skies is extremely transient, as only by a ship or plane briefly passing through. All that would be needed is traffic laws to avoid collisions, and there would be no current basis for private ownership of the seas or skies. Maybe there might be for high-volume traffic lanes near seaports or airports? But for the vast expanses of seas and skies, it seems to me that the government would need to make and enforce traffic laws (to keep them as "the friendly seas" -- and "the friendly skies.")

I'm still reading and thinking about this and would welcome any discussion on the topic.
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