propertarian nitpicking

What is Austrian Economics and why does it matter?

Having been a regular reader of, occasional writer for, and now sometimes-frenzied editor of, I have a pretty good sense of the answer(s). But there’s still something really spectacular about listening to Lew Rockwell read “Why Austrian Economics Matters” in his ongoing audiobook podcast series. (Yes, it’s the voice, but it’s also something more than the voice.)

The problem, though, with knowing deeper theory is that we become nitpickers. Some nits, in fact, won’t leave us alone. These are distinctions that few will care about, but once I’ve spent any time struggling with the particulars of (for instance) property theory, they get a stranglehold on me.

Conventional economics teaches that if the benefits or costs of one person’s economic decisions spill over onto others, an externality exists, and it ought to be corrected by the government through redistribution. But, broadly defined, externalities are inherent in every economic transaction because costs and benefits are ultimately subjective. I may be delighted to see factories belching smoke because I love industry. But that does not mean I should be taxed for the privilege of viewing them. Similarly, I may be offended that most men don’t have beards, but that doesn’t mean that the clean-shaven ought to be taxed to compensate me for my displeasure.

The Austrian School redefines externalities as occurring only with physical invasions of property, as when my neighbor dumps his trash in my yard.”

And here I was, just recently stressing that Rothbardian property theory denies that property is physical. It therefore denies that invasions must be physical. If property is defined by use, then an invasion is whatever directly interferes with the use of your property.

If I homestead a patch of land to grow vegetables, and you come along and build a giant structure such that you block the sunlight from reaching my veggies, you have violated my property rights, despite the fact that everything you did was physically on your property and never physically violated mine.

In contrast, your radio transmissions do physically cross the spatial boundaries of my property without my permission, and yet, if they do no harm, there is no invasion.

I understand that Lew Rockwell was countering the absurd intersubjectivism of Coasean theory, and I’m not sure I have a suggested revision to the speech, given what a speech is and what it’s supposed to achieve.

But I had a nit to pick, and what better place to pick it than on a private blog?

gang of 4

Wally Conger once tried to pass to me the book meme. I failed. But he’s persistent. Now he’s passed me the Meme of Fours:

Four jobs I’ve had:

  1. daycamp assistant counselor (for 5-year-olds)
  2. fry cook (in the Boat House in Central Park, NYC)
  3. shotef sirim (“pot washer” on an Israeli kibbutz, where I also assembled furniture in a factory, picked avocados in the fields, scrubbed communal drains and toilets, and various other working class experiences during the tail end of my socialist idealism)
  4. Kelly Girl (office temp through Kelly Services)

Four movies I can watch over and over:

  1. Blade Runner
  2. Brazil (12 Monkeys, same director)r
  3. True Romance (Natural Born Killers, same writer)
  4. Pulp Fiction (Kill Bill(s), same writer, same director)

Four places I’ve lived:

  1. Manhattan
  2. outside Philadelphia
  3. Charlottesville, Virginia
  4. outside Philadelphia again (I can’t help it. I’ve only lived 3 different places.)

Four TV shows I love:

  1. Buffy
  2. Angel
  3. Firefly
  4. Farscape
  5. (Also on the DVD shelf: first season of Sopranos, first season of Larry Sanders, first season of The Office (British version), first two seasons of The Simpsons, first two seasons of King of the Hill, first two seasons of Futurama, all of Sports Night. Not on my shelf but ought to be: first season of Millennium, only season of My So-Called Life, only season of Freaks and Geeks.)

Four highly regarded and recommended TV shows I haven’t seen (much of):

  1. ER
  2. West Wing
  3. that one with whatshername as the US president
  4. [I can’t come up with a 4th. We do all our TV on DVD.]

Four places I’ve vacationed:

  1. Egypt
  2. Venice
  3. Scottish Highlands
  4. various B&Bs around Virginia

Four of my favorite dishes:

  1. Chow Mei Fun with beef (noodle bowl)
  2. Pad Thai (more noodles)
  3. flank steak
  4. haggis
  5. (I also like everything on Wally Conger’s list.)

Four sites I visit daily:

  1. (duh)

Four places I’d rather be right now:

  1. There’s no place like home!
  2. There’s no place like home!
  3. There’s no place like home!
  4. (Charlottesville, Virginia)

Four new bloggers I’m tagging:

  1. Choicy White Boy [update]
  2. iceberg [update]
  3. Anthony Gregory (who’s not really a blogger, so we’ll see how he responds) [update]
  4. anyone who regularly reads this blog and wishes someone would pass this thing to them…