July 4, 2007 Leave a comment
Among the Latin phrases, I found this common-law term I learned from reading Murray Rothbard on property theory:
Cuius est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos: “Whoever owns the land it is theirs up to the sky and down to the depths.” The state of Kansas used this law in the 1970s to argue that airlines could not serve liquor when flying over Kansas, a dry state. “Kansas,” Attorney General Vern Miller said, “goes all the way up and all the way down.” (If that’s true, Kansas can lay claim to, and prohibit drinking in, about 82,282 square miles of western China.)
There’s plenty wrong with the Kansas interpretation, but there’s even more wrong with Neatorama’s snide aside about western China.
Here’s my summary of Rothbard on the ad coelum rule:
Property Units: Rothbard versus Common Law
Rothbard’s main departure from common law tradition is his disagreement with the common-law principle “that every landowner owns all the airspace above him upward indefinitely unto the heavens and downward into the center of the earth. In Lord Coke’s famous dictum: cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum; that is, he who owns the soil owns upward unto heaven, and, by analogy, downward to Hades.”
But according to Rothbard, the ad coelum rule never made any sense in the context of homesteading: “If one homesteads and uses the soil, in what sense is he also using all the sky above him up into heaven? Clearly, he isn’t.”
So Rothbard rejected ad coelum, but we needn’t side with Rothbard to reject both the Kansas interpretation (pro–ad coelum) and the Neatorama interpretation (anti–ad coelum).
What’s wrong with the Kansas Attorney General’s argument is that ad coelum is a common law property precedent, and the state of Kansas does not own the entire territory of Kansas, according to common law. Even if you recognize the state government as a legitimate property owner (which Rothbardians don’t, of course), its property is limited to those areas not owned by the citizens and residents of Kansas. The irony of the state’s mouthpiece citing common law as an excuse to extend the reach of its “dry law” is that alcohol prohibition is itself a violation of common-law property rights.
But Neatorama’s parenthetical commentator is wrong at a much more rudimentary level, because ad coelum establishes a three-dimensional property boundary in the shape of a cone, not a cylinder. The point of the cone starts at the theoretical center of the planet; its supposedly infinite reach is only heavenward, not bidirectional.
Lord Coke’s dictum extends ownership “upward unto heaven, and, by analogy, downward to Hades.”
China isn’t Hades.