In a society based around private property rights, original appropriation, with no state, are there any proposed methods for dealing with disputes that involve flows of air and water? (So "Muh EPA!" is not a valid response in this context.)

I've read many interesting proposals for how various disputes could be handled peacefully by neutral, third-party arbitration agencies, including some environmental disputes. For example, if your factory oozes waste onto my land, you have violated my property rights and now owe me compensation. One additional point to mention is that if a frivolous suit is brought before an arbiter, the person raising the issue now owes compensation to the defendant for the time spent/wasted in dealing with the frivolous dispute.

However, I've yet to see any methods proposed for how some of the following "flowing resource" scenarios could be adjudicated:

  1. Several towns live along a river, separated by miles. The northernmost town dams the river entirely. The lower towns have no water.

  2. In a frigid climate, one neighbor who is downwind of another is often breathing in smoke coming from the fire of another neighbor's house.

  3. A new neighbor arrives in some unappropriated land, begins to appropriate it and in doing so, makes so much noise that surrounding neighbors cannot sleep.

It seems like many of these rules are easy to set up in advance via some kind of homeowner's association, but in larger rural areas where this is no such organization, how could these disputes be handled without degenerating into violence or property loss (the "if you don't like it, leave" response)?

  • You might really enjoy Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He lays out how voluntary organizations which handle such problems would arise out of a "state of nature" (aka anarchy). – sam Jun 21 '18 at 0:34
  • How are completely hypothetical questions on topic? Vote to close. – K Dog Jun 22 '18 at 13:26
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    Feels more like a Worldbuilding question? – user7809 Jun 22 '18 at 17:04
  • I thought about posting this in a different format in Philosophy, but World Building is a good idea. I'm realizing that this entire forum is just statism at varying levels and a lack of the state sounds like "fantasy" to most people. – blud Jun 22 '18 at 17:12
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    I do think that philosophy would have been a better fit. I don't think any such group of people exists (simultaneously large enough to be concerned with their effect on air/water and yet not forming state like organs), but I do think such questions have been actively explored by philosophers. – Cort Ammon Jun 23 '18 at 4:20

You might want to read up on Geo-liberiterianism and Georgism (economic policy) which might help resolve these problems.

The theory holds that there should be a Land Value Tax (LVT) as the only tax assessed on the people. This will get complicated by natural resources, but right now, we're talking only about land. As there is only so much land available to any community or state, the owner of that land is assessed an LVT on the undeveloped value of the property. No taxes are assessed to improvements to the land, just what it would cost to buy the plot without anything on it.

Under this system, if you own land and you build an apartment building. Depending on the other development in your area, the LVT will rise or fall based on the demand to live there, so you are incentivized to make the most profits off the land as you build better. As more and more people build around your land, the property value of the land goes up as well.

This school of thought is not exclusive to land. Perhaps the land you buy contains something like a vein of coal. That coal would be taxed as you sell it because you removing the thing that makes the land valuable. So you would pay the tax on initial purchase price of the land, nothing on any equipment you use to get the coal, and then another tax is imposed on the sale of the removed parts of land.

Basically, you are rewarded with tax breaks on land that is improved as the improvements add to that value for your "rent" but you keep all the profits you make off the land but improvements that hurt the land around you (such as a change in natural resource extraction or pollution generation.

In your scenario 1: the LVT of the people down river from the damn will start to lower as the resources are being depleted while the LVT of the damn will rise as it is producing something (electricity) at the expense of the environment (the natural flow of the river AND the land loss created by the reservoir upstream of the damn).

In senario 2: Probably wouldn't matter as the fire isn't really producing much of a change in the environment. However, since wood is a natural resource that is produced by the land, the cost of the wood may factor in the logger's LVT as he has to get the wood from somewhere.

In scenario 3: Depends on how much noise pollution factors into taxes on pollution production. Supposing it did, he would be assessed a higher LVT for his noisy piggies crying wee wee wee all by someone's home. However, if the farmer changed his land so the noise does not travel as far (building structures with soundproofing or berms or other elevations that block the noise from his property, he could lower his LVT because the pollution is reduced.

I'm sure this isn't the best description of the concept as I am relatively new to it, but it goes to one of the constant issues that I see people on this board have with Libertarianism, which of course, is the big question with in the political circle as well. Libertarians don't have a consensus between when government is too big or not big enough. They can all agree we need less government and it mostly serves to make everyone unhappy, but they can't decide what to throw out with and what they want to keep.

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Very interesting question!

In the case of #1, Nozick describes mutual protective associations, which are essentially groups of people who agree to come to the defense of members if they are attacked. In theory, each town would have a MPA, which would protect the town from attacks by outsiders.

If the the northern-most town dams the river, the southern towns' MPAs would come together, and agree to attack the northern town if the dam is not removed. Assuming that all the towns are the same size, this strategy would work regardless of which town dams the river, because there would always be at least 1 town to the south who would attack if a dam was put in place.

Regarding #2 and #3, it is a little bit more tricky. If there is a court system provided by the state, the harmed neighbor could sue their bad neighbor for damages in court, or in whatever private arbitrator the free market has provided.

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    He thinks that the natural result will be the consolidation of 1 functional MPA because of market forces, which I can agree with. Then follows it up by saying that isn't a state because it doesn't claim a monopoly on force, which is just lol worthy. From the perspective of the market, individuals are just 1 member MPAs, if natural consolidation happens, that is a monopoly on force. I love it when libertarians can't even be coherent in their own thought experiments and have to resort to start playing with words to maintain ideological purity. – Teleka Jun 21 '18 at 2:08
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    Have to point out that the alternate name for an MPA is "warlord" or "vigilante". – DJClayworth Jun 21 '18 at 16:41
  • Indeed! – sam Jun 21 '18 at 16:46
  1. This assumes that the towns just take the water from the river. That wouldn't work. Instead, an entity would own the river. That person or organization would then sell water from the river. If the downstream towns want water, they should be prepared to pay at least as much if not more than the upstream towns.

  2. There are two libertarian approaches. In one, the downstream neighbor would either be first and sell the property to the upstream neighbor while retaining the air rights. Or the upstream neighbor would be first and the downstream neighbor would have to buy out the upstream neighbor's air rights to get rid of the smoke (or live with the smoke).

    In the other approach, the status quo would be something that could be owned. So if there is no smoke and then there is smoke, the upstream neighbor would have to compensate the downstream neighbor for adding smoke. Alternately, if there was always smoke, the downstream neighbor would have to buy out the upstream neighbor to get rid of it.

  3. In that kind of situation, land would not be unappropriated that is close enough to neighbors for this to be a normal problem. People would appropriate big swathes of land and then sell them to people who arrived later with the appropriate easements. In extreme cases, we would go back to the status quo being owned. An amphitheater for rock concerts is an example of what I would consider an extreme case.

    Yes, I realize that the kind of organization that would handle such a thing would work very much like a government would.

The "status quo being owned" is very much like releasing environmental waste onto my property. We are saying that the air is part of my property and putting smoke or noise into it is infringement on my property. However, if I bought the property knowing that the waste, smoke, or noise was flowing onto it, then I should have realized that was part of the property.

If it is unclear, I expect these legal agreements to be enforced the same way as the question posits for environmental encroachment:

I've read many interesting proposals for how various disputes could be handled peacefully by neutral, third-party arbitration agencies, including some environmental disputes.

In other words, libertarians would engage neutral, third-party arbitration agencies to enforce contracts, either explicit or implicit. These are essentially the private, free market equivalent of courts.

I regarded this as clear from the question asking for rules to allow adjudication, but apparently there is disagreement on that point. So I am saying that explicitly. Libertarianism is not anarchism. A robust legal system is part of the design, even in extreme versions that have no government.

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    This sounds correct regarding libertarian theory, but I think the question asks how this would be enforced, specifically without violence. Your answer doesn't really go into this, but just assumes that people will 1) agree on who owns what private property and what violates their property rights (eg adding smoke) 2) respect that ownership. My guess is that in the end, the party protecting their private property would have to contract private defense agencies to enforce it. – tim Jun 21 '18 at 7:02
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    Again, by "private defense agency" we mean "warlords". – DJClayworth Jun 21 '18 at 16:42

Well the best examples for how private groups handle disputes are states where the state has not the power to enforce it's rules, like somalia, post war iraq, Europe in the dark ages.

The first thing that needs to be cleared is, that in those kind of society, they wouldn't handle this things with money, money is just a tool to distribute power and influence. Instead they would go for more direct ways, force.

And people that can get hold on a lot of power, rule over certain territories. So in a privaticed society, if you want something to change you would go to these people and try to ether convince them, that your interrest is also their interrest, or give them something they want for their services.

And if there is conflict over something where two or more of the highest involved parties have different interrests, they hafe to fight for it, until one side gives their interrests up or is erased.

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