A Response to Ned Hettinger

By: Dr. Jan Narveson, University of Waterloo (Canada)

We are the right people to be here, for I hold precisely the opposite of what Hettinger holds: it is private property that is the salvation of mankind, the condition of a great deal of good. Rather than being "detrimental to" some "relationships with other people and with nature", private property puts them on exactly the right footing.

Private property requires all our actions to be consensual. You want to use me in any way, what is mine in anyway, you have to clear it with me; I want to use something of yours, I have to ask. We don't allow murder, rape, cheating, lying, theft. And we don廠 have much use for jealousy, envy, and spite. You've got something, you take care of it - not someone else. You影e got a rare species of birds in your back yard, and you want to build a garage? Fine. If somebody wants those birds, they can make you an offer. In Ned's view, they get to threaten you with a jail term and confiscate your yard. Ned thinks that property rights are founded on a biblical myth. That廣 absurd: once you have some property, you don廠 need any myths to see the advantages. On the contrary: the priesthood has always been the enemy of individual invention, of the building up of wealth for people. It exalts poverty and hair-shirts. Bill Gates has no use for that, and neither should we.

And Ned wants to substitute another set of theocratic restrictions on us. He wants to exalt the environment as is, as wilderness. But you don't need myths here, either. Plenty of people like some wilderness: it廣 great for camping, and nice to look at. And we tend to like trees. Ned seems to think that mankind is undermining the "incredible fertility of the earth". That is totally wrong. First, the fertility of the earth is great for growing trees and wild grasses, but it廣 not much for feeding people. For that we turn to man. It is hardworking and ingenious farmers and agroscientists who have made the earth fertile for us. We need less and less land to feed more and more people - actually, we've even got to the point where we need no land at all - just some space, whether on the top floor of a building or on the ground under a roof. And one of the major by products of this is that we now have more forest in America than for some hundreds of years, and maybe since ever. Eastern America is now virtually one vast forest. Meanwhile we are using lots of forest products, but growing new forest even faster. Truly, modern science and engineering has given us the best of both worlds.

Sitting Bull was wrong: "Every seed" is not what "is awakened" in the spring. Most seeds nowadays were developed by agricultural scientists and experimentally-minded farmers, not by Mother Nature. Sitting Bull was also, apparently, a natural Marxist, buying the absurd view that the American rich are rich because of their habit of pilfering from the American poor. That廣 absurd: you sell to people who have money; and you give jobs to people who don廠, so that they'll end up having money so that now you can sell them things. That's what Americans have done, given the chance, and it has made all of them wealthy by world standards.

As to culling wolves, he'll be glad to hear that it is Park services themselves that shoot excess wolf and deer populations, often enough. And as to private people shooting deer - if only they could! In the American east, the deer are taking over, they廝e everywhere. Ecofascism won't let people shoot them, and the result is a great increase in lyme disease among the bourgeoisie.

As to the "right to ruin the land through erosion", I guess Ned hasn't heard about the productivity levels of American farms. Nature is great at erosion, just as it is great at replenishing. He apparently thinks that farmers just love to see their land eroded; and maybe there廣 some magic government program that does make that in their interest, but insofar as they are farmers trying to make a living, you can just bet that they're not too interested in erosion.

The belief that landowners are "landlords" is exactly right, in this or any other age. But in an age when we know a lot about chemical waste disposal and so forth, the canny landlord is going to be very interested in how his neighbor disposes of his waste. On the other hand, to Ned's displeasure, he might build a shopping centre on his land. And why not? Shopping centers are very useful things, and there is plenty of land, plenty of trees, to enjoy in other ways.

Contrary to his suggeston, ownership is basically one thing: to own is to have the right to do what you like, what you judge best, with the thing in question. Taking the view that the earth "belongs to mankind in common" is turning its use over to politicians. And I assure you that no politician, especially Al Gore, knows as well as you do what to do with your property. With private property, the land and everything else is under the control of the right people: namely, people, working for their own, and consequently for others', betterment.

Let's not sacrifice mankind on the alter of biodiversity. We can make all sorts of excellent uses of nature, have done so and will continue to do so. That includes establishing zoos and nature reserves as well as shopping malls and skyscrapers. What we should have of these things is whatever people like enough to be willing to do something to bring about - not the quantities prescribed by power-hungry politicians.

Updated: July 23, 1998

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