Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Mask Slips Dept.

Once in a while, a politician will say something so stupid, so wrongheaded, so completely at odds with observable reality that it offers an opportunity to demonstrate to the inattentive exactly what horrors governments are capable of:

An amended version of a bill that would extend new protections to California's homeless population cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, framed Assembly Bill 5 as an attempt to create a statewide baseline of homeless civil rights, citing a proliferation of municipal ordinances cracking down on behavior like lying or sleeping on the sidewalk as examples of the "criminalization of poor people."

"Today numerous laws infringe on poor peoples' ability to exist in public space, to acquire housing, employment and basic services and to equal protection under the laws," Ammiano said at a Tuesday morning hearing.

Ammiano's legislation faced a backlash from critics who said the bill would sanction behavior like urinating in public while exposing businesses to new litigation, undercutting the will of voters who had passed local ordinances and handcuffing city-level efforts to deal with homelessness. The California Chamber of Commerce included AB 5 on its annual list of "job killers" because it imposes "costly and unreasonable mandates on employers."

[Thank you, Jerry of Common Sense and Wonder, for this citation.]

So the assemblyman is concerned about "poor peoples' ability to exist in public space," is he? Well, well, well.

It's fascinating that Ammiano doesn't grasp the implications of his statement. Does he not realize that "public space" includes things like beaches, roads, and the lobbies of government buildings? Does he not grasp that a "right" to establish a static presence in such a place constitutes a privatization of that space -- a homesteading? If he were compelled to confront those realities, do you think he'd understand the problem, or would he accuse you of being "heartless" and "bigoted?"

Isabel Paterson dissected this most ably:

Theoretically, public property belongs to everybody equally, indivisibly, and simultaneously, which is absurd. If this assumption were applied, the result would be that any person presenting himself to use the property could be asked: "Are you everybody?" and he would be bound to reply: "No"; while he could not assert any claim to use any particular division of the property. The actual use of public property by the public is therefore limited to approximately two dimensional conditions, in which cubic measure, or solids, need not be taken into account, so that a man is regarded as a point in a line which is divisible into an infinite number of points; and with any number of lines intersecting without interference, on a plane surface. Thus it is practicable—whether or not it is necessary or advisable—to make roads public property, because the use of a road is to traverse it. Though the user does in fact occupy a given space at a given moment, the duration is negligible, so that there is no need to take time and space into account except by negation, a prohibition: the passenger is not allowed to remain as of right indefinitely on any one spot in the road. The same rule applies to parks and public buildings. The arrangement is sufficiently practicable in those conditions to admit the fiction of "public ownership."

Robert Ringer, in Restoring The America Dream, provides an example of what comes from dismissing this aspect of "public property:"

What would stop a gang of people from getting up early each morning and staking out fifty yards of the most desirable [public] beachfront in a given area? After all, since they would own every square inch of the beach in common with everyone else, it would be their right to do so. Is this what the original communist theoreticians had in mind -- a chaotic society that would operate on a first-come-first-served basis?

But wait a minute. Why should the gang have to arise early each morning to lay claim to the preferred area of the beach? Does communism provide for a time limit on the use of commonly owned property? Why not just have a couple of gang members guard the property at night? Technically they would merely be exercising their right to use "common property;" it's just that their use, in this particular case, would be continuous.

To carry this line of reasoning to its ultimate conclusion, why not just live on that particular area of beach on a permanent basis? And that would be the precise point at which "the people" would be engaged in something called private ownership of property.

"Public property" is inseparable from this implication. If we embrace the fiction of "public property" -- really, State-owned property to which private persons are granted conditional access -- the conditions under which it can be maintained viably come right along with it.

Assemblyman Ammiano fails to grasp these facts. Yet they are inescapable; attempting to legislate around them is like King Knut's attempt to sweep back the tide.

I once wrote a jeremiad against allowing really smart people to hold public office. It appears I'll have to write one against electing really stupid ones, too. California being what it is, I doubt it will make a difference in the Golden State.

1 comment:

Rick C said...

perhaps someone should persuade a bunch of homeless people to hang out in public areas that would affect him.