Friday, May 3, 2013

Deep Libertarian Questions of the Day

I am sending this one out to Walter Block.

Under libertarian principle, if there are desert areas, say outside Las Vegas or in Arizona, could a resident stop a neighbor from planting a tree or flower that would produce allergy causing pollen that would otherwise result in a pollen free area?

Under libertarian principle, regardless of when a neighbor planted a flower or tree that produced allergy causing pollen  (or if  the flowers/trees were already on the land prior to the current owner gaining control of the property)  would a neighbor have the right to demand that the flowers/trees be cut down?


  1. If the person moved there and the flowers/trees wee already there, then that was their choice. If the person plants them after the fact, then they are responsible for the resulting harm from planting them and them polluting. The pre-existing person is entitled to damages both for their own suffering (if there was any) and the loss in property value, that would necessarily occur because the demand for the property would decrease.

    It's the same argument for cell towers, sewage disposal plants, etc. etc. etc.

  2. How do you know that particular tree is causing the allergy? Can it be other trees in the area? How about other plant life in area that produce pollen? You'd have to mow down all plant life in “x” area and you still may not solve your problem on a windy day. So, no, from a logical standpoint.

    Perhaps the questions is, if someone plans a tree in a desert, can you cut it down? If private property, then the answer is clearly no – for the above reasons. If we agree that the land is not owned by anyone, then the answer is yes. Conversely, we can ask if a dollar is left on a park bench, can someone take that dollar? The answer is clearly yes.

  3. Tony: You missed the point to the question. They know who planted the tree and where. Thus it's property damage and pollution which you are entitled to seek compensatory damages assuming that you pre-date the tree.

    1. You haven't established a link between this specific tree and the specific person's alergic reaction. Is a person smoking a cigerette in the desert responsible for every other person's lung cancer?

      It is a ridiculous scenario. There is no such thing as an earthly pollen free environment. Pollen is more ubiquitous than air.

  4. Huh?? Who owns the desert? You talk about under "libertarian principles", but give no context. Are there prior property agreements such as under a HOA, are these two the only ones there, etc.?

  5. Here is Rothbard homesteading an easement (from Applications and criticism from the Austrian school):

    "Most of us think of homesteading unused resources in the old-fashioned sense of clearing a piece of unowned land and farming the soil. ... Suppose, for example, that an airport is established with a great deal of empty land around it. The airport exudes a noise level of, say, X decibels, with the sound waves traveling over the empty land. A housing development then buys land near the airport. Some time later, the homeowners sue the airport for excessive noise interfering with the use and quiet enjoyment of the houses.
    Excessive noise can be considered a form of aggression but in this case the airport has already homesteaded X decibels worth of noise. By its prior claim, the airport now "owns the right" to emit X decibels of noise in the surrounding area. In legal terms, we can then say that the airport, through homesteading, has earned an easement right to creating X decibels of noise. This homesteaded easement is an example of the ancient legal concept of "prescription," in which a certain activity earns a prescriptive property right to the person engaging in the action."

    So it would depend on when the tree was planted. Also, the plaintiff would have to prove that the particular tree was causing allergies. For example, he had no allergies, then a neighbor plants the tree, and all of a sudden allergies begin. In practice, I don't think a single tree would cause problems, but a whole orchard might.

    By the way, I know at least one person that has moved to Arizona specifically because of severe allergies. So this is not just some hypothetical question with no practical applications.

  6. I would like to add a general thought as well (feel free to disagree if you think I'm wrong or not considering something fully).

    1. There is no invisible force under the Non-Aggression Principal that prevents or prohibits you from committing an "aggressive" action once you've adopted this mind set.

    2. An important feature/extension of the implementation of NAP is that right to be compensated as a victim of aggression and the duty to compensate victims as an aggressor.

    With regard to matters of serious physical injury and harm/theft of property, I believe NAP should be strictly followed with no aggression initiated that can lead to these.

    However, there are the "softer" cases, like the one described above, where Person A's planting of the flowers may be worth the cost of compensating Person B for some allergy medication, or the cost to Person B really isn't all that significant.

    Likewise, I saw a recent post about trespassing onto someone's yard to save a child that was being starved by the property's owner. It may very well be worth amount of compensation I'd have to pay to the property owner for trespassing in order to save the child. Furthermore, the child may have a claim against the property owner for the maltreatment, which may offset my cost of trespass (this last sentence assumes that there is a market convention whereby a "rescuer" is entitled to a percentage of the claim...similar to the merchant law dictating that someone saving a sinking ship is entitled to a certain percentage of the rescued cargo).

  7. The implications of a well reasoned answer about this property rights questions towards the issue of IP are interesting.

  8. Bob, you should make this a daily feature: "Deep Libertarian Question of the Day"