We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

If you want to preserve a building, buy it.

Stephen Green, in a short Instapundit post, linking to this piece about an attempt to preserve a “Tom’s Diner” whose owner wants to demolish it.

33 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – if people really care about a building, and they fear it is going to be destroyed, they should buy it.

    It is true that few individuals have the money to buy a building on their own – but people can club-together (form an association) to buy a building they love.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Yes because there is absolutely no degree of wealth inequality that could ever possibly render such a solution not viable.

    More libertarian fantasyland.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Shlomo Maistre
    Yes because there is absolutely no degree of wealth inequality that could ever possibly render such a solution not viable.

    What on earth are you talking about? This isn’t some ridiculously wealthy guy. It is a guy who has worked his ass off for forty years and built a business worth a few million dollars on which he wishes to retire. And then some losers who have never done anything of value in their life want to steal it from him using a bunch of government thugs? How can you possibly think this is about wealth inequality? Get 10,000 people to agree with you enough to pitch in $500 and the problem is solved to everyone’s benefit. Why is that unreasonable? It is very easy to care about these trivial cultural issues when someone else, in this case Tom, is paying the price.

    It reminds me of the point often made by Jordan Peterson about the raging loons on college campuses. People who have never even held a job as a shift supervisor at McDonalds somehow thing they are qualified to completely redesign the economic system of the planet. Dunning Kruger writ large for sure.

  • CaptDMO

    Yes, because if I were to end up owning a castle, I’d sure want National Historical Site funds used to
    repair, and restore, the moat!
    (Can’t remember which fine MP tried to pull THAT off.)

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Shlomo Maistre writes,

    “Yes because there is absolutely no degree of wealth inequality that could ever possibly render such a solution [buying the premises] not viable.

    More libertarian fantasyland.”

    It doesn’t have to be bought by one person. I am surprised that someone so concerned about wealth inequality has so little regard for the power of many people working together.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser, while I agree with you, I think Shlomo means that “let people get together and buy the place” assumes that the preservationists can scrape together the necessary dough.

    Personally, if I were Tom I’d refuse to sell it at any price just to thumb my nose at them, my own circumstances permitting.

    I got just as exercised when a bunch of Napervillians [a desirable suburb of Chicago] who though they should have the right to dictate a person’s lawn tried to get a Mrs. Whosis in trouble because she turned her lawn into a prairie garden.

    Wotthehell! That don’ look like no acceptable hi-class lawn treatment to us. A lawn proper to this here tony suburb in this here hi-class burb oughta have grass, kept well-mown & properly green regardless of the water bill, with some nice flowers and perhaps a good-looking bush or tree!

    I am happy to report that after the inevitable suits were thrown about, the city or the State or for all I know the World Court ruled that the lady had the right to run her lawn her way [subject, I suppose, to requirements A,B,C, …, X, Y, Z, … below]. I don’t know if the garden is still there–all this took place 20 years ago or more, but it became a tourist attraction for garden-lovers from all over the world.

    Oh dear. Steam is coming out my ears. Let me go get a quieting 20 fingers of bourbon to soothe my nerves, so as to spare you-all.

    Then there’s this on the Watts Towers in L.A.:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watts_Towers

    The Watts Towers, Towers of Simon Rodia, or Nuestro Pueblo (“our town” in Spanish) are a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural towers, architectural structures, and individual sculptural features and mosaics within the site of the artist’s original residential property in Watts, Los Angeles. The entire site of towers, structures, sculptures, pavement and walls were designed and built solely by Sabato (“Simon”) Rodia (1879–1965), an Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason, over a period of 33 years from 1921 to 1954. The tallest of the towers is 99.5 feet (30.3 m). The work is an example of outsider art (or Art Brut) and Italian-American naïve art.[4][5]

    After suits were thrown around by both sides, the Landmarkers won and the Towers are now a Designated National Landmark.

    P.S. If enough people with enough funds to buy the place at Tom’s asking price (or what he’s willing to settle for) pooled their £ and made an offer, that would be fine. But that may not be the case — Shlomo’s point I think. Or it might be that Tom doesn’t care to sell, for whatever reason. His property, his decision, sez I.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Shlomo —

    Less of the “libertarian fantasyland,” if you please. Most of us here are aware of the realities, and spend (or have spent) considerable time and mental effort trying to work out what’s possible and what’s right in situations like this, and to find an answer that’s both possible and honors a person’s right to do as he pleases with his property.

    Paul makes the assumption that his proposed solution would work, and you assert that this is a product of typical fantasizing about hard problems.

    But Paul’s assumption is often warranted, and when it is it’s the best solution in the eyes of libertarians. (From what I think I know of Paul’s views, were it to turn out that Tom doesn’t want to sell his diner at all, Paul would say the potential buyers are out of luck. It’s not as if they have a guarantee signed in ichor by the Great Frog that their offer(s) will be accepted. It’s still Tom’s diner, and Bob’s your uncle.)

    Your assumption, if it’s as I’ve stated, is just plain wrong.

    But I will temper that slightly — all of us once in awhile speak in haste without “remembering what we know,” as I used to tell my calculus students. So perhaps you’ve just over-egged the pudding.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Shlomo Maistre writes,

    “Yes because there is absolutely no degree of wealth inequality that could ever possibly render such a solution [buying the premises] not viable.

    More libertarian fantasyland.”

    It doesn’t have to be bought by one person. I am surprised that someone so concerned about wealth inequality has so little regard for the power of many people working together.

    And what makes you think I am concerned about wealth inequality? And I have ENORMOUS regard for the power of many people working together. For instance, many people working together is how FDR brought socialism to the USA and it’s how Corbyn is going to bring communism to the UK soon.

    A few blogs (chiefly among them Samizdata) and a few books converted me to libertarianism over a decade ago (I’ve been a fervent reader/lurker for well over a decade). I was a devout libertarian for many years. I’ve read my Hayek, Bastiat, Mises, Rothbard, Heinlein, and Rand.

    I am no longer a libertarian and my only point in this thread, which nobody appears to have addressed, is that there is a degree of wealth inequality that renders libertarianism in this context (if you want to preserve a building, buy it) an invalid or at least non-viable solution to a real problem in economics. Austrian Economics is beautiful and sometimes it’s best for the government to step in. The robots are coming.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Your assumption, if it’s as I’ve stated, is just plain wrong.

    I actually made no assumption whatsoever. I’m rather well versed in libertarian philosophy. The lessons of Rothbard and Mises do not escape my notice.

    The libertarian position is that buildings should be preserved via private ownership, including through many private citizens banding together to make large purchases to expensive properties to preserve them.

    My point is that this principle, though philosophically sound and often resulting in excellent results, is not a viable solution in all situations. Depending on the circumstances – the extent of wealth inequality is one of many circumstances relevant – this principle does not provide any valid solution at all, in fact. But I know, I know. Libertarianism is not concerned with whether a principle permits feasible solutions, only whether a principle is libertarian.

    Oh well.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Shlomo M: “I am no longer a libertarian …”

    Interesting. Maybe slightly off topic, but could you share what made you step away from libertarianism? And if it is relevant, what made you adopt libertarianism in the first place?

    It seems that, out here in the real world, people don’t change their minds very often about core beliefs. It is always interesting to know the kind of incident or experience which causes such a change. Thanks.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Shlomo, thus:

    “I actually made no assumption whatsoever.”

    Oh. Then there was no assumption whatever behind your first, sarcastic sentence,

    “Yes because there is absolutely no degree of wealth inequality that could ever possibly render such a solution not viable.”

    And your final, summary sentence-fragment

    “More libertarian fantasyland.”

    Moving on: Just above, your final sentences simply reiterate your first comment:

    “But I know, I know. Libertarianism is not concerned with whether a principle permits feasible solutions, only whether a principle is libertarian.”

    As you, with your wide reading in libertarian and near-libertarian sources, certainly very well know, a libertarian trying to decide what’s right in a given instance is first concerned with the question of whether two apparently-conflicting goals can be achieved with a compromise that is satisfactory to both parties and honors the rights to self and property of each.

    If this seems impossible, then, aside from a few unusual circumstances, the rights of the person or persons who are property-owners take precedence over the wishes of the other party.

    Tom owns the diner. What to do with it is his decision to make, and his alone. I speak as one who cries buckets and throws tantrums when somebody does something that I hate with his property.

    I don’t know whether the builder’s estate (or some other party) legally owned the Watts Towers or not. If not, if there’s no proper owner, then some government decides, as was done in that case.

    The lady with the prairie garden owned her property and her lawn. The hoighty-toity neighbors’ should have gracefully admitted that it’s her property to landscape as she pleases. (Some neighborhoods or towns have absolutely vile rules that debar property-owners from growing vegetables in their front yards, however attractive and well-mixed with decorative flowers.)

    .

    The extraordinary cases do occasion libertarians-proper considerable mental sweat and anguish. (That’s the substance of a lot of Samizdata discussions, and the reason why papers and articles still proliferate.) What if a property-owner has a rat-and-louse infested “apartment” building, or one crumbling and about to collapse, such that it is very, very unsafe? When should we draw the line and write nuisance or safety laws? I would almost guarantee that were I not the sweet, gentle, live-and-let-live soul that I am, I could find something about your pad, Shlomo, that would get you fined or sued in some American jurisdictions.

    And another Real Big Deal: Eminent domain in the case of a country under attack from another country.

    And another: legally required vaccination of school kids, or at least those going to public school.

    The slippery slopes attendent to overriding individuals’ rights to themselves and their property in most given situations are evident.

    Yet probably (I don’t know for sure) most real libertarians would allow the quarantining of people who definitely have a some highly contagious and frequently lethal or otherwise seriously debilitating disease.

    .

    Slandering libertarians as unserious, uncaring, thoughtless, ignorant fantasists gets my dander up.

    . . .

    P.S. Any set of moral principles I ever heard of can be touted by fruits and nuts who don’t really stand by them, in fact may not have made any real effort to understand them.

    And any set of moral principles I ever heard of will have to deal with real-world situations to which it can’t reasonably be applied without exceptions.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Shlomo Maistre
    My point is that this principle, though philosophically sound and often resulting in excellent results, is not a viable solution in all situations.

    If the building is to be preserved someone has to pay for it. Either the community can band together and do it, or the poor schmuck that owns it pays for it. And there is another case — where it is too expensive to preserve the building.

    Eminent domain is not a mechanism for overriding unwilling sellers it is a mechanism to reduce government costs by picking on one poor schmuck to bear most of the cost. After all, one schmuck only has one vote. Better to lose one vote so that you can distributed $5million dollars of value to 100,000 people and get all their votes. It is a matter of how much chutzpah you have really.

    Eminent domain goes against nature, it is the mechanism where the buyer determines the price rather than the seller.

  • My point is that this principle, though philosophically sound and often resulting in excellent results, is not a viable solution in all situations. (Shlomo Maistre, September 10, 2019 at 12:20 am)

    It’s viable in all situations if you assume some will end in knocking the building down I have a very hard time regarding a building called “Tom’s Diner” as having a liberty-overriding claim to preservation. 🙂

  • neonsnake

    The libertarian position is that buildings should be preserved via private ownership, including through many private citizens banding together to make large purchases to expensive properties to preserve them.

    Don’t know if that’s the capital-L Libertarian position or not, but it’s not mine – at least, certainly not that buildings should be preserved. Possibly I’m wrong, but you appear to be misrepresenting the libertarian position by assuming that the building should be preserved just because a group of people who don’t own it believe it should be.

    Mine, regardless of whether it’s the libertarian position or not, is that if a group of someones believe that a building that they don’t own should be preserved, then they should attempt to purchase it. If they can’t afford it, because of wealth inequality (and I can very easily believe that they can’t outbid a large developer), then that’s a terrible, terrible shame, and they have to go without. I’m sure they’ll get over it, eventually. Maybe they could club together and build a replica on their own land.

    I got just as exercised when a bunch of Napervillians [a desirable suburb of Chicago] who though they should have the right to dictate a person’s lawn tried to get a Mrs. Whosis in trouble because she turned her lawn into a prairie garden.

    Julie, this has piqued my curiousity – is this a true story? If so, do you have a link?

    (environmentally-friendly me believes that “prairie garden” is better all round than neatly trimmed lawns)

    That aside, I full-throatedly agree with everything in your last post.

  • Shlomo is basically Julius Evola without the antisemitism 😆

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Shlomo is basically Julius Evola without the antisemitism

    The highest compliment I’ve received thus far this year!

  • llamas

    Shlomo Maistre wrote:

    “Yes because there is absolutely no degree of wealth inequality that could ever possibly render such a solution not viable.”

    Too bad. The fact that those who want to ‘preserve’ the building can’t raise the required funds to make their wishes come true, is neither here nor there. I can’t raise the cash for that Panigale I’ve been yearning for, even though it’s really beautiful and I would feel so wonderful if it were mine to control. And so I must go without.

    It’s not theirs to dispose of as they see fit until they own it. If they can’t find a way to own it, they don’t get to dispose of it. Life is filled with disappointments. Some solutions are viable, some are not.

    “More libertarian fantasyland.”

    Well, Heaven knows that I’ve done more than my fair share of sniping at the sometimes-unhinged excesses of libertarian purity-think on these pages. But this ain’t such an example. It’s simple as can be. If you own something free and clear, it’s yours to do with as you please so long as there is no real and tangible negative impact on anyone else’s person or property – and in my book, the desire to ‘preserve’ something for its architectural pleasure does not qualify, on either count. Knocking down a building doesn’t pick anybody’s pocket, or break anybody’s leg. Case closed.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Julie near Chicago

    neon, sorry, no link. This was about 20 years ago, ± 5 years, and I knew about it because I was living in Naperville at the time. :>(

  • llamas

    Neonsnake – here you go.

    https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1990-11-04-9004010168-story.html

    Courtesy of Instapundit, who linked to this on an unrelated matter a year or two back.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Julie near Chicago

    llamas, thanks for the link. Nice to know I was right about the year , but I had no idea about the rest of the deal. And you dug all that up as a little old lady in Queens! Well done,especially as I imagine you’re beginning to get together your snowshovel, hip-waders, and other paraphernalia necessary to help you deal with 25′ of snow in Michigan that you’ll probably have to face in just a few short months now. 😀

  • neonsnake

    Thanks both – but I’m blocked from reading it in the EU.

    I’ll try again after 31st October…perhaps…

    😉

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    Julie –

    The number of times I’ve misread ‘Napervillians’ as ‘Napervillains’ now. 🙄

  • bobby b

    “Depending on the circumstances – the extent of wealth inequality is one of many circumstances relevant – this principle does not provide any valid solution at all, in fact.”

    “Valid solution”?

    It’s a matter of opinion. One side or the other will get its way. This isn’t a matter of one side wanting some irrational result and the other side wanting a rational one – where a breakdown in the system might leave us with the irrational result winning.

    This is simply “what’s the best color?” There’s no right or wrong.

    So why not leave it up to the owner? Who has more standing to decide?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “My point is that this principle, though philosophically sound and often resulting in excellent results, is not a viable solution in all situations. Depending on the circumstances – the extent of wealth inequality is one of many circumstances relevant – this principle does not provide any valid solution at all, in fact. But I know, I know. Libertarianism is not concerned with whether a principle permits feasible solutions, only whether a principle is libertarian.”

    It depends what problem you think this a solution for. If you think the problem is that of unconditionally allowing anyone to preserve a building they like, then yes, it’s not a solution. But then it was never meant to be.

    The problem ownership is designed to solve is the optimum allocation of scarce resources to maximise human utility. Ownership grants control of the economic use of a resource to the owner. As the owner, they have the right to decide how it is to be used, to their own profit. If someone else has a better use for it, generating more utility, then they can offer to buy it for more than the owner would make by using it themselves. Any sensible owner would go for the greater profit, and the sold resource would thereby be better used. Even money itself is obtained by doing good things for other people, in exchange for the promise that good things will be done for the doer in return.

    Thus, the owner of Tom’s Diner spent a lifetime of work delivering enjoyment and good food to thousands of people, in return for continued ownership and control of the asset on which eventual retirement was to be based. All that utility delivered by a lifetime of service enters the balance. The optimal allocation of resources was for people to get food in a nice diner, and for the owner to get a comfortable retirement.

    However, the planning nonsense seeks to overturn that allocation, not by offering an alternative pile of utility to exchange for it, but by plain theft. Someone wants to control the economic use of the building, but they don’t want to pay for the privilege. In the short term that can work, but when it becomes known what’s going to happen, the consequences will extend to all the rest of the network of resources. Instead of owners choosing to operate restaurants for many years with their original/traditional decor and ambience for the public’s benefit, they will make sure to strip it and redesign regularly, keeping it suitably ugly, so it can never build up the sort of historical character that might lead to a preservation order. That’s a loss to the dining public, a loss to the owner, and a loss to the neighbourhood as all the characterful buildings vanish. But such are the wages of theft.

    Ownership is “a solution” to the problem of maximising the benefit to society. It’s not a solution to the problem of allowing thieves to steal control over other people’s property to their own personal ends, and the general cost of everyone else’s. But it’s all about “That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen”. People only see the immediate effects, they fail to notice the network of consequences entailed by the web of trade, that implements all the rest of the balancing of interests against one another when allocating resources.

    The same principle applies to anything else that is owned. Suppose I don’t like the use you make of your business premises, a butcher’s shop, say, and require that you instead set up a vegan salad bar and hippy love beads shop? Do I get to control the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the plants in your garden, the colour you paint your house? The contents of your blog? The principle is the same. If you want control over its economic use, you do the work to earn the money to buy it. If you’re not willing or able to do the work, then you can provide no pile of positive utility to balance the negative utility you’re imposing on the owner and society with your demands.

    “Getting what you want without paying for it” is not the problem we’re aiming to solve here.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    It depends what problem you think this a solution for. If you think the problem is that of unconditionally allowing anyone to preserve a building they like, then yes, it’s not a solution. But then it was never meant to be.

    The reason why governments should own and maintain historical buildings and landmarks is not because Shlomo Maistre wants them to. The reason is because it is in the national interest for governments to own and maintain historical buildings or landmarks for a variety of reasons.

    It may be true that based on libertarianism historical buildings and landmarks should be privately owned and maintained. It may also be true that many or even all historical buildings would be owned and maintained by voluntary associations of individuals in such a libertarian world. It may also true that any cases in which historical buildings are razed to the ground and replaced with movie theaters in such a world would not be sufficiently objectionable to override the value of fidelity to libertarian principles.

    But it is a fact that enough people with enough power disagree with enough of the above assertions for us as a society to have decided that generally historical buildings should be owned and maintained by the government. And I say thank god for that.

    Not everyone values liberty as highly as libertarians do. Strange, I know.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    So why not leave it up to the owner? Who has more standing to decide?

    If it’s a house, sure. If it’s the Egyptian Pyramids or the Roman Coliseum or Notre Dame or the Old City of Jerusalem or the Great Wall of China or Petra or Angkor Wat etc etc I could care less what the highest bidder thinks should be done with it.

    And enough people with enough power agree with me that society has decided to not leave such decisions to the free market. And thank god for that!

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The reason is because it is in the national interest for governments to own and maintain historical buildings or landmarks for a variety of reasons.”

    There’s far less problem if the government chooses to *buy* the property at the market price. Buy Tom’s Diner at slightly more than the price a redeveloper would pay for it, and I’m sure Tom would be delighted to sell it, and the government can then do with it whatever the voters like. (If you trust them, that is.)

    The problem is when society is not willing or able to pay the price, but steals control anyway.

    If the highest bidder was able to make more profit turning it into something else, then revealed preferences are telling us that it’s *not* in the national interest. People would rather hang onto their money and see the building burn than buy it themselves and thereby have the moral right to decide its fate. That tells us that the building is less important to them than the money. It’s only when you ignore the broader network of unseen costs that ownership connects us to that it appears to be in our interests.

    The ultimate endpoint of this reasoning is that of the fanatical environmentalist, who consider *all* uses to which mankind puts the natural world’s resources to be an ugly desecration, and wants all trace of humanity wiped from the face of the Earth. By their set of values and aesthetics, it’s clearly arguable. But for everyone else, it turns out that car parks and McDonalds are considered far more in the national interests than unspoilt wilderness. If you want to know the national interests, ask the nation. Not politicians or bureaucrats, or those who seek to act through them.

  • llamas

    Shlomo Maistre wrote:

    “The reason why governments should own and maintain historical buildings and landmarks is not because Shlomo Maistre wants them to. The reason is because it is in the national interest for governments to own and maintain historical buildings or landmarks for a variety of reasons.”

    Fine. Name one.

    “the national interest” is a vague and meaningless construction of words which has (IMHO) been used to justify more mischief, theft and plunder than perhaps any other three single words, ever.

    llater,

    llamas

  • The Pedant-General

    NiV

    I’m struggling with this:
    Ownership is “a solution” to the problem of maximising the benefit to society.

    I don’t think that’s true, or at the very least it’s a very shaky foundation on which to base ownership. I would say that ownership is a very real solution to the very real problem of other people, throughout almost all of human history, with a very great of success and very much to the detriment of “society” as a whole, trying to curb individuals’ freedom.

    This is a case in point.

    Which brings me neatly to Shlomo:
    Not everyone values liberty as highly as libertarians do. Strange, I know.

    That’s very much the point. this is completely and entirely what this is about. The arc of history since the 1700s in general and of the 20th Century in particular has shown to all but the blindest that societies that generally aim for liberty are significantly better places in almost every regard than those that don’t. It is very much because there remain people who do not value liberty that the case for it must be made loudly and often.

  • bobby b

    “this is completely and entirely what this is about.”

    Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you have to combine talk of how to get more liberty with talk of why you’d want to. What seems self-evident to me isn’t always to some. It’s not always that they don’t value it – they mostly just don’t understand it.

  • The Pedant-General

    bobby,

    agreed. The assertion was that liberty is not valued. I took that to mean “understood and still, in spite of that, not valued”, but perhaps I’m being too harsh.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I don’t think that’s true, or at the very least it’s a very shaky foundation on which to base ownership. I would say that ownership is a very real solution to the very real problem of other people, throughout almost all of human history, with a very great of success and very much to the detriment of “society” as a whole, trying to curb individuals’ freedom.”

    Ownership is a curb on freedom, but a necessary one.

    Consider the tragedy of the commons. Historically, common land was not owned, which meant anyone could graze their livestock on it. Everyone is free to use it, independently. Nobody can block, prevent, ban, or punish anyone for bringing as many or as few animals as they like. Individuals are free.

    The consequence was that too many people brought too many animals for the land to support, it was over-grazed, the grass died, and as a result supported far fewer people than comparable owned land. We have a limited resource, but with no means to control its use, no way to use market prices to decide what level and type of usage yields the maximum return the result is random, uncontrolled, and grossly suboptimal.

    Ownership is a compromise with liberty. When resources are limited, we create a transferable ‘right’ to sole economic control over the resource and all the produce obtained from it, trade it, and transfer it to whoever can make the most profit from it. We harness people’s self-interest and ‘greed’ to maximise the wealth created for society as a whole.

    It’s not a conscious design. Ownership is part of our evolved instinctive heritage – the concept of “territory” and “mine” go back to our pre-human ancestors. (Try taking away a dog’s bowl before he’s finsihed eating and you’ll see the concept “mine” is not exclusively human!) But it was evolutionarily successful for the above reasons.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>