Saturday, February 11, 2017

Can You Tell a Kid Trespasser to Jump Off a Plane in Mid-Flight?

By Robert Wenzel

K emails:
I'd  like to hear your comments on a scenario (one discussed on a podcast a few months ago by Tom Woods). He gave an example where a guy who owns a private plane can't invite you onto the plane and then say "get off my property" in mid-air. His line of thinking was "you can't put a person in a precarious position and then tell them to leave". I would then ask - what if a child somehow accidentally wandered onto your plane without you knowing? Would you have the right to tell them to leave mid-air?
RW response:

I am assuming you are asking this from my Private Property Perspective.

First, my line of thinking on "rights" is in sync with that of Henry Hazlitt as he outlined in his very underappreciated book, The Foundations of Morality.

Hazlitt didn't believe in rights the way they are generally thought of and neither do I but it would take a book to discuss the topic in detail.

Second, I believe your question has a number of hidden foundational premises. Please allow me to rephrase the question with what I believe are the hidden premises.
Given the extremely unlikely possibility that a child somehow wanders onto a plane unnoticed and discovered in mid-air and the owner of the plane was so cruel and heartless that he told the child to jump out of the plane in mid-air ("Get off my property"), should we alter the Private Property Society view, whereby PPS is held as total respect for Private Property and introduce an overlord of some sort that can rule in opposition to private property. That is, introduce some sort of government, whereby, it must be noted, we have seen throughout history that governments evolve into mass murderers to the tune of hundreds of millions
Bottom line, your question really is: Should we adopt a slippery slope move by creating a structure, government, that has resulted in deaths of hundreds of millions to save a theoretical child in an absurd situation where a child wanders onto a plane owned by a total nutjob?

I am against nutjobs, but the specialty of a certain type of nutjob is to gain governmental power (SEE Chapter 10: "Why the Worst Get on Top," in Hayek:The Road to Serfdom . The world is not perfect and we don't ban cars because some people will die in them or halt plane flights because there is the rare crash. I am 100% against favoring government, which is where the most evil nutjobs lurk. To favor such a horrific structure, which I repeat, has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions, to save a theoretical child is absurd. I have to tell you such theoreticals must have every totalitarian nutjob cheering. If you really had the chance to set up a PPS, would you really abandon it to go down the slippery slope of introducing government to the world? I am against such an evil structure because, among many things, it is a structure that is naturally driven toward killing.

Under any structure that can be conceived, you can come up with many, many scenarios where an innocent can die--any structure. That said, you have to come up with some very insane theoreticals to show how an innocent death in a Private Property Society would occur. When it comes to the government structure, sadly, the world offers very real examples of how horrific things can get, no theoreticals needed. It happens with seeming exponential growth.

In other words, you are framing your question about a Private Property Society as though it should be looked at from an absolute perspective when it must be looked at in terms of alternatives. And so I ask, as we look at the alternative, government, do you want more of this to save your theoretical child?



Government exists by creating scenarios by which they claim they are protecting us. They don't, they end up killing us. Once a society moves away from PPS to protect a child from wandering on to a plane that is owned by a nutjob, it is a society that is on its way to introducing all kinds of government "protections" that time after time have resulted in millions upon millions of deaths. No thank you, I'll stick with PPS.

Finally, the question of the theoretical child is really a question about punishment theory for a trespasser. It is theoretically faulty to make an argument from a private property perspective that anyone other than the victim can determine what amounts to just compensation. Value is always subjective.  


21 comments:

  1. The child: children have parents, correct? In a free society, the parents would have access to deadly weapons, correct? Fill in the blanks. No need for Gummint.

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  2. What if the airplane owner wanted to have sex with the child by way of administering punishment? After all, the property owner may choose a punishment of his choice according to you, Wenzel.

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  3. The question has nothing to do with creating state. It simply asks if it is moral to evict a person who is a stow away. It is not moral. RW, you dodged the issue.

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  4. I'm just contemplating the (not theoretical) children in the Middle East killed by US bombs launched from the air. Or killed by the SEAL DEVGRU mob in Yemen recently. There are tough theoretical questions to grapple with under any system and, because we're dealing with humans, no system can ensure perfect justice at all times. But centralizing the ability to coercively take and kill is a far worse system than decentralizing human activities.

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  5. I've always thought the retort, "It's illegal to yell 'FIRE' in a movie theatre," to those who unconditionally support free-speech as a similarly far fetched scenario in order to justify the impediment on one's freedoms.

    Hasn't it been proven historically much more dangerous to give someone, or some group authority to silence anyone that they disagree with? How many people can die in this type of theater disaster anyway, and how long before experienced theater-going-public would catch on to the cry of "wolf?"

    And ya, RW seems to have dodged the issue... again.

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  6. This is a property rights issue. That child's violation of the plane owner's property does not mean he can take the child's life as restitution. He can land and demand restitution for the violation of his property rights.

    If someone steals an item from me, going to their house, killing them, and taking it back is not a proportional response.

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  7. Throwing the kid out of the plane would violate the property rights of the land or water owner below.

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    1. Not necessarily, kid could land in open water or on government property.

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    2. In the full PPS being discussed there is no government land and bodies of water have owners.

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  8. I think this analysis ignores numerous factors. The question is always presented as:

    Under libertarianism, is it “OK” to do X? That is the wrong analysis. The proper analysis is:

    If you do X, what can others do about it? Specifically, when can others invade the perpetrator’s private property and seize his body for trial and punishment?

    I submit that there are four general types of responses to bad acts:

    1. Walter Blockian libertarian law analysis which would only apply to people without a contractual arrangement regarding the behavior in question and who violate the NAP.

    2. A contractual arrangement which deals with appropriate punishment for misbehavior whether it violates the NAP or not, which I think would be the predominant situation. You could be expelled from your covenant community for by-law violations.

    3. Shunning. Strangers (people not in contractual privity) refusing to associate with the perpetrator or who decide to punish the perpetrator if he comes on their property.

    4. Encirclement. Just because you own some land does not mean that you have any way to get off of it without a contractual arrangement with someone else. You could be stuck on your land and allowed to starve to death by your hostile neighbors who do not care for people who throw children from planes.

    Let’s presume the guy finds a stowaway child and declares “I’m throwing him out of the plane because it’s my plane. Nyah nyah nyah.”

    The guy who owns and is flying the airplane had to take off and land somewhere. I presume he would be flying through airspace owned by someone else. I presume he would have insurance. It’s quite likely that he would be subject to pre-existing contractual rules regarding stowaways.

    Alternatively, what would stop the owners of the airspace from shooting the plane out of the sky when he flies into their airspace? It’s their airspace. They can do what they want with their own property, right? Hey Joe, that’s that idiot who threw the child out of the plane. He’s in our airspace. Blast him out of sky.
    You do not necessarily need to be able to invade the perpetrator’s own private property to punish him for what is perceived as misbehavior that technically may not violate the NAP.

    There would be many instances of “misbehavior” that do not violate the NAP and which could still be punished without any additional violation of the NAP. The mores and culture of the community will determine what those are.

    I always like to add that there is no murder, theft, rape or pillage with private property and no lying with contracts. Apparently, it’s acceptable to lie in politics. And murder, steal, rape and pillage. Why would anyone choose politics over private property and contracts?

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  9. He did not dodge the question:

    "Finally, the question of the theoretical child is really a question about punishment theory for a trespasser. It is theoretically faulty to make an argument from a private property perspective that anyone other than the victim can determine what amounts to just compensation. Value is always subjective."

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  10. Robert, your utilitarian comparison of real govt murders vs a theoretical child shows the ethical weakness of your position. The question is really, is it ethical to do this to this child in this case, as an individual, not as a cog in a broader historical collective. Most people smell "no" as the answer.

    Even a private property society requires some central enforcement mechanism, to resolve conflicts between property owners, whether it is govt or something new. Otherwise, what you really describe is a might-makes-right feudalism.

    Proportionality is a reasonable requirement for any restitution, even though harm is subjective. There has to be an objective approximation. Otherwise every infraction, no matter how small, could escalate to execution. That is a state of tyranny and war, the very thing property is meant to avoid. Yes, that requires a central magistracy, as any private property society does.

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    1. Apollo, you sound like you are saying "you can have private property as long as you follow a certain set of rules that are made by others regarding your property".
      Sounds like a Statist community to me.

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    2. In a private property society acceptable norms will emerge as to the bounds of proportional punishment for that society. That's not statism, as it's not centrally imposed from the top down, rather, individual disputes will be resolved that provide guidance as to what is and what is not appropriate. Just as happened in the common law in England and the law merchant in Europe. Indeed the essence of a private property society is mutual and equal respect for each other's property rights, which means first defining these rights.

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    3. Defining Rights. Sounds fun.
      What about the Non-Aggression principle? What more is needed?
      Sorry, but I still see what Apollo wrote as a slippery slope of Statism.
      I would think each area would be so different from each other that having this " in a PPS this is exactly what would happen" seems a little of how YOU would want it to be. Not necessarily how someone else would see it, or how it would be.
      And Common Law, or case law the way you describe it, doesn't necessarily mean protection of property rights, especially if you have some "defining" them.
      We already have an entity defining our rights. It's called the State.

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    4. A private property society, by definition, is a society in which private property, and thus the NAP (which is private property's flipside), is widely respected and is the foundation for the nuances that develop over time, such as what is proportional punishment for wrongs. Perhaps you are thinking of a different definition of a PPS.

      Right now we don't live in a PPS, since the principle that is widely respected is that the state effectively owns everything and everyone and by its good graces allows individuals to use their bodies and property for approved purposes. Yet even in this society there are nuances that develop over time, from state edicts, as to what is acceptable punishment.

      The point is, any system will have certain underlying property rights principles, from which the details are filled in over time.

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  11. NAP is a basis for a common law that does not require government, and certainly does not require the arbitrary "law" that legislatures and their bureaucracies create. But NAP does not exist in a vacuum either. As NAPster said, there is a necessary proportionality that must exist, and the victim is not always capable of rationally determining where that lies. This is why non-governmental courts would exist, providing balance in situations where extremes occur. Why would the property rights of the plane owner automatically trump the property rights of the child to his own life. Such absolutes are inhuman.

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  12. From a moral perspective, I think the obvious answer is, "No. One should not toss children (or adults) out of airplanes simply for trespassing." Even if one can argue that one has a right to do something, that doesn't mean that one should do it.

    From a practical perspective, even the most sociopathic person is unlikely to throw a trespasser out of his or her plane, for a variety of reasons, ranging from putting the plane in danger to bad publicity to fear of revenge being sought by the child's family.

    This question is a typical "lifeboat scenario" question. Such questions tend to be a bit on the absurd side in trying to make their point. They are unrealistic.

    I am curious what kind of plane this is that we are talking about, such that someone could hide on it without being discovered before takeoff AND the door could be opened during flight and someone tossed off. Planes used for skydiving, for example are small enough and open enough that it is unlikely that someone would be able to hide in one. Most larger planes would likely have doors that could not be opened during flight. So, how is this child to be tossed out, anyway? I realize this is getting away from the moral point of the scenario, but it's worth noting that, for many if not most airplanes, tossing someone out is not an option.

    If we were to create a state to protect children from being thrown out of planes (and to guard against myriad other lifeboat scenarios), that state eventually would be taken control of by just the type of people who might toss a child out of a plane if they could get away with it. Such a person would have to be a sociopath, lacking in empathy. Who else would do such a thing? Such people are exactly the ones with the skill sets to rise to power in the state. They are willing to lie, cheat, steal and kill. They could eventually give themselves immunity from tossing children out of planes. More kids would be tossed from planes in the long run AND you'd have a state imposing its tyranny on everybody. This scenario, like the original question, leans towards the absurd, but fair is fair. Ask a silly question get a silly response. Though, we do know from experience that political elites like to exempt themselves from laws that they impose on others.

    I appreciate that several commenters mentioned proportionality. More likely than someone tossing a child out of a plane is that the owner would forgive the child (or adult) and, perhaps, even try to help them. But this much more realistic scenario is not in the spirit of the lifeboat scenario question, is it?

    While it is true that the creation of a state as a remedy to the huge problem of children being tossed out of planes is not mentioned in the original question, I think it is implied. Otherwise, the question is being asked simply to determine the obvious: that it is not okay to throw children out of airplanes. Even sociopaths know this. They just don't care. But, whether there is a state or not, a law or not, what is to stop someone from tossing children out of planes if they think they can get away with it, even now? And yet it doesn't happen.

    Advocates of liberty, especially those in the no state camp, are generally held to a standard of perfection. If one scenario, however unlikely or ridiculous, can be imagined wherein the non-aggression principle or the private property society or a voluntary society can be shown to possibly be inadequate, the implication is that we must default to the (far more imperfect) state. And a lot of people fall for that.

    When was the last time that you saw a lifeboat scenario question aimed at showing that the state is imperfect or that initiating aggression is not the answer to our problems? Such questions are not necessary. The fact that such questions are resorted to in an attempt to demonstrate weaknesses in the non-aggression philosophy suggests that non-aggression is the better philosophy.

    Perfection is not an option.

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  13. From a moral perspective, I think the obvious answer is, "No. One should not toss children (or adults) out of airplanes simply for trespassing." Even if one can argue that one has a right to do something, that doesn't mean that one should do it.

    From a practical perspective, even the most sociopathic person is unlikely to throw a trespasser out of his or her plane, for a variety of reasons, ranging from putting the plane in danger to bad publicity to fear of revenge being sought by the child's family and so on.

    This question is a typical "lifeboat scenario" question. Such questions tend to be a bit on the absurd side in trying to make their point. They are unrealistic.

    I am curious what kind of plane this is that we are talking about, such that someone could hide on it without being discovered before takeoff AND the door could be opened during flight and someone tossed off. Planes used for skydiving, for example are small enough and open enough that it is unlikely that someone would be able to hide in one. Most larger planes would likely have doors that could not be opened during flight. So, how is this child to be tossed out, anyway? I realize this is getting away from the moral point of the scenario, but it's worth noting that, for many if not most airplanes, tossing someone out is not an option.

    If we were to create a state to protect children from being thrown out of planes (and to guard against myriad other lifeboat scenarios), that state eventually would be taken control of by just the type of people who might toss a child out of a plane if they could get away with it. Such a person would have to be a sociopath, lacking in empathy. Who else would do such a thing? Such people are exactly the ones with the skill sets to rise to power in the state. They are willing to lie, cheat, steal and kill. They could eventually give themselves immunity from tossing children out of planes. More kids would be tossed from planes in the long run AND you'd have a state imposing its tyranny on everybody. This scenario, like the original question, leans towards the absurd, but fair is fair. Ask a silly question get a silly response. Though, we do know from experience that political elites like to exempt themselves from laws that they impose on others.

    I appreciate that several commenters mentioned proportionality. More likely than someone tossing a child out of a plane is that the owner would forgive the child (or adult) and, perhaps, even try to help them. But this much more realistic scenario is not in the spirit of the lifeboat scenario question, is it?

    While it is true that the creation of a state as a remedy to the huge problem of children being tossed out of planes is not mentioned in the original question, I think it is implied. Otherwise, the question is being asked simply to determine the obvious: that it is not okay to throw children out of airplanes. Even sociopaths know this. They just don't care. But, whether there is a state or not, a law or not, what is to stop someone from tossing children out of planes if they think they can get away with it, even now? And yet it doesn't happen.

    Advocates of liberty, especially those in the no state camp, are generally held to a standard of perfection. If one scenario, however unlikely or ridiculous, can be imagined wherein the non-aggression principle or the private property society or a voluntary society can be shown to possibly be inadequate, the implication is that we must default to the (far more imperfect) state. And a lot of people fall for that.

    When was the last time that you saw a lifeboat scenario question aimed at showing that the state is imperfect or that initiating aggression is not the answer to our problems? Such questions are not necessary. The fact that such questions are resorted to in an attempt to demonstrate weaknesses in the non-aggression philosophy suggests that non-aggression is the better philosophy.

    Perfection is not an option.

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