How Government-Owned Streets Prevent Effective Law Enforcement
“Your right to swing your arms ends where another person’s nose begins.” While this widely attributed quote sounds ostensibly libertarian in terms of respecting self-ownership, it’s actually quite misleading. One need not abide some lunatic swinging his arms about near one’s face, being forced to tolerate it as long as no physical contact is made. Rather, property owners may establish rules regarding the conduct of those who choose to enter their property, including prohibitions against swinging arms near other people’s faces. Individuals may then decide what rules they are willing to tolerate when they enter another’s property, and competition between property owners enables them to determine what bundle of rules various consumers prefer.
This is not the case on so-called public property—that is, land areas controlled by the state such as streets, roads, parks, government buildings—even if that state were perfectly constrained by a written constitution. In The Structure of Liberty, Randy Barnett articulates this problem well:
A society that includes extensive public property holdings is faced with what might be called a dilemma of vulnerability. Since governments enjoy privileges denied their citizens and are subject to few of the economic constraints of private institutions, their citizens are forever vulnerable to governmental tyranny. Therefore, freedom can only be preserved by denying government police agencies that right to regulate public property with the same discretion accorded private property owners. Yet steps to protect society from the government also serve to make citizens more vulnerable to criminally inclined persons by providing such persons with a greater opportunity for a safe haven on the public streets and sidewalks and in the
Article from Mises Wire