Public Property and the Homeless

The Las Vegas City Council is catching some flack in the libertarian 'sphere for passing an ordinance making it illegal to distribute free food to the homeless in city parks.

I don't have a problem with this. The simple fact that something is publicly owned doesn't mean it must or should be a free-for-all. Government shouldn't own parks, but as long as it does it should try regulate their use in ways that maximize public enjoyment. No one would expect a the owner of a private park to allow the homeless to congregate in his park---it would drive away the paying customers. So why should we expect, or even allow, the government to do so with our money?

Certainly I would object if the Council were forbidding the charities from feeding the poor on their own property, but all it's doing here fulfilling its duty to act as a good steward of the public resorces which have been entrusted to it.

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I disagree with Brandon. I

I disagree with Brandon. I should be able to give away money or food whenever and wherever I want. If you want a law that helps eliminate bums from public places, outlaw the bums. Seems simple to me.

1. if the parks were

1. if the parks were privatized we could stop wasting all our rent-seeking time trying to bend them to our own purposes. Remember, it's not likely that "public" parks will be aimed to provide space for your particular hobby, whether it's kayaking or begging for liquor money.

2. A "flack" is a PR person, "flak" is a German acronym for anti-aircaft cannon, now colloquial English for AA fire.

Does the First Amendment

Does the First Amendment protect my right to feed pigeons in the park? If I do it as part of an organized group of pigeon feeders?

Is this a moral issue or a

Is this a moral issue or a legal one? These concepts are orthogonal, and thus if it's the former then the Constitution is irrelevant; if it's the latter then "reasonable" is left to the guys with the guns, and there's no point in discussing it.

You're being awfully

You're being awfully literal. The first amendment has long since been incorporated by the Fourteenth and applied to the states. Also, I don't know, maybe there's something hiding in the Ninth Amendment somewhere or in a penumbra or in foreign law that would protect bums.

As to Brandon's opinion, I disagree. Public property is public, belonging to all, and it seems to me that it should be thus properly governed by libertarian law---Mill's harm principle and what not.

I also want to make note of

I also want to make note of an omission. The text reads: "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" ... assemble where? The text does not say, "the right of the people peaceably to assemble in Las Vegas city parks."

The full text reads:

The full text reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Let's take this one word at a time. Word number one.

Congress.

I believe it's "right to

I believe it's "right to peacefully assemble FOR REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES".

The simple fact that

The simple fact that something is publicly owned doesn't mean it must or should be a free-for-all. Government shouldn't own parks, but as long as it does it should try regulate their use in ways that maximize public enjoyment.

Um, no.

Public property (which, yes, should be minimized, but that's a side issue) should be governed by the simple rule that regulations must be neutrally applied to all.

A law that saws that I can give a free ice cream cone to a neighbor's child but not a sandwich to a homeless person is not a "neutrally applied law."

So says common sense, common decency -- and the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, do we really need to revisit the fallacy of "maximizing public enjoyment"? That is an impossiblity, both in the abstract (the impossibility of interpersonal utility comparisons) and the concrete (the Politics of Pull).

Constant: The first

Constant:

The first amendment ensures, among other things, "The right of the people peaceably to assemble."

So says common sense, common

So says common sense, common decency – and the First Amendment.

I'm not aware of the First Amendment saying anything of the sort.

Common sense says that if I'm in a position to elect my city councilman, I'll vote for one that keeps the parks clear of bums.

This should have been one

This should have been one long post, but I keep remembering things I meant to point out. OK: the language of the US Constitution sometimes refers to particular governments and sometimes does not refer to any particular governments. I take this difference to be meaningful.

For example, the amendment that addresses eminent domain does not refer to any particular government. So it can be taken as referring to all levels of government.

But the first amendment refers specifically to the congress, and therefore it is reasonable to take it as intending to refer to the congress and the congress only. Otherwise, why refer to the congress? As was pointed out, the amendment was later broadened, but the language of that also referred to specific governments.

Well, there are two issues.

Well, there are two issues. One issue is, in real terms, how are the different governments organized, and I think you'll have a lot of work ahead of you if you want to argue that my town is centrally commanded by the state governor, given the fact of town meetings and the like. The town seems to me to be in the hands of the people living in the town.

A separate issue is whether the towns are constrained by the United States constitution where it refers to states. They might be constrained regardless of how they are organized visavis the state.

As an aside, there's also

As an aside, there's also the matter of whether the towns *should* be as constrained as the state. In my view, the smaller and more local the government, the less need there is for constitutional constraints. I don't think my town has a constitution, which suggests that my neighbors don't see a need for one.

Brandon, You're right. I

Brandon,

You're right. I withdraw my comment.

I believe that city

I believe that city governments are basically subsidiaries of the state governments.

If that is the case, it is not at all obvious on the face of it. We already have an example of lower "levels" of government not really being subsidiaries of higher levels: specifically, the states are not really subsidiaries of the nation. I don't see why that model can't be carried all the way down.

I disagree with Brandon. I

I disagree with Brandon. I should be able to give away money or food whenever and wherever I want.

You're joking, right? If you try to give away money or food in my living room, I might shoot you. So, be careful.

Now if you want to reply, "well, it goes without saying that this wasn't a blanket statement and you were quite silly to read it as extending to your living room" then I will answer, "good, then it is also quite silly to read it as extending to the city's public parks, so we will take you as agreeing with Brandon." Fair enough?

This bugs me because I think

This bugs me because I think its contrary to the spirit of a public park, which is a very different thing than a private park open to the public. There are legitimate problems with letting homeless people congregate in parks, but those could be solved with less drastic solutions. For example, make charities get permits when they're doing this, and then have somebody come by later and shoe them away so that the normals don't get scared away. If the park has a private owner, then they can do whatever the hell they want.

No they aren’t. Public

No they aren’t. Public parks are built and maintained with stolen money, and very often located on stolen land.

Well, by that argument the clothing worn by a welfare recipient is public property and so you have the right to undress said welfare recipient whenever it occurs to you to do so.

However, talk about what is or is not bought with stolen money doesn't really get us anywhere useful in the real world. Try to undress a welfare recipient and you'll go to jail, assuming you survive the encounter.

Brandon: I don’t have a

Brandon:

I don’t have a problem with this. The simple fact that something is publicly owned doesn’t mean it must or should be a free-for-all. Government shouldn’t own parks, but as long as it does it should try regulate their use in ways that maximize public enjoyment.

I suspect that the new law will reduce enjoyment of the parks by the part of the public that happens to be homeless, or involved in charity for the homeless. Or do they not count?

hein:

I think Brandon is right. This is a property rights issue.

No it's not. The city is not the rightful owner of the land and therefore has no legitimate authority over its use.

Constant:

And public parks are the property of the city.

No they aren't. Public parks are built and maintained with stolen money, and very often located on stolen land. The parks are no more the property of the city government than a cache of buried treasure is the property of the pirate who stole it.

I think Brandon is right.

I think Brandon is right. This is a property rights issue. Maybe a good analogy is that if I own a share in corporation X, do I have the right to go into their parking lot and give away food, or can they have me removed???

You’re being awfully

You’re being awfully literal.

And we've long since gotten past literal. Normally libertarians are critical of taking the Constitution non-literally, for example on the matter of guns, where it is explicitly said, the right bla bla shall not be infringed. And does not limit that to Congress.

I looked at XIV but didn't see anything referring to city governments, only to state governments. If you needed something extra to extend the national restrictions to the states, then it stands to reason you need something extra to extend the state restrictions to the cities. But in any case, even if XIV extends I, it's not I but XIV. It was the wrong amendment to refer to. I'm not sure I'm at fault for knowing how to read English and for bothering to read the text of the Constitution.

But anyway it's absurd. To say that people have a right to assemble does not mean that people have a right to assemble in my living room. It does not give a specific place. To answer the question, "where do they have a right" - they have a right to assemble on property where the property owner has allowed them to assemble. And public parks are the property of the city.

Same with freedom of the press. Freedom of the press does not mean I have the right to publish my thoughts in the New York Times. It means I have the right to publish my thoughts wherever the owner of the press permits me to. And government publications are the property of the respective government (whichever government publishes them), so I do not have the right to publish my thoughts in government publications.

Government-owned property often has rules attached. For example, near my house there is a national wildlife refuge. It has a lot of rules that visitors have to follow. For example, you can't be there past 9 pm. Does that infringe on my right to assemble? No? Maybe the Constitution isn't valid after 9 pm? Well, I think the Constitution is valid after 9 pm but that the refuge is government property. That's my explanation. If you think the refuge isn't property then you need to explain the curfew.

That never happened with the

That never happened with the states and cities, so they don’t have the same level of separation.

But towns do follow in important respects the model of the nation versus the state. When England had control, the king sent out governors to govern the states. Similarly, in China the emperor sent out governors to govern the regions. In the US, governors are selected locally. Well, in the US, mayors are elected locally as well. My town doesn't have a mayor, it has a town meeting where matters are decided and a town manager and various committees and chiefs. In any case it has the appearance to my eyes of being a distinct entity rather than a part of the state government.

The state government of course can tell the towns what to do, but it can also tell the people what to do, and I'm not part of the state.

Now, unknown to me my town may be a department of the state - I'm just giving my impressions.

Normal libertarians, it's

Normal libertarians, it's always seemed to me, are critical of taking the Constitution non-literally when such interpretation fails to suit their political goals.

Kip: Public property (which,

Kip:
Public property (which, yes, should be minimized, but that’s a side issue) should be governed by the simple rule that regulations must be neutrally applied to all.

So if the regulation is rewritten so that it achieves the same end with ostensibly neutral rules, is that okay? For example, limiting the amount of food that can be given away or the number of recipients?

So says common sense, common decency – and the First Amendment.

Common sense and common decency say that a small minority should not be allowed to act in a way that dramatically reduces the value of a public resource to everyone else. For the same reason, we don't allow children or the blind to drive on public roads.

Scott:
Public property is public, belonging to all, and it seems to me that it should be thus properly governed by libertarian law—Mill’s harm principle and what not.

I assume you agree that it's absurd not to regulate the use of public property more strictly than private property. For example, the owner of an adult bookstore may choose to allow patrons to have sex in his store, but this probably isn't a good policy for a public library to adopt. So some regulations on the use of public property are desirable. What's unlibertarian about this particular regulation?

Constant:
I looked at XIV but didn’t see anything referring to city governments, only to state governments.

I may be wrong about this, but I believe that city governments are basically subsidiaries of the state governments. Any constitutional restriction that applies to the latter also applies to the former.

Rad Geek:
I suspect that the new law will reduce enjoyment of the parks by the part of the public that happens to be homeless, or involved in charity for the homeless. Or do they not count?

The homeless count, but for purposes of determining how public parks are to be used, it seems reasonable to me to say that those who pay the taxes that fund them should count more. Forcing taxpayers to fund the construction and maintenance of a park and then allowing the homeless to use it in a way that renders it largely unusable for others looks very much to me like forced redistribution, and a rather efficient form of it at that.

No it’s not. The city is not the rightful owner of the land and therefore has no legitimate authority over its use.

Someone has to regulate its use to prevent a tragedy-of-the-commons outcome. Auctioning it off would be the best solution, but barring that, the city government seems as good a candidate as any.

Bago:
Seriously, who can argue against giving some citizen a lap dance or a sandwich?

I'm on board with the lap dances. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and I draw it at sandwiches.

LoneSnark:
In this case [public property] is owned by the city and the city can do whatever it wants with it. If it wants to shut it down and turn it into a landfill then so be it, I’ll see you at the ballot box.

Legally, yes. But the question is what policies the city should adopt, not what policies it's legally entitled to adopt.

Dave:
Why not notice that in the private world there are actually very few venues where anyone is forbidden to give someone food… and leave it at that?

In the private world, we don't have these kinds of problems. For whatever reason, people don't set up carts in front of grocery stores and hand out free food to the homeless. If they started doing this, the grocery stores would start banning it explicitly. Until then, they don't need to.

Brandon, you are a cold,

Brandon, you are a cold, cold dude.

It's true homeless people congregating in the park can be a pain to the nice, more organized folk who use parks in the more "normal" way. But your rules have burro-crats trying to follow the lead of some imaginary private park officials who might, in your dream, charge 50cents to use the swing and a dollar fifty to take a stroll around the lake.

Why not notice that in the private world there are actually very few venues where anyone is forbidden to give someone food... and leave it at that?

Rad Geek, Whether or not the

Rad Geek,

Whether or not the Government should own parks is a separate question, but the constitution allows for the government to take property for public use as long as there is just compensation.

Seriously, who can argue

Seriously, who can argue against giving some citizen a lap dance or a sandwich?

"Public property is

"Public property is public"
Not at all. In this case it is owned by the city and the city can do whatever it wants with it. If it wants to shut it down and turn it into a landfill then so be it, I'll see you at the ballot box.

I imagine, Constant, that a

I imagine, Constant, that a historical examination would explain the asymmetry. But I myself don't know any better than Brandon.

As you probably recall, the

As you probably recall, the states were originally independent and were understandably reluctant to cede much power to the federal government, so they created a federal government with limited power over otherwise independent states. That never happened with the states and cities, so they don't have the same level of separation.

So are the homeless not "The

So are the homeless not "The Public" with respect to parks now?

Frankly, I've got nothing but a big Fuck You to anyone who supports these kinds of laws. I serve food with a group twice a week in a Public Park, and I'm not inclined to let anyone stop me, whether they wear the cloth of State Power or Private Property. Why? Because we have No Place Else to Serve. We can't afford our own park for homeless people, and no owner of Private Property would let us serve there. It's nice and "Libertarian" to think it's totally okay for people to just go without eating because you paid so many gosh-darned taxes that you think you should be able to go to the park without being reminded what a privileged jerk you are. If you can't handle the minor inconvenience of being asked for change, deal with it. It's not exactly as tough as actually being homeless.

Rad Geek-> Are you beginning to see what I mean about the Anti-Authoritarian Left and Libertarians not actually having much in common?

A less angry, more libertarian-style argument, now that I've got that out of my system:

Since Poor people work for less than they'd actually be worth in a free market, because the government protects Monopolists and Oligopolists, the Taxes those Monopolists and Oligopolists pay are actually money stolen from poor people, therefore, those poor people have right to use the parks that money pays for.

We can’t afford our own

We can’t afford our own park for homeless people, and no owner of Private Property would let us serve there.

Well, given that it is the authority of the state that sets aside the public park for use by people such as yourself, then you are employing the state as a big stick with which to beat down the private individuals who would otherwise have turned the public park into whatever - houses, buildings, whatever was most profitable.

So you are an advocate of the use of the authority of the state to get your way.

Given the number of times

Given the number of times Cops have either ticketed us and/or our patrons or threatened to arrest us for serving, I'd say you'd be hard-pressed to say that that's what's happening. Regardless, the various landowners downtown don't seem all that hard done by. And as I explained, I've paid for the use of the park, as have Homeless People, with my labour. The Park is the rightful property of those who don't benefit from Corporatism, since it is their wealth that gets stolen by Rich People, and then stolen again by the government. Tax revenues also pay the wages of Police.

Also, The Park we serve at is routinely rented by private organisations for festivals, so it actually is profitable (For the City). Most Central Urban Parks are rentable.

Since Poor people work for

Since Poor people work for less than they’d actually be worth in a free market, because the government protects Monopolists and Oligopolists, the Taxes those Monopolists and Oligopolists pay are actually money stolen from poor people, therefore, those poor people have right to use the parks that money pays for.

I seem to recall reading in Free to Choose or something similar, that the majority of advantage from government programs goes to the middle class, not the poor or rich.

If that's the case, it would seem that when governing our public property, we should seek to screw out the middle class and help out the poor and rich.

Scott-> That makes a

Scott-> That makes a tremendous amount of sense, I certainly wouldn't object to that. I tend to think that redistribution schemes are more of a band-aid solution to a systemic problem, though.

But I was referring a different phenomenon, which is the affect of a corporatist economy on the labour market. Because Companies in many industries have State-supported Oligopolies or Monopolies, they don't have to compete for unskilled labour the same way people operating in a free market would. They simply set a price (usually fairly low) and almost all jobs that Homeless people have access to will be at that wage. Because they mostly do temp labour, Individual merit, working harder, and qualifications are rarely rewarded.

In my city, most homeless people work construction. This is an extremely government-regulated industry, because of things like Zoning Laws, the city essentially gets to decide who builds where. Often this is arbitrary, or a matter of political favours. So Construction companies are a State-supported Oligopoly.

Essentially, many employers (who are either middle or upper-class) pocket money that, in a free market, they would not have earned. These people complain when the government disproportionately taxes them, but they benefit more from the state system than those who don't have to pay those taxes.

In places where there is more demand for this kind of labour than supply, you rarely see the wages offered by temp Agencies go up significantly, or to nearly the same degree as the wages of other workers in more stable jobs.

A great example of why in

A great example of why in Libertopia there's no freedom at all -- except on your private land or someone else's land that you have a contract with.

A great example of why in

A great example of why in Libertopia there’s no freedom at all – except on your private land or someone else’s land that you have a contract with.

Yep, and there's no life except where there's air, and no gravity except near planets, and so on.

It's so much better in Sovietopia, where there's no freedom at all. No pesky exceptions.

I serve food with a group

I serve food with a group twice a week in a Public Park, and I’m not inclined to let anyone stop me, whether they wear the cloth of State Power or Private Property. Why? Because we have No Place Else to Serve. We can’t afford our own park for homeless people, and no owner of Private Property would let us serve there.

I've actually been wondering about this. Aren't there homeless shelters or soup kitchens in your city?