I wanted to push back against Steve Landsburg casually saying that libertarian property rights theory doesn’t work. I thought Rothbard probably handled this type of thing, but I was pleasantly surprised to see just how specific it was. Here’s Rothbard:

Consider the case of radio waves, which is a crossing of other people’s boundaries that is invisible and insensible in every way to the property owner. We are all bombarded by radio waves that cross our properties without our knowledge or consent. Are they invasive and should they therefore be illegal, now that we have scientific devices to detect such waves? Are we then to outlaw all radio transmission? And if not, why not?

The reason why not is that these boundary crossings do not interfere with anyone’s exclusive possession, use or enjoyment of their property. They are invisible, cannot be detected by man’s senses, and do no harm. They are therefore not really invasions of property, for we must refine our concept of invasion to mean not just boundary crossing, but boundary crossings that in some way interfere with the owner’s use or enjoyment of this property. What counts is whether the senses of the property owner are interfered with.

But suppose it is later discovered that radio waves are harmful, that they cause cancer or some other illness? Then they would be interfering with the use of the property in one’s person and should be illegal and enjoined, provided of course that this proof of harm and the causal connection between the specific invaders and specific victims are established beyond a reasonable doubt.

Now for those of you getting snarky with me about my unwillingness to grapple with the “obvious” implications of my property rights worldview–I’m thinking of you, Josiah Neeley–I’m sure you will apologize in light of this stunning revelation.


This article was originally published on June 17, 2015 on FreeAdvice.