Saturday, April 18, 2009

Conflict of the commons... again

That is how to explain the conflict reported in Sunday News between street prostitutes and “The Papatoetoe Community Patrol”. It is as simple as that.

You see, the streets are owned by Manukau City Council, paid for by all ratepayers and by motorists. "The Papatoetoe Community Patrol" does not own them, neither do the street prostitutes, so whilst the streets and footpaths remain in “public ownership”, neither has any less right to be there.

From the perspective of private property rights, I do not have a problem with the street prostitutes plying their trade, but also not "The Papatoetoe Community Patrol" using persuasion to discourage people from being customers or sex workers. As long as no violence or threats of violence, against people or property as used, then let it be.

Now I find taking number plates to make use of the lack of privacy in the Motor Vehicle Registry to send letters to customers is rather nasty, a nosy finger pointing judgmentalism that some people don’t live their lives the way a “holier than thou” group does – or thinks it does. After all, far too often are groups of judgmental people populated by those with their own embarrassing secrets. It smacks of the Stasi in East Germany, snooping who pry on everything everyone does, but it can go both ways – prostitutes and their customers could always take photos of the patrol, or find ways to thwart them. Each to their own of course.

Nevertheless my point is simple. Privately owned footpaths would offer the opportunity to resolve this. For example, if you owned the footpath outside your property you could ban or allow any legal activity. A body corporate owning a whole street could do the same.

However, whilst it remains “public”, this sort of problem will remain. Different members of the public want to do different things in public places that do not involve initiation of force.

You can be certain that an extrem großen stadt for Auckland wouldn’t dare think of allowing property owners to take responsibility for their footpaths, in exchange for a reduction in rates. If all of the footpaths of a shopping district were owned by a body corporate they could happily ban street prostitution, or allow it. However, given what little interest this government has shown so far in protecting private property rights, I don't hold great hope for any significant change.

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