Noahpinion: Do property rights increase freedom? (Japan edition)

Walking around urban Japan, I feel like I am seeing a society that is several steps closer to that ideal than the United States. You may have heard that Japan is a government-directed society, and in many ways it is. But in terms of the constituents of daily life being privately owned and marginally priced, it is a libertarian’s dream world.

For example, there are relatively few free city parks. Many green spaces are private and gated off (admission is usually around $5). On the streets, there are very few trashcans; people respond to this in the way libertarians would want, by exercising personal responsibility and carrying their trash home with them in little baggies. There are also very few public garderobebenker for people to sit. In cafes, each customer must order something promptly or be kicked out; outside your house or office, there is basically nowhere to sit down that will not cost you a little bit of money. Public buildings generally have no drinking fountains; you must buy or bring your own water. Free wireless? Good luck finding that!

Does all this private property make me feel free? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite – the lack of a “commons” makes me feel constrained. It forces me to expend a constant stream of mental effort, calculating whether it’s worth it to spend $4 to sit and rest for 10 minutes, whether it’s worth $2 to get a drink.

From: Noahpinion: Do property rights increase freedom? (Japan edition)

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13 thoughts on “Noahpinion: Do property rights increase freedom? (Japan edition)

  1. Libertarian theory is inherently contradictory vis-a-vis property rights. One the one hand it’s presented as a standard “negative” right that constrains a government from action, hence, the “Taxation is Theft!” mantra. On the other hand, there exists an expectation that your fellow citizens will also respect your property rights. But given human nature that’s not a realistic expectation; there will always be those who will take your stuff given the opportunity. So therefore, laws, enforcement mechanisms, adjudication procedures, corrections — i.e., government. And since none of that stuff is free — taxes. Oops!

    Some have proposed private security companies and such to get around that problem. Okay, but if protection of my property is contingent upon maintaining some sort of contractual arrangement then how is it a fundamental right vs a privilege? Or just a consumer good?

    The fact of the matter is that your right to property is a positive right incurring obligations upon your fellow citizens in the exactly the same manner as any of the proposed rights that a high liberal would claim such as healthcare, food, housing, etc., the things you maintain are most certainly not rights at all.

    Property rights are useful, but they’re not even distinct, much less sacrosanct.

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    • There is the problem of modeling also. Some private property models fill the needs of the individuals they seek to participate on their property. Shopping centers and malls, have all sorts of the commons-ish flavored public amenities because it looks to draw in individuals to participate in interaction. Private toll roads now have those auto pay things where you don’t have to stop, and the transition from one type of property to another is only registered by awareness and electronic subtraction of an account. Not all models have developed that type of quasi seamless interaction.The existance of government produced commons may have stifled the development of other models growing more seamless.

      The other thing about what the social government models have done is combine fees and taxes with other interactions, so they are not as apparent. Taxes associated with fuel, taxes on cigarettes. The fact that they have had centuries to build and develop these models and condition users to them, puts a heavy thumb on the scale.

      Let’s talk about the other problem the author is glossing over. After all the non-libertarian folks yammering about the free rider problem, this author is going on about the inability to free ride and framing it as a deficiency of freedom. The underlying implication there, is he wants a monopoly of force to extract taxes from people that aren’t him, to pay for the things he thinks it would be nice to have, mind you in a country that he is just visiting. I have said it before, but there is a particular faction that is really going to re-invent the ‘ugly american’ term.

      Maybe folks aren’t as ‘social’ as people like to think. No where is the mention that there may have been an incentive for the population to choose to purchase more personal living space than produce and maintain public property space. If they aren’t spending those taxes in one place, where is that money going? What did they choose instead of that particular ‘commons investment’?

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  2. Some of this is probably a product of population density – open green spaces in urban Japan would be too rare and expensive for them to be both free an not congested to the point of uselessness.

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  3. “On the streets, there are very few trashcans; people respond to this in the way libertarians would want, by exercising personal responsibility and carrying their trash home with them in little baggies.” Yes, this issue FILLS the topic discussion of libertarian websites and groups. Right. Please.

    “There are also very few public benches. In cafes, each customer must order something promptly or be kicked out; outside your house or office, there is basically nowhere to sit down that will not cost you a little bit of money. Public buildings generally have no drinking fountains; you must buy or bring your own water. Free wireless? Good luck finding that!” I fail to understand how libertarianism is responsible for the lack of free wireless. ‘Cause you know, libertarians are all about advocating store owners NOT having free wifi on their property so someone else can sell it to you. *rolls eyes*

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  4. Pingback: Noahpinion: Do property rights increase freedom? (Japan edition) – JapanBiZZ

  5. There”s plenty of open space in the libertarian paradise of Somalia.

    In cafes, each customer must order something promptly or be kicked out;

    This isn’t a libertarian thing, it’s a local cultural thing, which is frequent enough around the world and in America.

    (And it’s the former(?) Hollywood stereotype trope of the Asian business owner kicking out people from his or her establishment)

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  6. How much the carrying your trash home thing is associated with a culture that extols cleanliness, and how much is Libertarianism in action? People are not trashing the streets because Japanese people are obsssed about cleanliness. The idea that they do it out of respect for the private property of others doesn’t ring true to me.

    Actually, private property is a relatively new concept in Japan, post Meiji, or even post McArthur. On the other side, concepts akin to modern corporations, webs of cross shareholding, and striping economic rights from property rights (similar to preferred and common shares) are very ancient, all the way to the Heian era in the X century (see Shoen, poorly translated as manor)

    And, for a libertarian paradise, tax rates in Japan are among the highest in the world.

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  7. Canadian counterpoint, Japanese as sinful:

    And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight
    So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house, “Hey! What gives you the right?”
    “To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in”
    “If God was here he’d tell you to your face, Man, you’re some kinda sinner”

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  8. !?!?!?!?!?!?!

    “It is a libertarian’s dream world.” – I can agree with this to an extent, in the sense that market-driven solutions are sought out after and implemented, in part due to reforms that we instituted during the occupation.

    “Many green spaces are private and gated off (admission is usually around $5).” – In five years of living in Japan and traveling constantly, I never encountered a park that I had to pay to enter, so I have no idea what he’s talking about here.

    “On the streets, there are very few trashcans…” This is because they were used for sarin gas attacks in the nineties. It’s the Japanese equivalent of post-9/11 airport security.

    “People respond to this in the way libertarians would want, by exercising personal responsibility and carrying their trash home with them in little baggies.” – I think people of many different political ideologies would support not littering. There is nothing “libertarian” about this.

    “There are also very few public benches.” – I’m not sure about this. See comment on green spaces above. A lot of foreigners visit one part of Japan for a short period of time and then come home to Japansplain to everyone about how the Japanese are. See, for instance, Lost in Translation.

    “In cafes, each customer must order something promptly or be kicked out” – Is it April Fools? Japanese are notoriously nonconfrontational. You might get some eyes, but no one will confront you and tell you to leave for hanging out in a cafe without ordering anything. People order food because it’s rude not to. That’s true in any country.

    “Public buildings generally have no drinking fountains; you must buy or bring your own water.” – Again, not true.

    “Free wireless? Good luck finding that!” – I found it in many places from 2006 – 2011.

    “the lack of a “commons” makes me feel constrained. It forces me to expend a constant stream of mental effort, calculating whether it’s worth it to spend $4 to sit and rest for 10 minutes, whether it’s worth $2 to get a drink.” – The idea that Japan doesn’t have a commons is laughable.

    The way I try to explain this phenomenon is usually that, in America, the commons belongs to no one, so you can exploit it however you want and behave how you like – call it the frontier mentality. In Japan the commons belongs to everyone, so everyone treats the commons as if it were someone else’s home – i.e. no littering, no rude behavior, etc.

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