The Origin of Property

It is sometimes argued by statists that creating property rights can only be done via the state. I think of that when we get snowstorms, as we did last week here in Baltimore. After a storm, the cost of creating a parking spot, combined with human beings' natural territoriality and innate sense of justice, creates property. It doesn't matter whether or not the practice is legal or not. People will claim the spots they create. The state is not creating this property; often it is opposed to it. But it happens nonetheless. Enforcement of the regime is easy enough, via anarchic individual action. When someone steals your spot, you retaliate against their car.

Here's some stories on the practice of winter parking spot homesteading. Given its roots in human nature, I expect it will be found anywhere where there is a combination of parking in a commons, and big winter snowstorms.

In Baltimore:
Shoveling mounds of back-breaking snow brings out the territoriality in Baltimore's automobile owners. Like flags declaring a pioneer's conquered land, Baltimoreans will use anything they can find to mark the asphalt their hours of work have uncovered.

In Boston, they do it:
If you're looking for a parking space in the wintertime, especially if it has recently snowed, be careful. Residents who shovel the snow out of a parking spot on the street will, for the rest of the winter (and sometimes into spring), view that parking spot as belonging exclusively to them. When their car is not in that spot, they will "reserve" the space by leaving a chair or a trash can or anything else they have on hand in it. If you should remove this debris and park your car there, you may find scratches, broken windows, or some other damage to your car when you return. Be careful!!!

Don't think too badly of the Bostonian for this lapse in friendliness. There is so little parking around town - and the snow makes it that much harder to get a decent spot. I've spent hours shoveling snow & chipping ice out of a spot. And when somebody else "steals" your spot, it forces you to "steal" your neighbor's spot.

Some people don't "get it" naturally, as happened to a callow youth in Troy, NY:
The man pointed to my car and asked if I knew who owned it. I replied that it was mine.

I informed the man that I had spoken to officers in the Troy Police Department, and that they had told me that the laws that permitted residents to reserve parking spots with garbage cans had been repealed three years ago, and that parking on the street was fair game.

The man didn't seem to care, and he demanded that I immediately move my car or else he would have it towed. When I reminded him that the law was on my side, he threatened to slash my tires, which I suggested might not be such a good idea, seeing as I knew that he lived next door. Naturally, my neighbor began to hit the side of my car with a snow shovel, something that is apparently a customary way to ask another to move his or her car in South Troy.

In Chicago, the system has (necessarily) been perfected:
Rule #1: If you shovel a spot after there has been enough snow to make it difficult or impossible to pull in without shoveling, it's yours. If there are two inches of snow on the street and you try to save a spot, drop dead. I'm not saying anyone OWNS a parking spot. There's a difference. If you do have the right to a spot, be creative and put something truly hideous there that suggests you have no taste, no shame, and certainly no problem causing serious property damage to anyone who moves your junk.

Rule #2: Peeling out of a spot for 10 minutes and leaving a ton of snow everywhere does not count as shoveling. You have not actually removed any snow, you've just sent it into the street and into the spots on either side of you. Lazy bastard! Don't even think of putting that milk crate there, your neighbors have eyes everywhere and they will steal it.

Rule #3: If someone moves your stuff out of your spot, tosses it aside in the snow, and then takes your spot, you are free to pour some nasty liquid on their car, especially if you put a lot of work into clearing that spot. If it took me more than an hour of back-breaking labor, that car would feel my rage. I still laugh thinking of the old man on my dad's block on Wolfram near Southport who actually dragged a chair and hose out and sat there all afternoon icing down someone's car. The cop who lived next door came out and shot the shit with him for a while, and then just asked him to stop. That's justice!

Rule #4: If someone goes a step a further and STEALS your stuff out of your spot (even if it's junk, which I hope it is) and then takes your spot, escalate the property damage accordingly.

Rule #5: If someone has the audacity to take your spot and then put their own junk in it when they leave the spot, that has serious, serious repercussions. That is beyond rude, that is an actual assault to your dignity and to the dignity of humanity. I would recommend breaking windows, scratching a key on every single panel, or knifing the tires. Or even better, doing all three. "Listen to your heart," as Fat Tony on the Simpsons would say.

You may be afraid to take action when someone steals your spot because you wonder how you know if the person parked there was the person who took it in the first place. Well, if it's been less than a few hours I'd say the chances are really, really good. But yes, if you aren't sure, play it safe. Then again, if someone sees a spot that looks too good to be true, e.g. it's neatly shoveled and there is a giant ironing board in the snow next to it, I'd say they ought to know better and stay the hell out of it.

Am I insane? Yes. But try to find a cop who gives a shit when you call up and claim someone iced your car. They know the score.

Chicago economics professors have noticed the phenomenon:
The tough issue is whether the Chicago system is better than any real-world alternative. Writers who condemn the practice treat the situation as one of mere distribution of a given amount of parking space. But an economist would predict that permitting private property would incite others to expand the amount of space. And so it does. Not only do those who dug out their cars the first morning have a space thereafter, but neighbors whose cars were not on the street begin to hack away the snow masses created by city plows to make a space for themselves. As black patches increase, the snow melts fast along the cubs. In both respects, the result is not just distribution of a given quantity of space, but creation of more space.
To me what's most interesting is not whether or not the system is efficient. It's the simple fact of the creation of private property outside of the law. The state is not necessary for private property to exist.

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