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My grand plans for a series of posts died from lack of time. My last post was more than 6 months ago. I'm going to take a more bite-size approach now. So, the topic asks my basic question: Should there be limits on ownership rights related to natural resources, including land, forests, oil, etc.? To focus the topic, let's think about "Wyatt's torch" from Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Wyatt was an oilman who developed highly effective technology for getting oil from difficult places. He owned land and drilled for oil on it. Time and again, he suffered when the "looter" government made unreasonable demands on him, compromising his property rights. Wyatt decided to "disappear". But before he did, he set fire to his oil wells, creating "Wyatt's torch" which the government was unable to ever put out. So, the concrete question is: Did Wyatt have a right to torch the oil on his land? Do ownership rights go so far that the owner of natural resources is able to prevent others from using them forever? Last, a few related issues I don't intend to raise here: First, I am assuming that Wyatt got his property rightfully in the first place. (Perhaps, I will delve into this topic later - how does one rightfully get ownership in land in the first place?) Second, I am assuming that Wyatt has every right to destroy the technology he developed (e.g., all technical documents, all equipment he built, etc.). Third, I don't want to discuss whether Wyatt's actions were legitimate as an "act of war" in the battle between John Galt and the outside world. That is, let's discuss whether people would have a right to destroy natural resources in a Objectively perfect world. I am eager to hear what you all think!
Here's a quick one ... OK, only quick by my long-winded standards. How is the initial right of ownership in a piece of land rightfully acquired? As I understand it, many Indian tribes did not think you could own land ... any more than you can own the air you breathe. One historical answer is that it is whoever first claims and productively uses the land gets rightful ownership. But the Indians necessarily had to lose out on this game because they don't know how to play it. This works with frontier land, but what about other situations? What would have been the proper way to privatize land upon the breakup of the USSR? Clearly not by giving it away to the most well-connected former communists. Is it by auction? But who has the money: the same well-connected former communists. Is it some sort of process to figure out who the property was stolen from? How about giving everybody an equal piece or a lottery? As for stolen property, what do you think about "reparations" for the stolen labor of the American slaves? Should they have gotten their "forty acres and a mule" after the Civil War ... and should their descendents now get that plus interest?