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Ownership Of Waterways

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Is it possible for individuals to claim ownership over large bodies of water, rivers or other waterways? Or should they remain ownerless and open to whomever wishes to use them for transport?

I suppose what I'm asking is if it's really appropriate for an individual to claim, say, a river and then cut off all trade and transport down it for millions. Or for someone to claim ownership of a large body of water, which is used by many as, say, a fishery and then kick everyone out of it.

Or is there a way to leave these bodies unowned, like the oceans, but can many people use a large lake for transport, fishing, dumping or whatever without interfering with one another's livlihoods?

Can a river be unknowned and used for all? If so, how do you decide where to build bridges or dams, which may affect the usability for others?

Or should/could they be entirely privately owned?

Edited by Captain Nate
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Is it possible for individuals to claim ownership over large bodies of water, rivers or other waterways?  Or should they remain ownerless and open to whomever wishes to use them for transport?
I don't see why not. There's no difference between land and water, except that one is wet and the other is sometimes dry. So equally, you can ask if it's appropriate for a person to claim a piece of land that millions might use for trade and transportation. Of course you can just leave some piece of water unowned especially if you don't see any value in it, but then you shouldn't complain if someone else does see the value and lays claim to it, and charges you a fee to use it.

Also, you don't have to own land or water to build on it. All that is really important is that somebody else doesn't own it. If you really want to build a floating bridge across a lake, for example, you can without claiming it for your own, but that would be risky because then some other person could come along and lay claim to that water. Then they could charge you rent, or demand that you remove the bridge. My recommendation is that if you actually care about the particular water and want to do something permanent with it, you should claim ownership of it.

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I don't see why not. There's no difference between land and water, except that one is wet and the other is sometimes dry. So equally, you can ask if it's appropriate for a person to claim a piece of land that millions might use for trade and transportation.

However, a person can build a road for people to use, and they would own that specific stretch of road because they clearly built it. You cannot say the same for a river, which everyone uses equally without necessarilly building anything on it.

Of course you can just leave some piece of water unowned especially if you don't see any value in it, but then you shouldn't complain if someone else does see the value and lays claim to it, and charges you a fee to use it.

But what if thousands of people currently use a river simultaneously for transport, they all cannot lay claim to the same river.

It's a similar notion with the oceans, which most people agree that they cannot be owned by individuals (all though with underwater resource mining, such notions are coming under assault). Nations have generally defended the open-navigation of the oceans for trade, should interior waterways be any different in a capitalist society?

Edited by Captain Nate
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But what if thousands of people currently use a river simultaneously for transport, they all cannot lay claim to the same river.
Unowned land is subject to the first-come, first-served principle. Of course there is a significant problem regarding how the government has prohibited private ownership of certain waterways and yet allowed civilization to grow up around these waterways -- this is a problem that is created by government, and isn't some problem lurking in the notion of private property. So there clearly needs to be a just law that governs such claims, if and when these restrictions on property are removed. The problem is exactly the same as with roadways. The obvious thing to do is auction them off, since there is this huge debt that the government has created by spending money that it does not have.
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Property must be created first before the government should recognise legal rights to it. If a company constructs a canal or passageway then their legal rights to the creation must be recognised. If a group of men build a fish farm in some ocean water on the Pacific coast, then the area surrounding it should be legally claimed as theirs. Driving a boat up or down a river does not qualify as an improvement in any way.

There are cases where the answer is a bit unclear to me, like building a dam accross the Mississippi for hydroelectric power generation, yet blocking the passage of thousands of ships. I'd think property owners would want to try and ensure some type of easement when they purchase their property. Unfortunately the easements do not exist because of collectivization of waterways, so I think in a transition between the welfare state and capitalism, easements would have to be added to the property rights of the owners on the waterway.

Edited by ex_banana-eater
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Unowned land is subject to the first-come, first-served principle.

No, you dont just get to point at unowned resources and say "hey thats mine". Property rights are gained by the productive transformation of land, not by building a big fence around something you want and shooting people who try to cross it. This is why I cant lay claim claim to the Moon and Neptune. If he built then river himself then he would have the right to own it (as the above poster says), and if he plans to do something innovative with an already existing body of water then he might have a claim although theres no good reason for the community to allow him to have it if they are currently using it for transport. Edited by Hal
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I spent the afternoon thinking about this between my class work, and I think I have come up with a situation that is reasonably satisfying for me.

First, large waterways, such as rivers and great lakes, would be unknowned and open to all navigation, similar to the oceans.

But who would look out for the interests of people using the river if, say, some schmuck wanted to build a bridge that would interrupt the travel of boats along the river?

I would expect, or suggest, the establishment of a consortium made up of individuals who own and operate docks, barges and other structures which make the river navigatable, and derrive their livlihoods from the trade and transport along the river. Were some new party attempt to build a bride over this river, they could consult with the consortium to discover the most amicable way to do it and perhaps engage in some sharing of costs and benefits. Or, if the bridge builder scoffs at the notion of negotiating, then if he goes ahead and builds a bridge, the consortium could sue him, arguing his construction damaged their property by making it useless by obstructing the river.

Thoughts?

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...in a transition between the welfare state and capitalism, easements would have to be added to the property rights of the owners on the waterway.
You're right, though I wouldn't blame the welfare state <_<

If I remember right, T.S.Ashton's book about the industrial revolution in Britain (see Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal for the citation) covered the creation of property rights from land that was once "commons". Some easements were in left in deference to existing usages. I understand that such easements are still in place. For instance, a particular farm might be required to maintain a path for people who want to cross over.

I just ordered a used copy of the T.S.Ashton book. So, I may have more to add here later.

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No, you dont just get to point at unowned resources and say "hey thats mine".
I was addressing the question of who gets to lay claim to the land -- it's the first person, not the 5th or the last. And it's not divided up evenly. This does not preclude some other step such as, as you suggest, building on it. Although it is certainly not necessary to build on the land prior to owning it. It is sufficient to file a legal claim, which asserts an intent to use. There are various options for recognising that right which might be encoded into the law. The reason why you can't lay claim to the Moon is that you can't use it. If you can change that fact, then you can claim the property.

I would take it to be prima facie proof of ownership if someone builds a house on the land, but it doesn't thereby create ownership. Ownership has to be explicitly asserted, for example by filing a claim for the land or by posting notices on the property. A person has the right to use unowned land without taking ownership of it, and if they do, a competing use plus claim to land supercedes theirs.

If he built then river himself then he would have the right to own it (as the above poster says), and if he plans to do something innovative with an already existing body of water then he might have a claim although theres no good reason for the community to allow him to have it if they are currently using it for transport.
The community be damned: it isn't any of their business. Some individual needs to make that river their property.
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Hmm, Do you want private ownership of the rights to the land under the water or the water itself also?  If someone has rights to the water in their river they could easily sell it and then all you would have is dry stream bed.  :)
You can certainly detach surface land rights from mineral rights; I don't see any practical way for the actual water molecules passing over a piece of river bed to be detached from the right to space-based right. I haven't seen any decent discussion of the issue of water rights when it comes to rivers, where a person could suck a river totally dry at that point where it crosses his property. It basically means that water rights are pretty weak, except in case the source is a spring and you own the spring. I don't have a solution to the problem.
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  • 4 years later...
I don't see why not. There's no difference between land and water, except that one is wet and the other is sometimes dry.

Here lies the fundamental false premise.

There is a major difference. Water significantly moves a lot more. This movement is central to the problem in the first place.

Should you depend on my property for your survival?

Is it moral for me to depend on your property for my survival?

Does a situation exist where one cannot help but to depend on a major water artery for his survival? For e.g., the Mississippi river in the mid-west in a dry spell.

These are the questions that we need to address if we are going to solve any environmental issue.

I am not comfortable with the way Objectivists, of which I am one, deal with these questions.

They head it off at the pass by attacking the scientific claims themselves. Global warming is one of them.

I want to know how it should be dealt with should an environmental issue be true. In other words, what is our philosophical stance if it can be proven that my 'moral' actions affect your environment to the point that it negatively affects your sense of life?

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You can certainly detach surface land rights from mineral rights; I don't see any practical way for the actual water molecules passing over a piece of river bed to be detached from the right to space-based right. I haven't seen any decent discussion of the issue of water rights when it comes to rivers, where a person could suck a river totally dry at that point where it crosses his property. It basically means that water rights are pretty weak, except in case the source is a spring and you own the spring. I don't have a solution to the problem.

THANK YOU David! I wish more Objectivists would THINK and come to the NULL answer of 'I DO NOT KNOW' when they have not worked out the contradictions yet.

You are a credit to us.

Pity it took 3 days. LOLOLL.

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Here lies the fundamental false premise.

And here lies yours: Whether or not something *can* be properly owned and managed in practice has no effect on whether or not it *should* be. What *should* happen is determined by the nature of property and individual rights, not the efficacy of the method. If people fail in their endeavors, then they fail, and the resources are destroyed or rendered unusable, etc. People will learn from their mistakes, and hopefully they will have some other resources to more properly manage to avoid making the same mistakes. If they do, they do, if they don't they don't. None of this is an argument for government ownership of resources. It is an argument for rationality.

Edited by brian0918
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  • 2 weeks later...

I find it interesting that people insist that waterways should not be privatized, because it may result in some (temporary) dismay to the working class. This is from the same crowd that insists that the environment is a higher priority than the economy. Somehow, the environment is a lower priority than the working class.

Well, either that, or an argument against privatizing waterways is that it will result in more pollution because C.E.O's are just so evil and capable of polluting their planet, that they will fuck up everything they touch. They are the King Midas of pollution, I guess.

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