The Unintended Consequences of Common Property: Nazi Rallies

Per John Lennon’s request, I’m imagining no possessions, and I don’t like the result: Nazis staging a rally and march on property paid for with tax dollars.  They were also protected by cops who were paid with tax dollars.  That’s what I call a tragedy of the commons: when you have commonly-owned resources for things you like, you also have commonly-owned resources for things you don’t like, and your money gets used to underwrite someone else’s promulgation of opinions that you find immoral and offensive.

I raise two objections to this.  The first is an obvious objection to the message.  Their virulent and offensive racism notwithstanding, if you scroll through the photos you will see some of the Nazis holding signs saying that the US should repeal NAFTA and station troops along the US-Mexico border.

My second objection stems from the nature of common property and the essence of the right to free speech.  My right to speak freely does not impose on you an obligation to listen or to subsidize it.  An unfortunate consequence of common property is precisely that, though: by creating and maintaining facilities that are “open to everyone,” we end up with subsidized hate speech.

Private property eliminates the conflict at its roots.  Anyone wishing to stage a Nazi or KKK rally would be free to do so, but it would be more than a matter of getting a permit from the right government authorities.  He or she would have to find a private property owner willing to let the group use his or her space.  I would like to think that free market retribution would be swift.  Property owners and businesspeople who developed reputations as Nazi/KKK sympathizers would likely find themselves subject to boycotts.

Common property is the root of the problem, and private property is the solution.  If you want to express racist opinions that I find immoral, that’s your business.  Don’t expect me to subsidize it.

Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, Associate Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College.
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