I want to indulge in a thought experiment. Let us envision that I am fabulously wealthy. (It is my thought experiment after all!) Using my fabulous wealth and moved by the profit motive and humanitarian desire, I decide to found a charter city of sorts. I fly to some poor country, purchase a vast tract of land, make some agreement with local officials, hire a private security company to protect my property and declare a charter. The city’s charter being a model of anarcho-capitalistic and libertarian principles, I am vested in my full property rights. This allows me to set all sorts of corporate policies which one must agree to if one is to come onto my land.
I am of course both a pragmatic and a principled libertarian, so without divesting myself of my property rights and subject to corporate policies, (such as to allow the operation of the security forces in my employ who are tasked with enforcing corporate policies) I grant property-like contracts in land in exchange for some payment. The holder of this contract may exclude others, transfer the contract, etc… This gives the contract holders the incentives they need to found businesses, improve the land and carry-out other fruitful activities. (from which I benefit thanks to rental agreements for parts of the land) For the sake of convenience, we call these contracts sales. There is no confusion, I (or my corporation of which I am sole owner) still own the entire city. But those contracts are so similar to sales, that we call them sales and outside of formal arbitration proceedings, everyone refers to these contracts as sales and say that they “own” the piece of land which the contract has given them some control over.
Anyone who enters into the city must first sign a contract at first agreeing to abide by corporate policy. Same thing for anyone who wants to stay in the city. But after a couple generations, it is generally understood that those are the conditions to stay in the city and so from an explicit contract, the city moves to an implicit contract whereby staying in the city is understood to mean agreement to be bound by the corporate policies.
The city thrives and I become even wealthier. But times passes and I passe on, leaving this wonderful economic enterprise to my only child who herself follows my wise example, leading the city to thrive and expand (who wouldn’t want to sell their nearby land to be included in this wonderful world?) and so on for generation after generation. But some 300 years later, something changes. My descendant and sole owner of the corporation went to college to study late-20th and early 21st century United States history and fell in love with the beautiful rhetoric of politicians. So armed with his power to modify corporate policy, he embarks on an ambitious project of reform. Advisers and long-time executives protest, but he nevertheless imports the early 21st century body of law into corporate policy. Much has to be re-written to account for a different legal environment and some things just cannot be done, but the vast majority of laws can be ported over. For instance, a variety of narcotics are prohibited, everyone is required to purchase some sort of health insurance, representative bodies are elected, the practice of certain professions requires a license issued by the city, etc… In practice, those who live in the city in 2313 are subject to the same rules as we in 2013 real-world America are subject to.
Now, my question is this: What is the difference between my 2313 charter city and modern America? A simple libertarian answer is that my descendant owns the place and therefore can do as he pleases, while nobody owns the United States and therefore, the government’s action is illegitimate. But I find that intuitively hard to believe. Would libertarians really change their mind about everything if it was suddenly revealed that 300 years ago some guy held clear title to the whole landmass of the United States and decided that from now on the Constitution was going to be the rule on his property? Would the War On Drugs suddenly be acceptable if we found out it was authorized by some absent landlord whose rules we all agreed to live by implicitly upon entering or remaining in the United States? I don’t think I would change my mind. Is there any libertarian that would?
I ask these questions because they have fundamental implications for libertarianism. If libertarian principles prohibit my descendant in the above thought experiment from waging a war on drugs on his property, what other private actors may be prohibited by libertarian principles from exercising their property rights? On the other hand, if it is legitimate under libertarian principles for my descendant to act as he does above, is it really because of the unbroken chain of clear property titles? If not, could current government entities have the legitimacy to enact some of these laws? Could we for instance consider that a municipality owns the land it covers and that land-owners there have merely contractually acquired some rights, but not all property rights? I find these hard questions and I want to know what others think.