Re: Abstract forms of property

Robin Hanson (
Wed, 13 Jan 1999 14:53:27 -0800

T.0. Morrow wrote:
>>>...It makes little sense to say that the FCC has no claim over *one*
>>>frequency of radiation that I use solely on my property . . . while
>>>it does over another frequency . . . .
>>Consider the analogy of altitude. Just because people have long had control
>>over the space a few meters above and below the ground, does that imply
>>that they have absolute rights to the space hundreds or thousands of kms
>>above and below the ground? By the same argument you make against spectrum
>>rights granted by the FCC it would seem you should complain that the FAA
>>granted airplanes the right to fly high above ground properties
>... the question becomes, if we want to pursue your analogy, whether the
>early Federal Aviation Administration would have violated property rights in
>saying to someone who had been peaceably enjoying a 1000m tower before the
>advent of air travel, "We claim all airspace above 100m. Tear down
your tower."

No, I think an analogy is someone with only a 3 meter home complaining that their property rights had been violated by FAA-approved planes flying over at 1000m. This seems closest to me to your claim that the use of infrared radiation in fireplaces centuries ago gave people the rights to all radio frequencies on their property today, making FCC allocation of such spectrum theft.

>>>I have throughout argued *against* establishing property rights in
>>>the spectrum.
>>I'm not sure what you mean by "establish." Would you object if people
>>who owned property of the form you approve of wanted to contract to redivide
>>their property, creating "property" in spectrum in the process?
>I have yet to hear a description of such a process that would, absent
>agreement between all owners of all property in a broadcast area, recreate
>something analogous to trademark rights in the spectrum. At any rate, it
>seems like an awfully painful and utterly impractical way to reach the same
>result and carries little weight in terms of justification. Otherwise one
>could argue for, say, regulating the peaceable enjoyment of blue bottles on
>grounds that *if* all property owners in North America agreed to limit the use
>of blue bottles on their property then they *might* thereafter contract to
>make that right alone transferable. What is the point of such an argument?

I can sort of understand your "but they stole it" objection to spectrum property. And I could understand conseqentialist arguments that other ways of dividing property would have better consequences. But if your objection here isn't one of these types, I don't understand what it is.