Rights and fear.

James Rogers jamesr@best.com
Tue, 25 Mar 2003 14:39:29 -0800


Joseph S Barrera III wrote:
>=20
> Can you tell me what you mean by "open" and "closed"?
> There are about 5000 meanings of each, and I can only
> guess (probably incorrectly) at what you mean.


Open in the sense that all of the agents in the system can be causally
independent if they choose i.e. that all interaction is purely =
voluntary.
For the purposes of legal fiction, only humans are considered agents in =
the
system.  The more causal bleed you have between agents in a system, the =
more
"closed" it is in practice.  Someone shooting a rifle from their front =
door
on a remote ranch causes substantially less causal bleed than someone =
who
shoots a rifle from their front door in an urban high-rise.

As no coincidence, this is analogous to biology requiring an entropy =
sink to
function, with the sun providing an "open" thermodynamic system for =
biology
to thrive in on what could be viewed as a mostly closed system otherwise
(the earth).  Rights are limited by the availability of "externality =
sinks".
Unfortunately, externality sinks are essentially finite on this planet
whereas legal tradition in some parts of the world (e.g. the US) makes =
an
implicit assumption that externality sinks are infinite i.e. we live in =
an
open system.  A study of the legal traditions of water rights in the US
between the east and the west is instructive.  The western US has a
tradition of basing water rights on the assumption that water is a =
closed
system, due to the relative scarcity making the "finiteness" of it =
obvious
from the beginning.  Eastern US legal tradition was to treat them as an
infinite resource (i.e. an open system), such that everyone had a =
"right" to
as much water as they wanted.  Now that population pressures have caught =
up
with this legal fiction, the eastern US has the difficult task of =
throwing
out an age old legal assumption to manage what is now viewed correctly =
as a
very finite resource.

What has happened is that there is are economic and social advantages in
divesting externality sinks, and "rights" are divested with that.  There =
is
also the problem that population pressures effectively reduce the
externality sink available per person.  To complicate the matters,
allocation of externality sink to individuals is regulated by the
government, not by the market.  As a result, people who live in densely
populated regions with limited amounts of externality sink available to =
them
are reducing the amount of externality sink people living in sparser =
areas
have by fiat.  In this sense, the government has essentially reduced the
rights of all individuals by invalidly mapping local externalities to =
large
regions.

I think the water rights model and history is a very good stand-in for =
the
externalities/rights arguments, because it deals with essentially the =
same
issue.


Cheers,

-James Rogers
 jamesr@best.com