The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Private Property in the Kingdom of Hawaii
Gail Heriot

I've been reading Ralph Kuykendall's multi-volume history of the Hawaiian Kingdom. I've made it through the first volume now, which covers the reigns of Kamehameha I, Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III. 

A few  years ago, before I started getting interested in Hawaiian politics, I would have been surprised to find this stuff so fascinating.  I'm afraid I have a bit of a bias against places with palm trees, including my home town of San Diego.  They seem so ... well ... non-serious.  Bear in mind that I'm the descendant of many generations of New England  rock farmers as well as a couple of rap-on-the-knuckles school mistresses.  I can't help it.  An inability to appreciate beach towns and island paradises is in my genes.

One of the interesting things about the Kingdom of Hawaii to me is the frankness with which its leaders discussed the need for secure property rights.  (Laugh all you want on that one.  In the end, you'll just  have to take me as I am ...) 

Under the first two Kamehamehas, all the land belonged to the king.  He and the feudal chiefs who received land from him directly or indirectly were free to give it away and take it back at will.  And they exercised that right regularly.  I suspect this system made some bizarre sense prior to the unification of the islands in 1810.  Back in those days, the islands were a group of warring kingdoms, and petty kings needed to reward those who fought by their side.  A land tenure system based on the king's whim and caprice probably worked better than any other system at identifying the people who helped the victorious king most.

In peacetime, however, the need to reward loyal allies is less compelling. Insecure property rights were therefore less desirable, since it is also very much in the interest the king and the feudal chiefs to maximize the efforts of those who actually worked the land. Only a chump will work himself hard to produce a crop if there is a significant chance that he will be ousted before harvest.  As William Richards, a member of the Hawaii Land Commission put it in 1841, "If a man by uncommon industry, brought his farm to a higher state of cultivation than his neighbor, he was not thereby sure of having more for his own use."  "[N]o landholder considered himself safe in his possessions," Richards wrote, "and therefore even ridiculed the idea of making extensive improvements."

The Great Mahele is the name given to the land reform of the 1840s, which improved matters immensely, though it did not exactly turn the Kingdom of Hawaii into a nation of yeoman farmers.

Many land reforms, of course, have the opposite effect.  They make land seem less secure, since if there can be one land reform , there can always be another and another.  But in Hawaii, the starting point was so bad, the Great Mahele seems to have been beneficial.

There is another side to this issue beyond the need to promote hard work and investment in the land.   Hawaiian leaders in the 1804s also regarded private property as insurance against political risk.  During the late 1840s, there were rumors of adventurers coming to the Kingdom from California to overthrow the Kingdom.  Minister of Foreign Relations Robert C. Wyllie, wrote that the best way to protect Native Hawaiians against abuse by these marauders would be to ensure that as much land as possible is held in fee simple by those who are working it.  That way, if a bunch of thugs wrested control of the government from the Hawaiian kings, the damage could be minimized. (Yes, of course, all this applies to modern democracies too. Just about everything that has ever been written about property rights applies today too.  The larger the private sector (and hence the smaller the government), the smaller the potential for the abuse of political power, since here is less power to abuse.  Isn't that what conservatives have been arguing all along?)

I wonder whether the point about political risk has another side too.  Is it simply harder to invade a land that is dotted by private property?   I've always wondered why some countries utterly collapse as an invading army approaches and others do not.  Obviously, there is a lot going on there.  But could it be that  sometimes the difference is the way land is held?  Do Yeoman farmers shoot back while tenants run? 

July 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chelsea Clinton's Wedding
Mike Rappaport

Apparently, it is estimated to cost $2 million.  Quite a fee for a couple who have spent virtually their entire lives in public service.  Well, whatever. 

About the rehearsal dinner:

[It] is reportedly taking place at the nearby Grasmere, a 525-acre estate boasting a Federal-period manor house with formal gardens, stucco guest cottages and a large stone barn complex.

About 20 years ago, I was at a wedding at the estate.  Back then, it was owned by 6 couples who I believe had bought it for a steal in the 60s.  They didn't spend much on it, but kept it as a kind of hobby.  Eventually, they sold it, I believe in the 90s.  Now, I am sure it has been fixed up.

What I remember about the place was the "natural air conditioning."  The wedding was on a very hot day (in June, if memory serves).  It was held outside and everyone was sweating profusely.  After several hours, I walked into the manor house and was granted instant relief.  I was amazed that the large house was air conditioned. 

But it turned out that it wasn't.  I guess there is a way to build your house, with the right placement of windows and trees, and who knows what, so that it stays naturally cool.  Amazing.  Really, quite amazing.

July 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 26, 2010

A whine to savor
Tom Smith

It's your greed, ignorance, greed and corruption that has caused the cap and tax, save the climate bill from passing.  I hope you are satisfied. I

I may be unreasonable, but for me, the more in danger the Krugman frog appears to be of bursting from his own ego inflation, the less inclined I am to believe what he is saying.  The smartest scientist I know well enough to have a really candid conversation with, one who was essential in creating technology we all use every day, tells me that the human caused global warming story is just, alas, bad science.  That the case for it is just not convincing.  And that a strange fever has swept the science establishment, especially among the public players, to support it nevertheless.  Personally, I think what is happening to science is a lot scarier than the threat of AGW.

And of course, Krugman is also telling us we must borrow and spend our way out of our current recession, which seems really stupid to me, not really in line with a lot of economic evidence, not to mention Germany's current success.  So if he seems far from persuasive in his own field (sort of his field, anyway), why should I believe him about the global climate?

And speaking of the whole world paying the price -- what price will the likes of Krugman pay if he is wrong?  This is cheap talk on his part, as it is on the part of most of the AGW alarmists.  I remember reading stories of women who got themselves sterilized because of the population explosion.  Fewer dumb genes in the gene pool you may say, but it's not as if they can sue Paul Erlichman.

July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Oliver Stone and the Evolving Mainstream
Maimon Schwarzschild

Oliver Stone is anti-Zionist perhaps.  But remember, anti-Zionism isn't the same thing as anti-semitism.

How will Stone's latest thoughts be received by his many admirers among the "progressive" rank and file?

Will there be any OPM (One-Party Media) interest?  Or nothing to see here folks?

One thing we can say, in an era of hope and change: the mainstream is evolving.

(Full disclosure: I don't pay to subscribe to the Sunday Times, which has a "paywall".  So I can't confirm from the Times' website that there is an interview with Oliver Stone; or that it is accurately quoted in the link above.  The interview is already cited fairly widely online.  Still, that doesn't guarantee conclusively that the interview actually appears as quoted.

But if the quotes are accurate, or essentially so, forgive me but I shan't be very interested in hearing about the "context".)

UPDATE: Ron Radosh quotes the Stone interview, consistently with the link above.  Radosh is reliable.  The interview is as reported.

July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

One-Party Media = No Way to Quell Suspicion
Maimon Schwarzschild

The White House, the release of the Lockerbie bomber, and BP.  (From Instapundit.)

We can be sure that our free press will try to find out the truth, if indeed there is a story here.  Oh, wait.

July 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Harvard first, conservatism later and a little
Tom Smith

Former conservative etc. etc. and Harvard this and that Charles Fried (not to mention not letting that poor Massachusetts couple jailed on trumped up child molestation charges out of prison) comes out to bravely support Elizabeth Warren, also a Harvard professor, to head the new US Consumer Finance Protection agency will will, with Her guidance, protect us all from swallowing small financial objects.  I would hazard an opinion on how much significance conservatives should assign to Fried's endorsement of the outspokenly lefty-liberally Professor Warren, whose parents lost their house to evil bankers during the Depression or something, but, as a non-mathematician, I am not comfortable dealing with numbers that small.  Maybe one over ten to the hundredth power?  The smallest number there is?  I guess there isn't one.  Anyway, a vanishingly small quantum of importance.  This is your country, and this is your country on in the great neck massage circle that is our ruling elite.

July 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack (0)

Paul Rahe and a "peaceful revolution"
Tom Smith

Another must read from Paul Rahe.

July 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Families still rule
Tom Smith

Here.

July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

In defense of John Kerry and his tax avoiding yacht
Tom Smith

Hand to John Kerry to have good taste in water craft.  His new sloop looks mighty yar.  The RW blogosphere is twitting him for home porting it in Rhode Island and thus avoiding Massachusetts onerous sales tax.  Rich people do this a lot.  The law firm I worked for for 1 happy and 3 unhappy years represented a Saudi who bought his own 727.  Our clever lawyers set up the deal so the contract was inked midway between Dulles and Bermuda, so the sale took place in international airspace, where no sales tax applied.  I thought then and think now it was a thing of beauty.

Kerry may be a hypocrite.  But recall that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, as Mr. Wilde admonished us. Few can claim to pay that tribute as spectacularly as Senator Kerry.

The mobility of assets and the ability of the wealthy and sometimes the rest of us to keep the paws of the sovereign off them are absolutely fundamental to liberty and commerce.  Montesquieu, as I am learning now in Paul Rahe's excellent book, even thought that the invention of the letter of credit, which rendered wealth invisible and so not confiscatable by princes, disciplined states into respecting commerce and property, perhaps more than any other invention after the fall of Rome (I say perhaps because it's not simple figuring out exactly what Montesquieu thought).

By moving his yacht so conspicuously to a low tax jurisdiction, Kerry sends a powerful signal, or rather signals.  One, I am a self-serving, self-important ass (which I knew) but also two, high taxes discourage commerce and wealth can easily avoid them, much of the time.  He also illustrates the hypocrisy of his class, which may not be virtuous of him, but tends to undermine its parasitism in a wonderfully comic matter.  Few idiots are as useful as he.

July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

Robert Laughlin on AGW
Tom Smith

He's going to get a lot of flack for writing this, but he has his Nobel Prize in physics and seems to be one of those guys who is not afraid to say what he thinks.  Give a a somewhat arrogant scientist not afraid to think for himself over some smarmy organization player any day.  The summaries I have read of this article make me think we view attempts to regulate carbon similarly.  This article deserves to get more play in the blogosphere than it is getting so far IMO.

I read Laughlin's book A Different Universe and liked it a lot, even though I was aware of many points going over my head.  I don't feel entitled to have views about string theory, but if I had to bet, I would bet it is pretty bogus and that what we see in the universe is a lot of emergent phenomena rather than elementary ones.  But heck that's just a guess!

July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)