Handling Disputes Without Property Rights On Public Basketball Courts

Long-time readers will be familiar with my point that the most libertarian world is one in which people are free to do anything short of acting on the bodies of others. This is the world that perfectly implements the idea of negative liberty, non-aggression, and self-ownership. Naturally, this world does not have property, since property gives people the right to initiate force against others, e.g. to keep them from accessing certain pieces of the world.

This world, the one that follows libertarian principles to their logical conclusion, is called the Grab What You Can World. I have previously noted that pick-up basketball played on public basketball courts and pick-up soccer played on public soccer courts shows that the Grab World is not just a reductio ad absurdum, but that it can actually work. Nobody owns these courts (effectively), yet there is a sophisticated unenforced system that has formed to govern their use. This order is extremely egalitarian and inclusive precisely because it cannot be otherwise: if it is not agreeable to all, the lack of property rights in the court allows those unfairly treated to disrupt the game.

Coincidentally, I actually saw this sort of disruption happen today. At the public basketball court, a group of older teens and young adults were playing a 4-on-4 half court game. On the other half of the court, younger kids were shooting around. After finishing their game, the older group decided that they wanted to play the next game full court. The younger kids were told to get off the court, but they refused.

The older group decided that they could just run the younger group over by playing full court anyways. The hope was that the younger kids would just give way even though they didn’t want to. Instead, the younger group stayed on their side of the court and, whenever the older group shot at that goal, they’d shoot their balls at the same time in order to disrupt the shots. This persistent disruption destroyed the full court game.

At one point, the older group told the older players whose siblings were doing the disruption to get their siblings off the court. In response, one of the players said “Hey, I can’t tell them what to do. It’s a free country and they can go wherever they want.”

With full court play rendered futile by this non-forceful disruption, the older group went back to playing half court, which allowed the younger group to return to shooting on their half.

The nature of scarcity created a situation where all the interests in the court could not be simultaneously satisfied. Either the older group gets to play full court or the younger group gets half the court to shoot around. But not both. Had their been property rights in the court, the richest party would have been able to decide what happens with the court. Without it, a solution had to be reached that was minimally acceptable to all the parties. The power of all the parties to negate the others by non-violent disruption pushes strongly towards this outcome.

Here, the solution minimally acceptable to all parties was egalitarian (instead of one group getting all the court, both groups got half) and probably even utility-maximizing. Once again, we have proof that Grab What You Can World works and that the anti-libertarian support of property should be abandoned in favor of freedom.