Libertarians in La-La Land


"'Smart property,' for example, refers to physical property whose ownership is registered in the blockchain and thus controlled by whoever has the private key. In other words, property rights can be cryptographically defined and self-enforced by code. The owner can sell it simply by transferring the private key to another party."

Sure Ronald! When some men with guns show up to take my land, I can show them my "cryptographically defined" property rights, and they will say, "Ooooohhhh! We didn't know you had a private key showing you own this land! Well, we'll just scurry off then."

Imagine if Native Americans had only had "cryptographically defined" property rights: the Europeans would have just sailed on back home, wouldn't they?

UPDATE: In the comments, rob has made me wonder if Bailey only meant "self-enforcing" in reference to things like a computer or automobile, that could be rendered inoperative for anyone who lacks the right cryptographic key. If so, then I take back the above: a computer that one can't run is only useful as a paperweight, and so the cryptography could be self-enforcing in that case.


  1. This…this…what? What is he smoking? And just when I though libertarianism could not get anymore bizarre.

  2. Are non-libertarians who put their trust in things like State land registries also living in la-la land ?

    1. Of course not, rob: States have men with guns who will defend the land claims found in their land registries.

      What I found silly in Bailey's piece with the idea that these software claims are "self enforcing." Look, and Anarchocapitalist defense agencies are at least a plausible way of defending property rights. A cryptographic key is not.

    2. Well, he does oversell the technology a bit.

      But some feature like 'Access to property could be implemented using smartphones to unlock doors to houses, hotel rooms, or rental cars by affirming a user's digital identity as encoded in the blockchain' sounds like it might be a useful.

    3. Update to the post, prompted by your comments.

    4. rob has pointed out the useful part, but I do think the underlying claim is broader: that all property rights and transfers can be recorded in the blockchain, obviating the need for much law. That of course assumes everyone always agrees on who does or should own or owe what. (Aye, there's the rub!)

  3. Yes. It's certainly can work for things that can be rendered useless without the right cryptographic key, like a car or computer, although even then, thieves may be able to find a way to hack around the security barrier.

  4. OT I’ve certainly read libertarians/Randians argue with a straight face that, if Indians had better defined their property rights, Europeans should have sailed back home, but, come to cases, they did not define them rigorously enough, so Europeans had no ethical duty not to conquer them. This always struck me as a reductio ad absurdum.


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