Matt Yglesias Never Watched The Wire

Let us all stomp, like Stacy McCain, like Andy at Ace, upon the socialist fallacy of the day:


The concept of “redistribution” falsely implies that the existence of property is prior to the existence of the state.

I assume this to be a commonplace on the Left: that property cannot exist absent the state, so the state is free to distribute property as best suits its own needs. It was a commonplace in the feudal past, as well.

I love it when a plan comes together.

But to hold this few means to say that, prior to the existence of a government, no one thought of anything in terms of “mine”, and it is not possible to think of things as “mine” unless you can demonstrate so in court. But this notion is preposterous:

Bodie refers to the corner he dies at as “my corner”. In the world of The Wire (and presumably, in every inner-city), the “corner” is the place of narcotics distribution. Much of the conflict in inner-city drug trade involves control of corners (there’s a sub-plot in Season 2 of The Wire involving this). Said control is enforced by force of arms alone. If another gang tries to take a corner you have traded at, you must fight them, and kill them if necessary. It’s all very well for Matt Yglesias’ lilywhite ass to muse on the “myth of ownership.” For Bodie, his corner was the only real thing he knew.

Property is use and transference. Gangs use the corner to distribute their product. A kingpin may transfer a corner from one flunkie to another. He may even agree to let another gang use it as part of an agreement, thus transferring it. All of this happens not only outside the purview of the state, but in direct opposition to it. Legally, those “corners” do not belong to the gangs (I don’t know who they belong to, save the city itself). But who else does anything with it? And more to the point, who is stopping them? No one stopped Bodie from trading at his corner until another Gang-Starr gave him the double-tap. Whereupon the corner belonged to whoever Marlo, in the exercise of his seigneurial rights, decided should have it.

The state does not create property. Men claim parts of the earth as theirs to use. When they tire of defending that claim with weapons, they create the state to free their property from violence. The effectiveness of the state in doing so determines how much legitimacy the state enjoys. In The Wire, the state cannot even prevent juveniles from engaging in illegal activity on the state’s own property. Which is at least part of the reason that streets upon streets of empty rowhouses in Baltimore sit, unowned.


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