The Scourge of Graffiti

grafitti in Granada 1
While this is a nice picture, still, it’s not the artist’s wall.

Someone wants to express himself (and I’m willing to bet 99 times out of 100 it’s a he who wields the spray can) so he takes a can of paint and goes out at four o’clock in the morning and makes his “artistic” mark on whatever vertical surface looks most appealing or that has the fewest people around to observe him. He and countless others leave their graffiti on some wall like a pack of dogs marking their territory, and normally what they paint has just as much to offer.

I really don’t care if the guy is a budding Rembrandt; the wall or the bus or the train or whatever isn’t his to paint on. I was having a discussion about graffiti with another person who said if the painter really has talent she doesn’t really mind—some graffiti is really nice art.

Grafitti in Granada, Andalucia, Spain
Could anyone, even an adolescent male, not think this is ugly?

Really? I wonder if she would have said that if the “artist” had painted a nice picture on the side of her car.

This is specifically the point. In the right context people can understand the idea of private property—that it’s not OK for someone to do whatever he wants with your property. What if it’s someone else’s property? Most people would agree that it’s not right to paint on the side of someone’s house. OK. So what about the side of an office building, or a wall along a street? Now it’s a matter of whether the owner of the building or the wall has more money than you think he needs, or owns a business you don’t like. Then, for some reason, it’s OK to paint on his or her wall. What if the wall is “public property?” Ignoring the fact that all “public property” is property purchased with money stolen from others in the form of taxation, it remains the case that even the “public” wall is not the property of the one painting on it. The painter has no right to alter a wall that he doesn’t own.

I see graffiti as one symptom of a larger problem, a problem that affects our entire society: the fact that the right to private property is not acknowledged as a fundamental principal, inviolable and sacrosanct.

Ubiquitous graffiti in Granada, Andalucia, Spain
Ubiquitous graffiti in Granada, Andalucia, Spain

It is specifically the right to private property that is a fundamental bedrock of an advanced society.

Without it, there is no incentive to plan for the future, to save and invest, to give up today what you might enjoy in the present in order to have something tomorrow. Without the fundamental confidence in the principal that your property is yours and will continue to be yours into the future, forever, to do with as you please, to give to whomever you will, there is no motivation not to consume today everything you produce today. On the contrary, the incentive is not only to consume all you produce, but to produce absolutely no more than you can immediately consume.

It would be nice if human nature were otherwise; if people would work unceasingly solely to give to others without regard for their own well being. It would be a wonderful existence if we were all angels, if no one desired their own property to do with as they please, to make their own lives more enjoyable and comfortable, to secure their own future and the future of their families against an unknown future.

But we’re not angels. And the best way all societies have found throughout history to incentivize individuals to produce more than they consume is to protect and preserve the inviolable right to private property. Property rights promote stability, enable and encourage people to preserve the fruits of their individual labor. Private property enhances economic efficiency.

More graffiti in Granada
Ugly ugly ugly

Regarding the problem of graffiti, “We may say that a man’s right to property tells us not so much what he may properly do but rather what others may not properly do to him.” (Eric Dalton. “Private Property and Collective Security” Left and Right, No. 3 (Autumn 1966): 33-47.) I would add, not only to him, but to his property.

The graffiti that is so prevalent is not a disease, it is only a symptom. It’s an obvious and ugly symptom, but it’s nothing compared with the devolution of civilized society that is characterized by cynicism, mistrust, and the slow but steady collapse of not only our economic systems but of an entire civilization.

The coming downfall will have been brought on by myriad causes, but in large part it will be the result of the loss of respect for the concept of private property.

Graffiti in Granada, Andalucia, Spain

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