The Berlin Cage: A Dialogue
By Bryan Caplan
I figured out a way to make my recent thought experiments on the Berlin Wall even starker.
Suppose you wake up one day and find yourself in a cage. You see a guy on the other side and the following conversation ensues.
You: Any idea how I got in this cage?
Guy: You’re not in a cage.
You: What do you mean?
Guy: You’re outside my border wall.
You: [stunned silence]
Guy: You’re free to go wherever you want, as long as you stay out of my territory.
You: I’m in a cage; where am I supposed to go?
Guy: Not my problem. After all, I’m not keeping you in; I’m keeping you out.
You: So it was you that built this “border wall” last night?
You: And everything on the other side of these walls is your legitimate territory?
Guy: By Jove, I think he’s got it!
You: So you built a tiny square wall, and that entitles you to virtually all the land on Earth?
Guy: What, are you a communist?
You: No. You’re a kidnapper.
Guy: [offended] How so?
You: You make up a ridiculously lax rule of property acquisition, then use this sophistry to imprison me.
Guy: [offended] I repeat: To imprison you, I would have to hold you in. But I’m not; I’m keeping you out.
You: Pure sophistry! All you have to do to claim the world is build a tiny fence and say, “I own everything except the area inside it”?!
Guy: Well, what’s your theory of property?
You: I never worked one out. But yours is crazy.
Guy: Most of the people around here support me.
You: But plenty of them don’t?
Guy: True, but it’s a democracy – and the majority voted that you’re not allowed on any of our land.
You: I’ve heard enough. I’m climbing your “border wall.”
You: You seem like the communist to me. I’m getting out before you start shooting on sight.
Guy: Good idea!
You: [facepalms; flees]