The ongoing controversy over which statues to dismantle demonstrates the problem with government (or “public”) ownership of property: There is no way to come up with a solution that is going to satisfy everyone. Whatever decision is made on whether to keep this statue or that statue is inevitably going to leave some people unhappy.
How can it be otherwise? When a controversial statue is government-owned, how do we determine whether it should be maintained or removed? Majority vote? 2/3 vote? Executive decision? Court ruling? Mob rule? What happens a few years down the line when new people are elected to public office? Can they reinstate the statues that were removed by their predecessors?
The question naturally arises: Why should government be in the statue business in the first place? Why not leave this activity totally to the private sector?
With the private sector, the entire matter is depoliticized. Under principle of private property, a private owner has the right to do whatever he wants with his property. If a private owner decides to devote his land to the memory of the Confederacy, for example, he has the right to do so. It’s his property. He has the right to build a Confederacy museum decorated with hundreds of Confederate flags and containing statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate figures.
The private owner has the right to invite others onto his property to visit his museum. He has the right to charge them or to let them in for free. By the same token, people don’t have to go visit the museum. They can boycott it. They can condemn it. They can tell others to avoid it.
To the extent there is any controversy, it is minimal. That’s because no one is forced to underwrite the construction of any government-owned statues through taxation. Moreover, since the statues are not located in public (i.e., government) parks, they don’t offend people who are enjoying the park for its own sake.
I say: Let’s get government out of the statue business, at the federal, state, and local level. Building, buying, erecting, and maintaining statues is not a legitimate function of government. Let’s leave statues (and, for that matter, parks) to the private sector.