Mine!

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
With the pandemic receding, I’m excited to get back out in the world. But I’m really not excited about getting back on an airplane. The seats are too small, I hate waiting in line…and in my opinion, people who lean back in their airplane seats are history’s greatest monsters. Every year, fights break out between the people who lean back on airplanes and the people who get their knees smooshed.

NEWS CLIP
[A MAN APPARENTLY GOT UPSET WHEN THE WOMAN IN FRONT OF HIM SUDDENLY RECLINED HER SEAT. THAT’S WHEN THE MAN ALLEGEDLY REACHED FORWARD AND STARTED CHOKING THE OTHER PASSENGER. SO THE WOMAN STOOD UP AND THREW A CUP OF WATER IN HIS FACE. THE MAN STARTED PUNCHING HER SEAT REPEATEDLY, THE VIDEO SHOWS.]

Roman Mars:
Sometimes planes have to be grounded because of these fights. And the reason for these fights is confusion. Think about it. Both people paid for a seat on the airplane. But who owns the space behind the seat back?

Jim Salzman:
They’re essentially battling stories. The person who is sitting in front, they’ve got the button and they’re basically saying, “Look, it’s attached to something I own. I can lean back into it. It’s mine.” The person in the back says, “Wait a minute.” Possession. “I possess this space. I’m using it for my knees. I’m using it for my laptop, and when you lean your seat back into my space, that’s trespass.”

Michael Heller:
And that ambiguity actually is deliberate. Airlines are doing that in order to be able to sell that same space twice.

Roman Mars:
That’s Jim Salzman and Michael Heller. They’re law professors and the authors of a new book called “Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives.”

Jim Salzman:
We do a lot of public speaking about this and we’ll pull the audience and almost every single time you ask is there a right to recline or a right to defend your knees? And it’s 50/50. Really. And people look at each other with incredulity. How can you possibly think differently?

Roman Mars:
Ownership might seem really clear-cut. Like, if you own a house or a car, you own it. End of story. But Jim and Michael write about how the rules of ownership are a lot more complicated than we think. Ownership rules are actually designed. Sometimes they’re designed for the good of humanity, like keeping patent protections short for vaccines — or waiving them completely. But more often, ownership rules can be designed for nefarious purposes — like the rules around airplane seats. Here’s Michael Heller.

Michael Heller:
Ownership is ambiguous way more often than people realize — whose legroom space is that? Is it mine? Is it yours? We don’t know. That is one of the most powerful advanced tools of ownership design, is being ambiguous deliberately in order to profit from the ambiguity.

Roman Mars:
Today, we’re going to talk to Jim and Michael about how the rules of ownership are created. And why bad ones can influence everything from baseball… to solar panels… to farmland in the American South.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
I mean, this fight on a plane is really extreme about something that’s so little in a lot of ways, you know, like a few inches of space. But your book is full of these types of stories, like I call it an academic bar fight book. Like, it is completely joyful to read. But like, it’s a thing to start and settle fights because there’s all these cases where everyone thinks they’re right. And so why are ownership questions so complicated?

Michael Heller:
Well, they’re complicated in some ways, they’re actually quite simple. Like you go to a playground and you hear kids — “Mine, mine, mine!” They both have their hand on the shovel. It’s just sound. It’s like the “Mine, mine!” on the airplane seat. And it turns out that all these battles are based on the same simple stories that kids learn and use effectively in the playground.

Roman Mars:
Yeah, in your book you talk about the six stories we use to justify ownership. So, what are they?

Michael Heller:
Well, we have the kids in the playground. “Mine, I’m first-in-time.” “Mine, I’m holding on to it.” Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Get a little button on the airplane. “It’s mine because it’s attached to something mine,” that’s three of the six. The fourth one is, “It’s mine because I worked for it.” That’s our intuition behind copyrights and patents, intellectual property. Right? You reap what you sow. That’s the fourth is labor. The fifth is “It’s mine because it comes from my body, our DNA.” And the last one is family. “It’s mine because I’m in the family-birth and death, marriage and divorce.” That’s the great moment when property is on the move. And that’s it. All ownership, conflict, everything that we fight about. You know, when someone cuts in front of the line at Disney or who gets their coffee first, a Starbucks. You know, whether you can get your parking space back at the end of the day when you get out from a snowstorm — all of that, all of it is based on just those same six stories.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. You use this phrase, possession is nine-tenths of the law. I have never really understood this phrase. Like as an editor, I have cut it out of scripts because I don’t really understand it. I don’t know if anyone really understands it. What does it mean?

Michael Heller:
It actually traces back to an ancient law. One of the oldest legal codes still known is the Code of Hammurabi from 4,000 years ago. And back in that code, if somebody else was on your land and they farmed it for a couple of years, even though it was your land, it became their land. So possession, it turned out, was nine-tenths of the law. Your ownership mattered. But if you didn’t defend it against a possessor who was adverse to you, who was farming it against your wishes, they actually became the owner. And that law of adverse possession from 4,000 years ago is still the law today. It blows the minds of our students. When they find out, it’ll turn out to say, “Hey, in my backyard, my neighbor mowed the lawn. Does that mean that they’re going to own the land?” Yeah, eventually. When the fence is not quite in the right place or we cut through a neighbor’s backyard to get to the beach, all of that reality of who’s actually possessing and using land, that becomes the law.

Jim Salzman:
Part of possession’s nine-tenths of law is actually a very deep-seated psychological fact of being human. Psychologists call it the endowment effect. When you physically possess something, it becomes more valuable to you. So imagine, for example, that you’re at a supermarket and you filled up your shopping cart and Michael comes along and says, “Eggs! Perfect, I was looking for that. Oh, you’ve got cheese, too. I’ll take that, too.” How would you react?

Roman Mars:
Yeah, I would feel like he was stealing from me because it was in my cart, but I do not own it because I did not buy it.

Jim Salzman:
So where’s it coming from? Right.

Michael Heller:
There’s nothing more fundamental about ownership than realizing that ownership is just a storytelling battle. It’s just my story of first versus your story of labor or my story of possession versus your story of attachment. That is all ownership is, isn’t it? It’s those competing stories. So I, for example, teach at Columbia Law School and there’s a campus that is open. People just walk across it. Once a year on a quiet Sunday morning, they lock all the gates. Not because they are doing maintenance, but just to say, this is ours and you can’t make a claim. You, the public, can’t make a claim. You don’t eventually own it by possession because we can keep you out and we do it once a year. As you walk around New York City, you see these little plaques in the sidewalk, that say, “Permission to grant – revocable at any time.” And what the buildings are doing there is they’re trying to keep that sidewalk private. Even though other people are walking on it, they don’t make a claim to it because they’re there by permission. But that little plaque, it’s not adverse. It doesn’t eventually lead to ownership. Think about this in day-to-day life, but the life of who owns what is not static, it is always a choice.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
So, an example from the book of confusing ownership design is about baseballs, who owns a baseball when it is hit into the stands in a game? So tell me the story about Barry Bonds’ home run ball.

Jim Salzman:
So as many of your listeners will recall, Barry Bonds had this incredibly media-fueled frenzy about breaking the single-season record for four home runs. There was a guy named Popov and he was not just a student of baseball. He really studied where Bonds’s home runs had landed. And so he bought a seat at Pac Bell Stadium and he brought his baseball glove with him for the day that he hoped bonds would break the record. And in fact, he was in the exact right place. Bonds cracks the ball–

ARCHIVAL TAPE:
[THERE’S A HIGH DRIVE. DEEP INTO RIGHT-CENTER FIELD, TO THE MID PART OF THE BALLPARK….]

Jim Salzman:
–goes out of the park and he catches the ball for an instant and then he’s mugged. The ball is jarred loose and this guy, Hayashi, who just happened to be there because it’d be fun to go to a game, walks out the melee with a ball some people are saying that’s worth a million dollars. This being the great country of America, Popov sues him. Right? We’re talking about possession is nine-tenths of the law, doesn’t mean he owns the ball. And so the question, it goes to court and the judge asks, “Well, who should own the ball?” And it’s not obvious, right? So you could say for Popov, well, it’s labor, right? He did the work to figure out where to stand — its first possession. He actually had the ball for a moment. Then it was dislodged. Hayashi is current possession. So which story should win? Well, it’s not just that, right? It’s also a question of how you want to design the rule to shape behavior, right? So if we want to protect future game-goers, I mean, it turns out a lot of folks are injured with foul balls and other balls, maybe we want to encourage the Popov’s of the world to actually go out there with the gloves to protect us. And so the rule is, as soon as you’ve got initial possession, even if it’s jarred loose, it’s yours. Or we say, look, let’s go to custom. You know, the fact is that when you go to a ball game, whoever ends up with a ball, they own it. It’s not uniform. You don’t see fans going home from a football game with a football. You don’t see fans going home from a soccer game with a soccer ball. The custom in those sports is you return the ball. And then, of course, there’s the great question — well, why doesn’t Bonds own it, right? Of course. But he was actually… he’s the one person he probably shouldn’t because he was trying to get the thing out of the stadium.

Roman Mars:
So, the judge ultimately decided to auction the ball and split the proceeds between the two men. Was that a good outcome?

Michael Heller:
It’s like there was Solomon’s revenge here. You know, a perfectly plausible solution. He was trying to be fair as between Popov and Hayashi, you can always decide if the ownership is never a given. There’s no answer to what you have to do. Jim and I basically want not to get hit by foul balls, like I’m more likely to get hit than to catch one. So I really think the rules should have been Popov. So a lot of what ownership rules do, is they tell you how to behave in the world. So one of our basic points to try to get across to our students, to our readers, is that ownership works like one of the great invisible remote controls of your life. All these ownership rules are steering you this way and that to get you to do what somebody else wants. And what I want with the baseball is somebody else to watch out over me. And that’s Popov.

Roman Mars:
This is an example of how poor ownership design can end up in court. But there are some examples of good ownership design leading to better outcomes. And I’m thinking in particular of the show, “The Deadliest Catch.”

CLIP “THE DEADLIEST CATCH”:
[THE VAST BARREN SEA, OVER A MILLION SQUARE MILES OF THE WORLD’S MOST VIOLENT AND UNPREDICTABLE WATERS… AND HOME OF THE DEADLIEST CATCH, ALASKAN CRAB]

Roman Mars:
And the first season is extremely harrowing because it’s a derby-style system. And that system was really dangerous. But they changed the system in the later seasons and I have to admit, “The Deadliest Catch” became a lot more boring, but it was more safe, it was better in every way. It just made for boring tv. Could you describe the new ownership system and how that worked?

Jim Salzman:
Sure. So, as you describe, the rule had a bit of first come, first served, right? So there was a quota that was set, the season started, and basically, the season ended when the quota – 10 tons, 20 tons, whatever – had been caught. And this led to what you call derby fishing. And it was incredibly dangerous because if the weather’s terrible, you go out because if you don’t go out and someone else goes out, this season will be over before you get a chance. It was actually more dangerous, statistically, to work on a king crab boat in the Bering Sea off Alaska than to be on foot patrol in Iraq during this period.

Roman Mars:
Wow.

Jim Salzman:
It changed because of some very clever ownership engineers in Iceland, of all places. And they said, wait a minute, let’s look at how the catch is owned, where they said, what if we take that season’s catch and we divide it up in front, right? In the start of the season. And so, you know… Roman, you caught three tons of fish last year, you get what’s called an allowance, right? You basically get permission to catch three tons this year. Michael can only fish one ton, so he gets one ton. When the weather’s bad, you stay in port. When the prices are low, you stay in port. And as a result, very quickly, as you said, deaths went down, profits went up, and in fact, no one’s died for years in this fishery. You know, the problem is you can’t call the show “The Not-So-Deadly Catch,” right? Who’s going to watch that? And so the real loser in all this has been the editors of “The Deadliest Catch” because they’ve got to manufacture these terribly dangerous-looking situations. But this idea called catch shares really has caught on around the world. And that’s how the best fisheries are now managed.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
You write about how technology changes ownership rules and how it can make the rules more complicated. And a great example of this is how Amazon and Apple sell movies and books online. How has the ownership of books and movies changed because of technology?

Jim Salzman:
So there have been some studies done on this and 85% of people, when they buy an e-book or download a movie… actually e-books is a better example… they feel as though they have full ownership, as though they actually own the hard copy of the book. And that’s just not the case. We are streaming a series of ones and zeros. We basically are licensing the access to those ones and zeros. Amazon and Apple can and have taken content back. You look at your iPhone, right? What is your iPhone? What do you own with your iPhone? You own a plastic brick, alright? What is valuable about your iPhone is the operating system. You don’t own that. The data on your phone. You don’t own that. Right? We’re moving sort of… it really is an epical shift where we’re moving from the tangible idea of ownership, which is basically how we evolved, to this non-tangible.

Michael Heller:
The way that Amazon profits from this is that we bring with us our physical, tangible notion. This notion of possession. We bring that to our online lives. So when Amazon… when you check out, they have a little shopping cart. And they have a little “Buy Now” button, but all of that is very carefully engineered to give you an image of ownership and is not what you’re actually getting. Online, the “Buy Now” button does not mean what you think it means.

Roman Mars:
I mean, one of the things that forwards the story or changes the story, as you mentioned, with Facebook and… it is technology itself, it changes the story of ownership quite a bit. And one of the great stories of this ambiguous ownership involves air rights over land, which really took a different turn as soon as airplanes started flying over land and when original land ownership ideas had no concept of airplanes. Could you talk about as kind of being the fraught subject of air rights and land ownership.

Jim Salzman:
Sure. So this is the story of attachment, right? A landowner knows that they own the surface, but do they own the column of air that goes above the land? Now, there’s this old Roman law maxim that you own, actually from heaven down to hell. And so it seems kind of silly now. But in the early age of modern aviation, there actually were trespass suits that were brought against airlines flying over people’s backyards. And if you think you own this column of air, well, it is trespass. Now, fortunately, the court said, no, no, no, no, no. You know, you only control a certain amount above your house. So that was settled. But it’s playing out again right now with drones. So Amazon, UPS, Domino’s Pizza, they all envision a world where drones are going to take care of deliveries instead of cargo trucks. And technically, it’s not far away. But there’s a problem. And the problem is when a drone flies over your backyard, is it trespassing? We have federal law that dictates how high a drone can fly, but it’s silent, how low a drone can fly and at what point is a drone, you know, like an airplane that’s 10,000 feet above your property? And at what point is it someone in a UPS uniform jumping off your back fence, you know, and clambering across your yard and jumping out again? This is up for grabs. And it’s incredibly significant in terms of what delivery services are going to look like in the near future.

Roman Mars:
Another part of ownership, the air becomes a big issue when we’re talking about solar panels, you need access to sunlight for solar panels to work. And there’s this really interesting case in Sunnyvale, California, involving solar panels and redwood trees. Can you describe this story?

Jim Salzman:
Yeah, and it’s a perfectly named town, right? Sunnyvale. Right? Where else would you have an argument over solar panels? There’s sort of… basically, there’s this little sort of green enclave. Two neighbors, one house has these nice redwood trees that are growing slowly and the neighbor puts in solar panels. And in time, the redwood trees start to shade the solar panels. And the guy with the solar panel says, “Hey, attachment!” Right? I have a right to the sun that’s powering my solar panels. “You need to chop your trees off.” And the others say, “No, no, no.” You know, this is attachment. Basically, I control what happens on my property and what makes it such a great story, it’s green versus green, right? Who wins between growing trees and solar? And the fact is, when you think about this, quickly, you say, well, one person’s got to win, right? Either you get solar power or you get trees. In California, they put their thumb on the scale of solar panels and basically said the trees have to come down. There’s this wonderful quote, this person says they were the first person ever to be prosecuted for growing redwoods, right? But one of the things we talk about in the book is there are clever ways to design ownership. And so what you could do is you could say, “Okay, solar panels owner, you can get your solar power, but you’ve got to compensate your neighbors for lopping off their trees because there’s nothing morally wrong?” They’re not bad people for growing trees. Or similarly, if we say that tree owners, you can let your trees grow, but you’ve got to compensate your neighbor for the shade that you’re casting on the solar panels. Then you change the discussion.

Roman Mars:
And really the solution had to do with the state of California feeling that solar panel and energy development was more of a priority than growing redwoods at that moment? I think that’s kind of fascinating. Like that values are involved rather than fairness in ownership is pretty interesting and probably kind of mind blowing. I don’t think people think of it that way.

Michael Heller:
It’s true. It’s turtles all the way down. It’s true for every effort, you know, all day long. It’s where you live. It’s what you drink. All of those disputes, all of those choices go very quickly to our most fundamental values about what’s fair, about what we want our society to look like. All of that is encoded through ownership.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
More with Jim Salzman and Michael Heller. After this.

[BREAK]

Roman Mars:
So far, people fighting over airline seats and baseballs, it can feel like the entire world is encompassed in those fights, but they’re pretty small stories. But some of the biggest tensions in our country come from confusing ownership rules like how Europeans come to America as colonizers and they see ownership very, very differently than how the indigenous people see it. Could you talk about how ownership affects that type of conflict?

Michael Heller:
The place that you’re standing or sitting right now, somebody who owns it, who bought it from someone else, who bought it from someone else, and that traces back to conquest. Every piece of land in America traces back to conquest by European settlers of Native Americans. And that’s true not just for all land in America. That’s true for all land everywhere in the world. But history is a series of conquest and dispositions. Ownership starts anew. The clock starts anew when you have some new regime take over. So in the US, there was a real question early on, which is who owned America? And courts had to figure this out. And it turned out what they decided is that productive labor is what counted.

Roman Mars:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Heller:
So who was first in America when the courts were thinking about this in the early eighteen hundreds, they said first is first to cut down trees. The first to make New England look like old England. So for the courts, they defined first to basically privilege a merchant, an agricultural economy over a native economy that sort of tread lightly through the soil. And what that reveals is that these stories – who was first – are themselves always up for grabs. This has always been true and this is true today in fights in Cuba over who’s going to own, you know, Havana if the government there changes. It was true in Eastern Europe after the Soviets fell, that it’s always based at some ultimate level on force and conquest. And what you have is a battle of stories about what and who should be first.

Roman Mars:
One thing we learn from your book is how ownership rules can be arbitrary. And land in America is the most brutal example of that. Something I didn’t know is that land ownership in America was actually litigated in court. But of course, the courts were enforcing the ownership rules invented by the European colonizers.

Michael Heller:
Well, you know, in the same cases that say, you know, first is the first to make New England look like old, the courts also said, you know, the courts of the conqueror determine the boundaries of the conquest. So that is, you know, there is an underlying reality that might makes right, which underlies ownership always.

Roman Mars:
I was also really fascinated by this discussion that you have in the book about how ownership affects Black wealth in this country. Can you tell me about some of the issues facing Black landowners in the South?

Michael Heller:
After the Civil War, the real promise America made to African-Americans was — one of the promises was — 40 acres and a mule, and they actually meant that literally. And then the U.S. didn’t really follow through on that at all. But Black Americans took up the challenge of acquiring land in earnest. And by 1920, there were a million Black farm families in this country. A substantial amount of southern land was owned by Black farmers. In the last 100 years, since 1920, Black farmland ownership has dropped by about 98%. There are fewer than 20,000 Black farm families left in America today. A lot of the reason for that is, you know, racist violence and racial discrimination, particularly in farm lending. That’s a big part of the story. But there’s another part of the story that really hasn’t been told very much. And it’s an artifact of ownership rules. So if you die without a will, and Black farmers usually did, your land is split among your kids. Might be three kids or four kids or five. And if they die without a will, it’s split in other ways. So one farm, 100 acres might have three and five and nine and then 30 and then 100s over the years of partial owners that each turn a little fraction of the farm. And it turns out that American law makes it virtually impossible for those farms, farms that are owned by a big group of heirs, to be managed at all. And white lawyers figured this out in the South, that they could buy a 1/100th or 1/1000th share of that farm. They could buy out for 100 bucks. They’d find some heir in Chicago and say, I want to take that 1/1000th share that you have. And it turns out under American law, with that 1/1000th share, you can force, on the courthouse steps, a sale of the farm as a whole. But it was a cash sale. So it meant that the Black farm family that owned it, it had been in their family for generations, lost their farms on these so-called partition sales when they were sold on the courthouse steps for trivial amounts to the white lawyers who had gone north and bought these very small shares. So that sort of hidden rule of American land ownership, sort of the intersection of how you own property together and what happens if you don’t make a will, has led to just devastating wealth destruction for Black farm families in this country, it’s quite easy to fix. A number of European countries have rules that make it actually quite easy for those co-owners, all the grandkids and great-grandkids, to actually manage the farm effectively, to be able to get mortgages, to be able to improve the farm. But American law hasn’t really allowed for that. And it’s been one of the great engines of wealth destruction for African-Americans over the last century.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
What’s clear is that ownership is not a fixed thing, it’s not cut and dry, it’s always something that’s negotiated over time. So if I were to take your book, you know, knowing all the things I know from it and I’m on an airplane and someone leans back like, how should I take the knowledge from your book and turn it into a practical lesson in that moment?

Michael Heller:
Well, for every story in the book, there’s different ways you can respond. You can respond as a consumer and as a citizen. So let me tell you first how you respond as a consumer. There have been studies done about this. The person in back who is squished turns out to often be the academic researcher. [Roman laughs ] What they discovered is that there are ways to solve this problem, just as the person who wants to keep their laptop, you know, not totally in their face. And here’s what you do. This is actually news you can use for your listeners.

Roman Mars:
Okay.

Michael Heller:
It turns out that if you offer him 20 bucks, the person in front typically won’t take it. And if you just ask him not to lean back, you know, they look at you funny, but there is something that does work. So it turns out that if you offer to buy the person in front of you a drink or a snack, three-quarters of the time they’ll accept it and they won’t lean back. Turns out that people like to feel like they’re in community. They want to feel like they’re good guys. And the way to sort of engender that feeling, is to offer them a drink or a snack. So that’s how you solve the problem of the person who leans into your lap as a consumer. There’s also an answer as a citizen, which is that we’re getting mad at each other. As that space shrinks, we can take the story of ownership and we can say the airlines are using this tool of strategic ambiguity and we can lobby. We can lobby to change the rules. In 2018, the FAA decided that airline seat design was going to be left totally to the airlines. But that’s just a choice and it’s a choice that can change. And if there are enough fistfights, if there’s enough pressure by consumers who are pissed off, then the rules will change. There’s no fixed rule for who owns what, who owns that wedge of space up in the air.

Roman Mars:
That’s great. I love the idea of us locking arms and we just blame the airlines. I mean, that’s true, I mean, because it’s their fault–

Jim Salzman:
We should blame the airlines. It’s not the friendly skies.

Roman Mars:
The book is so fascinating, I had such a good time reading it, thank you so much for talking with us.

Michael Heller:
Pleasure to be here. This is really fun.

Jim Salzman:
And as a long-time super fan of your show, this is a real treat.

——–

Roman Mars:
Jim Salzman and Michael Heller are the authors of the book “Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives.” It is a very fun book to read and to argue about and enjoy.

We are off next week for a short summer break celebrating July 4th but we will return with new episodes on July 13th.

99% Invisible was produced this week by Chris Berube.

Music and sound mix by our director of sound, Sean Real.

Our executive producer is Delaney Hall.

Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director.

The rest of the team includes Vivian Le, Joe Rosenberg, Emmett FitzGerald, Christopher Johnson, Lasha Madan, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars.

We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north — in beautiful uptown Oakland, California. You can find the show and enjoy discussions about the show on Facebook. You can tweet me @romanmars and the show @99piorg. We’re on Instagram and Reddit, too. You can find other shows I love from Stitcher and every past episode of 99pi at 99pi.org.

Credits

Production

Host Roman Mars spoke with Michael Heller and Jim Salzman.

This episode was produced and edited by Chris Berube

  1. So wait, do you buy the person in front of you a drink proactively, before the seat is reclined, or do you pair that offer with your request to put the seat back up? This is important! 😉

  2. Jefferson Berlin

    Hi Roman – Interesting show! As long as you’re thinking about the idea of ownership, you might want to consider this episode of Ezra Klein’s podcast, https://pca.st/episode/423d25dc-3d2f-4c11-b160-0f5f223fdd51. He was discussing ownership this week, too, but from a different POV. Like maybe the whole western idea of ownership is not the only, or the best, way a society might function. Seems to me the underlying beliefs regarding what we’re “buying” are responsible for a host of social problems. I’ve been enjoying 99PI for years. Thank you!

  3. Jim Lewis

    The problem with your analysis of airplane seats is that you’re assuming the natural or default position of the seat is upright, and the choice is to make it more recumbent. But suppose we thought — as I do — that the natural position is reclining, and the button is there for the comparatively rare episodes of ingress and egress, and for those who wish, contrary to standard practice, to sit upright?

  4. F.

    Ok this was interesting, but something your guests didn’t talk about is how ownership laws in the courts were biased towards European definitions of agriculture. Plenty of native tribes did practice agriculture and land ownership amongst themselves, but colonizers overlooked that in favor of their own definitions of European styles of agriculture. How could natives bring their arguments to a court that didn’t recognize native definitions and practices?
    This sounds like the same argument used against Palestinian land ownership. It is not true that ownership rules were arbitrary among civilizations – even under Roman colonialism, local land ownership in the cities and villages they conquered was recognized, even if taxation laws varied. This is reflected in the fact that plenty of city names actually preceded Roman rule, and hence their names were romanized but not completely changed. This episode would be better with greater historical context and nuance instead of being used as settler colonial apologism.

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