Posted by: N.S. Palmer | October 17, 2010

Privatization Crowds Out Freedom

By N.S. Palmer

A news story this morning reported that a lesbian couple was kicked out of a shopping mall for kissing. The mall management later apologized for the incident, of course, but it’s worth thinking about what happened and why.

Once upon a time, most shopping areas were on public streets. In public spaces, people have an uncontested right to engage in almost any behavior that isn’t dangerous, aggressive, or obscene. Kissing, especially if it’s just a casual display of affection and not a make-out session, certainly falls into that category.

In the last few decades, however, private corporations have swallowed up more and more of our public space. They argue, not without basis, that they have a right to control what happens on their private property. Thus, in a mall, you may not wear funny clothes, hand out political leaflets, or — apparently — kiss.

Thus, the areas in which Americans may exercise their Constitutional rights to freedom of expression shrink in tandem with the growing privatization of our public space. Libertarians and tea party activists should think about that.

And if they really want to understand privatization, they should look up the “enclosure movement” in 16th-century England, which turned over public land to wealthy private owners with political connections.

Copyright 2010 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL ( are included.


  1. At the mall here in my hometown, they don’t allow you to pass out leaflets of any kind, and that includes religious literature. It’s never created a problem.

    But anyway. I do see where you’re coming from, but at the same time, there’s a balance that must be set. If we have too much government control over the private sector, we’ll also see freedoms decrease- if not in one area, then in others. The problem is finding that balance and maintaining it, I suppose.

    • Kyla,

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s all a question of where you draw the line. Neither 100 percent privatization (as anarcho-libertarians advocate) nor 100 percent public ownership makes sense. And each has its problems. That being said, I’d prefer to maximize the geographic areas and contexts in which people are free to exercise their Constitutional rights. Those areas and contexts have been shrinking steadily.

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