Here’s an interesting non-sequitur about the Ferguson riots and their ostensible justification:
Also, property damage is apparently more important than a kid getting killed. Reminds me of this tweet. https://t.co/Rc42BJi7KB
— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) November 25, 2014
Call it the redistribution of justice: how can anyone worry about mere property rights when a “kid” has been killed?
The moral logic of rioting and looting is built upon such assumptions. My cause is so righteous that your pitiful property rights are swept away, like so much chaff in the wind of my fury. Any complaint you might tender is selfish and petty. In fact, if you insist on keeping your store intact, shopping at a mall without facing an intimidating mob of protesters, or making lawful use of a public road at a time like this, you’re part of the problem, man.
Let me advance the contrary proposition: property is peace. A full measure of respect for property rights is indispensable for social harmony. Strife always results when the ownership of property is not respected. You might notice that decades of socialist wealth redistribution hasn’t created a more harmonious society. On the contrary, it has arguably made things worse. Thomas Sowell makes this argument frequently, citing historical evidence from around the globe that poverty does not automatically breed lawlessness and racial strife, until activist government is added to the mix. In fact, the sort of strife routinely associated with “racism” in the United States has been known to occur among racially homogeneous societies, with the introduction of welfare-state politics. All you really need to brew up decades of seemingly insoluble society-rending strife is a victim class, plus powerful politicians eager to pander to it. Racial politics are a helpful ingredient, but not strictly required.
“Powerful politicians” means Big Government, which means the atrophy of property rights. The State can only grow huge by claiming a big chunk of every dollar, becoming a partner in every business, and asserting primal rights over capital. The modern American Left transmits a very strong sense – stated explicitly with increasing frequency – that the government owns everything, acting as the collective agent of The People, and generously “allows” us to keep whatever it chooses not to tax and regulate away. All of the hot liberal social and economic theories presume an effectively unlimited collectivist claim on property; the government restrains itself from seizing everything not because such action would be unconstitutional or morally unacceptable, but because it would be counter-productive to strangle the geese that lay all those golden eggs.
Robust respect for private property is the sign of a fully-functioning peaceable society. A great deal of lawbreaking begins with minor property crimes, often viewed as “victimless” by the perpetrator. This was a core insight of the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement that contributed so much to the renaissance of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Crack down on the minor property offenses – the breaking of windows – and the big crimes will decline as well.
This is often discussed as a revolutionary insight, but it’s actually the only way to nourish respect for the rule of law. The rule of law bleeds out through small cuts, weakening it against great usurpations that prove fatal. Those small cuts are drawn through compromises with lawlessness, beginning with the belief that some people are justified in disregarding laws that others are expected to obey. Property tends to be destroyed in such compromises. Embrace full respect for property – from both the State and all citizens – and those small compromises with anarchy don’t happen. The avalanche of chaos never gets rolling.
The Michael Brown incident began with a property crime: Brown’s theft of a box of cigarillos. He grew violent with the storekeeper who tried to stop him, got even more violent when approached by Officer Darren Wilson, and was ultimately killed. The shop he stole the cigarillos from was looted during last week’s riots. None of those events would have transpired without the original act of theft.
Full respect for the property of others contributes to an orderly society. The lack of such respect leads to diminished respect for people. Our right to own property is a vital component of liberty. Free speech without property rights is totalitarianism with a suggestion box. Owning property – including our own labor, and the money we earn with it – gives us the ability to exercise our freedom in meaningful, lasting ways, rather than merely discussing what freedom is like, or accepting sexual license as its only meaningful expression (a trap the Left often springs upon naive young people.) A government concerned primarily with the full and robust protection of its citizens’ property has little money or energy left for mischief. Citizens who respect each others’ property commit fewer criminal offenses, especially when they fully embrace the morality of ownership, instead of just fearing the consequences of looting or vandalism.
Take away all the property crimes committed across the country by Ferguson “demonstrators” and they would be exactly that: demonstrators, engaged in peaceable free speech. In Seattle, a mob of Ferguson activists barged into the Westlake Mall on Black Friday, terrorizing a group of children at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. “America goes where their pocketbook goes, so today we’re blocking Black Friday,” a protest leader explained. “We want you to be uncomfortable shopping.” That’s as clear a statement about the importance of property rights as a shield against totalitarianism as you’ll ever find. Mob rule is totalitarian, as surely as any dystopian nightmare about neo-fascist governments sending faceless stormtroopers to enforce their will. Both forms of oppression get started by chiseling away at property rights. Mobs are in a hurry, so their chiseling tends to be sloppy.
It’s futile to demand respect for property rights from citizens, while the State transgresses against them freely, offering only thin justifications about the need to address “inequality” through compulsive force. The government sets examples that its citizens will follow. Enthusiasm for freelance wealth redistribution grows when the high-toned state-sanctioned variety doesn’t deliver the goods. In the end, the State can never truly deliver the goods, for human ambition is a powerful force. It can be channeled into productive activity through freedom and capitalism… or it can be corrupted into angry demands from the dependent clients of a welfare state. Those clients want better lives for themselves and their families, but see no avenue to achieving such improvement except to demand it.
The lack of respect for property in Ferguson will leave its residents with even more difficult lives. Blogger Don Surber advised the business owners of Ferguson to skedaddle:
Do not bother rebuilding. Your customers do not want you. They tore up your stores — twice. And after one of them robbed a store. These are not protests. They are pogroms aimed at the middle class. Take the insurance money and run.
Police officers, too, should leave. Why risk a criminal trial or worse for doing your job?
Homeowners, too. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic — it does not matter. You are middle class. They do not want you. Leave.
Property is peace. Who wants to live where property rights are so wantonly disregarded, and peace is so easily lost?