In the latest attack by governments on free people, Michael Bloomberg of New York City has ordered his police to evict Occupy Wall Streeters from Zucotti Park. If this wasn’t bad enough, I noticed a libertarian friend post this today:
My thoughts regarding the clearing out Zucotti Park: Good! Zucotti Park is privately owned, therefore, no one has the right to engage in activities its owner deems unsuitable. The property owners were trespassed upon and the protesters initiated force against the property owners. Therefore, the property owners have every right to retaliatory self-defense.
This, sadly, is glib, reactionary and characteristic of the worst kind of right-libertarian thinking. Do any clear-thinking Ayn-Randians recognize the context-dropping that is evident in the above paragraph? Let’s take a closer look.
1. How did they come by it?
First, how did the current owner (Brookfield Office Properties Inc.) become owners of record for it? Did they use state privilege to get it? To earn the money they used to buy it? Or was it some kind of gift from the state?
According to Wikipedia, Zucotti park was created when US Steel wanted to build a building in New York City a little higher than what government officials would allow. In return for government permission, US Steel created the park.
So far I have been unable to find when or how the current owner acquired the park.
US Steel and Brookfield Office Properties Inc. are large corporations. They have benefited from, at the very least, government-granted limited liability protection. This enables them to escape complete accountability for their actions.
Brookfield Office Properties Inc. is a real estate company. It is likely that it benefited from the recent government-created real estate bubble. It may also benefit from various government incentives routinely granted at the local level for construction of arenas, large buildings, etc. Finally, real estate often requires large bank loans. Banks are chartered by the state. They use a state-controlled and -manipulated currency. And banks have the exclusive privilege of using fractional reserve banking to issue more loans than they likely could in a freed market. Finally, the government, through the Federal Reserve, keeps interest rates low. This makes it cheaper for those who borrow, such as real estate companies, and less rewarding for those who save, such as individual workers.
It’s been some time since I have studied the history of US Steel but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that it had benefited from tariffs on imported steel and other bailouts, price controls and/or war contracts.
In conclusion, the park has its origins in state privilege and state control. State power, as readers of this blog will know, is used by some to disadvantage others. It is unfair and illegitimate. Thus you can hardly claim that the current owners have a solid claim to control the park.
2. Do the owners of record use the property?
Second, do the owners of record use the property? When was the last time? Who is actually using the property?
There is an idea called usufruct. Among other meanings, this is the concept that those who use an item of property are the rightful owners, or at least their right to use it should be respected. And this makes sense to me. Any owner of record who doesn’t use their property is a specie of absentee landlord. Why should someone who never uses something have control over it and the people who do actually use it? This makes no sense to me.
Historically, absentee landlordism is a known evil. We can talk about the Irish example, the indigo farmers in India that Gandhi helped or sharecropping in the Southern US after the civil war. But none of them are pretty. Absentee landlordism is a way for some people to control others’ use of natural resources – the earth that is our common human heritage.
3. Did the occupiers agree to abide by the owner of record’s rules?
Third, are there signs posted to the effect that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) people are not wanted? Were they told they weren’t wanted there? Did the OWS people voluntarily agree to any certain conditions regarding their use of the space?
I haven’t been to Zucotti park, so I don’t know what signs are posted. But I have read that it is exempt from the city government’s nightly curfew. I don’t know if the occupiers were warned about the pending eviction. But I highly doubt that any occupier freely signed a legitimate contract that set any terms for their use of the space.
When we have a space that is not being used by its owner of record but is being used by the public, isn’t it a de facto commons? I think so. Even under current US law (in some areas at least), if one abandons a property and others take up its use, under certain conditions the new users can become the owners of record. If it is a commons, or is de facto owned by the public, whatever Brookfield Office Properties Inc. has to say is null and void. The current users get to make the rules.
If everyday patrons of the park are being denied their normal ability to enjoy the space by the occupiers, then that would be a legitimate cause for action – by a legitimate arbitrator or defense force.
4. Did the owners of record ask the cops to clear it?
Fourth, did the owners of record ask the cops to clear it?
According to Michael Bloomberg, mayor of the New York City government, it was his decision alone to evict the occupiers this morning.
5. Are the cops a legitimate defense force for the owners of Zucotti Park?
Fifth, are the cops a legitimate force to be used for defense against trespassers on “private” land?
No, they are not. Those who are current on Occupy Wall Street news know that the cops are agents of aggression, not defense. They have been caught pepper-spraying and otherwise initiating attacks against occupiers since practically the beginning of this occupation. An aggression force is the opposite of a defense force. An aggression force can not be taken seriously when it claims it is being used in defense. That is more akin to propaganda.
The occupiers and the general public who patronize Zucotti Park are the legitimate owners of the park, no matter what the local government or corporations say. The police have no legitimate authority to evict the occupiers from the park. Not even the owner of record is on record as having a pending request for any eviction.
This eviction is simple another attack by government on free people perpetrated by an aggressive police force with notorious aggressors in its ranks. There is nothing legitimate, admirable or righteous about the actions of the local government in this matter.