Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Miaoli County Land Seizure Sparks Farmer Protests

Approximate Dapu Township Land Seizure site
The marker shows the approximate area of the industrial district and land seizure. The Jhunan Science Park is located just to the southeast of the marker.

A protest about a brutal land seizure two days ago ended without giving the protesters a chance to talk to the President. But the issue has sparked widespread interest and media coverage throughout the island. The Taipei Times summarized yesterday:
Yesterday, the demonstrators sowed seeds on Ketagalan Boulevard to show that they are determined to have their farmland returned to them.

“We are all farmers. We are praying to the gods to stop land expropriation,” said Liu Ching-chang (劉慶昌), a farmer in Erchongpu (二重埔) in Hsinchu County’s Jhudong Township (竹東).

Farmers from Dapu Borough (大埔) in Jhunan Township (竹南) and Wanbao Borough in Houlong Township (後龍), both in Miaoli County, Jhubei City (竹北), Erchongpu in Hsinchu County, Siangsiliao (相思寮) in Changhua County’s Erlin Township (二林) and Taipei County’s Tucheng (土城) gathered in front of the Presidential Office on Saturday night because all the communities have faced, or may be facing, government expropriation to make way for various development projects.

Although farmers across the country have been fighting land expropriation for years, their campaign did not gain public attention until the Miaoli County Government sent excavators escorted by police to dig up rice paddies in Dapu last month.
This heartbreaking video tells the farmers' story. The case is so egregious that even the normally pro-KMT United Daily News gave the farmers some sympathy, and it made the Hong Kong papers. The case was described last week:
The Miaoli County Government is taking over 28 hectares of farmland in Jhunan Township’s Dapu Borough (大埔), a farming village, to make way for the expansion of Jhunan Science Park.

Last month, excavators dispatched by the county government forced their way into rice paddies and destroyed rice plants, despite opposition from local farmers.

“Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung [劉政鴻] said the county government was acting according to the law and had completed the legal process to transfer land ownership, but we don’t think so,” Thomas Chan (詹順貴), an attorney and a member of the Taiwan Rural Front, told a press conference yesterday.

“We discovered that the county government’s land expropriation notice was posted nearly half a year before the project was approved by the MOI last year,” Chan said. “That is unlawful.”
According to Taiwan News, the protesters are calling for "an immediate halt to development projects on which local governments and businessmen appear to be colluding; the passage of amendments to the land expropriation law; and the convening of a national conference in six months on agricultural and land policies." An earlier Taiwan News article said:

Independent legislator Kang Shih-ju, a former mayor of Chunan, said the result proved that Liu was authoritarian and obstinate. Experts had suggested several legal ways out of the problem, but the ruling Kuomintang politician still did not want to listen, Kang said.

The lawmaker said there would have been no confrontation if the county only wanted to expropriate the original 23 hectares for the project, but the problem was it later added a further 5 hectares, infuriating local farmers.

Letters from Taiwan has further information, including video of police hauling off farmers as their land is illegally destroyed. He writes:
On June 9th 2010, caterpillar excavators moved into a track of land owned by local Miaoli farmers to destroy their crops against their wishes. These crops were two months away from harvest. They did this on the orders of KMT Miaoli County Magistrate 劉政鴻Liu, Cheng-Hung) whilst negotiations were underway between the County Government and local residents over a fair price for the Government requisition of land.

This was despite the fact that the Miaoli County Council passed a resolution stating that the Government could buy the land but only at a fair price agreed to by the owners of the land. Not only were negotiations unfinished but residents were prevented from stopping the caterpillar excavators from continuing their work by hundreds of police who were called in to the scene. These police also prevented the local KMT Legislator 康世儒 from entering the site (5:21 on the video below).

The reason for this forced requisition is that Terry Guo (Hon Hai, Foxconn) amongst others wanted extra land to build(extend?) the Jhunan Science Park since the original area of land allocated for the park was deemed too small, so the extra land below was also included. (This is despite the fact that sufficient land area in an existing science park was readily available). For more information see ... here.
The problem is not just that land is being seized without proper compensation and without due process. In many cases the farmland around the parks will likely be heavily polluted -- in the case of the Houli Science Park, the pollution is being shunted by pipe across Taichung and Changhua Counties to be dumped in the Choshui River. Ugh.

UPDATE: Interesting discussion in the comments.
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53 comments:

Anonymous said...

One thing I appreciate about Taiwan as opposed to its evil nemesis cross strait neighbor is the transparent Democratic government that serves as a model for the communist part to aspire to.

Jarrad said...

To Anon: At least you can read about this in the paper. That's more than I can say if the same thing happened on the "Da Lu."

mike said...

To hell with your "proper compensation" and "due process" - this is theft; legal provisions for "expropriation" simply should not exist in the first place. If government wants to buy land, it must learn to accept the possibility of being refused.

What the fuck is wrong with you Turton?

Michael Turton said...

Nothing is wrong with me. We have different political philosophies.

Marc said...

Eminent domain laws exists in Taiwan as they do in the United States, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, South Africa. France, Italy, and Germany. The laws exist as a means to promote economic progress, or to modernize infrastructure. Fairly practiced, all parties may reach a fair deal with a minimum of protest.

The Taiwan case is particularly serious because due process has not have been followed. (We could also argue the fact that the despoliation of this farmland is unnecessary in this case, but some of the farmers have already accepted the offer).

What's troubling is that these expropriation tactics seem more akin to China or Zimbabwe's. There's even a case that came up to the US Supreme Court that also raised some legal questions about a shady land expropriation case in Connecticut. Surprisingly, the court found in favor of the government.

Perhaps what mike is responding to is not the legality, but the morality of the issue (dissenting opinions in the US case were framed as unconstitutional)

See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London

mike said...

Well fine - but you're the one who should have to look these poor bastards in the eye and explain to them why your "proper compensation" and "due process" would justify this violation of their lives and family inheritance.

M said...

Michael - from my understanding this land expropriation is perfectly legal, which of course is the problem. I have also heard that the level of compensation is not the real issue, it is that people do not want to leave the land their families have farmed for generations. Rural people in Taiwan have a very strong attachment to their land.
Mike - every government in the world has powers to expropriate land. If it did not have this power, then essential infrastructure projects would be impossible. However, legal provisions for "expropriation" should be used only when necessary and as a last resort. Taiwan has so much unused brownfield land it hardly seems necessary to bulldoze more farmland to expand a science park. Better legal protections need to be put in place.

Michael Turton said...

(m) The expropriation is not entirely legal, from what I have heard. But my hearing has all been from the pro-farmer side. Experience has taught me that lots of lying takes place around these things, so I have been wary of posting on it. It's common for holdouts to crop up on the edges of projects. But this one seems legit.

I suspect that lots of the brownfield land is in semi-/urban areas where even the bogus government compensation would be astronomically expensive. Not to mention, influential want that land for speculation and won't put it out for industrial development.

Well fine - but you're the one who should have to look these poor bastards in the eye and explain to them why your "proper compensation" and "due process" would justify this violation of their lives and family inheritance.

mike, it would not be difficult to find a proper level of compensation as companies do it every day in both farms and urban areas. I'd be happy to look them in the eye knowing they got the compensation they deserved.

Michael
PS: What the fuck was wrong with our parents? Did they have to name every third kid in our generation "Michael"?

Marc said...

M said: "every government in the world has powers to expropriate land. If it did not have this power, then essential infrastructure projects would be impossible"

Of course, but where this gets fuzzy is where land is expropriated by the government for the benefit of a private corporation - and perhaps this is what mike is particularly alluding to.

Eminent domain laws that benefit the public good are usually justifiable legally and morally.

The US case I mentioned is one such example, where the local government seized generational private farmland for the benefit of Pfizer, the pharma company, but the developer ran out of money and left the land barren and vacant, with no offer to resell it to the original owners.

Zimbabwe's tactics are to supposedly reclaim land from white 'settlers' in the name of the African people to cultivate, but it is then given it to loyal cadres in the government who are not farmers. Hence, starvation and economic collapse.

The Taiwan issue is similar in one way in that it takes away private property to benefit private enterprise who offer the iffy promise of more jobs and improved economic health for the region.

Michael Turton said...

For those of you that read the Taipei Times, "mike" posting above is Mike Fagan who frequently has letters there. His blog is here.

mike said...

M - your premise that some people get to decide what is "essential" for everybody else is so far wrong it is despicable. An illustration in two questions: (a) how does the HSR's average passenger volume compare to what was predicted prior to construction? and (b) how many people who had their land "expropriated" in order to allow HSR construction may now be comforted in the knowledge that what was done to them was "essential"?

Turton - if you and I voluntarily agree on a price for which I will buy your house, fine. If I ask my mates what they reckon a fair price is, then tell you to accept this or I send the big lads round to kick your head in... no.

There are three morally impermissible elements in this Miaoli case:

1) The government's use of violence to get its way.

2) The legalization of this breaking and entering of the right to property - however much "due process" lubricant may be applied.

3) The arrogant - and naturally wrong - presumption that this infraction of the right to property is justified with a cheap "greater utility" argument.

Michael Turton said...

One thing I appreciate about Taiwan as opposed to its evil nemesis cross strait neighbor is the transparent Democratic government that serves as a model for the communist part to aspire to.

Fantastic.

M said...

M - your premise that some people get to decide what is "essential" for everybody else is so far wrong it is despicable. An illustration in two questions: (a) how does the HSR's average passenger volume compare to what was predicted prior to construction? and (b) how many people who had their land "expropriated" in order to allow HSR construction may now be comforted in the knowledge that what was done to them was "essential"?

You need to use some kind of measure of "collective benefit" against "private loss". I would argue that the collective benefits of the HSR outweighs the private loss, but this of course is a subjective judgement.

The need for other infrastructure is perhaps more clear - highways, water treatment plants, sewage treatment plants, power plants, international airports etc etc. Are you saying that there should be no provision for government expropriation of land even in these circumstances.

Michael Turton said...

a) how does the HSR's average passenger volume compare to what was predicted prior to construction? and (b) how many people who had their land "expropriated" in order to allow HSR construction may now be comforted in the knowledge that what was done to them was "essential"?

C'mon, mike. The issue is not whether the project will be successful but whether the process for taking the land is fair and equitable. Otherwise I could argue that since the Taipei metro is a fine project, all the land takings for it were justified. Which is an indefensible position.

In that particular case the HSR and metro projects were grossly unfair. Taiwan Review has a great review from 1992 online here. There was a land expropriation act passed but now they are calling for amendments.

This academic article discusses the regulations for Taiwan

Michael

mike said...

M – if there is to be no rational principle upon which you can weigh “collective benefits” against private loss, then your imperative is simply for the arbitrary use of force by some people against others. One of my objections to that is the danger necessarily implied by that inherent uncertainty: who gets what “expropriated” from out their ass next? A utilitarian argument would superficially improve your position, but it would still leave you wrong on two counts:

A “collective benefit” is at best, a highly contingent agreement in the valuations of several individuals, quite subject to changes over time. At one time, perhaps a large enough section of the public approved of the HSR, yet now that they may be faced with the possibility somewhere down the line of tax increases to pay off the construction debt, perhaps they are not so sure. More usually however, a “collective benefit” or “national interest” is simply a convenient fig-leaf behind which the violence done to individual’s interests may be made to appear more modest. Look, even your “clear” need for water treatment plants may be disputed – because although the need for clean water may be confidently said to be shared by pretty much everyone, the form the solution to that problem should take is not necessarily as obvious as you seem to think it is (think of e.g. advances in nano-filter technology which obviate the need for a central location…)

One reason why I brought up the HSR case was to illustrate the other problem with your position: the epistemological problem. Say you decide that a certain infrastructure project would serve the national economic interest better than respecting private property rights – now to make accurate predictions about this with any degree of detail and confidence, you would need to know all sorts of things about the future behaviour of very large numbers of other people - things that even the individual people themselves do not yet know, like how many trips from Kaohsiung to Taipei they might or might not make next year. Absent prices, economic calculation must always face this knowledge problem and that is why they ought to be heavily larded with uncertainty and hedged against both known and unknown risks.

I would much rather see a popular demand for the removal of “expropriation” provisions from local government charters and likewise from the central government. As we slip further down the sloap toward unification, I would think that a much healthier respect for property rights and a morally principled intolerance toward government infractions of these rights would serve the cause of Taiwanese freedom far further than fretting about establishing better democratic oversights. Not only can “due process” be got around by several kinds of sufficiently determined corruption, but it places several intermediary levels of abstraction between the reality of people’s daily lives and the government’s use of force against them – thus numbing the rightful sense of moral outrage people naturally feel when they read of a case like this.

mike said...

Hmm did my comment get through or was it too large to get Blogger approval?

Michael Turton said...

No, I have to personally mdoerate all comments, mike, so if i am away from the computer they don't go through.

M said...

Mike - you also have no rational principle upon which you can weigh “collective benefits” against private loss. Instead, you have claimed that the only moral position is to treat property rights as absolute. This also raised important philosophical questions.

In practical terms, expropriation is a necessary tool of the modern state, which is why every country in the world (as far as I am aware) reserves these powers. In reality, property rights are never absolute, and there is no "moral" reason why they should be.

mike said...

No I know that, but I got some sort of "URI too large" error. Anyway... it's there now.

Michael Turton said...

mike --

Those farmers in Miaoli have that land because it was expropriated in the name of the collective good from some big landowner in the land reform and then handed out to the farmers.

Except that the big landowners had that land because the state promoted them in the Qing or Japanese colonial periods and enabled them to acquire it. As a collective good, of course.

Or maybe the Miaoli farmers got that land by finagling it from the aborigines, usually in defiance of Qing law, which was often quite enlightened. Which local magistrates did not enforce because such appropriations were a collective good.

But even that is merely a convenient fiction because, as everyone knows, the Qing and Japanese emperors owned all the things in their empires, including the land and the people who worked it. So it is pointless to talk of individual property rights; people merely had certain forms of usifruct rights.

You can talk about "property rights" in the abstract but in the real world they are generally historically contingent, and again, contingent on state action/inaction in the name of some collective good.

As (m) has already noted, your position would seem to make it impossible to carry out any sort of public policy to grow the economy, protect the environment, protect the public order, etc -- if the private property rights of single individuals can trump any project of the State. That is simply the mirror image of permitting the state to do whatever it wants, equally sterile.

The trick is to realize that in the real world state-individual relations must be negotiated, and that processes must be erected to protect the latter against the former. It is those negotiation processes that appear to have failed in Miaoli.

Michael

Michael Turton said...

But while I am here let me offer another interpretation of events.

Those farmers aren't stupid. They have land right next to an industrial park in an area with the second highest incomes in Taiwan, and expanding urban sprawl eating farmland at a couple of hundred acres annually. And each one of them had probably turned down offers to sell the land for a good price, hoping that the next offer would be even higher, and the next, and the next. Then one day their dreams of cashing in big came to a screeching halt when some bastard bureaucrat came in and said "we're expropriating this land....."

I have real trouble mustering sympathy for the farmers sometimes. That's one reason I emphasize the process rather than the positions, because if the situations were reversed, if the farmers woke up in the bodies of Foxconn's owner and the other CEOs in that science park, they'd do the same damn thing. It's not as simple as noble farmers have their property rights brutally violated by terrible corporations. More like "savvy land owners hoping to cash in beaten to the punch by even savvier corporate bastards."

Michael

mike said...

Of course the recognition of property rights has been contingent throughout history on many interpretations of “collective good” – including, rather saliently given our current geopolitical straits I would think, the individualism of 1776.

“As (m) has already noted, your position would seem to make it impossible to carry out any sort of public policy to grow the economy, protect the environment, protect the public order, etc -- if the private property rights of single individuals can trump any project of the State. That is simply the mirror image of permitting the state to do whatever it wants, equally sterile.”

Impossible for who? I think you have misunderstood not the severity, but the virility of my critique; growth in trade is subject to market demand and the creativity of entrepreneurs and inventors, not the magic wand of government; protection of the environment is an expensive and dangerous value that can only be earned by increased productivity; protection of public order can only mean the equal protection of the rights of all individuals – including their rights to property (remember; your position forces you to allow the rape of these rights, albeit with a bit of legal lubrication). You see the values implicit to your “grow the economy”, “protect the environment”, “protect the public order” can only be aggregated into collective action by the violence implied by a court order or a police escort – it is the cannibalisation of some people’s values to feed the appetites of others with contrary values. So long as you are committed to the premises of social democracy there is, and cannot be, any escape from the cannibal pot.

By contrast, a decision by government NOT to arrogate to itself the right to impose “collective goods” on people, but rather to permit a multiplicitous “segregation” of these values throughout the market economy would make it possible for more people (especially the poor) to not only keep intact the values that sustain their lives – such as producing more and better goods valued by other people, employing more people, taking steps to reduce energy use and pollution and so on – but to further advance their pursuit of these values without fear of State violence.

So you are both right and wrong. Yes my stand on the principle that property be inviolably private would make it impossible for government to aggregate (and thereby necessarily destroy) values in action. Yet the same stance also throws open all the possibilities for non-destructive advancement of values, values which ontologically after all, are the products of individual human lives.

p.s. Yes I don't doubt that your picture of "savvy farmers" who'd do the same thing if the boot were on the other foot might well be true.

Michael Turton said...

? I think you have misunderstood not the severity, but the virility of my critique;

Thanks for the discussion.

Thoth Harris said...

@MIke Fagan: I really like/appreciate your creative and fine use of language ("virility of my critique").
But I'm afraid Michael Turton either doesn't understand, appreciate the humour of, or is so deeply allergic to any ideology that is not his own that he brushes it off with a wave of his powerfully meek hand which will obviously soon inherit the earth, and all earths to come!

Sorry, Michael, I couldn't resist, after all your sniping at my comments, on my own explanations of my profile updates on Facebook, to boot! No harm intended. I just love language play! And I appreciate people who are not afraid to speak out even when people tell them to shut up. Vicarious pleasures and such.

Michael Turton said...

But I'm afraid Michael Turton either doesn't understand, appreciate the humour of, or is so deeply allergic to any ideology that is not his own

Thoth, you left out: "...or outgrew that Randite nonsense when he was 17."

Michael

Anonymous said...

Virile critique?? That's a deliberate oxymoron, right?

Amusing to see the slaves of some long-defunct libertarian egoist still agitating for the Reagan resurrection.

Michael Turton said...

Haha. I just re-read Mike Davis' awesome _Late Victorian Holocausts_ with its detailed and far-reaching discussion of the links between state violence, colonialism, "free market capitalism", "property rights", and the devastating El Nino/La Nina events of the late 19th century that basically created the Third World as we know it today. Fabulous book.

Michael

Thoth Harris said...

Sorry Michael & Anonymous, I should have said you guys have no humour at all. You politically correct dinosaurs are stuck in the 1990s and 1960s. Even Ayn Rand had more of a sense of humour than you. And she probably didn't have much of a humour centre in her brain because she likely had Asperger's.
You guys just love to simplify Ayn Rand, Libertarians, Conservatives, and conservatives, don't you! You love to just lump us all into one category and make adolescent comments about us. You join your FB groups, like Plug the Gulf with Atlas Shrugged and such, but even if you say you've read her books (which I don't doubt, but...means very little, cause you skim books so much you really can't truly appreciate books you claim to like, anywhere, like 99.9 percent or more of people I've met...). But that kind of behaviour really is adolescent, not the idea or ideal of a free market. What are your ideals? So many unresolvable contradictions in your thinking, too. Liberalism: the idea of "free speech for me, but not for thee!"

If you read the Twitter rants of conservative Philip McGough (pmmcgough) you really would see how simplistic reduction of such conservatives as us (me, him, and many others) are.

Moderation. Liberal no longer means moderate. It no longer means free. It is an absurdity wrapped in a disgrace wrapped in a fake profundity wrapped in a muddle of confusion. I just don't get it anymore. I used to. I used to be one. But now, I really do feel some genuine nostalgia for the Reagan era! It is your ill-humoured and Stalin-like demeanour that make us run for the shining hills.

mike said...

"...or outgrew that Randite nonsense when he was 17."

Well if that's true Turton, then, as magnificent a rhetorical device as the ad hominem undoubtedly is, surely a point by point rebuttal of my argument ought not to have given you too much trouble, no?

I can certainly imagine one or two good responses to my defense of property rights and I would hold you in some esteem if you were to take what I imagine for you would only be a requisite 10 mins or so to accurately compose one of these - if only for the value of further underscoring for your other readers why my position is so much untenable nonsense. I'm sure they would thank you for the service.

Michael Turton said...

thoth:

No one can respond to shit as stupid as this:

(which I don't doubt, but...means very little, cause you skim books so much you really can't truly appreciate books you claim to like, anywhere, like 99.9 percent or more of people I've met...)

++++++++++++

mike:

"defense of property rights"

A point by point rebuttal is unnecessary. You toss out terms like "property" "rights" "market" "state" "violence" etc as if they were totally unproblematic. But these things are all historically contingent, codified and defined by by a very messy combination of state action, state violence, social norms, our cognitive history, etc. The market and property rights cannot be an antidote to intrusions of the state on "liberty" because they are productions of state action -- there is no modern market of atomized individual property holders without the backing of state violence to create them, usually on some previous generation of landholders who had different ideas about how exchange relations and territories were related to social networks (as I tried to hint in the more simple post above). "Property" and "market" are never defined except in relation to some set of state-sustained social and power relations. Granovetter offered a pithy description of the unreality of your position in his classic 1985 paper:

"Much of the utilitarian tradition, including classical and neoclassical economics, assumes rational, self-interested behavior affected minimally by social relations, thus invoking an idealized state not far from that of these thought experiments".

Your vision of ahistorical, atomized, libertarian, individual property holders actually describes a settler class dependent on a colonial state to maintain them, hardly surprising since it is a self-serving fantasy that subconsciously invokes the images American pioneers in its service (with the deaths of millions of Indians quietly suppressed, of course). Thus Libertarianism is strongest in the Red States of the US West, since it is actually little more than a compensatory fantasy for the sad fact that those states can maintain their economies only by inflows of Federal dollars and exist only because state power was used to create and sustain the settlements as well as steal territory and define "property" in those areas. As Granovetter notes in that classic paper:

"It has long been recognized that the idealized markets of perfect competition have survived intellectual attack in part because self-regulating economic structures are politically attractive to many."

Michael

Michael Turton said...

That's interesting. Google said my comment was too long but then posted it anyway.

Thoth Harris said...

Geez, MIchael. I really thought you were more intelligent than to just dismiss me like that. What I said wasn't ---t. It's true. I know if from experience. But you don't base things so much on experience, personal, or otherwise. You just rehash and copy stuff from what other social scientists, etc. have done in the past. Which would be fine, if it was done creatively. But it's a close circle, for me. None may enter but everyone who nods their heads in complete agreeement.

Sorry, Michael. I am not a zombie. I am so tired of such trips. Power trips. Ego trips. Peer preesure. But you just ignore and ostracize. I most definitely am not complaining, just stating a fact. In fact, I would complain if you did claim to agree and then steal my ideas and then use it against me. This has happened many times before. At least you have the honesty, or the blindness, not to do that. I guess both are good.

In person, you are decent. Your work on Taiwan is tremendous. But when you are just bandying about on some political diatribe or whatever, American politics, or world politics...I really feel dismayed. If your mind was more open, and you didn't just label people, label me...for instance...and then claim to know what I am talking about, when you obviously don't and aren't even trying (it isn't that hard - I rarely use academic doublespeak). Enough. I tried. That's good.

To claim I am a Randite...man, that is idiotic. Rand had some good ideas, and so do some of the other people you condemn out of hand (why is subtlety impossible for you? why can't you just appreciate some things and throw out others? what the heck is so hard about THAT?

Anyway, Michael, maybe you won't respond, but at least some people will read my comment and will realize that I am an individual, not some box you are forcing me into. The thing is...what you are doing is so blatant to anyone with half a brain. And the sad thing is...I am pretty sure you have way more than half a brain. What's your excuse?

Thoth Harris said...

Excuse me, I meant closed circle, not close circle. Typo. But I'm sure the meaning of what I said will be lost on you, all the same Michael.

And as you know, Michael, I am not a strange to Foucauldean critiques, Barthean critques and the like. I choose to leave those behind, nonetheless. I feel annoyed by the lack of originality in academic writing these days. Just piles upon piles of the same. Always just quotes of quotes, without really saying anything new. Is newness everything? No, but style accounts for something. And the fact that you can't even appreciate Mike's style outside of the content of what he says makes me sad, Rand-influence or otherwise. But Michael, you may not understand me, but honestly, I don't really know if I understand what you are saying anymore. Pedantry: the ability, or the disability entailing repetitions without end. The same words, same thought, and lack of conceptual or real action. I think this encapsulates out age, the Obama-age, perfectly.
And yes, I am guilty of it, too. But as people in AA are surely in the habit of acknowledging (as TV shows never tire of revealing, as well) acknowledgement is the first step towards recovery.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but must interject here. It's really too much.

Noticing everyone having some kind of conviction, however...

Noticing the ones named Thoth and mike rant and rage. Tiresome!

Noticing the one named Turton argues, supports, and defines. Interesting!

D said...

Fantastically entertaining show, boys. Please do keep it up.

M said...

Michael is completely right of course. I would like to add a quote from Karl Polyani:
"The road to the free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled interventionism."
Nowhere is this more true than Taiwan. Mike and Thoth should start by reading about Taiwan under Japanese colonialism. At the moment their position is fundamentally ahistorical.

mike said...

“You toss out terms like "property" "rights" "market" "state" "violence" etc as if they were totally unproblematic. But these things are all historically contingent, codified and defined by by a very messy combination of state action, state violence, social norms, our cognitive history, etc.”

The collusion of State and market actors throughout history is well documented and I offer no resistance to that contention – because it is by and large true.*

But you are doing me an injustice here because on the one hand you refuse to face the plain meaning of words and on the other hand you are dropping (whether deliberately so or not I don’t know) the context within which I made my earlier remarks.

When I use those terms, I am using conceptual abstractions from reality, not wallowing in an endless train of historical details. If I use the term “chair”, I am also refering to an abstraction from innumerable empirical instances of chairs and there really ought to be no need to fret over the historical contingencies of chair design and social norms surrounding the use of chairs. So, yes I feel quite free to toss those words about – consider it a charitable assumption on my part that I am addressing myself to people capable of handling abstraction without lapsing into babble.

“The market and property rights…are productions of state action…”

But that is not the context – empirical status - in which I used those ideas. Since the gist of my posts here has been the morality, or rather the immorality, of the legal provision for “expropriation”, my use of the concept “property rights” was intended to be understood in that context, i.e. the moral nature of property, not its ever-precarious legal status; naturally, the legal recognition of property rights pre-supposes some form of legal framework which is usually erected by some form of State, but my focus is on the moral recognition of property rights - which originates as a conceptual product of the human mind rather than in the drunken dictation of a crowned thug.

Now if you would only stipulate to the context I have specified, rather than talking past me, it becomes obvious that your contention of the market as a product of the state is a logical impossiblity; since survival necessitates both the procurement and production of scarce resources by the limited scope of human action, a division of labour and trade among individuals is an unavoidable pre-condition for the establishment of a State.

The remainder of that comment is risible. You think I don’t know about, or even approve of what was done to the Native Americans?!

I shall reiterate one last time: the principle that property be privately owned (and therefore subject only to voluntary trade, not the threat of overwhelming State violence implied by an “expropriation”) is not only the foremost ethical implication of the premise that each individual human being owns his or her person (and may not therefore, be a slave), it is also the chief necessity of individual human survival in a political context.

The contrary position advocated by Turton – from the premise of social democracy – can offer no rational principle upon which infractions against private property can be defended from the predations of big business enabled by government. The best his position can offer is an uncertain degree of legal, and extremely fallible, oversight. When I consider that we in Taiwan are on a slippery sloap toward unification with a totalitarian State, it seems to me that this form of defence is not only morally weak but that it is also politically weak and should therefore be rejected by anyone who wants a chance (or who wants their children to have a chance) of getting through whatever the next few decades might bring.

*(Note to M: It isn’t a free market and never was, so be more careful about who you accuse of historical ignorance in future – you’re on a hiding to nothing with that – and so is Turton).

M said...

Mike, your "conceptual abstractions from reality" are irrelevant.
There is no real reason why "the principle that property be privately owned ... is ... the foremost ethical implication of the premise that each individual human being owns his or her person". You have just made a moral claim and then demanded that everyone else accepts it. If I simply deny your moral claim then there is nothing left to discuss.
A historical approach would be much more fruitful. It would then be clear that property rights are historically contingent and backed up ultimately by state violence.
By the way it is likely that the ownership of the land in Miaoli has already changed at least twice as the direct result of state action. (land reform programs at the beginning of the Japanese and KMT periods).

mike said...

If I simply deny your moral claim then there is nothing left to discuss.

Well almost... what remains to be discussed is how to guard against people who openly declare themselves to be thieves, which since you happily dismiss the moral basis of property rights, pretty much means you sunshine - but that you don't get to take part in that discussion.

Michael Turton said...

but my focus is on the moral recognition of property rights - which originates as a conceptual product of the human mind rather than in the drunken dictation of a crowned thug.

Now if you would only stipulate to the context I have specified, rather than talking past me, it becomes obvious that your contention of the market as a product of the state is a logical impossiblity;


Mike, I'm not talking past you. I'm directly addressing the central claim you make by noting reality on earth, not your von Mises-cum-Rand claims in Logical World (tm) about the morality of property.

The reality of "property rights" and modern "markets" is that their moral nature and moral claims are invented, promulgated, sustained, enforced, codified, and expanded, by state power. That is what history teaches, that is what scholars know. There are no markets without state intervention to sustain them (consider the problem of externalities, a constant issue for state-firm-individual relations. It nowhere appears in your thinking). If there is no state power to constantly eviscerate human social relations so the ahistorial, atomized, individual property holders interacting anonymously in modern markets of your ideas can exist, people return to their normal behavior of exchange relations being embedded in their social relations, the norm throughout human history.

If you respond, please cite relevant passages in major works from major scholars and thinkers on these issues, anyone from von Mises to Karl Marx to Charles Lindbloom to Oliver Williamson. Both (m) and I are familiar with the relevant literature and strongly empirical. Some historical examples of the success of your ideas may also be good.

Michael

Dixteel said...

"The reality of "property rights" and modern "markets" is that their moral nature and moral claims are invented, promulgated, sustained, enforced, codified, and expanded, by state power."

Hmm...but if you look at it another way the sense of owning property exist long before any state and government. Animals pee to mark their territory, and others either respect the claim or challenge the "owner" to a dual. There is some code of conduct right there.

Michael Turton said...

There is some code of conduct right there.

But there are no exchanges, and of course, territory is not property (you can win or lose it, but you can't exchange it).

And you've posited a social relation that governs the behavior of the critters involved.

In Fagan's view society is a colonial settler culture -- it's the only kind of culture whose society has no history and where people are atomized property holders, the nearest empirical realization of his ideas. Which is why libertarianism has followings only in nations with white settler cultures -- Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand, for example. The fantasy of being self-made is necessary only when you are not.

mike said...

“The reality of "property rights" and modern "markets" is that their moral nature and moral claims are invented, promulgated, sustained, enforced, codified, and expanded, by state power.”

No, no, no – your “reality” here can be claimed only on a doubly deliberate ignorance of aspect; on the one hand you are conflating the moral nature of property rights and markets with their legal status, and on the other hand you allow yourself to pass over the routine nature in which state power is everywhere used to destroy, steal, abuse, violate and repudiate the moral right to private property.

Look, this is what your position commits you to: were the government in Taipei to collapse tomorrow, you and your mates would run around looting, pillaging, raping, murdering and so on - are you really prepared to claim that?

The political reality in which markets and property rights exist and are routinely abused in Taiwan – and elsewhere – today can and ought to be challenged on moral grounds. Arguing that things have always been like this and must necessarily be so well into the future was precisely the sort of argument made against both Ghandi and King – and yet both men successfully used moral opposition to stare down and remove gross injustices perpetuated by State power.

For the benefit of other readers who may be new to this thread – I am arguing that the property rights of the farmers in Miaoli ought to be regarded as inviolable and that both the governments in Miaoli and Taipei ought to be stared down on clear, unambiguous and indefatiguable moral principle with the embrace of a program of non-violent civil disobedience if necessary in order to remove the legal provision for government “expropriation” of private property. Turton on the other hand is prepared merely to ask for more of the “legal” in this legalized theft, but I’m sure he will speak for himself further on that.

I'm outta here for the weekend, so I will not be able to respond further (e.g. on externalities, Von Mises and so on) until late on Sunday night.

Michael Turton said...

I'll look forward to your response.

Look, this is what your position commits you to: were the government in Taipei to collapse tomorrow, you and your mates would run around looting, pillaging, raping, murdering and so on - are you really prepared to claim that?

No, in the temporary absence of government, other forms of enforcement of social norms will take place. That's what actually happened here in 1947 when the government was tossed off the island. This is because humans exist in social networks and their exchange relations are embedded in those networks. But then, recognizing the massive social efficiencies of government, people would move to re-establish it ASAP. That too is what happens.

The only place I'd expect looting and rapine is among communities of asocial, ahistorical, atomized, individualist libertarian property owners. No social glue binds them together, and without government, they'd have no modern markets to sell to. :)

Michael

Michael Turton said...

Arguing that things have always been like this and must necessarily be so well into the future was precisely the sort of argument made against both Ghandi and King

This comparison is laughable, indeed, parodic in its inanity. Both men well understood -- being acutely intelligent victims of colonial processes -- that people who talk about the "morality" of property are simply preparing fine words to cover the use of state power to enforce "property" against the those without power.

I'm not arguing that "this is the way it has always been." I'm pointing out that there is no support in history for any positive outcomes from your "moral position". Everyone who has adopted it is a colonial exploiter, because it is a compensatory fantasy/justificatory regime for the use of state power in stealing land and resources from (a) and giving it to (b). How do you think the farmers got it in the first place? Do you think they dropped from the sky? Or they sprung from the earth? They got "property" because the Qing or the Japanese or the KMT destroyed the previous owners control of it through the application of state power, along with the social relations that underpinned their use of it.

Michael

vin said...

I'm not much for getting involved in these discussions anymore (though an "Arty alert" may still hold some power to motivate me), but I still enjoy reading them. I'm just contributing this to help nudge the total number of comments closer to 50.

Michael Turton said...

The record is 65. I do wish Blogger had a more sophisticated comment system.

mike said...

Yo Turton and co, I’m back early – my girlfriend didn’t really appreciate getting rained on all over this afternoon and the best part of this evening, so we cancelled. This comment will have to be posted in three parts due to Blogger’s limitation on number of characters…

OK then as a preliminary, let me say now that I expect nothing less than at the end of this discussion I be told I’m an evil zombie slave of Reagan and I should go fuck myself – really, you’d be letting yourselves down to actually allow this to end on anything resembling a pleasant note. I realize political vocabulary among westerners in Taiwan doesn’t usually include the word “freedom” without it being chained to its’ phrasal overlord “democracy” – in Uzi 9mm cadences – so of course I’ll be disappointed not to receive the “zombie-Regan-slave”, “Thatcher-muncher”, high-brow low blow treatment. Really, it’d be like nobody cared if that didn’t happen.

Right then, you can slur all you like about how the morality from which private property rights are derived is so “asocial”, “ahistorical” and “atomized” etc but it is actually little more than the basic algebra of human cognition – the ability to handle abstract concepts. Now you might like to have the derivation illustrated for you with sociohistorical apples and oranges, Jacks and Jills ad absurdum, but I’m far too easily bored for that, so I’m gonna atomize my way through here some more…

The political right to private property is a consequence of morality – a morality arising from the ontological recognition that human beings are individuals first, with membership of society not denied, but located in a way distant second place. That’s the chief alternator at work here which has allowed for the terrific acceleration of technological progress – and with it vast improvements to our individual chances of survival – over the last few centuries since the Enlightenment, despite the hindrances of the State.

Now, let’s get our hands dirty and open up that “alternator” metaphor:

A human being’s exercise of both complete authority and commensurate responsibility over her actions in a social context (i.e. one containing other people) – that is a political right. Its’ recognition as such turns on the more basic understanding that human beings do not have wings, fangs, claws or spin webs out of their nostrils with which to catch insects. As human beings, the form and method for our survival bestowed upon us by Nature is our capacity for reason – which, since we are biologically segregated into individual bodies – can only therefore be a capacity of particular individuals with the consequence that some individuals apply this capacity to the problem of staying alive quite well while others do so less well. This fact alone however does not permit the arrogation of force by some individuals (government, or if you prefer – big business in collusion with government) in order to constrain and direct the actions of others. Such a move is a direct violation of the natural endowment of a human being – her reason and the capacity it gives her for directing her own life on her own two feet.

There are two caveats to be recognized however: the first is that this capacity for reason is simply that – it offers no guarantee of success for it is fallible. The second is that it doesn’t work automatically – each human being must deliberately try to think if they are to survive.

mike said...

Now when the moral sanction to bear full authority over one’s property is recognized (primarily by other people both within and even without the community, and secondarily by the State) there then arises a potent possibility for exchange limited only by the interests, appetites and requirements of those other individuals. This limitation may act as a spur either for the production of new values – principally technologies, but also other goods and artifacts (foods, medicines etc) – or it may act as a spur to the imposition of force by some people over others in order to satiate values (principally the power of predation over other people’s lives) which may otherwise have gone unsated. This is the perpetual choice of human civilization; do we take our individualism straight or do we allow others to dilute it for us with little frozen blocks of what used to be somebody else’s values?

To the extent that the individual nature of political rights and the social institutions (chiefly, the market) implied by these rights is both recognized and respected by the State and not routinely violated day-in-day-out, we should expect to see a progressive easing of the task of survival and a multiplication of the possibilities for human advancement as the effects of free market activity by myriad individuals first accumulate (e.g. saving and investment in capital) and then filter back down into generalized conditions of material and social improvement (increased productivity). At least that is how my “alternator metaphor” works when it is fitted to the fully functioning engine of a predominantly individualist culture. Conversely, to the extent that the individual nature of rights is routinely abused by the State and violated day-in-day-out, then we should expect to see the opposite effect – of the increasing difficulty of the task of survival for many people (e.g. higher prices driven up by inflation necessitated by State spending and thus lower savings and capital investment) and the multiplication of crime and other social problems (higher unemployment and greater welfare-warfare dependency). That is how my alternator metaphor looks when it is hooked up to a commie engine that barely functions at all. In empirical reality of course, our current modern economies lie at various points on that vast expanse of grey between the binary poles of libertarian nirvana and totalitarian hell; ours are societies of mixed premises, and therefore mixed results.

That’s the basics behind my “atomized” morality of private property. Now to a couple of specifics I was challenged on:

When Turton speaks of “massive government efficiencies” he necessarily takes the perspective either of government itself, the big business bastards who benefit or of the archimedean economist content to consider mere aggregate numbers whilst conveniently ignoring who got fucked over in some “expropriation” stunt (unless perhaps it involves him or his mother or his best mate of course). It may be more efficient for everyone else (but always according to somebody’s point of view elevated above being merely a point of view – that’s your “national interest/collective good” jazz kids) for the government to bypass the necessary respect to your right to property and simply “expropriate” your land out of your ass to build a railway, a road, or a science park. I submit however, that such an understanding of “efficiency” is simply a collectivist sop intended to rob the people of their conceptual apprehension of what should properly be considered a crime.

mike said...

I was also asked about externalities (pollution and so forth – sometimes referred to as 3rd party damages) but it seems to me that the answer is obvious; a more thoroughly and impartially applied recognition of individual property rights in tort law which would require potential developers to consider the possible external costs of whatever business they are interested to set up. The classic Mises reference for that is Human Action, Chapter 23, section 6 p 654 – I have my own copy open before me right now, but anyone interested can find the link to an online version at my blog (there seems to be some problem with posting links in Blogger's comment thread) There are lots of other good discussions of the externality problem easily found elsewhere (Rothbard is usually pretty good on this).

The chief dangers to human progress have always come from the State – aside from the obvious examples of Communist China, the USSR and two World Wars – even the examples of colonial exploitation to which Turton refers in his outrageous contention that they somehow refute the moral nature of private property – even those injustices were largely made possible by the use/abuse of State power with the British Raj imposing horribly unjust taxes on the Indian population during a time of famine, and the American Democratic Party (oh yes!) organizing to prevent black people having the freedom to own firearms – arms which would have gone a long way to discouraging the predations of racist lynch mobs. It is the actions of the people in his historical examples, not their lying words, that are important – and I would ask that you, Turton, disown the insinuation that a person who argues for the moral defence of property rights is probably therefore a rootless colonial exploiter looking to obtain the power of the State for his own nefarious purposes. It is an insinuation that because I argue for X, I must therefore be a liar and secretly be lusting after Y, or that if I say “up”, I really mean “down” or when I say “Orwellian” I really meant to tag it as a “Turton-boggle”.

The social democratic position held by Turton and friends is to take that alternator metaphor I described earlier and to connect it up to an engine in which the opposed forces of individualist rights and the force of the State are forced into in an unstable, and I would add unsustainable, balance inadequately lubricated by the mechanisms of democracy. I realize my position may seem “extreme” but that is increasingly becoming a word for the conceptually retarded. Turton’s position has of course the appearance of the “golden mean” – somewhere “sensible” between two insane poles, but this is a mirage sustained only by your, dear readers, reluctance to think your way through these matters. Please do so.

Now, I think I’ve said enough – let the trashing commence. I won’t be back whatever else may be said (I have far better things to do than explain shit like this that should be more or less already appreciated by most people). Anyone who wants to continue the discussion – civilly – may do so over at my blog.

mike said...

I think I got that right, but I've never had to split a comment into three parts before, so I'm not sure. In case it didn't work I'll post it in its entirety over at my place.

vin said...

Hey, you passed 50! Yeah, not that I know much about it, but it seems like every blog template has deficiencies of one kind or another. For example, some of the templates Wordpress offers don't permit using the space to the left of the center space (which is for posts).

Michael Turton said...

I'll be back tomorrow. Traveling...