In Support of Dale Farm Residents

The eviction of the gypsy encampment at Dale Farm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-15357932
has been a cause embraced by the radical left, anti-capitalist movement, so it is odd to find myself agreeing with them.

Let’s look at some of the arguments the pro-eviction camp put forward, that I fully agree with.

1. “The law should apply equally to everyone. I would not be allowed to build a house in my garden without planning permission, so why should Gypsy developments be allowed without permission.”

2. “Nobody should have to put up with nuisance neighbours. If people commit crimes then they should face the consequences.”

The first argument that the law should apply equally to everyone is reasonable, but is it universally true?

What if the law itself is unjust.

Laws are made by the State and can be objectionable. What about the Nuremberg Laws introduced in Nazi Germany that made it illegal for non Jews and Jews to have sex, or the South African Apartheid law that made mixed race marriages illegal ?

If a law is unjust, then the morally correct thing to do is support those who reject it, not to endorse its existence and demand universal adherence to it !

For the Libertarian laws fall into two broad groups:

1. Those laws that protect the rights of an individual and their justly acquired property. e.g. laws against Murder, Rape, Robbery, Fraud, etc. These laws are simply the legal codification of the Non Aggression Principle (NAP) in various specific circumstances. These laws constitute the core belief of Libertarians and must therefore be considered by them to be just.

2. Those laws that sanction state intervention into the activities of the individual for what the State deems to be their own good, or the public good, etc. e.g Laws against not wearing a seat-belt, laws requiring the payment of taxes, laws forbidding the opening of shops on Sunday’s, laws setting a minimum wage, etc. These laws are the codification of State control and are the antithesis of Libertarianism. For the Libertarian all such laws are inherently unjust.

So in the Dale Farm case we have a group of people who have purchased some land in a voluntary exchange with another party. They have decided to use their property to live on. In and of itself, living on land you have justly acquired is not a violation of the non aggression principle (We will deal with the bad behaviour issue further on). The only thing it violates is a law imposed by the state to control what people may or may not build on their own property. To a Libertarian such a law is inherently unjust.

Yes the law should apply equally to everyone but this law (and all planning control laws) should be abolished.

All people should be allowed to build a house in their back garden in the same way that the Gypsy encampment should be allowed.

The Libertarian’s argument is with the state law, not with the Gypsy encampment who are fighting for a right that, on principle, we should fully support.

So let’s move on to the second argument about nuisance neighbours.

If the lives of the other residents around the Dale Farm area are made miserable by anti-social behaviour from residents of the Gypsy encampment, then that is clearly an issue that needs to be dealt with.

Nobody should be subject to violence, threat of violence, damage to their property, etc. All of these things are against the Libertarian Non Aggression Principle. Those who commit these acts should be punished (and under a Rothbardian Justice system the penalties would be much more severe and focused on restitution and punishment, not rehabilitation)

But before rushing to evict the encapment, a few questions need to be asked:

1. Is the entire community, including all the women and children, guilty of these crimes ?
2. Can it be right to punish everyone in a group for the acts of some members of the group?
3. We don’t evict convicted burglers, rapists or even murderers from their homes, so why is this punishment suitable for the lesser crime of anti-social behaviour ?

Take away the prejudices and stereotypes surrounding gypsies and ask yourself, would you think it acceptable to evict a local family from their home and demolish it, if the teenage child of the family was causing a violent nuisance in your neighbourhood?

Wouldn’t a more appropriate response be to punish the violent offender.

I agree that  “Nobody should have to put up with nuisance neighbours. If people commit crimes then they should face the consequences.”

If there is a crime problem centred on the Dale Farm encampment, we should be protesting that the state run police service don’t catch the criminals and that the state run court system doesn’t punish them sufficiently, not supporting the wholesale ethnic cleansing of a group from their own land because the group contains some suspected offenders.

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  • M_soak

    Putting the current issue aside, where would protecting the right to a decent quality of life fit in to Libertrian beliefs if planning laws are inherently unjust? Wouldn’t this leave my neighbour free to build a tower block in her garden?

    • The free market and voluntary agreements can always find solutions to such problems. 

      The fisrt planning control legislation didn’t come into force in the UK until 1947. Prior to that development was largely unregulated. A short walk around any community built in the 1700’s, 1800’s or early 1900’s shows that the absence of State control did not  lead to catastrophic or ugly development.

      In a Libertarian society housing developers would buy land and build homes on it. They could then sell the homes subject to any number of restrictions.

      They could sell them with a condition that nobody builds tower blocks in the gardens. This would make them easier to sell, because very few people want tower blocks in their gardens and very few people want to build them.

      They could sell them with a condition that nobody puts up garden sheds or washing lines in the garden, or parks vans on the drive. This would appeal to some who would buy them and put others off who would chose to live in a less restricted development.

      They could sell them with the right to build additional property up to a certain size and only in a certain style, etc, etc, etc.

      In a free market developers would cater for all the common planning and lifestyle prejudices without forcing anyone to do anything.

      People would be much more aware of the potential uses of adjacent land which would alter market prices. i.e. a house in an area of land where all the surrounding land has agreed restrictions would be worth more than one next to unrestricted land. 

      People would factor this into the calculation that already includes location, size, cost, transport links, schools, etc, etc that is used to decide where they will live.

      As a Libertarian I have no objection to voluntary agreements to restrict development being included in the titles to land. The objection is to the State imposition of blanket rules.

      • Craigharley2

        Surely by talking about restricted land in the sense you are you are agreeing in favour of regulation. The reason we need a State imposition of blanket rules is the same reason we need a law protecting the minimum wage. It is to protect those less able or competent enough to fight their own corner effectively against the corporations and to promote equal opportunities right across the board. 

        • M_soak

          @Craigharley2 – ‘protect those less able or competent’ this is a right wing libertarian blog, so the less able are there to be bullied.

          • Who are the less able or competent? 
            “I am more able than some and less able than others. More competent in some areas than others and less competent in some areas than others”This statement is true for everyone on the planet, who exactly decides who is to be protected from whom ?

          • M_soak

            Then you would agree that there are people who are less competent in the area of understanding, and defending their side, of voluntary arguments?

            It would be no less idealistic to say that people who less competant in specific, important, areas should be protected from those who would abuse this lack of competance.

          • M_soak

            should have been voluntary ‘argreements’.

          • In any agreement the parties have different competences. Who is to judge what they are and how much intervention will equalize things exactly without tipping the balance too far the other way.

        • Regulation is State imposed control, voluntary agreements to restrict things between consenting adults are entirely different. I am in favour of the freedom to contract on any terms that both parties find agreeable, I am not in favour of regulation.

          The minimum wage is actually an excellent example of why regulation is a bad thing.
          The idea of the minimum wage is to increase the living standards of the low skilled worker, above that which they can earn from voluntary agreements with employers in a free market.

          What it actually accomplishes is a net lowering of living standards for low skilled workers…

          The reason that businesses employ people is because they generate more profit for the organization than they cost to employ. A profit motivated employer will continue to recruit more and more people until the extra profit gained by adding another person is less than they cost to employ.

          A minimum wage law increases the cost of employing low skilled labour. This means that the point at which employers stop taking on additional staff comes sooner. So less low skilled workers are employed.

          It gets worse, the increased cost of low skilled labour means that in some circumstances it tips the balance, making it more cost effective to replace the low skilled workers with machinery, rather than pay them at the new higher rate. This leads to more low skilled workers losing their jobs.

          It gets even worse, the increased cost of low skilled jobs means that employers have to pay a rate that in the open market can attract a higher skilled employee. They therefore re-design jobs to include some low skilled work and some higher skilled work to justify the higher rate. Lacking the higher skills means that jobs suitable for those only with low skills disappear and more low skilled workers lose their jobs.

          It gets even worse, for some companies that employ large numbers of low skilled workers the increase in their costs can make their whole business model unprofitable and they go bankrupt. This leads to the closure of the types of businesses that employ large numbers of low skilled workers, so more low skilled workers lose their jobs.

          The net result of a minimum wage is that a far greater number of low skilled workers become unemployed whilst a minority earn a higher hourly rate.

          When the minimum wage is below the market rate for the job (as it is in the USA) it has no effect, as soon as it rises above the market rate the inevitable consequence is increased unemployment.

          The UK now has record levels of youth unemployment, a group that because of a lack of experience are generally lower skilled.

          For a fuller examination of the relationship between the minimum wage and youth unemployment, try here: http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/tax-and-economy/how-to-beat-youth-unemployment/

          • M_soak

            whoa there, there is no evidence for any of this, it’s stuff that’s usually trotted out by employers who wish they were still able to pay their employees even less than they are worth.

            I don’t actually agree with a minimum wage regulation, and I have worked at that end of the market, but the one thing it has dome is made greedy empoyers easily idetifiable.

          • What evidence do you need, a simple understanding of economics is all that is required. The conclusions logically follow. Show me why the reasoning is flawed and we can debate the point. You assume that employers are greedy wanting to pay people less than they are “worth” but employees want to be paid as much as they can get as well. The only thing that determines what something is “worth” is the price it can command in a free market voluntary exchange between a willing buyer and a willing seller. Like so many people with left wing views, it is the complete ignorance of economics that makes your position untenable.

          • M_soak

            You have made statements that have the appearance of being based on real evidence, and when these are questioned you respond that you don’t need evidence as conclusions logically follow. That depends on the path your logic follows, and economics, being a
            social science, is prone to throwing up surprises.

            The truth appears to
            be that the introduction of the minimum wage has had little or no effect
            on employment, and, despite what you are trying to claim, there is no
            definitive proof otherwise. I
            could make statements that are not based on any kind of evidence too and
            respond to criticism of them in the usual right wing manor 0f
            attempting to ridicule the opposition, again without substance.

            I’m not sure I have left wing views, I opened the discussion as I want to find an alternative to state intervention, I don’t like the idea of state based socialism. I do assume that employers are greedy, but I also assume that employees are too, this is probably the root of the problem, in my opinion, but it needn’t be the case.

            In reality, if Tesco were my neighbour, I would have no problem being described as the weaker party when (and definately not if) they renaged on our voluntary agreement and decided to do what the hell they wanted. And my suspicion is, and you have now reinforced this, that the right wing ARE Tesco’s.

            I too would like to take away power from government bureaucrats, but I believe your approach would effectively give this power to private corporations, compared to which we are weak.

          • If I understand the law of gravity, I do not need to show evidence that a particular apple will fall from a particular tree to the ground. Once I understand the nature of the forces at work it is clear that objects with mass will always be pulled towards the earth by gravity.

            The problem with empirical evidence in the social sciences is that you cannot isolate the variables at work, so it is hard to see which things are causing what. 

            To follow through on my gravity analogy. If I stand at the top of a tower on a windy day and drop a feather it may go upwards. This does not mean that gravity has been empirically disproved and no longer exists, it means that other factors, such as the wind have overcome the force of gravity. If I drop a pea, it may not fall to the ground, because gravity is overwhelmed by other factors. It does not mean that gravity is not having an effect. However the larger the object I drop, the more the impact of gravity can be seen amongst the chaos of the other factors. If I drop a cannon ball, you can be sure it will fall to the ground.

            Empirical studies on the impact of the minimum wage suffer from the same problem. If the minimum wage is less than the market rate it is not expected to have any impact. If it rises just above the minimum rate it is like the feather in the wind. It has a negative effect, but it can’t be seen amongst the changes in industry, technology, demographics, etc, etc, etc. The higher the rate is set above the market rate the more strongly the negative impacts can be seen.

            Imagine that the minimum wage was set at £100. Do you really think that we would all become rich, or would the things I highlight above, inevitably happen and all but the most skilled and valuable employees would find themselves unemployed ?

          • “In reality, if Tesco were my neighbour, I would have no problem being described as the weaker party when (and definately not if) they renaged on our voluntary agreement and decided to do what the hell they wanted.”
            The strength in any negotiating position is not determined by corporate size. It is determined by each party’s BATNA. (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement). If you own a small piece of land that Tesco need to get access to their site, then you are not the weaker party. You are in a position to “extort” a huge price for your land. Should Tesco be protected from your power ?

            If Tesco (or you) break a contract then the law should protect the rights of the party who suffers. That is not an issue of regulation it is an issue of having a working legal system

          • M_soak

            But Tesco’s could make my life a living hell without breaking any law.

          • I think they have more important things to worry about!

          • M_soak

            and, being a faceless corporation, they are far more able to ruin the quality of my life than I can theirs, so I would say that I am at a disadvantage, and that they are stronger in this situation.

      • M_soak

        That’s not strictly true is it, thatched roofs were banned in london from the 13c, and there were laws regarding the direction of rafters introduced in the mid 19c, and that’s just stuff I know of without looking it up.

        I agree with you taht state control should be reduced, but there will always be people who will ‘push it’ a little bit, and the weak will have their freedom reduced by these people.

        • I did say largely unregulated. It was certainly the case that ownership of land was all that was needed to develop it. http://www.planning-applications.co.uk/an%20introduction.htm