Murray Rothbard & Occupy Toronto

So the Occupiers are being kicked out. There’s a debate about whether they should be allowed to stay. Critics are saying “you’ve made your point, now go home” while Occupiers like Nick Williams are saying “This document [Charter of Rights & Freedoms] gives us the right to peacefully assemble, they’re trying to remove that right.”

In Toronto, city bureaucrats have posted notices on the tents claiming that the protesters are in violation of the Trespass to Property Act.

And technically the bureaucrats are right. This isn’t “our” land, “we” are not the government. The State has monopolized certain parks and structures and although they receive their paycheck by coercing against innocent person and property, the fact is is that the State effectively owns the property.

So what to do? Do the Occupiers have fundamental human rights to peacefully assemble? Just because some piece of paper says so? Like always, Murray Rothbard has foreseen this problem.

From Man, Economy & State

Alleged “human rights” can be boiled down to property rights, although in many cases this fact is obscured. Take, for example, the “human right” of free speech. Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever he likes. But the neglected question is: Where? Where does a man have this right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is no such thing as a separate “right to free speech”; there is only a man’s property right: the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary agreements with other property owners.

The concentration on vague and wholly “human” rights has not only obscured this fact but has led to the belief that there are, of necessity, all sorts of conflicts between individual rights and alleged “public policy” or the “public good.” These conflicts have, in turn, led people to contend that no rights can be absolute, that they must all be relative and tentative. Take, for example, the human right of “freedom of assembly.” Suppose that a citizens’ group wishes to demonstrate for a certain measure. It uses a street for this purpose. The police, on the other hand, break up the meeting on the ground that it obstructs traffic. Now, the point is that there is no way of resolving this conflict, except arbitrarily, because the government owns the streets. Government ownership, as we have seen, inevitably breeds insoluble conflicts. For, on the one hand, the citizens’ group can argue that they are taxpayers and are therefore entitled to use the streets for assembly, while, on the other hand, the police are right that traffic is obstructed. There is no rational way to resolve the conflict because there is as yet no true ownership of the valuable street-resource. In a purely free society, where the streets are privately owned, the question would be simple: it would be for the streetowner to decide, and it would be the concern of the citizens’ group to try to rent the street space voluntarily from the owner. If all ownership were private, it would be quite clear that the citizens did not have any nebulous “right of assembly.” Their right would be the property right of using their money in an effort to buy or rent space on which to make their demonstration, and they could do so only if the owner of the street agreed to the deal.

So there you have it. Seems pretty obvious, eh? Government ownership breeds conflict. The Occupiers should find some private land to occupy because, as Rothbard points out, government ownership breeds conflict. And this conflict over occupying public parks is distracting from the real message of the Occupiers…. what is it again? Income inequality or something?

3 Responses to “Murray Rothbard & Occupy Toronto”

  1. Caleb says:

    True, but the OWS aren't trying to confiscate the property. Technically, they are preventing others from using that certain area where they've camped out (Robert David Graham's article comes to mind: http://erratasec.blogspot.com/2011/10/independent…. And since we're all taxpayers… well as Rothbard explained: government ownership breeds conflict that can only be solved arbitrarily.

    Of course, occupying "crown" land is much more preferable than violating private property. Occupying Wal-Mart or shopping malls during the holiday season is just stupid (imo)

    • mstob says:

      I think each Occupy protest should be handled on a case by case basis. The movement as a whole should be generalized. I was referring to the protests in Ottawa which are taking place on government land. It is true that all Canadians may have paid some taxes to fund the park, but I don't think that that grants them a right to remove protestors from Confederation Park.

      Someone who has set up a tent in a public park in Ottawa, spent several weeks sleeping and living there, aggressed against no private property, seems to have a more legitimate claim to a portion of that land than a taxpayer in Vancouver.

  2. mstob says:

    This is a pretty interesting issue. While I do not agree with the views held by the OWS movement, I don't see any reason why those camping out on state land should be removed.

    Rothbard, Hoppe and other libertarian theorists have argued that occupying and confiscating state property is a legitimate way of privatizing unowned assets. I tend to take this view as well. Here in Ottawa, why should those camping in Confederation Park not be allowed to stay there indefinitely? They are not preventing others from spending time in the park and are not aggressing against private property.

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