Monday, 16 April 2012

Against Jui-Chung Allen Li (李瑞中)

The bleeding over the theft of the Wangs' property in Taipei continues today in the editorial pages of the Taipei Times. Today's attempt to treat the wound is by one Jui-Chung Allen Li (李瑞中) who is apparently an assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of European and American Studies. Like those that preceded it, this one is also wrong but... perhaps slightly less so. Her first sentence...
"The fundamental problem with the forced demolition of houses in the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) area of Taipei City’s Shilin District (士林) has been the questionable legitimacy claimed by the government to intervene in the decision of landowners on whether to participate in an urban renewal project."
"Questionable legitimacy"... well, was what the Taipei City government did illegal? No: it was legally entitled to what it did under the Urban Renewal Act. Were the actions of the government legal, but somehow "undemocratic"? No: the Urban Renewal Act is a democratically passed piece of legislation. What, therefore, does Li have in mind with her use of the term "legitimacy" (surely she cannot seriously mean property rights)?

Apparently not...
"After the Wenlin Yuan incident last month, netizens compiled a map of urban renewal projects in Taipei City. This showed that most projects are concentrated in the Zhongzheng (中正) and Da-an (大安) districts, where land prices are high. Fewer projects were in older districts, such as Datong (大同) and Wanhua (萬華), that are perhaps more in need of urban renewal, and where land prices are much lower."
Ah... economic inequality. We can see where this is going can't we? Government theft of property may be excused by the pan-greens on condition that it is carried out with the intention of redressing economic inequality, the principe-de-gurre of the Statist Left.
"As such, one apparent consequence of the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例) is that the authorities seem to be reinforcing, rather than challenging, existing economic inequality. In other words, the state’s legislative controls on urban renewal run counter to the justice principle proposed by liberal egalitarians such as John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin."
The Statist Left and their plea to "social justice" is erroneous on at least two counts.

First, theft does not become not-theft just because of the intentions of those carrying out the theft, and nor does it become not-theft on account of the allegedly beneficial consequences it may have for other people. To claim otherwise is to insist upon the "justice" of economic cannibalism.

Second, if the urban renewal projects of the city government were carried out in those areas "perhaps more in need of urban renewal", then it will presumably be the relatively poor who will suffer the theft of their properties if they do not agree to sell-up, and the implicit presumption of pragmatists like Allen-Li that crimes can be committed against the poor, but excused because they were intended for their own good... is just the most atrocious arrogance.

If I had to guess, I would say that Allen-Li seems to be thinking about the relation between State and society for the first time. The following paragraph, for instance, is presented with no other apparent purpose than a vague waft of an uncertain hand in the direction of an argument for the necessity of the State:
"The government intervenes in people’s lives in many ways, whether through the requirement to wear a crash helmet when riding a scooter or motorcycle, the mandatory use of a seatbelt in the backseat of their cars, or the fines imposed on those caught idling their cars for longer than three minutes."
And that's that is it? Case rested? The government can arrogate to itself the power to punish people over the minutae of everyday life, and you can't even see the danger in that?
"Hopefully, the example of the Wenlin Yuan urban renewal project will trigger greater discussion on housing justice and a critical review of rights and obligations in the relationship between the state and the public."
Hopefully, searching for her own name on google will bring Allen-Li here to read my blog, where she will learn why the modifier "housing" does not belong in front of "justice".

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