The Morality of Occupying Private Property

That is the subject of a post by Steve Horwitz at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Horwitz writes:

So as the Occupy movement switches tactics to occupy foreclosed homes, I pose the following questions for my colleagues here at BHL and the commentariat:

1. Given that many of those homes are the property of the very same banks who were bailed out with their/our tax dollars, is there any reason to object to Occupiers simply reclaiming property that we could argue, with some strong moral force, actually belongs to “them/us” anyway?

2. And given the questionable legality of the foreclosure tactics banks have used, isn’t there a legitimate question of whether those homes really belong to the banks?…

…I don’t have a clear answer to either question myself, but I don’t think it’s clear and obvious that these attempts to occupy foreclosed houses are wrong on libertarian grounds.

Let us parse Horwitz’s questions:

1. The use of tax dollars to bail out (some) banks does not mean the “we” own the banks; it means that the banks owe “us” money.

Even accepting for the sake of argument the dubious claim that the foreclosed houses are “our” property, by what right does a small fraction of the populace — a fraction that probably pays far less than its “fair share” of taxes — occupy “our” property? If the foreclosed homes are “our” property, they should be sold and the proceeds returned to taxpayers in proportion to the taxes they pay. Occupiers have no particular right of occupation, and their occupation probably would diminish the value of the property they occupy, thus depriving taxpayers of what is rightly theirs.

The “logic” of question 1 leads to such spectacles as the occupations of public parks and streets,  which occupations deny large numbers of taxpayers the peaceful enjoyment of the facilities for which they paid.

2. If the homes really do not belong to the banks — a sweeping and unproved assertion — then they belong to the persons on whom the banks foreclosed and/or taxpayers in general (accepting for the sake argument the dubious claim that the foreclosed houses are “our” property). As explained above, occupiers have no claim on foreclosed homes. Accordingly, their occupation of foreclosed homes is an immoral breach of the property rights of the rightful owners.

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Perhaps Horwitz is merely being provocative, but the fact that he doesn’t have a “clear answer” to either question indicates that his grasp of moral principles is weak. In that respect, he is in company with several of his co-bloggers at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Related posts:
A True Flat Tax
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?