Is Foreclosure Resistance Libertarian?
Here we have a left-libertarian hailing the leftist group ACORN’s campaign promoting civil disobedience to resist home foreclosures–that is, they support mortgagees squatting on property owned by the mortgage holder. Argues our left-libertarian:
“This is a case where real property rights don’t agree with property titles as recognized by the state. The banksters are a government-backed cartel whose profits principally accrue from their illegitimate (government granted) monopoly privileges — so claims that the homes in question are property of the banks have no merit in terms of libertarian theory. Resistance to foreclosures is thus fully libertarian. Please support ACORNs foreclosure resistance campaign.”
And what about renters? Renting is economically similar to holding a mortgage. Should deadbeat renters be able to squat in their apartments, and tell the evil, capitalistic slumlords “go away, you’re not the real owner”? If not, then I guess banks ought to switch from granting mortgages to just doing lease-to-own contracts. Recall also the recent case of left-libertarians cheering on laid-off union factory workers in Chicago trespassing on private property. Should the recently laid-off lawyers squat in their law firms’ offices?
This also reminds of Ayn Rand’s view that the Western oil companies were the “real” owners of the Arabian oil fields, even though they did the developing under an agreement with the Arab host states–as I recall, Rand wrote in The Objectivist Newsletter that Arabs, like Palestinians, were barbarians, and had no rights, including property rights (I cannot find this — if anyone has the exact source and quote, please send to me; incidentally, I discuss the international law of the Arab oil expropriations in detail in my book International Investment, Political Risk, and Dispute Resolution: A Practitioner’s Guide (Oxford University Press, 2005), ch. 5, Sec. A; also, Introdution, and ch. 4). After all, as Objectivist Robert Tracinski writes, “The Saudis did not create their oil fields. The oil was discovered and drilled for by American, British and French oil companies. These firms were the rightful owners of the oil, and until the 1950s, their rights were mostly respected.  The Arab chieftains who ruled the region had no idea the oil was there and no idea what to use it for; they were still riding camels.”
Nevermind the existence of a contract. Nevermind the inconsistency between this view and Rand’s view that the US government is under no obligation to rescue American citizens who are harmed or jailed while visiting communist regimes, because if you do that, you take your chances.
Rand basically felt that the Arab states were primitive and “bad”; therefore the good, heroic, individualist Western oil companies are the “true” owners. Likewise, our left-libertarians are arguing that because the banks are illegitimate and have no proper title to homes they hold mortgages on, the current possessor is the “true” owner. Now, no doubt the banksters and Arab states all have unclean hands. But why does the defect in the claims of such actors mean the current possessor of property own it? In the case of homes, why is the renter or mortgagee the “owner”? Why are workers the owner of the factory? Why are the oil companies the owners of the oil fields? After all, when you develop an oil field with the permission of the surface owner, the surface owner retains mineral rights. In the case of a home currently occupied by a deadbeat Democrat or Republican, why is that statist the owner, even if the banks aren’t? Maybe the employed taxpayers are. Maybe the Iraqi citizens with dead family members obliterated by US war supported by typical US homeowners have a better claim to these assets than the possessor has.
Update: Karen De Coster’s excellent LRC post, “Rothbardians” For ACORN and Against Private Property.
Also: Justin Milling points me to this Ayn Rand interview with Phil Donahue, where Rand argues that American oil companies are the legitimate owners of Arabian oil fields (starting at about 8:15 in part 2; continuing on to part 3, below). Rand says, of the Arabian countries who nationalized oil concessions previously granted to Western oil companies, “They have no right to their soil if they do nothing with it. Well, rights are not involved in those primitive societies. But they make a deal with us, they want to bring us in to develop their oil, and then they try to exploit and to literally murder us by means of that oil. That is an unforgivable crime.”