Property rights

Don’t trust the Zimbabwean government to dispense justice

How noble:

The Zimbabwean environment minister has called for the dentist who killed Cecil the lion to be extradited from the US to face trial for financing an illegal hunt…

“Unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin,” [Oppah Muchinguri] told a news conference on Friday. “We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable.”

Ignoring for a moment the morality of what the dentist has done, one should be forgiven for being cynical at the minister’s rush to deliver “justice”. Muchinguri’s leader, tyrant Robert Mugabe, not only recently fed elephant to guests at his own birthday party (as recounted by Tim Blair here), but has also been responsible for turning Zimbabwe into a total basket case, including the wholesale violation of property rights and the rule of law, which has plunged the nation into poverty:

… so long as the toxic Section 72 of our constitution remains in place; so long as court orders are allowed to continue to be ignored; so long as the law and international court judgments are allowed to continue to be spurned; so long as our government continues to justify racism and practice it in defiance of every human rights charter ever written, agriculture will continue to fail. Racist and corrupt kleptocracies will always fail their people.

Update:

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Tim Wilson on why property rights are human rights

This year, we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. More than a simple peace treaty between King John and his Barons, its legacy inspires modern concepts of the rule of law and constitutional government.

The Magna Carta also established the ‘clear principle’ of the protection of property against the arbitrary power of the state. As Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson argues in the latest edition of the IPA Review, it ‘essentially commenced the snowballing effect that has led to the modern idea of human rights.’

The Commissioner’s important article stresses the importance of property rights, and how they relate to human rights:

But the real justification for property rights is that it is a human right. The contemporary ‘progressive’ script on property rights is that they are essentially a right to protect existing privilege—demonstrating just how adrift many people are from understanding the very nature and origin of human rights.

Arguably property rights are the foundations of all human rights. Indeed, the very basis of natural rights theory is that people own their own bodies and should be free to exercise their faculties to pursue their lives, opportunities and enterprise unless they do harm to others. It is why liberals and conservatives oppose slavery.

Continue reading here.

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What Mad Max teaches us about the importance of property rights

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Mad Max: Fury Road opens in cinemas today, and it is already bringing in rave reviews. The film is being praised for realising a world so foreign to us – a world of anarchy and violence ruled by warlords.

So why is that so foreign to us? What is it about our society that stops us living in a world on anarchy?

Property rights.

Having complete ownership of property, and having that ownership recognised by other members of society, is the theoretical basis from which much of our laws derive.

For example, I have a phone. I can do anything I want with my phone as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s property. I can lend you my phone, but only I can decide to do that. You can’t take it. If you do, you will be punished by the state.

If we lived in a society that did not recognise property rights, we would live in the society seen in Mad Max. If an individual parked himself on the outback highways the film is set in and decided that no-one could use the roads and that anyone who tried would have to hand over their possessions to the individual, there would be no method of stopping it that didn’t involve violence.

So when you watch the film, rest assured that our society’s respect for property rights means we will never be in the same frantic high-speed chases as we run away from warlords. Our society might not make a better movie, but it makes a better life.

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Tim Wilson speaks on the importance of property rights

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Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson last week delivered a speech to the Australian Libertarian Society’s 3rd annual Friedman Conference. He spoke on the philosophy of property rights, and the importance of property rights to protecting human rights.

FreedomWatch was fortunate enough to obtain a transcript of the Freedom Commissioner’s excellent speech, which is included below:

Human rights adrift

Throughout the second half of 2014 I ran a national consultation looking at the human rights challenges in Australia, and particularly the role of free speech and association, religious freedom and property rights, as well as fostering a culture of responsibility accompanying rights.

While many people who attended the public forums disagreed with the focus of the consultations, it was the focus on property rights that drew the most criticism.

At a forum in Brisbane a representative from Amnesty Australia questioned the basis of the inclusion of property rights as part of a human rights consultation at all.

The simple answer to their question is that Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others [and] no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”.

Throughout the consultations property rights were consistently an issue raised by members of the public. Issues raised ranged from the treatment of older people selling their homes to access aged care through to what happens to people who permanently live in caravan parks because it is their gateway to affordable housing and invest in permanent annexes when the park owner sells the land.

These examples highlight one of the central myths that surround property rights: that they favour the rich. The rich can take care of themselves. They’ll always find ways to protect their property. It’s the poor and powerless who cannot. They need the protection of secure property rights.

But the more complex answer requires explaining that you can’t actually understand human rights unless you support the sanctity of property rights.

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Blocking websites is censorship

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On The Drum today, the IPA’s Chris Berg discusses the looming copyright amendments:

There are lots of problems with this bill. Its language is absurdly vague and broad. What counts as “facilitating” copyright infringement? Maybe it would block sites that offer virtual private networks, perhaps – those VPNs that Malcolm Turnbull has been encouraging us all to use.

But these are legislative technicalities. More importantly, blocking websites is censorship. The bill is an internet filter, no matter how stridently the Abbott Government rejects the comparison.

For more on this bill, and the nature of intellectual property, continue reading here.

Read Chris’ expert comments to the senate inquiry into Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, held last week, here.

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More bureaucracy gone mad

Ridiculous:

A PARK Orchards man says he will have to pay more than $17,000 in “green offsets” to axe 11 dead or diseased trees on his property.

Harry Miriklis wants to remove the ailing native trees to protect his children from falling branches and provide better vehicle access to his home.

But after applying for a permit, Mr Miriklis was told by Manningham Council he would need to stump up thousands of dollars through a broker to counterbalance the environmental loss of the trees.

One of the quotes from a broker for the offsets reached $17,820 — not including the cost of removal — with the money to be used to maintain a parcel of greenery in the Melton area.

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New restrictions on apartment planning undermine our liberties

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For residents in New South Wales, local governments now have even greater powers to refuse new apartment proposals on the grounds of size.  That’s right: you don’t know the correct size and composition of an apartment you’re going to live in; fortunately the government has it all worked out for you.

This is worrying not just for economic reasons – by increasing already high prices and stifling innovation – it is also a clear restriction of our liberties. The tangible result this month is the loss of a proposed 158 apartment development. More worrying is the precedent this sets for other Australian jurisdictions.

On April 9, Justice Sheahan in the NSW Land and Environment Court ruled against current widespread industry best practice. The set of rules the industry was following were introduced in 2002 (SEPP 65 design rules) with the aim to ‘improve the design quality of residential flat buildings in Australia’.

And of course the chosen approach was through top-down direction of minimum sizes, standards and so forth.  But the most recent decision, rather than removing these highly prescriptive rules, increased size restrictions by as much as 35%.

Aside from the scant economic rationale behind mandating apartment size – on top of existing housing affordability issues – there is no justification for enforcing rules on size and composition of private property. It is only the individual buyer and developer who decide on matters such as this; there is no need for the state to enter into such matters.

Maybe what we really need are more experiments such as these tiny houses in this ReasonTV video.

Other Australian jurisdictions must be wary of pressure to follow NSW on this issue; there is already planning groundswell in Victoria. This pressure must be resisted, no matter how much the debate is crafted in the rhetoric of the ‘public interest’. It will only result in restricted freedoms, higher prices and slowed innovation.

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Bureaucracy gone mad

Madness:

A farmer who has erected a hay bale sculpture depicting a bull serving a cow has been ordered to take it down and could face obscenity charges.

Bruce Cook, owner of Kactus Point Charolais stud erected the sculpture on his farm on the Murray Valley Highway at Lake Charm near Kerang as “a bit of fun.”

But after someone complained that the sculpture was offensive and obscene Mr Cook received a call from a police officer telling him he had to take it down and that he could be charged with “publishing pornographic images”.

“I couldn’t believe it. How could anyone be offended by something that happens out in the paddocks for real every day of the week?

“It’s just nature,” Mr Cook told The Weekly Times, which published a picture of the sculpture on Wednesday.

Since he built the sculpture on Good Friday, dozens of cars and trucks had stopped to admire it and have a bit of a chuckle, he said.

Tully Smith has summed this up best.

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Can property rights solve the problem of housing affordability?

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Houses in Australia are extraordinarily expensive. This graph from the IPA’s Dr Mikayla Novak demonstrates that housing is getting more expensive over time. Sharply so. Some people, young people in particular, feel the need to move interstate in order to buy a home.

So why is housing affordability an issue? And why isn’t the problem being solved?

At the heart of the housing affordability issue is a simple truth: supply is not meeting demand. There are more home buyers than there are homes and this is pushing prices up as competition for this limited housing stock intensifies over time.

One of the problems of the housing market is that there is a significant level of government intervention. A range of government policies place restrictions on construction and development. The IPA released a paper on these issues in the Western Australian context in 2009, and is soon to release another paper on the housing affordability crisis. In America, the problem is even worse.

The answer to much of the cost of housing issues in Australia lies in the removal of red tape. Dr Novak’s terrific Canberra Times article from November last year explains:

Lower levels of government in Australia have long maintained some direct land ownership, and presided over regulations such as planning restrictions, zoning requirements, and development assessments, which serve to artificially inflate the costs of land and property beyond their fundamental values.

This strategy is financially lucrative in that it furnishes public treasuries with an assured source of growing revenue.

As recent revelations from New South Wales have prominently attested, it also helps governing parties secure political donations from developers and other propertied interest groups.

But restricting the supply of land, or releasing publicly owned lots in dribs and drabs, and determining what kinds of properties can be established in which locations, often comes at a major cost to suppliers seeking to expand markets and to consumers searching for affordable products.

Selling off excess properties held by government, at federal, state, and local levels, will be one effective way to relax land supply constraints.

But if we want a more competitive economy and an affordable cost of living, then it is hard to go past the idea of comprehensively liberalising our existing land laws as perhaps the most important reform that governments ought to pursue.

The approach advocated by Dr Novak is the only antidote to the cost of housing problem. Giving land owners the power to make their own decisions about land and development will allow for demand to be met with more appropriate levels of supply. It’s a policy that’s both pragmatic and principled – deregulating land will decrease the cost of housing while also restoring private property rights.

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Submission: Plain packaging myth exposed

Last week, I made a submission to the Commonwealth government’s post-implementation review of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011.

My research demonstrates that the plain packaging policy experiment has failed to achieve its central objective – reducing tobacco consumption. Plain packaging has stripped away property rights and is based on a foundation of paternalism.

You can read the full submission here.

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