Thursday, June 20, 2013

squatter water torture

Let's hope that Bangladesh follows through on this promise to bring water pipes to every Dhaka shantytown and squatter community in the next two years. As I said in a recent talk at TEDx Hamburg (not online yet, but it will be soon): if government's won't provide water, it's socially good for squatters to steal it. Two million people a year die of water borne diseases--and, whether squatters steal municipal water or government brings it, providing potable water to neighborhoods that have previously been denied it could save hundreds of thousands of lives.


Doyle said...

I didn't realise at all the extent of this issue..

Have you got the Tedx link?
Be great to see the video


rn said...

the TEDx talk is up:

David Stocker said...

I commented a few years ago on the favelas. We had a discussion about Murray Rothbard. I just watched your TED Hamburg video and I see that you are seeing the light. You might want to read Walter Blocks book on "Defending the Undefendable". He would agree with you the good of the pirate and the System D economy. Not sure I agree with you on theft(it is certainly profitable to be a thief but it does cost everyone else). You are slowly becoming a Rothbardian Anarcho Capitalist. You just need to understand the importance of secure property rights.

rn said...

Thanks, David. I remember your comments and I have to thank you for pushing me to read Rothbard more seriously.

I don't know if I'm the best judge of the direction I'm heading, but I'm finding myself more drawn towards social anarchism (a la Kropotkin, Murray Bookchin, & Colin Ward) than Rothbard's or Block's hard economic version. I don't endorse piracy, robbery, squatting and smuggling as pure economic things. Rather, I highlight them for their socially important results.

In the end, I'm not overly worried about ideology. I'm just trying to gain and propagate some understanding of the beautiful and brave ways that people live in this harsh and unjust world.

David said...


I am glad you remembered my comments. I really enjoy reading your work and listening to your TED lectures.

Interesting that you bring up both Kropotkin and Bookchin. There is an article about them on the von Mises website ( ). A Rothbardian is fine with communism as long as it is voluntary. Rothbard had associations with Bookchin. The key with the Rothbardian is voluntary associations. The trouble comes in the coercion.

From your talk, the key swing come when you start talking about the social contract. It this point you create a positive obligation and therefore coercion. Forced mutual aid seems like a contradiction. It suggests on party loses while one party wins. Mutual aid means both parties win. You are assuming your ideas, forced on others, benefits both. They just can't see it. I think that is a large assumption and prone to Bastiat's Broken Window Fallacy.

As far as ideology, the Rothbardian is a logical positivist first. They see economics as a branch of logic and work from axioms (see Mises Human Action). This is how they try to understand the world. Through logic the see things that necessarily have to be true. Rothbard is an Austrian economist first, the libertarianism ideology is derived from his austrianism that helps him understand the world.

I think that the "hardness" of the Rothbardian is more akin to gravity. While it seems harsh to you they would see it as a true truth. You cant wish it away.

One more note, I see your "system D" as a pretty pure form of the free market (less stable property rights). It is voluntary exchange, do it yourself, self reliant and it delivers the goods where they are needed. System A is protectionist, manipulated and run by the guys with the guns.

Great talking to you. Again a really like your thoughts. They are out of the box for sure. Give Rothbard a chance- he grows on you.


rn said...

Great continuing the conversation with you, David. But I don't envision myself ever signing on as a Rothbard acolyte. On economic things, I tend to agree with Georg Simmel: 'the fact that two people exchange their products is by no means simply an economic fact. Such a fact--that is, one whose content would be exhausted in the image that economics presents of it--does not exist.'

And on property, I tend to agree with Ambrose Bierce: 'The theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some have the right to prevent others from living.'

So I'm not sure there is any decent logic to economics or property.

Also, my comments on the social contract stem from this conundrum: government goes out of its way to harm System D merchants and then demonizes them for not paying taxes. Taxation depends on a kind of social contract--and paying taxes while being persecuted by government is lose/lose for the people in System D.

I'm sure we'll be talking more about all this.

David Stocker said...

I am impressed by your history of economic thought. I am not and economist (just an amateur). I am and architect/ urbanist and come though all of this from being frustrated by the ability of "planners" to "design" anything that has real life and vitality. The places I like the most are designed by everyone and no one. It's why I became interested in the favelas. They have the same patterns that are present in the really beautiful places of the world. You probably like Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander as well.

Of course Mises, in the Theory of Money and Credit. gets his "exchange" from Simmel. You are concentrating on monetary exchange but things like love are also exchange. You take love for the poor (a greater good) and exchange it for your time (a lesser good). We all have an ordinal system of values that we can of course criticize but money is just one means.

I don't see a scarcity for a place to live with a Rothbardian homesteading philosophy. Homesteading if land mixed with labor. Only the government gives title to someone for Montana or the Mooon for making a claim. Homesteading can be done on the land, the sea, under the ground, over the sea, under the sea and too the edges of the universe. We are lacking creativity not space. I do agree government produces a scarcity (I am not arguing for government though, I take the anarchist position). You call them squatters. I call them homesteaders and they deserve a right to title (especially the one that take government land) to exchange their homestead as they see best.

As far as taxation, we agree. The poor get a lose/ lose. I just argue that so does the system A economy. At best they get a lose/ sometimes win system. There are winners but that is the politicians and the "crony" capitialist.

As far as logic, at least Aristolian logic, you can't use the word "decent" logic. The properties are consitant, valid, complete and sound. Decent is a value judgment (gravity is so unfair). The Austrians are looking for true, they are not deciding if it is decent.

One other point, I understand that you are arguing factuals and I get to argue counterfactuals. It is one reason that I like your work so much. To these TED audiences you are taking what everyone considers factuals (favelas aa nothing but bad) and presenting something that is something like a counterfactual as a real challenge to your audience. I am just saying that counter factuals are worth considering in seeing in finding the help that the world needs.

Great conversing with you ...

rn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rn said...

I debated using the word homesteader, for exactly the reasons you cite, but decided against it. Too quintessentially North American. I liked the simple lineage of the term squatter--the meaning derived from the physical act of squatting down on land.

You're right about 'decent' logic. What I meant is that, if the logic of economics rules out all motivations other than profit and the logic of property is that some people live and others don't, I fail to understand why we set so much store in them, particularly from a social point of view.

Counter-factuals unite!

David Stocker said...

The trouble with "squatter" is that it sounds lazy and inactive. From just looking at pictures, Rochina is obviously a place of entrepreneurship, creativity and activity. Entrepreneur derives from "to undertake" which is certainly true of theses cities. Why give the profit guys the term while the hard working poor who build these complex places get labeled as "those who squat on land".

As Mises would say the logic of economics begins with "human action". In our action we exchange one state for another state the we value as better, with the difference being profit. You seem to see profit as something that happens at anthers expense. I see profit as what happens that benefits us all by the incremental creation of a better state for all.

I am profiting from this discussion as well as your your other readers....

David Stocker said...

Squatter just sounds inactive or passive. Why reinforce the stereotype? I would prefer the term urban entrepreneur. If a businessman has very little capital, shrewdly works around government, finds creative solutions to everyday problems and makes something from nothing everyone says "what an entrepreneur!". From what I see that also characterizes the favelas as well.

I have been profiting from our discussion using our computers on Time Warners network. I am sure your readers profit from reading your books printed on your publishers printing presses and sold at Barnes and Noble's or Amazons bookstore. It appears the audience profits from your TED talks sitting in their seats in someones venue. It all makes it hard to understand why so much value is placed on profit and property for any social good.

I hope this discussion will continue to profit you...