Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Reason # 310976887 to not buy the Times, ever (or: Property rights, but only for whites)

William Rees-Mogg examined South Africa’s land issue in yesterday’s Times. The column was poor stuff.

Rees-Mogg failed to distinguish the restitution and redistribution programmes. The restitution programme is intended to return land to those who can prove it was taken from them or their relatives following the 1913 Land Act. The redistribution programme is intended to widen land ownership. Rees-Mogg runs together both programmes.

Black South Africans do not ‘believe’ that their land was stolen from them – they know it. The theft was expressly legislated for, starting with the The Natives Land Act, No 27 of 1913, which confined blacks to less than 8 percent of South African land.

The South African government is doing what any reasonable government ought to do – protecting the property rights of the majority of its people by forcing the beneficiaries of stolen possessions to return them to their rightful owners when the rightful owners can be identified. The Constitution of South Africa grants it that power, so it is acting within its mandate. Governments the world over have the power of compulsory purchase, and often exercise it; similar policies have been carried out in the ex-Communist countries.

White large-scale farming was more productive because apartheid governments forbade African competition, and guaranteed, by force, a cheap labour supply. White farmers have had the opportunity to make good the injustices of the past, too few have taken it. If it is true that greater efficiency in the use of some resource grants one the right to own that resource, why hasn’t Rees-Mogg handed all his property over to some German? (racial stereotyping for brevity and vividness only, honest!)

It's extremely naïve to hope that, in a democracy, a minority landowning class which achieved its position by racially-motivated violence and fraud can continue to hold onto that land. And it's instructive to see what value the overseas defenders of property rights place on the property rights of black Africans.

Owen Barder, who's well worth several minutes of your time by the way, has a nice post about this.

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