Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Robert Mugabe Wants Your Land

Week of Vexing Individuals: Day Four — Leftist?

From January 25-31, I’ll look at individuals who somehow complicate our ideas about property rights or capitalism — in alphabetical order.

It’s Wednesday, and if you think “hump day” is rough for you, consider Zimbabwe, with its 231 million% inflation rate and massive, violent land expropriation under the dictatorial Robert Mugabe. (Last year, one U.S. dollar equaled over 661 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars, a story people  might want to look into if they believe human laws can trump the laws of economics any more easily than they can the laws of physics.  When inflation’s that bad, I’d say your de facto currency system is technically barter.)

Yet Mugabe received awards — awards! — from American universities when he first took power, since he was, after all, a post-colonialist and anti-imperialist, and how could that be a bad thing, right? When girlfriend Helen Rittelmeyer and I go to her old stomping grounds, Yale, in two days to attend a Party of the Right debate there, I’ll probably be within spitting distance of students — or at least aging professors — who still think Mugabe is cool, because at least he’s stickin’ it to the white man (by seizing white-owned farms and giving them to pretty much any Mugabe-serving thugs who happen along, contributing to the Zimbabwean economy’s collapse).

Oddly enough, one of my libertarian pals has Zimbabwean relatives by marriage, white ones, who hadn’t fled last I knew, which is about as strong a testament to people’s attachment to their homelands as I’ve encountered. If I were white and living in Zimbabwe but had family ties to London and New York City, well, I would not be living in Zimbabwe.

All this should be a warning to people of any political stripe — Middle East zealots, slavery-reparations-seekers, Northern Ireland combatants, even building preservationists — that once you open the bloody can of worms that is history and declare the settling of (inconceivably large and endlessly multilayered) past wrongs grounds for present-day property violations, there’s simply no logical end to it. You call me naive and ahistorical for wanting to just start from now with a clear and simple property rights framework? Spend a holiday in Zimbabwe and then tell me cultural grievances should weigh against econ.

1 comment:

Gerard said...

If I were white and living in Zimbabwe but had family ties to London and New York City, well, I would not be living in Zimbabwe.

It’s complicated.

You need to read Alexandra Fuller’s childhood memoir:

Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight

The interesting aspect of the diaspora from Rhodesia is that many of the white farmers were invited to settle in neighboring African nations-and even ones farther afield, like Nigeria-in order to invigorate their economies. Something that any post-ZANU PF Zimbabwean gov’t should look into.