Monday, 27 January 2014

"Public Good" and "Economic Benefit" Justify Stealing?

The peaceful occupation of the Trenton Ontario farm of Frank Meyers has now entered into its third week. Supporters of the 85-year-old farmer have been occupying the farm since January 13, as a defensive measure, in order to prevent an armed invasion and seizure of the property by the Department of National Defence (DND). The DND is seeking to expropriate (i.e. steal) the farm in order to build a new training facility for the controversial and secretive Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2).

To this point, in my communications regarding the attempted expropriation of the Meyers farm, I have assumed that my audience sees the situation for what it is – an armed robbery.  This week, I would like to take the opportunity to address some points made by those who favour this expropriation (and expropriation in general) as a legitimate function of government.
Greater Good & Economic Benefit 

Those in favour of the expropriation say that the “greater public good” that would be achieved far outweighs the trauma that would be experienced by Mr. Meyers as a result of being forcibly evicted from his farm. Local proponents of the government’s plan, including Member of Parliament Rick Norlock, Quinte West Mayor John Williams and talk radio host Lorne Brooker, point to the economic benefit to the community, and the hundreds of new jobs that the new base is supposed to bring to the region, as basis for the legitimacy of the government’s action.

Consider this scenario: An armed robber enters a convenience store in your town and forces the storeowner, at gunpoint, to hand over all of the money in the store’s safe. He exits the store with a bag full of cash, leaving behind a box of chocolates and a thank you card for the shopkeeper.

Couldn’t it be said that the robber has acted for the greater good? Maybe he’s a friend of yours, a neighbour or co-worker.  Maybe he’s someone who brings his car to your auto repair business for maintenance, and someone with whom you share a beer on a weekly basis. He’ll likely use the money he’s stolen to purchase goods and services at local businesses around town. Maybe he’ll bring his car to your shop for a tune-up that he’s been putting off for a while, or buy everyone at the local pub a round next week. Heck, he’ll even buy a beer for the shopkeeper who he’s robbed. 

You, the proprietor of the pub and other business owners around town will be glad to see the additional business, and the townsfolk will be satisfied with a free beer. Shouldn’t the whole town be glad to have such a skilled and benevolent robber among them, who, through his act of violence, has stimulated the local economy?*

Surely you wouldn’t defend this man’s act of robbery merely based on the use he makes of the stolen property. If it’s not appropriate for an individual to steal, then by what mechanism does it become okay for a group of individuals, who call themselves the government, or the Department of National Defence, or defenders of freedom, or public servants, to do just that? 

*For a better economic understanding of the impact of crime, learn about the Broken Window Fallacy.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I don't think is appropriate for you to describe the actions of Department of National Defense as an armed robbery, simply because the victims of an armed robbery generally are not compensated with the market value of goods stolen from them. To elaborate on your scenario the "armed robber" did not only leave a box of chocolates and a thank you card but also the market value of the goods taken from the store in cash! Exactly how much Frank is paid for the property is unknown but it is important to distinguish the two actions.

    Frank and his family have capitalized on this farm for generations not only from his hard work and dedication but also the peace and stability brought upon by the Department of National Defense. To elaborate on your scenario again the "armed robber" has also been the guy keeping the town safe so that people could grab drinks after work and get their cars fixed in a harmonized manner where economic transactions can properly take place. If you ask a farmer in countries like Syria or Sudan where there are no political stability to give up a piece of their property to gain back a harmonized society, I believe most of them will do so delightfully without compensation. What the Canadian government is doing is not simply providing some jobs for a community but to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. Frank and yourself are both direct beneficiary of this "armed robbery”.