Blogs > Liberty and Power > Hey, it's not like anyone has to pay for it...

Mar 31, 2007 9:47 am

Hey, it's not like anyone has to pay for it...

Reader Dan Schmutter passes along the following item: Cindy Sheehan writing on the Huffington Post website railing against the President's handling of New Orleans. Among other things, she criticizes the treatment of looters as follows:

"The vast majority of people who were looting in New Orleans were doing so to feed their families or to get resources to get their families out of there. If I had a store with an inventory of insured belongings, and a tragedy happened, I would fling my doors open and tell everyone to take what they need: it is only stuff."

Dan notes that"the implication is that she would not give away the store, so to speak, if she had to pay for it, but if an insurance company were footing the bill, she'd be more than generous with the carrier's money." That does seem to be what she's saying. Most people are more generous with other people's money. It also struck me as less than credible that the"majority" of looting was about survival necessities. As far as I could tell, an awful lot of it was TVs and jewelry and designer sneakers. I was already negatively disposed towards Sheehan for her anti-semitic remarks, but now I see she also has no respect for private property.

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Aeon J. Skoble - 9/20/2005

It was somewhere else. I'll see if I can find it.

Sheldon Richman - 9/20/2005

According to Slate (no defender of Sheehan), the full letter is here. My search of that letter did not turn up the phrase "Israel out of Palestine." The word "Palestine" does not appear at all. The only mentions of Israel are the one's I quoted.

Aeon J. Skoble - 9/19/2005

I dunno, sounds anti-semitic to me. But elsewhere, I think in the same diatribe, she says "Israel out of Palestine." That can only mean one thing. I agree that not every criticism of the state of Israel is anti-semtism, but criticizing its right to exist is.

Sheldon Richman - 9/17/2005

Steve, my point is slightly different from the way you summarized it. When trade collapses, regardless of whether enforcement collapses, there will be a decline in civil society as people are driven to take measures they normally need not take. Anomie sets in and the normal rules seems to be suspended. If the National Guard had been patrolling the streets from the start, we might not have seen open looting. But I'm certain more-subtle forms of "looting" would have occurred.

As we know from institutions such as the Law Merchant, enforcement need not take the form of police and state courts. Informal sanctions can be powerful.

I was pointing out the primacy of the division of labor and the market process over raw enforcement. That was the purpose of the Tom Paine quote in my article. Trade, not the police, is the glue.

Sheldon Ricman - 9/17/2005

I would caution that we not conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Here is what Sheehan wrote, although she claims, somewhat dubiously, that the words were added to an e-mail she sent:

"Am I emotional? Yes, my first born was murdered. Am I angry? Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC [Project for the New American Century] Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the army to protect America, not Israel. Am I stupid? No, I know full well that my son, my family, this nation and this world were betrayed by George Bush who was influenced by the neo-con PNAC agendas after 9/11. We were told that we were attacked on 9/11 because the terrorists hate our freedoms and democracy … not for the real reason, because the Arab Muslims who attacked us hate our middle-eastern foreign policy."

The dispute over authorship is discussed here.

At any rate, I do not believe that the words quoted above, in themselves, constitute anti-Semitism.

Common Sense - 9/16/2005

Has anyone good information comparing the behavior of N.O. city police to N.O. private protection agencies? I have not heard anything, but my guess is that, like the N.O police, some personnel would do their duty, and others would abuse their power.

Matt Barganier - 9/16/2005

Yes, what are her anti-Semitic remarks? The ADL must be falling down on the job, as a search for her name on their site turns up zilch:;ie=&site=adl&output=xml_no_dtd&client=adl&lr=&proxystylesheet=adl&oe=&x=17&y=10

Oh, I forgot: any criticism of the state of Israel is anti-Semitism! Sorry...

Common Sense - 9/16/2005

She would be wise to restrict her comments to the war in which her son died.

I have not followed her story closely. What are her anti-semitic remarks?

I think it is premature for Sheehan to make generalizations about the nature of the looting. I think it is premature for most anyone to make generalizations about the nature of the looting.

Steven Horwitz - 9/16/2005

As I think Sheldon Richman pointed out in a recent column, the post-Katrina events surely show how much the market civilizes us. In a world where private property and contracts are enforcible, we behave, largely, within the rules and interact through trade. When enforcement collapses, so does trade, and so does civilized behavior.

For what it's worth... under the circumstances, I have no big ethical quarrel with those who looted to survive. Those who looted to later cash in, however, are another story. And don't ask me how I would rigorously make that distinction. Like pornography... you know the rest.

Steven Horwitz - 9/16/2005

You are right on target about Sheehan Aeon, but I'm not so sure about what percentage of the looters were going for necessities vs. luxuries. If one goes by what was on TV, it might seem like the luxury items were the more common booty. Of course, scenes of looters making off with bags of sneakers and jewelry are a lot more media-sexy than shots of people taking water, medications, and Pampers. I'm just very skeptical that anyone who wasn't there has any real sense of the real scope of each kind of looting.

Some folks will always go for the high-ticket items, but that strategy only works if you think you can later trade them for the things you really want. And that's fine if you're single, perhaps. But if you have a family, you are going to have a very high discount rate and not be willing to search for further trades. You'd much rather, right now, have the water, crackers, and diapers than anything else. My guess is that more folks were in the latter category than the former.