The outrageous eviction of the Wang family executed by Taipei City government showed the public how fragile citizens’ private rights is in front of the urban renewal projects. More and more, public opinion has urged the Premier, Chong Chen, to revise the current Urban Renewal Act [zh].
Manipulation of resident opinions
Hsieh-Li Wang pointed out that [zh] the current Act allows construction companies to put forward an urban renewal plan even when the majority of the residents refuse to join this project:
Wang's house before demolition. Photo by Flickr User munch999 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Here is the trap of the Act: according to Article 10 second clause ‘When 10% of the homeowners who together occupy more than 10% of the land agree to join the project, they can apply for urban renewal.’ What does it mean? Chao-Wen Lee, a victim of urban renewal in Wufenpu, said, ‘that means when some wealthy people or a construction company wants to put forward an urban renewal plan, they can buy some apartments or houses in that area and arrange many people to become the shared owners; when these people become the majority of the residents, the door of urban renewal would be opened.’ In Chao-Wen Lee’s community, more than 70 new residents were listed as owners of some apartments.
Based on Article 25 of the Urban Renewal Act, the government is allowed to approve an urban renewal project when 80% of the involved residents agree to join the project [zh]. For those who refuse to join the project, they will be punished with forced eviction executed by the government. Yo-Yu Hsih, a law student criticized [zh] the tyranny of the majority which violates the rights of a minority.
The original goal of majority decision is to use the limited land resources efficiently. It also prevents cases when the will of the majority is kidnapped by a minority of people who want to obstruct the proceeding of urban renewal and development of a city.
(However) Majority decision may result in tyranny that sacrifices the minority's interest… Currently Article 22, clause 1 of the Urban Renewal Act endorses majority decision without any protection for the minority. This will put the minority in a vulnerable situation and jeopardize their rights. I am afraid this Act has violated the legal principle of minimum encroachment.
A poster outside Wang's houses. It says ‘my house was bought when I was 40, and it was torn down when I was 70.’ Photo by Flickr User munch999 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Hsieh-Li Wang questioned [zh] why the Act allows the government to use police force to serve the interest of developers:
Article 36 of the Act is most controversial: the construction company can appeal to the government to demolish the houses by force when the residents refuse to be evicted. Many experts believe that the Act, which justifies use of the majority decision mechanism and government's involvement in supporting the developers, has violated the Constitutional protection of citizens’ property rights.
The Taiwan Association for Human Rights demanded a thorough revision of the Urban Renewal Act in accordance with the Constitution. In the Yuan Legislature, legislator Mei-Nyu You urged [zh] the Minister of Interior to revise the current Urban Renewal Act:
Today if you have an apartment leased to a renter who refuses to move out, can you appeal to the public authority to evict the renter?v…You need to sue this renter. If the court rules in your favor, you can apply for a court order. Usually, the court will give this renter a grace period to relocate, and this is how our Constitution protects citizens’ right of residence.
Today my house is in good condition and does not obstruct my neighbors, traffic nor public security. However, once a developer fancies my land and its floor space index, it can force me out of my house (giving me no choice). It can even get around the judiciary and appeal to the public authority to tear down my house. Is there any procedural justice here?
Defending constitutional rights
Torrent criticized the political party's election politics and retreated [zh] to citizen action for defending their constitutional rights:
Graffiti against an urban renewal project. Photo by Flickr User theAthena (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Chapter two of our Constitution defines the rights and responsibilities of citizens, which have been turned into empty slogans through different political campaigns… Our society has connived with these politicians’ lies for too long. They told us we can eventually enjoy all the rights described in Chapter two of our Constitution after they [win the election and] become the president based on Chapter four of our Constitution and after they control the majority seats in the Legislature based on Chapter six in our Constitution. Nevertheless, they always have excuses to defer their promise.
This is why we ask to revise the unjust Urban Renewal Act, to protect every citizen’s right of residence. We should take control of our Constitution away from all the lies and write the history of Taiwanese people.
What happened to the Wangs is outrageous not because it demonstrates the “fragility” of private property rights in Taiwan, but because it illuminates either (a) the legal non-existence of these rights, or (b) their criminal violation by the government.
Allow me to explain…. if you have a “right” to private property, then you are have exclusive control over how that property is to be used and nobody, not even a King or a President, can rightfully take it away from you. Although it is common to see the term “property rights” used with the predicate “must be balanced against the public interest”, this is an epistemic error. In that case what is being referred to are not “property rights”, but “property privileges”. The key point is that a person’s “rights” are non-negotiable*, but “privileges” are politically contingent and can therefore be justifiably rescinded.
So what the Wangs case demonstrates, as did the case of the Miaoli farmers in 2010 and other cases further back in history, is that there are no private property rights in Taiwan – there are only private property privileges**.
However, it is not only the actions of the Taipei City government at the behest of Le Young that reveal the point. It is also revealed by the denouncements from DPP politicians (e.g. Tsai Ing-wen) that were not really denouncements, and from the protests of the University professors (e.g. Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮)) that were not really protests. In every opinion editorial I have read on this case (I’m afraid I only read the Taipei Times), the denouncements thrown at the Taipei City government always focused on the legal conditions through which a “public interest” excuse could be made for expropriation. According to the erstwhile leader of the DPP and her university eunuchs, the problem is not that the Wangs’ property was effectively stolen, the problem is that the government did not use the correct excuse and did not implement the excuse in the appropriate way so as to “avoid controversy”. So, for instance, Jui-Chung Allen Li (李瑞中) criticized the Taipei City government because their urban renewal plans were centred on areas of Taipei City where property values were already high, and not in areas where they were low, the implication being that “urban renewal” must be carried out for the benefit of the poor (those living in low-value areas) rather than the rich. But if that is to be intended as an argument to establish a “public interest” case under which expropriation can be excused, then the arrogance is breathtaking, for consider what it means: poor people who do not understand their own interests and refuse to sell, can have their properties expropriated, and the progressives in the universities will call it “social justice”, and talk about how “democratic” they all are.
Which leads me to my final point, and it is really the central point.
The Wang case, and the reaction to it on the pan-green side, also demonstrates why there are no private property rights in Taiwan. That is the superordinate political status ascribed to democratic procedure, and the collectivist premises underlying it. Violation of private property rights can only be opposed in principle by those who hold the opposite premises: those of universal individualism. And this is the tragedy of Taiwan – the overthrow of the old totalitarianesque KMT regime by the democracy movement in the ’80s left a soft-marxist (i.e. “social democratic”) ideological legacy that is now finding itself unable to come to grips with the adjustment of the KMT to democratic conditions.
The DPP in its present ideological form can offer no principled and compelling moral opposition to the predatory economic policies of the KMT – because they share the same basic collectivist premises.
*A person can, however, forfeit his rights – by for example, violating the rights of others.
**Or alternatively, if you would like to stipulate to the natural rights understanding of private property rights (a la John Locke), then the conclusion must necessarily be that Taiwan is governed by criminals who can violate the private property rights of the people merely by passing pieces of legislation to excuse themselves. (Yes, I know my use of incendiary language is why nobody will publish my writings – but the logic behind my choice of words is correct).