Property Is People

When rioters began looting and burning businesses in cities across the country, their apologists assured us that this was “just property,” that it could not compare to the need to defend human lives, and anyway, it would all be covered by insurance.

That argument was put forward in an instantly notorious NPR interview with Vicky Osterweil, who has written a whole book in defense of looting as a form of political protest. Osterweil glibly asserts that looting is “basically nonviolent.”

“Most stores are insured; it’s just hurting insurance companies on some level. It’s just money. It’s just property. It’s not actually hurting any people.”

That line about insurance is proof that Osterweil and other apologists have never run a business and have absolutely no clue how any of this works. In the world’s least surprising news, it turns out that insurance will only cover a fraction of the rebuilding costs:

Though Gov. Tim Walz has estimated that total losses will exceed $500 million, insurance companies have informed the Minnesota Department of Commerce that they will be covering a maximum of $240 million in riot-related damage. In the 5-mile stretch of Minneapolis that sustained the heaviest destruction, uninsured losses among local small-business owners are at least $200 million, according to the Lake Street Council. …

In some cases, owners let their policies lapse when COVID-19 struck and the state ordered them to close, erasing the source of income they needed to pay their premiums. Others bought bare-bones coverage because that was all they could afford. Insurance agents said it typically costs 25% to 50% more to buy enough coverage to pay the actual cost of rebuilding vs. policies that cover a property’s current value. Older buildings are usually worth far less than they cost to replace.

A bigger problem is availability. Insurers often won’t cover older structures because they have not been updated with new roofs, plumbing, or electrical systems.

In all likelihood, many of these businesses will not be rebuilt, and their neighborhoods will be blighted for decades to come, just as they were after the race riots in 1968.

But the real problem is not mere ignorance of how the economy works. It’s the underlying differentiation between property and human life that is false and arbitrary.

Property is people. Property is both the product of an individual’s labor and the means of sustaining his life.

Read the rest at The Bulwark.

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