The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

PROPERTY RIGHTS: The price of providing shelter continues to rise all over the world and occasionally leads to extreme solutions, as evidenced by the Hong Kong woman who recently discovered that a leech had taken up residence in her nose, said leech occupying the premises without notifying the owner of the effected proboscis of its presence and without offering to pay so much as a penny in rent. I realize that in many places in our modern world rents have gone to whatever the level beyond exorbitant is, but it seems to me the height of effrontery to unilaterally occupy a piece of prime anatomical real estate without so much as a by your leave from the owner. It is just this sort of cavalier disregard for private property rights that causes the interested investor to wonder about the People’s Republic of China long term commitment to the freewheeling capitalism that made Hong Kong one of the world’s most dynamic economies. Residents of the former British colony can no longer assume that the Hong Kong flu, mosquitoes buzzing in their ears, or even discolored toenails are merely innocent manifestations of natural phenomena; now they must consider these things against the long history of unrecompensed private property expropriation that marks Communist regimes everywhere.

As a sidelight to this somewhat odd story, I must report that even here in our happy little burg the price of keeping a roof over one’s head is too much for most invertebrates to bear. Termites, for example, can no long eat themselves out of house and home for less than eight hundred dollars a month for even the smallest apartment here and that doesn’t even include the utilities and cable television. Home ownership is now an all but futile dream for most of the poorer exoskeletal species unless something drastically changes in the housing market soon and no such change appears imminent. Biological infestation, while it may work for leeches, pinworms, and toenail fungus, is hardly an option for the average termite, whose lack of education in an increasingly computerized job market limits them to the lower rungs of the economic ladder and compels them to move into poorer and poorer housing because they can afford nothing else.

Even among biological infesters there are questions of fundamental fairness. Why should a leech, an altogether opportunistic parasite willing to grab hold of any portion of the anatomy it can snag get a duplex with a view when the common toe fungus, which has made a long term commitment to the landlord, should remain stuck in a hot, cramped, and sometimes fetid neighborhood simply because it lacks basic locomotive skills? I usually support allowing the marketplace to make the decision of who gets what and where, but in this case the market seems to have broken down.

The leech, remember, is no paragon of laissez-faire capitalism; it’s getting a free ride. If it were paying market value for the nose then I would be the first to say the leech should stay where it is, but that’s not the situation here. The leech is a squatter and a freeloader to boot; it’s getting three square meals a day and free room and board in a place with two views for absolutely nothing. Why, then, should the leech receive a greater share of consideration than the fungus? I suppose the leech could appeal to biblical authority, pointing to the parable of the vineyard workers who all received the same wages no matter when they started work, but my guess is that argument isn’t going to fly in a judicial system where the judges owe their jobs to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

In fact, I doubt that any legal system in the world would buy into this argument. Possession may be, as the saying has it, nine tenths of the law, but all the leech possesses in this case is a snotty attitude; its occupation of the woman’s nose doesn’t even qualify as an illegal sublet; it’s squatting, pure and simple, and for the leech to claim some sort of ownership rights to the nose is ridiculous. Sneaking into someone’s nose and hiding out does not make you the owner, not in anyone’s book.

Not that the problem in Hong Kong ever got that far, of course. The Chinese authorities moved forcefully against the leech, having it removed from the woman’s nose by a forceps-wielding doctor despite the leech’s reluctance to leave. The Chinese, mindful of their image as an up and coming economic power, do not want to pay through the nose for one invertebrate’s now somewhat quixotic attachment to classical Marxism.

Vis-à-vis the pay through the nose bit above: you can groan now if you wish. Go on, let it out; it’ll make you feel better.


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