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Looting in New Orleans

Glenn Reynolds suggests shooting looters. Eric Muller proudly looks down his nose at the idea. How uncivilized! But the irony is that it's Muller whose position is uncivilized.

There are lots of snarky remarks about looting coverage (Prawfsblawg, unlike Wonkette, at least noted that one can't expect consistency across different news organizations), but in reality, as a look at blogs from people actually in New Orleans show, the looting is far worse than the media is reporting until recently. This isn't an issue of salvaging spoiling food and water (though, even here, allowing looting means the strong get food and the weak starve); they're attacking rescuers and doctors and hospitals. "At flood-swamped Charity Hospital, looters with handguns forced doctors to give up stores of narcotics." Other looters are stealing generators from unarmed citizens. This is the anarchy that Muller is defending; he can bring to bear a lot of sarcasm on the matter, but that's hardly a useful policy suggestion. If someone wishes to argue that shooting violent looters is inefficacious, that's one thing, but simply to argue that doing so will lead to loss of life seems to me to ignore the opportunity costs of permitting looting.

I fully acknowledge that shooting looters is an inappropriately disproportionate response if one views looting as mere larceny. But one doesn't shoot looters to protect property, one does so to protect order. Somebody is going to suffer unjustly when society breaks down. I don't understand why Muller thinks it preferable for the law-abiding citizens to be the cost-bearers. History has shown repeatedly that the way to stop an anarchic riot is an early display of substantial force.

Of course, with the New Orleans police having close to third-world levels of corruption in good weather, there isn't exactly law enforcement that I would trust on the ground in the city until the National Guard gets sent in, so the whole question may be moot.

The original comment thread on Volokh is here. The bash Glenn Reynolds and Ted Frank thread is here.

Update: Glenn Reynolds has more:

When I was on Grand Cayman last month, several people told me that looting became a problem after Hurricane Ivan, but quickly stopped when the police shot several looters. That's because looters usually value life over property too.

And Jeff Goldstein:

That many progressives I�ve been reading are so willing to advocate for an anarchic condition wherein stronger, better armed, and more ruthless civilians are able to lord it over the weaker victims of Katrina�all for the sake of maintaining their critique of materialism�is, frankly, astounding.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.