Diminishing Property Rights - Slip sliding away...
(Excerpts from "Cornerstone of Liberty; Property Rights in 21st America," by Timothy Sandefur, attorney and scholar (Pacific Legal Foundation) - see below.)
What is it about our homes and businesses that makes them more than just wood and bricks? Private property is an essential part of the human experience.
A sense of self is a fundamental and natural need for humans, writes philosopher Daniel Dennett. All animals engage in the “biological principle of distinguishing self from world,” but humans engage in this process not only in their physical capacities but in their minds as well. We use the world around us to construct artifacts that expand our personal boundaries over the world, so as to preserve and express ourselves. We do the same thing with our minds: just as spiders spin webs, so each human being “makes a self.”
Personal possessions are far more than “wealth.” Anyone who owns a wedding ring, or a photo album, or an heirloom knows the immense personal meaning that owned objects can embody – a personal meaning we call “sentimental value.” Children discover the idea of “mine” very early on; and a child’s “awareness of his own property rights,” writes Dr. Benjamin Spock, comes naturally “because it fits with his growing sense of self and assertion of self.” The concept of private property and territory is something universal, and much older than written history.
Just as slavery was an abomination to natural rights, the seizure of personal property for “public benefit” is an affront to America’s founding principles. Frederick Douglass who was born a slave believed that he owned himself and his labor. For most of us, home ownership represents the culmination of years of accomplishment, often in the form of a 30 year mortgage. When the state takes the fruits of our labor without our consent, either through taxes or diminished property rights, they are taking part of our life that we will never get back. Conceptually, there is very little to distinguish this from slavery.
When government takes land outright, it has to pay for it. But when it regulates how a person can use – or forbids a person from using – his land, it takes away the one thing that gives the land its economic value: its use. Whatcom County has become a property rights battleground. The county "as entity" has been engaged in a struggle with private nonprofit groups regarding where and how citizens may use their land. Planning has become a massive government 'function' intended to control all private sector activity, precisely by regulating the use of private property.
Few people today advocate the complete abolition of private property rights. Instead, they argue that government should limit property rights, either by regulating what people may do with their land or by seizing it through other means, like zoning, creating setbacks, buffers, and even by eminent domain. Many if not most of the abusive eminent domain cases in recent years have been undertaken as part of government efforts to eliminate “blight.” Whether government should be involved in such undertakings in the first place is highly questionable. Changing policies to give private property owners more incentive to invest is often a wiser course for fixing a blighted neighborhood.
Often people speak of “balancing” property rights with the “needs of society.” But diminishing property rights causes many of the same effects as abolishing property rights altogether, just on a smaller scale.
Whatcom County and other local government are increasingly creating official policies that press citizens to offer the use of their land for “public purposes” through rights-of-way (easements, "open space, and more). Recently the county acquired land as a "donation" from a developer with serious "concurrency" and other difficult land use issues. Perhaps that was purely philanthroic, but any transfer of private property into government hands should be closely scrutinized.
Across the county, citizens are increasingly encouraged (coerced?) by government to donate land for trails and parks. Government supports "conservation work” that is principally recommended, overseen, and in many cases owned by private nonprofit corporations and “quasi” public-private organizations. Land trusts in this county are under government contract - they're collecting transaction fees for collaboration that ultimately gives themcontrol of physical property or land-use that they "manage." Many of these trust easements and deeds say "for all time." Reflect on that.
Nice sounding mechanisms related to property use that Whatcom County promotes, like "open space" designation, have more than one "dark underside." Did you knowthat when a land owner designates some or all of a parcel's land use as "open space" the owner is "rewarded" with a property-tax break -- BUTall the other property owners in the tax district have to "make up the revenue loss" by paying higher taxes? That's true. In the last year or so, Council has required a more consistent process for the review of "open space applications" than in the past. But "open space" is still being heavily promoted to expand "public use" of private land as a matter of policy. Have you heard of TDR's - transfers of development rights? It's another elaborate "land use process" meant to steer the private sector toward government goals. You can read the actual WCC (Whatcom County Code) about this here. Also, land in trust ownership, conservation easements, and open space may get more use as a park or trail than it would have as private property. That's a curious twist. There's a growing overlap and fuzzy relationship between government use and "other interests" that live by public funding.
POINT: BEWARE of all mechanisms that diminish full control of your property. Every time “public purpose” expands, the remaining amount of private property available to us – and to future generations – diminishes as well.
WE suggest that you learn all you can and get involved, perhaps by joining or following the work of groups like CAPR - Citizens Alliance for Property Rights. Nobody's going to save us from this but us, so don't give up. Get wise.
Great book: Cornerstone of Liberty; Property Rights in 21st Century America by Timothy Sandefur. Copyright Disclaimer: Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, non-profit, public education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.
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