Property: Rights or privileges

by | Aug 29, 2007 | Capitol Review, Notes

Anyone who has grown up on a farm or ranch hears this maxim, "Take care of the land, and the land will take care of you." A farmer or rancher who doesn’t take care of the soil will soon find that the soil won’t produce enough to make ends meet.

But you don’t need to be a farmer or rancher to understand the importance of private property rights. What’s more, property isn’t simply a piece of land or a home. Property is anything you own — your clothes, your car, your business.

For most, our possessions come from how we choose to utilize our own unique time, skills and labor and are selected to meet our specific needs. Moreover, because our possessions are our own, we take care to maximize their use.

Public and private lands illustrate well the stewardship incentives of genuine ownership. Theoretically, we all own parks, open space, forests and such. Yet without paid employees to keep them clean and safe, our public lands would be overgrown, littered with garbage, and overrun by "owners" who enjoy them too much.

By contrast, most private property owners regularly tend to their property. Even owners who never plan to produce anything from their land often invest time and money to improve its appearance.

Once you’ve made a piece of property your own, for someone to take it from you by force is nothing less than theft — not just theft of your property, but of the time and hard work that you exchanged to purchase it.

Who would do such a thing? Too often, the answer is our government. But let’s not forget that government isn’t organic. Government responds to the public. When government seizes your property or changes the rules to make your purpose for it illegal or unprofitable, it’s often your fellow citizens using government to do their dirty work.

Back in 2003, I sponsored a bill with then-Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, to restrict the use of eminent domain by local governments.
In several cases around the Denver metro area, city councils or urban renewal authorities wanted to condemn undeveloped lands or existing businesses in order to give those properties to developers who would replace the status quo with something that would generate more tax dollars.

At the same time, the town of Telluride — in a case now before the state Supreme Court — condemned a prime parcel just beyond its city limits for precisely the opposite reason: to prevent its development.

Although the owners in these cases were offered compensation, the point remains that, for financial or sentimental reasons, they did not want to sell their property — in some cases, at any price.

Colorado’s popular new statewide smoking ban is another example of blatant disregard for property rights. If every bar or restaurant owner in the state chose to go smoke-free tomorrow, that would suit me just fine. But for the state legislature — increasingly comprised of people with no business experience — to pass a law that puts some mom-and-pop establishments out of business is simply unconscionable.

Viewed from a property rights framework, if I am a guest on your property, it’s your choice to allow smoking or not. If you are a guest on my property, the choice is mine. If we are both guests of a third party, the choice is neither yours nor mine but the property owner’s.

Simply because we outnumber the property owner, we have no right to impose our will on someone else’s property. Yet the legislature put the will of the majority ahead of the rights of property owners.

When a mere majority, which has no investment of time or labor nor any legitimate stake in your property, can seize it for their own purposes or regulate it into financial ruin, property ownership has become a privilege, not a right.


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