Saturday, June 03, 2006

Property Rights

Reading blogs around the web, I found that a recent article touched on zoning laws, and how they amount to theft. I’ll heartily agree with that in principle, but the whole discussion raised a few questions in my mind.

First, who owned the land the towns are built on before they existed, and how did it come to them? Second, covenants are mentioned as private solutions to limit future use of a scarce commodity, and I wonder what some of the potential consequences of this could be.

Towns seem to be mostly created through incorporation in a superior legislative body to facilitate tax collection, provide services, etc. Property owners, in theory, would incorporate in the same manner as a business, choosing to organize themselves and choose a board of trustees.

My first note would be that the process is likely to be democratic, i.e. completely indifferent to property rights in the first place. A simple majority would, I suppose, be able to petition said higher legislative body for recognition and a charter, thus vacuuming in any and all dissenters. Of course, since incorporation usually is a great way to get access to state funds, or OPM (Other People’s Money), there are strong incentives to do so.

Nevertheless, this essentially allows legal authority to be exercised over other people’s territory without consent. Of course, the upper levels of government already HAD that authority, else they couldn’t have granted it; the difference may only have been there was less money funding local controls, and less knowledge as to what to do in the first place (not that that stops the US Federal government from building bridges in Alaska).

The point of all this is just that there are no property rights as recognized outside of the laws of the US Government and its creature states. From the parapets of Federal offices to the leering gargoyles of State governments to the lowest stone of the foundation in the towns and neighborhoods, the authority was already in place. If a law is passed saying that you cannot build a building taller than the Capitol in Washington DC, then you may not, because your ownership of the land your structure will be built on is already bought and sold under the watchful eye and heavy hand of its true owner.

We’re the temporal minor authorities given run of a plot we are registered to, but remember, that can change, as I think some recent Eminent Domain cases have ably shown, and as zoning laws constantly remind us.You only have the rights that you take for yourself – if you rely on someone else to give them to you, you’re dependent on them and on their continued good will.

I was going to write a bit about covenants, but found it interesting rather than agitating. So tune in tomorrow and I’ll ramble on a bit about it.

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