Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ownership Issues

So you work, day in and day out, and manage to set aside some property to generate an income for you and your loved during your golden years. Along comes the local government which increases the taxes on your property. The local political leaders come again and tell you that certain activities are forbidden on your property. Another local government decides to run a new sidewalk and sewer line across your property thereby presenting you with an invoice for $17,500.00. You had a mortgage on the property. You made timely payments for twenty years, yet your rights to your property are limited and usurped by the whims of local governments and other property owners. So, who owns YOUR property?

In addition to its better known prohibition against forcing one to testify against one’s own interests, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States clearly states “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Framers generally agreed that a citizen owned his or her life, her or his own labor, and his or her property. They understood that true freedom was a pipe dream if people could not hold and control those three fundamental elements. It is obvious that freedom has no value if your life can be forfeited at any time. Likewise, if someone or some government can force you to labor for their interests, you have become a slave. Property, the harvested fruit of your labor, must be protected from immoral and illegal “takings,” or you can be likened to a serf or share cropper.

Frederic Bastiat in his magnificent essay, The Law, writes that “a transmission of wealth imposed by force…is…a violation of property” and the law is guilty of “organizing injustice.”  As Bastiat expresses so clearly, because something is legal doesn’t necessarily make it moral or just. Laws that fail to recognize property rights are as unjust and immoral as those that would enslave us or murder us. There are those among us who believe that property does not hold the same exalted position as our lives and labor. They may argue that property should be held in common….that all people should have access to all property so that no one would hold a distinct advantage in wealth and property over others who were not so fortunate. Liberty, however, is the ability to live one’s life the way that one desires without negatively impacting the lives of others in harmful ways. The freedom to live as one desires necessarily requires access to and ownership of property to assure that the individual is truly liberated.

It may be true that every citizen may not be capable of acquiring meaningful property, but the state and his fellow citizens should not restrict his capacity to do so, and should never impair his ability to hold and manage that which he has accumulated. If, dear reader, you believe that property is a minor consideration, take a drive through the inner city and observe the homeless with their shopping carts and bundles. These are people who by normal standards have nothing, yet they cherish and cling to their property with a passion rivaled by the most venal rich person. Their property means something to them. It has value for them.  God understands the importance of property in our lives. Exodus 20:15, “you shall not steal,” (NIV) says enough. When someone steals, it is preceded by someone “has.”
When the government at any level takes or controls your property, it is theft. When another person takes your property, they are often prosecuted. Government, however, exempts itself from morality and justice by passing laws to allow theft. It’s still theft. It’s still wrong. For example, let’s imagine that you have a beautiful grove of trees in your front lawn, and your neighborhood association decided that everyone should share your trees. Each of your neighbors would stop by with a shovel in hand and take a tree. After a time you would have no more trees, and the neighborhood association would vote to compel you to buy more trees. Of course, it’s a stupid scenario…but not all that farfetched. Government steals…sometimes with the consent of the majority. It is theft, and it occurs at every level of government. I’ll save a discussion of the Estate Tax for another time, but you get the idea. It is theft.

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