Friday, July 18, 2008

Riding and Reminiscing

A recent post of mine over on the Blog at Mises.org.








Riding and Reminiscing


While on an evening bike ride with my oldest son, we reminisced about one of the first government meetings we attended together -- an annexation hearing before our county commissioners. Looking back, we agreed that the meeting turned out to be an invaluable opportunity to witness government in action.

At the hearing, the attorney for the petitioner -- a single property owner seeking to be annexed by the local city -- presented first. The attorney stood at the podium holding a small folder. He began, "We present the completed application and forms as required by law. We believe that we have met all legal requirements. We therefore ask that you grant the petition as filed." He sat down.

Next, a long line formed to speak against the annexation. For the next hour, as the commissioners quietly listened, my son and I listened to folks demand a claim to the petitioner's property. Not one speaker questioned the legality of the petition. We left.

Days later, I read in the paper that the hearings were scheduled to continue for two weeks. In the end, the petition -- which everyone agreed was legal -- was denied.

This singular experience showed us that government is not based on laws, it is based on arbitrary power. And that ownership of property is a dead concept in these times of positive rights.

Of course, the opportunity to witness government in action is always a great way to understand our current state. But I must warn you that afterwards you will see your neighbors in a new light.


9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said!

Paul said...

Jim:

I'm not an atty, nor do I have an understanding of the Austrian School's perception of property rights, but I think that I for one am glad to hear about an annexation request being denied.

It doesn't seem to me that property rights are absolute - meaning you can't do anything you want with your property, especially if what you desire to do diminishes my ability to enjoy my property, or the value of my property. Kind of like the words of the French Constitution, which says every man is free to do whatever he wants so long as it brings no harm to another.

I think the other point is that annexation requests are just that - requests. The petitioner in this case was almost certainly a developer or some kind, and needed the land to be annexed to receive certain municipal services necessary to support their plans (in Franklin County, that would have been water/sewer).

It is certainly within the purview of the city to say 'no thanks, we don't want to add this particular parcel to our city.' I certainly wish the City of Hilliard would make that choice more often, but they pretty much give the developers anything they want.

Most of us Americans are pretty selfish in our definition of rights. We champion all the permissive rights for ourselves while asserting restrictions on others.

Maybe that's your point...

Jim Fedako said...

Paul,

A couple of things.

In this instance, the landowner and the city said yes, the county commissioners denied the annexation based on political pressure.

With "especially if what you desire to do diminishes my ability to enjoy my property, or the value of my property.", you moved away from the negative rights (valid rights) that founded this nation to the positive rights (nonvalid rights) that are leading us to socialism (collectivism).

You have no right (negative right) to my property. In your mind you create a positive right to exert control over my property for your benefit. From here, we go to others making a first claim on my income for their benefit or for some socialized benefit that is commonly called the public good.

It is this line of thinking that has created the nanny state as the collective now has rights to my body (smoking bans, trans fats bans, etc.).

I think you need to run your thoughts through a filter that is not simply based on your whims at any given moment. Go to Mises.org and read the books and articles on ethics and property. Such writings will help you understand property rights in an ethical (moral) system.

Now, if a property owner truly aggressed against his neighbor, the neighbor has a right to legal action. But, neither your ability to enjoy your property, nor your claim to value of your property, is a claim on my property. Else, we go circular. Don't we? And then a judge bases the decision on some collective benefit, so we both lose rights to our respective properties.

I assume that you live in a township since you want a more "leave me be" lifestyle. Do you really want a pesky neighbor seeking redress on some perceived loss of value to his property based on your actions on your property? Does your neighbor have a right to exert a claim to force you to mow your lawn at certain times, paint your house certain colors, the size/shape of your mailbox, the plants and trees you grow, etc?

I truly hope that your answer is no.

Jim Fedako said...

Paul,

To clarify some things ...

One: This posting was on the fact that laws are not absolute in the hands of the political class. The petitioner met the letter of the law but was still denied his legal right to annex.

To better understand this note that township boards of zoning appeals regularly bend zoning laws as the board sees fit. And, residents have no say in the matter. Zoning is not a contract, it is the starting point for exaction, extraction, and finally, extortion by those in power.

A candidate for township trustee once told me that he would stop a development since some residents did not like it. The fact that the developer met the current laws meant nothing to this man. He was willing to use the power of the hammer to get votes. If he would do that, what else would he do?

This type of law (alternatively called civil and Roman law) leads to uncertainty and less investment. This is one of the reasons that poor countries like Jamaica never seem to progress -- investors never know if government is going to refute a contract, exert claims over property and investments, or simply nationalize.

Is this the direction we want to go?

Two: If your concern is that the action of a property owner will ultimately affect your tax bill, your issue is with the tax system, not the property owner.

Paul said...

Jim:

I'm respectful of what you say, but also think that there are no absolutes in this stuff, just degrees of polarity.

For example, I presume you live in a typical housing development, and that as a resident of that development, you agreed to confine your behaviors within certain bounds (often defined by the homeowner's association agreement). You had a choice, live there and agree to abide by the rules, or find somewhere else to live. You can't move there, then begin asserting that absolute property rights trump the community agreement. And I would guess that if your next door neighbor did something in violation of the homeowners agreement, and it annoyed you sufficiently, you would seek to enforce the agreement to stop the behavior.

In the same way it seems, the land developer presumably chose to purchase the land knowing that what he wanted to do with it was not permitted unless it was annexed. No one forced him to buy the land, and he should not feel there are any guarantees that he can causes changes to the rules just because he is a landowner.

In Franklin County the rural zoning rules, which is a broader form of a neighborhood association agreement, allow developers to build all the homes they want at a density of 1 home per 5 acres. To build at a higher density, they need permission, and that permission isn't guaranteed (unless you request annexation to Hilliard apparently).

In the American form of democracy, nothing is a sure thing - everything has to be worked out in a political context. While I can agree with you that America has become too socialist for my liking, it's not outside the bounds of what our law allow to happen.

The real problem is that Americans have lost our desire and skills to participate in the political process. We've turned our government over to those with deep enough pockets to fund $billion Presidential campaigns.

It's the apathy thing I always talk about. But we may be seeing a sea change as the cost of our socialist leaning continues to crush our economy.

PL

Jim Fedako said...

Paul,

You are missing the point, but you are close.

Yes, I agreed to live in a development with a restrictive covenent -- a contract that details what I can and cannot do to my property. Not only does it limit me, but it also protects me. I am within my rights to demand that all neighbors live according to the agreement. And, I am within my rights to demand that the HOA does not change the contract already agreed upon.

I never have issues with contracts that are signed by willing participants.

We are debating zoning and annexation law -- a supposed contract between government and its constituents. The property owner -- a farmer, wanted to annex his property into the city. He complied with the law, and now you cry foul.

Is law just an agreement in time, to be rewritten based on the whims of political pressures? Or, is law something that is supposed to hold true UNTIL it is either repealed or declared invalid by the courts?

In the blog, I am meerly pointing out the elected officials and their political appointees do not see law as something that affects them. It is nothing less than the starting point for political machinations

The end result is the same as that which exists in Jamaica, folk are affraid to invest as they cannot be certain that government will follow its laws.

Just like inflation -- where the economy can adjust to the amount of currency should government cease creating more money and credit, the laws we have today are the opposite of freedom. But, we can adjust to the current laws and regulations should government quit adding new ones and abide by those in effect (of course, I would love to see most laws repealed).

Also, despite what many believe, developers are not evil -- they built my neighborhood, Polaris, etc.

Here's where we disagree:

1. I have no faith in the political process. To trust development to appointed folks in place of investors with real money to lose is to believe in socialism.

2. I no longer believe that I have a right to my neighbor's property (outside of any contractual agreements we have -- restrictive covenant). To demand rights to your neighbor's property is to covet your neighbor's stuff. Not a good belief to hold.

Jim Fedako said...

Paul,

I also need to point out something ...

On my ride today (took the day off), I passed a number of "Stop Sawmill Road" signs in Liberty Township, Delaware County. These folks do not want Sawmill to extend to 42, west of Delaware.

From what I gather, they have affected a block by agreeing to not sell land to the county or developers. That is a great tactic, save one major point: Government will condemn land in order to use eminent domain.

In the end, the road will be built; government will steal the land from these residents.

The political process cuts both ways indeed.

Paul said...

1. Neither do I, at least not right now. But it's because we're not seeing the will of the people so much as the will of powerful. Look, I'm as free-market as it gets, but society needs some rules, and by definition those rules impose restrictions that not all necessarily agree to - just the majority. Majority rule sucks sometimes, but it's what we've got. Except that most Americas don't participate, they just complain.

2. I don't want any rights to my neighbor's property, but I want protections that his choice of use won't interfere with my reasonable enjoyment of my property. HOA agreements aren't always enough - what if you live in one of the lots at the border of the development? Don't you care what happens on the adjacent property - out of the reach of your HOA.

I can guess that you'll answer will be that the buyer of such a lot should understand the risk that a Wal-Mart would get built next door, and should demand sufficient discount to compensate for that risk. And I don't disagree.

I'm pretty much disgusted with the whole real estate game. It doesn't matter where you buy land, stuff can happen to blow up your dreams. We built our first house in a great area with great neighbors. Then it changed. So we bought land well away from development and enjoyed 20 years of peace. Now there's a 2,000 student high school being built across the street and all the adjacent land has been bought up by developers.

That's okay, we expected that. But we didn't expect the process to be manipulated by developers and their pet politicians, who conspired to use the school district as a pawn to transform the land use profile.

I think we're mostly on the same side of this. I believe in maximum liberty and a free market. But I accept that the form of government we have in America allows the majority to tweak and adjust things without particular concern for the minority.

So you have to be in the majority, or at least be able to build a coalition large enough to gain control - even though that always means lots of compromise. I think this is what our system of two parties has become - not necessarily what the founders had in mind.

So we can bitch about it - or we can try to change it. I hope to be playing a role in the latter movement. I think you are too.

PL

Jim Fedako said...

Paul,

I care about what my neighbors do to their property, I just don't feel that I have an ethical right to demand that they do as I please. Just as they have no ethical right to demand that I do as they please (I'm writing an article for Mises.org that addresses these very same points).

Murray N. Rothbard wrote a informative piece where he built an ethical system of property rights. It is a good read and it answers questions around your right to enjoy your property.

In a nutshell: You have the ethical right to enjoy the property you own as well as the property rights that you homesteaded. I could write for hours or let you read Rothbard (I've read this a few time, it is that good).

Your disgust is with the system -- I agree. But it's a fools errand to think that you can capture the political system for any length of time. I learned that through my board service. Everything that I pushed forward was repealed with in six months after my resignation.

So, we must educate others on the rights that founded this nation. And, we must never use nonvalid rights for our benefit.

Finally, this post was never about majority rule; it was about minority rule. And the fact that the minority can ignore the rights of the majority.

Who is the majority? The political class, of course.

Oh ... and the schools can play a pretty good political game themselves. Olentangy pushed Genoa Township to override the township's zoning ordinance so that the district could get a free school site -- the district had the township change one of its conservation areas to standard residential, all for a 14-acre elementary site.

I know, I participated (in my pre-property-rights phase). The process was pure political gamesmanship. The zoning ordinance that a majority of residents approved was undone by a few district representatives. The district won, the residents lost. The evil is the system and those who run and support it. Such was life; such is life.