Limited Government and Private Property Rights…
I’ve had recent experiences in both of these arenas that deserve to be discussed.
Private Property Rights
We bought an investment property a little more than two years ago. It is a home that was converted many years ago to a duplex. However, the homeowner at the time did the conversion under the radar, so the local municipality will not consider it a legal duplex. Furthermore, they are unwilling to change the zoning from single family dwelling to multifamily dwelling, in spite of the fact that it is surrounded by multiplexes. In our efforts to make change, we dealt with a number of very friendly people at the city that were, frankly, also very clueless. So, we decided to sell the property. From the time that we went under contract with a buyer, two months have elapsed. We are in the middle of signing final closing paperwork, and it has been an absolute motley crue of regulation and intervention clear through the sale process. The buyer is getting an FHA loan, so the federal government is involved with the FHA requirements. The buyer is also seeking redevelopment money from the city, and so the city is using the opportunity to make the property comply with zoning rules. The loan companies have inserted their requirements, as have the title companies. All real estate transactions are also regulated by the state. In the end, if I ask the question “is this really my private property?” I have to conclude that it is, in fact, not. If I had freedom to do what I wanted on the property, so long as it did not infringe on my neighbors’ rights and well-being, and if I had freedom to buy and sell property without constant intervention and regulation at every step of the process, then it would be private property. But I conclude that we have had our private property rights stripped from us and really are all just tenants of the state. After all, if I own the property free and clear, I will still forfeit it to the state if I fail to pay property tax. I’m just a renter after all.
I build large pipelines for a living. In a nutshell – LOTS of permits. I work for a regulated company – we are regulated by FERC and DOT. The federal regulators force other stakeholders (BLM, USFS, FWS, states, counties, property owners, etc) to work through a process known as NEPA to “streamline” the building of a new pipeline or related facility. We (the pipeline company) also have the right of federal pre-emption if a stakeholder is not participating appropriately in the NEPA process or otherwise puts roadblocks in our way. Now, I’m a champion of private property rights (in spite of my cynicism in the previous paragraph) and do not like to be involved in using eminent domain on projects; in fact, we do not exercise that authority very often. However, if a government agency, state, county, or municipality fails to meet their obligation to the process, I feel no sympathy toward their cause. I recently experienced a county throwing their weight around and doing whatever they could to get additional money from my company and bolster their budgets. We chose not to federally pre-empt simply due to a tight timeframe, and the county knew this would be the case. So, when a small county in the mountain states behaves in this fashion, I tend to feel pretty cynical. I had held out hope that things were different in the small towns, cities, counties. But the truth is, the small governments generally behave just like the big ones, and sometimes they seem even more corrupt.
So, when will the pendulum of freedom start to swing in the other direction?