Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pullman Collectivism

"'Necessity' is the plea for every infringement of human liberty. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

-William Pitt (The Younger)
Paul, I would love to see your view on this letter that appeared in the Daily News today:
Land-use regulations are nothing new

At the recent public hearing on proposed land-use regulations regarding rural residential development in Whitman County (“Residents lash out against land laws,” Daily News, Aug. 30) we note that those against the proposed regulations complained of severe infringements on their private property rights and expressed the view “It’s our land … We should be able to do what we want to do.” No need to take down the American flag just yet. Those concerns are quite exaggerated. Zoning regulations are nothing new. Although people who do own land have benefited from our tradition of private property rights, those rights have never been absolute. Historically in the Wild West these restrictions were scarce but have necessarily increased with increasing population growth, conflicting activities, and multiple land uses. Land-use regulations strive to offer certain protections for all. Hopefully, this will remain the case as our area grows.

A main issue that has been inserted into the public discussion, and rightfully so in our opinion, is: “Who owns the view?” The Palouse is a distinctively beautiful area common to us all but uncommon in its beauty. We appreciate the effort of others to improve the economy of the region but hope that prosperity will not cheapen us in turn.

If we do indeed experience hoped-for economic prosperity, it should be obvious to all who look out over the smooth contours of the Palouse skyline and the few houses already perched obtrusively on hilltops that they will not be the last, by far. Unrestricted, people will build on the skyline to enjoy the unobstructed view, themselves obstructing what they value.

Other communities who have valued their assets of landform beauty have regulated accordingly. Others have not acted decisively and these areas have suffered a degradation of their citizen’s quality of life.

Richard C. and Carla A. Wesson, Pullman
No absolute private property rights? The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one? (Sorry, Mr. Spock)

When I read this letter, I immediately thought of Paul Fedako's excellent article at Mises.org titled "Zoning is Theft". The parallels with Whitman County are plentiful.

As Bastiat wrote, "The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder."


April E. Coggins said...

I think it boils down to someone's perceived right to an unobstructed landscape attempting to infringe upon the property rights of the owner of said landscape.

Tom Forbes said...

Agreed April. The answer for the Wessons is simple: they need only to buy up all the ridgelines in Whitman County, and then they can leave them undeveloped as they see fit. Otherwise, what they are proposing is to take away the lawful owners right to develop the property as they see fit and profit from such development, otherwise known as stealing.

They had that in the Wild West also. Good thing for the Wessons that isn't dealt with as harshly anymore. They tended to respect property rights more then.

April E. Coggins said...

I would bet that if I went to the Wesson's house and started making similar demands about their property, they would be very defensive about their property rights. But it is always easy and tempting to desire someone elses property for your own use, which includes its use as landscape.

Paul E. Zimmerman said...

My thoughts on it are of course in line with what you and April have settled on - this is nothing more than one more sad, sickening example of people trying to seize the property of others for their own prefered uses, while leaving the true property owner to foot the bill. On that note, I'm not sure I would call them collectivist, though they do seem to try to frame things that way. Really, I think they're just couching their own private interests in such terms as a rhetorical device.

I think the most disgusting portion of the Wessons' letter is the justification for the course of action they propose: people have had their property rights restricted or violated before, so it's fine if we do it again. This does not even try to demonstrate that the ideas built into the proposal are valid; it simply argues from the barrel of a gun (though like most people who think as the Wessons seem to, they hardly ever make the connection between physical force and the power of the state... or they actually enjoy it).

As to the "who owns the view" bit, the correct answer is the people who own those plots. As it has already been said, the Wessons clearly value these views but they want someone else to pick up the tab for them. If they want to preserve the ridgelines, then they need to start buying up empty plots.

Ray Hyde said...

This isn't an issue of property rights, it is one of personal rights. If one person expects another to maintain the view for him, the he is expecting that person to work for him.

My experience is that when I want someone to do something for me, I ordinarily have to pay them.

In many communities, if an applicant applies for a rezoning for more development than currently allowed, he is met with a demand for impact fees or proffers to offset the putative "costs" to others. Yet, when the reverse happens the community sees no reason to pay up.

Why should they, if they can steal it for free.

Some communities make the argument that they are saving taxpayers money by preventing development. But frequently the cost to one taxpayer may be more than that saved by the others. Only if the winners can compensate the losers and still come out ahead can the claim of overarching community benefits be valid.

Suppose there existed a law that protected the ridgelines, and that law was later rescinded. You can bet that the Wessons would be the first to complain that their property rights had been violated. And, in fact, if they had purchased their property with the idea and promise that the ridgelines would be protected, they would be correct. It is no different with those that own the ridgelines and bought them with certain expectations.

The county makes itself a part of every land transaction by taing on itself the act of recording the deed. The government has the obligation to protect property, and those protections ought to be spelled out in the deed.

Some rural areas are being plagued with new development. As a result they cause new buyers in the area to sign a rural compact that spells out what they are buying into: agricultural smells, dust, chemicals, night operations, slow moving farm equipment, people who own guns and use them.

We need to expand that idea and also include those things that you are not buying into.]

Ray Hyde,

Delaplane Virginia.