Sunday, May 14, 2017

Property rights abused, misunderstood

(My Eastern New Mexico News column for April 12, 2017)

Property rights is a pillar of civilization. A pillar which is crumbling from neglect, abuse, and misunderstanding.

As long as your use of your property doesn't damage other people or their property in a tangible way, it's no one else's business. This applies to trash, vermin, odors and dust, holes, and nuclear waste.

What if your mess won't stay put on your property? What about someone who drains the aquifer?

Arbitration and restitution could ease these sorts of problems, but government courts have been fairly useless for protecting private property rights. Tax money, government interests, and political cronyism get in the way-- and voters will vote for anything they believe protects their income, be it policy or politician.

Does freedom mean the right to use your property however you want? Where does your freedom end? Freedom often violates other people, because "freedom" is simply doing whatever you want to do. Liberty, on the other hand, is the freedom to do what you have a right to do, and you never have a right to violate other people's life, liberty, or property.

Since you have no right to use your property in a way which will harm your neighbors' property, if you do-- if you drain or contaminate their wells or can't contain your mess to your property, and you can't reach an agreement with them-- you will owe restitution.

Some people fear if businesses are held accountable for pollution, the economy would crash; no one would do anything because of the risk of owing restitution to surrounding property owners. This might cause trouble for a while since property rights have never been taken very seriously, but business would adjust.

Property owners might be approached ahead of time, with agreements-- perhaps including a financial stake-- being ironed out before anything happens. A market could arise for tools to keep pollution contained to the property where it originates-- or to collect and ship it elsewhere to be cleaned or recycled. "Pollution" is just another name for resources wasted because we don't yet know how to profitably use them.

I'm not saying this is the only way these things could be solved-- given motivation, people are pretty innovative and will come up with even better solutions. Opposition to proper respect for property rights reminds me of those who couldn't imagine how cotton would be picked if slavery were ended. Do the right thing, then figure out where to go from there.

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