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The Absolute Sanctity Of Property Ownership

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  • jail4judges
    J.A.I.L. News Journal ____________________________________________________ Los Angeles, California March 31, 2002
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2002
      J.A.I.L. News Journal
      Los Angeles, California                                              March 31, 2002
      The Absolute Sanctity
      Of Property Ownership
      "The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence." -- John Adams
      J.A.I.L. has been receiving more and more stories about how governments at all levels throughout this country, city, county, state and federal, are inventing ingenious methods of devouring people's property wholesale for private purposes. Even taking without notice property wanted by land developers because they claim that ground cover exceeds twelve inches. Because judges have now become "agents" of an all tyrannical and encompassing government, instead of the system of checks and balances, no man's castle is safe.
      While the below is somewhat lengthily, it is a real classic, a keepsake, and we advise that you read and ponder every word and find a place to keep it for future reference. Professor Shaffer probes our minds and challenges or prejudices, and impresses upon us that property ownership is the very essence of all life itself, and he starts with the provocative question, "Do You Own Your Own Self?" Following Dr. Shaffer's exegesis is a news article from the March 4, 2002 Washington Times that illustrates the premise that Dr. Shaffer has just set forth.

      Do You Own Yourself?

      by Professor Butler Shaffer

      One of my favorite quotations comes from Thomas Pynchon: "if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers." Our world is in the mess it is in today because most of us have internalized the fine art of asking the wrong questions. Contrary to the thinking that would have us believe that the conflict, violence, tyranny, and destructiveness that permeates modern society is the result of "bad" or "hateful" people, disparities in wealth, or lack of education, all of our social problems are the direct consequence of a general failure to respect the inviolability of one another’s property interests!

      I begin my Property classes with the question: "do you own yourself?" Most of my students eagerly nod their heads in the affirmative, until I warn them that, by the time we finish examining this question at the end of the year, they will find their answer most troubling, whatever it may be today. "If you do own yourself, then why do you allow the state to control your life and other property interests? And if you answer that you do not own yourself, then what possible objection can you raise to anything that the state may do to you?" ....

      Every living thing must occupy space and consume energy from outside itself if it is to survive, and it must do so to the exclusion of all other living things on the planet. I didn’t dream this up. My thinking was not consulted before the life system developed. The world was operating on the property principle when I arrived and, like the rest of us, I had to work out my answers to that most fundamental, pragmatic of all social questions: who gets to make decisions about what? The essence of "ownership" is to be found in control: who gets to be the ultimate decision maker about people and "things" in the world?

      Observe the rest of nature: trees, birds, fish, plants, other mammals, bacteria, all stake out claims to space and sources of energy in the world, and will defend such claims against intruders, particularly members of their own species. This is not because they are mean-spirited or uncooperative: quite the contrary, many of us have discovered that cooperation is a great way of increasing the availability of the energy we need to live well. We have found out that, if we will respect the property claims of one another and work together, each of us can enjoy more property in our lives than if we try to function independently of one another. Such a discovery has permitted us to create economic systems.

      There is no way that I could have produced, by myself, the computer upon which I am writing this article. Had I devoted my entire life to the undertaking, I would have been unable even to have conceived of its technology. Many other men and women, equally unable to have undertaken the task by themselves, cooperated – without even knowing one another – in its creation. Lest you think that my writing would have to have been accomplished through the use of a pencil, think again: I would also have been unable to produce a pencil on my own, as Leonard Read once illustrated in a wonderful, brief essay.

      Such cooperative undertakings have been possible because of a truth – acknowledged by students of marketplace economic systems, particularly the Austrians – about human nature: each of us acts only in anticipation of being better off afterwards as a result of our actions. Toward whatever ends we choose to act – and such ends are constantly rearranging their priorities within us – their satisfaction is always expressed in terms inextricably tied to decision making over something one owns (or seeks to own). Whether I wish to acquire some item of wealth, or to give it away; whether I choose to write some great novel or paint some wondrous work of art; or whether I just wish to lie around and look at flowers, each such act is premised on the fact that we cannot act in the world without doing so through property interests. It is in anticipation of being able to more fully express our sense of what is important to us, both materially and spiritually, that we cooperate with one another.

      "Property" also provides a means for maximizing both individual liberty and peace in society. For once we identify who the owner of some item of property is, that person’s will is inviolate as to such property interest. He or she can do what they choose with respect to what is theirs. If I own a barn, I can set fire to it should I so choose. If I must first get another’s permission, such other person is the owner. Individual liberty means that my decision making is immune from the coercion of others, and coercion is always expressed in terms of property trespasses.

      At the same time, the property principle limits the scope of my decision making by confining it to that which is mine to control. This is why problems such as industrial "pollution" are usually misconceived, reflecting the truth of Pynchon’s earlier quote. A factory owner who fails to confine the unwanted byproducts of his activities to his own land, is not behaving as a property owner, but as a trespasser. Economists have an apt phrase for this: socializing the costs. He is behaving like any other collectivist, choosing to extend his decision making over the property of others!

      But not all of us choose to pursue our self-interests through cooperation with others. Cooperation can exist only when our relationships with others are on a voluntary basis which, in turn, requires a mutual respect for the inviolability of one another’s property boundaries. Those who seek to advance their interests in non-cooperative ways, create another system: politics. If you can manage to drag your mind away from the drivel placed there by your high school civics class teacher, and look at political systems in terms of what they in fact do, you will discover this: every such system is founded upon a disrespect for privately owned property! All political systems are collectivist in nature, for each presumes a rightful authority to violate the will – including confiscation – of property owners. One can no more conceive of "politics" without "theft" than of "war" without "violence."

      Every political system is defined in terms of how property is to be controlled in a given society. In communist systems, the state confiscates all the means of production. In less-ambitious socialist systems, the state confiscates the more important means of production (e.g., railroads, communications, steel mills, etc.). Under fascism, "title" to property remains in private hands, but "control" over such property is exercised by the state. Thus, fascism has given us state regulatory systems, in which property owners – be they farmers, homeowners, or businesses – have the illusion of owning what they believe to be "theirs," while the state increasingly exercises the real ownership authority (i.e., control). In welfare state systems, the state confiscates part of the income of individuals and redistributes it to others.

      As stated earlier, property is an existential fact. Whatever the society in which we live, someone will make determinations as to who will live where, what resources can be consumed by whom (and when), and how such property will be controlled. Such decisions can either be made by individual property owners – over what is theirs to control – or by the state presuming the authority to control the lives of each of us. When such decisions are made by the state, it is claiming ownership over our lives.

      It is at this point that I let the students in on the secret the political establishment would prefer not to have revealed: the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not end slavery, but only nationalized it! That most Americans acquiesce in such political arrangements, and take great offense should anyone dare to explain their implications, has led me to the conclusion that America may be the last of the collectivist societies to wither away. Most Americans, sad to say, seem unprepared to deny the state’s authority to direct their lives and property as political officials see fit. The reason for this, as my first-day question to students is designed to elicit, is that most of us refuse to insist upon self-ownership.

      We may, of course, choose to accept our role as state-owned chattels, particularly if we are well-treated by our masters. We may be so conditioned in our obeisance that, like cattle entering the slaughterhouse, we may pause to lick the hand of the butcher out of gratitude for having been well cared for. On the other hand, we may decide to reclaim our self-ownership by taking back the control over our lives that we have long since abandoned. ....

      There is one person who can restore you to a state of self-ownership, however, and that person is you. To do so, you need only assert your claim, not as some empty gesture, but in full understanding of the existential meaning of such a claim, including the willingness to take full control of and responsibility for your life. While your claim will likely evoke cries of contempt from many, you may also find yourself energized by a life force that permeates all of nature; an élan vital that reminds us that life manifests itself only through individuals, and not as collective monstrosities; that life belongs to the living, not to the state or any other abstraction.          February 25, 2002

      Butler Shaffer teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

      Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com



      The Washington Times (www.washtimes.com)

      Eminent domain abuses unchecked

      Dana Berliner / Scott Bullock
      Published 3/4/2002

           Most people would be shocked to discover that governments across
      the nation are taking individuals' homes only to transfer that property
      to a favored business or neighbor. Or that businesses are often being
      condemned so another business can take their property and make a larger
           Yet in the last few years, governments across the country have
      taken private homes and businesses to replace them with other privately
      owned single businesses, malls, industrial developments and upscale
           In New London, Conn., a private organization has been given the
      government power to condemn more than a dozen properties, including the home of an 82-year-old grandmother for construction of an office park and other development to complement a nearby Pfizer research facility.
      Merriam, Kan,. condemned a car dealership so a higher-profit neighboring
      BMW dealership could expand. And in Riviera Beach, Fla., the city is
      moving forward with plans to force out more than 5,000 residents for
      privately owned commercial and industrial development.
           These are a few of the situations described in a report issued today by the newly formed Castle Coalition, "Government Theft: The Top
      Ten Abuses of Eminent Domain, 1998-2002." Selected from more than 100 such abuses around the country, the report describes 10 of the most
      egregious examples of government taking homes or businesses from their
      rightful owners to transfer the land to a more politically or financially powerful private party.
           Although both federal and state constitutions forbid takings for
      private use, government at all levels ignores this prohibition.
           Court battles are long, arduous and often prohibitively expensive,
      particularly when the cost is borne by one or two property owners.....
           Across the country, there were isolated pockets of dedicated activists fighting to defeat plans to raze their homes and businesses for the benefit of private parties, but now they are uniting. ....
           If an elderly widow's house in Des Plaines, Ill., can be condemned
      for a Walgreens, no one's home is safe. Under our Constitution, our
      property rights are not conditioned on the whim of those with financial
      and political influence. Nor should they be sacrificed just so municipalities can put more money in their coffers.
           It's time for citizens to tell their state and local governments that enough is enough. The abuse of eminent domain to take property for
      other private parties must end. That's what the Castle Coalition intends
      to accomplish.
           Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock are both senior attorneys at the
      Institute for Justice. They currently litigate cases challenging eminent
      domain abuses in Connecticut, Mississippi, and New York. For more
      information, visit www.castlecoalition.org or www.ij.org.

      Copyright © 2002 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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