Property rights, not political power, should control land

The Colorado Freedom Report:  An independent journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Property rights, not political power, should control land

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on June 26, 2006.

On a free market, under a government that protects individual rights, those who don't like neighboring junkyards and other properties have a very simple remedy: purchase the property at a price amenable to the owner.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a free market, and our government often functions to violate rather than protect individual rights, including property rights.

Our state's constitution admirably sums up our rights to property (Article II, Section 3): "All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness."

That provision notwithstanding, local governments regularly violate property rights with arbitrary zoning policies and eminent domain. For example, the city of Golden has been trying, through eminent domain, to block the construction of TV broadcast towers. And the federal government usurps land rights through various policies enacted and enforced by environmental socialists. John Stossel recently wrote of regulators who tried to push out ranchers by planting lynx fur in national forests to establish protected habitat.

The City of Grand Junction simply had no businesses getting involved with Dean Van Gundy's salvage businesses. He has a right to acquire, possess, and protect his property. Those who don't like it have every right to offer to buy him out (with their own money) on terms he voluntarily accepts. The city's only legitimate role is to help recognize, establish, and protect property rights, not violate rights through zoning, eminent domain, and political favoritism.

Here's another local example. The AP reported (June 7): "Two conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to protect a rare plant found only in a small area in the gas fields of northwestern Colorado. The groups' lawsuit asks the court to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to place the DeBeque milkvetch on the endangered-species list... Erin Robertson, a biologist with the Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems, said the plant grows on the area's high-desert knolls and at the bottom of the Roan Plateau near Rifle."

Robertson told the AP, "The current explosion of oil and gas drilling threatens this Colorado wildflower with extinction."

So the left, which continually complains about U.S. reliance on foreign energy, again prevents U.S. companies from utilizing U.S. resources, all because of the milkvetch plant. The problem is that the land is socialized and controlled by politics rather than by markets.

We don't really believe that drilling would kill off the milkvetch plants. Yet if property rights were established and protected, the environmentalist crazies could spend their resources to protect the plant if they wished, either by securing the land or by working with drilling companies to assure compatible land use.

The Lockean principle that informed our nation's founders is that we acquire property by mixing our labor with virgin land or by purchasing it on mutually agreeable terms from existing owners. Of course, owners must not use their property in such a way as to violate the equal property rights of others. You can't throw your trash onto your neighbor's lawn, and you can't spill toxins or other pollutants onto neighboring properties.

At the same time, prior uses should be legally protected. Farmers have every right to continue to make noise, spread cow manure, spray for insects, and so on, and if you move next to a farm you can't rightly complain about such things.

There is some movement to better-secure property. Thankfully, even though a citizens' initiative to limit eminent domain lacked sufficient signatures, the legislature did pass bill 1411, which prohibits the forcible taking of property "for the purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenue." The governor signed the measure into law. Hopefully, the new law will provide better protections for property owners. But it addresses only a small part of the problem.

In a May 15 blog for, John Lewis writes, "America is the land in which productive individuals were largely set free of the coercive power of the government. The result was the most prosperous nation the world has ever seen. But, over the past two generations, our freedom has been subordinated, in myriad ways, to the 'Little Dictators' among us."

These "Little Dictators" include "the planning commission that decides whether I can build a house on my lot" and "the zoning board that decides a restaurant is OK on this lot, but not on that one."

"These Little Dictators have the power of government guns to enforce their decisions. To avoid their wrath, a productive individual must suppress his rational judgment, and go by the rules they enforce. They are enemies of independent thought and comrades of conformity."

Political power is the only and inevitable alternative to property rights.

The Colorado Freedom