Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Libertarians and the proper role of government

Let me start with the proper role of government as understood and expressed by the Founders in 1776: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...."

Government exists primarily to secure our rights.

Currently, Article 1, Section I of the Utah Constitution reads, "All men have the inherent and inalienable right to...acquire, possess, and protect property...."

Libertas proposes to add one word: "use". The revised phrase would then read, "All men have the inherent and inalienable right to...acquire, possess, use, and protect property...."

On the surface, this proposed change seems good, even necessary to fully protect property rights.

Currently, property is zoned for different uses such as single-family residential, multi-family residential, agricultural, industrial, commercial, etc. Sometimes, a municipality might have long-range plans that differ from current zoning.

For example, over two decades ago, my neighborhood was zoned for agricultural purposes, then, at the request of the owner and with no objections from neighboring property owners, the zoning was changed to single-family residences. The property was subdivided into residential lots. Streets were surveyed and paved. Utilities were installed. My home was built soon after that change and many fine homes have since been built, creating a nice middle-class neighborhood.

Some of the property in my neighborhood, having been grandfathered, is still vacant, but used for agricultural purposes. The city's long-term plan is for the entire neighborhood to eventually consist of single-family homes. If any of the property currently used for agricultural purposes changes ownership, the zoning automatically changes to single-family residential use.

Those were the conditions that I accepted when I bought my home 14 years ago. I knew that I had horses on the property behind my house. I accepted that fact when I made the purchase. I enjoy my four-legged neighbors. I also knew that one day the horses would be gone and I'd see a single-family home on the other side of the fence. I accept that. I expect to enjoy my new two-legged neighbors.

But, the possible, even probable, result of this one-word constitutional amendment could be a buyer buying that horse property -- knowing that it will automatically be zoned for single-family residences as expected by the current neighbors and the city -- but with the intention of using that land for commercial or industrial purposes such as an automobile wrecking yard -- right in the middle of a nice residential neighborhood! It will definitely result in homeowners and home buyers setting up full-scale all-day businesses in structures built and intended as residences right in the middle residential neighborhoods with associated signs, parking, and traffic. the folks at Libertas don't seem to mind the prospect of the nice home next door or next to a church or school being converted into a massage/tattoo parlor. (Maybe that's what they want to do.)

To justify its proposal, Libertas uses the example of a couple that bought some property near Virgin, Utah. Surely that couple was conscientious enough to know how it was zoned. Their act of buying that land was an implicit acceptance of any zoning and land-use restrictions. If they wanted to do anything that is inconsistent with the zoning, they should have bought somewhere else. Don't buy, then impose your will on the rest of the neighborhood, claiming "property rights".

Back to paragraph one above. Government's primary and proper role is to secure (protect) the rights of the people. My neighborhood has a right to the environment we chose when we bought our property. We need government to protect our right to the use of our property under the conditions established when we bought the property unless we all agree that there needs to be a change.

If anyone wants to create an automobile wrecking yard, storage facility, factory, hotel, pig farm, RV park, etc., they are welcome to do so -- in an area that is zoned in a way that it doesn't harm the property rights of those who are already there. Don't barge in to exploit the new wording of the Constitution to do whatever you please regardless of the rights of your neighbors.

Libertas -- presumably being far wiser than all the rest of us -- wants to allow anyone to thus change the rules in the middle of the game. Their goal in this and other Libertas initiatives seems to be the protection or expansion of the rights of a selfish few at the expense of the rights of the community as a whole.

Do we have an out-of-control government? Absolutely -- even at the local level in too many cases. We need organizations like Libertas to help identify the problems and identify ways to fix them. But, do you fix that problem by throwing out necessary roles of government and regulation that protect rights? The hard-core libertarians of Libertas need to come to grips with the fact that government is necessary and that its primary role is to protect our rights from harm by the selfish -- not to establish a new right for selfish property owners to harm the rights and property values of existing property owners.

The revised wording seems good on the surface. But, the sad fact is that most voters won't take the time to ponder the consequences. I predict that the amendment will pass. Then, everyone who voted for it will wonder why that wrecking yard is on the other side of the fence. "Feel good" laws are the domain of the Left. I am deeply disappointed that Libertas is going there too.

We need smarter voters at Libertas.

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