My Weekly Column for Utah Homemakers for America... Private Property Rights...
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is about more than keeping mum and not being compelled to testify against oneself, it’s also about property rights. It states, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
In his very interesting paper Property Rights in American history, James W. Ely writes, "...stable property rights are a powerful inducement for the creation of wealth and prosperity, prerequisites for successful self-government. Conversely, as the English politician and author Edmund Burke declared: ‘ A law against property is a law against industry.’" However, the paper makes a compelling argument that property rights have been diminishing since FDR and The New Deal. Why does this matter?
In his book Economic Facts and Fallacies, Thomas Sowell explains that the easiest way to see the importance of property rights is to look at societies where they don’t exist. These are not free people. And, in addition to a lack of freedom, they may really scramble and work very hard, but remain in poverty. Sowell writes, "The Economist magazine has estimated that, in Africa, only about one person in ten works in a legally recognized enterprise or lives in a house that has legally recognized property rights... Such lack of legal recognition is not a mere formality. It is a crippling handicap for those seeking to rise from poverty to prosperity, whether as individuals or as nations." A void in property rights literally means that whatever you are willing and able to obtain through your effort or labor may not actually remain yours. It may be taxed away or simply taken.
Property rights have been facing increasing infringements from many fronts here in the United States. Maybe the most subtle, but the most damaging is the current government bailout mania. The ten thousand little dishonesties from Wall Street to Main Street that have given us a climate where contracts are no longer inviolate, where someone’s word is not their bond and where government/taxpayers are expected to "bail out" Wall Street banks who did not fight legislation making it possible for people to buy homes well beyond their means and the people on Main Street who signed those loans. The bail out mentality sent us over a waterfall of trouble where we now hear radio ads pronouncing that we should look to the government to help us out of credit card debt. In order for The Fifth Amendment to remain a protection to the people, they must be honest and watchful.
Watchful because property rights have many challengers. Environmental law has become an encroachment on property rights. The Central Valley of California, a 400 mile long fertile garden, produces almost one quarter of America’s food supply, but there is a little minnow called the Delta Smelt on the endangered species list and that minnow gets stuck in irrigation pipes so the farmer’s water has been shut down. Beautiful almond groves that take years and years to nurture have dried up, died and been bulldozed. Millions in jobs and profits have been wiped out along with private property and the rights of owners.
In a landmark case, Kelo v. City of New London, The Supreme Court ruled that through eminent domain law, property can be taken and sold to the highest bidder. In his article, "Don’t Liberate me," Thomas Sowell wrote, "Through legislation and judicial rulings, property rights have been eroded with rent control laws, expansive concepts of eminent domain, and all sorts of environmental restrictions. Some of the biggest losers have been people of very modest incomes and some of the biggest winners have been fat cats who are able to use political muscle and activist judges to violate other people’s property rights. Politicians in cities around the country violate property rights regularly by seizing homes in working-class neighborhoods and demolishing whole sectors of the city, in order to turn the land over to people who will build shopping malls, gambling casinos, and other things that will pay more taxes than the homeowners are paying. That’s why property rights were put in the Constitution in the first place, to keep politicians from doing things like that."
If all that weren’t assault enough, property taxes have made it almost impossible to own or buy property in many states. In Rhode Island and many eastern states, property taxes are more than a thousand dollars per month on a modest family home making the dream of home ownership impossible for most. Here in Davis County, Utah, my property taxes have nearly tripled in seven years. I wonder if our county government is anxious to catch up with those eastern states. I also wonder how home ownership/property rights are really possible when those taxes are equal to rising lease payments to the government. Do you really own property that you must pay so much to the government to keep? In the United States, a little elderly widow on a fixed income ought not be put out of a home she purchased because of property tax.. and yet that can happen.
The answer is for our nation to be more honest and more responsible, know and understand The Constitution and work toward more limited government.