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Is private property the foundation of prosperity?

By Henry Lamb
web posted September 10, 2007

Is private property the foundation of prosperity?  America's founders were convinced that it is.  For more than a century, the vast majority of Americans, and their elected representatives were convinced that it is.  In the last half-century, the majority of Americans, and their elected representatives, have lost sight of this fundamental principle of freedom, and have allowed governments at every level to take, or to take control of, the foundation of prosperity for all Americans.

Wayne Hage, who fought the federal government's confiscation of his property from 1978 until his death in 2006, said: "Either you have a right to own property, or you are property."  There can be no question that land and its resources, were intended to belong to the individuals who possessed it.  The federal government was deliberately, and expressly prohibited from owning land beyond the "ten miles square" capitol, and the land purchased, with the approval of state legislatures, for "...Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings...."

Even as the federal government acquired new lands, by purchase, treaty, or conquest, the attitude of government was to get that land into the hands of private owners as quickly as possible, through laws such as the Homestead Act, and other incentives.

But no more.   Now, the government - at every level - seeks to acquire as much land as possible, and,  by regulation, to control all the land it has not yet acquired.  Every square inch of land taken out of the private domain, and every new government regulation over land use, diminishes the potential prosperity, and destroys a measure of freedom, for every American.

Were every Congressman asked the question: "Is private property the foundation of prosperity?"
only the out-of-the-closet socialists would disagree.  But while the majority pays lip-service to this principle of freedom, they continue to vote for legislation that takes private property from individuals and gives it to the government, or they vote for legislation that simply gives government control over private property.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 designated "navigable waters of the United States" to be under the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers.  "Navigable" was once defined to be water in which a canoe would float.  But lawsuits brought by environmental organizations resulted in the courts redefining "navigable" to include virtually any land that is moist within 12-inches of the surface for seven consecutive days during the growing season.  This so-called "wetlands" policy gathered more than 200-million acres of private property under the control of the federal government.

But that's not enough.  Dozens of Congressmen, most of whom would swear that private property is the foundation of prosperity, are co-sponsoring the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007 (H.R.2421), which removes the word "navigable" from all references to the water under the jurisdiction of the federal government.   This bill amends existing law :

"by striking 'navigable waters of the United States' each place it appears and inserting 'waters of the United States';

and adding:

"The term 'waters of the United States' means all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, the territorial seas, and all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries, including lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds, and all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent that these waters, or activities affecting these waters, are subject to the legislative power of Congress under the Constitution."

This means that if rain falls on your land, the federal government can control the use of your land. 

What's sad is the realization that the Congressmen who are supporting this bill, and many, if not most, of their constituents, think that government control of land use is more important than the rights of the private owners whose land is being controlled.   One might expect this attitude from people who were educated in a socialist school system.  Perhaps, then, this attitude should come as no surprise.

What's tragic is that these rights, once usurped by government, will never be restored. The best hope for the future of freedom is to prevent the usurpation in the first place.  All those recently educated people who think it's perfectly fine for government to control the use of land - and water - should take a look at the Fifth Amendment.   Those who say controlling the use of property is not the same as "taking" the property for which compensation is due, should think again.

In the real world, control over another's property requires the owner's consent, or payment of rent.  If the government insists on controlling the use of private property - for any reason - the government should pay appropriate rent.  Perhaps support for land use control will diminish if it means raising the taxes of the people who want government control, in order to compensate the people whose property is controlled.

This idea, though, is wishful thinking; government has become so arrogant that it now believes itself to be infallible.  Next year, there will be another opportunity to send representatives to Washington who believe in the principles of freedom, who will protect property rights.  If the same crowd of government-is-God-and-we-are-its priesthood representatives are elected, the foundation of prosperity - and freedom - will continue to vanish. ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.






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