Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column
July 6, 1998
Respect for property rights necessary for freedom
Often Congress' laws are not about environment, but power and control
It is the most basic of all our rights. In a society which has the proper focus, many of the problems we face today become non-issues. Over the last half-century, there has been a declared war on these most fundamental of rights: property rights.

Some try to make this an issue of simply pro-property rights versus pro-environmentalism. In reality, the issue is much, much deeper. In fact, how we look at property rights is a most basic foundation of our liberty.

When one has a proper respect for property rights, environmental concerns go away. In a society that respects the property of others, it is cause for legal action if someone pollutes your land, or the water coming across your property, or the air which floats above it. With a proper respect for private property, people can and should be allowed to do whatever they would like with their land - barring any restrictions they agreed to when they purchased the land - up until the point that their actions physically affect their neighbors.

So while a land owner may choose to build a big factory on his land, he must be very careful to ensure that no harm comes to adjacent property owners, or he will face the unmitigated wrath of those neighbors. In the past, big businesses often colluded with government to allow them to pollute their neighbors land, leaving the adjacent owners with devalued property and no recourse.

But the issue is so much more broad than simply concerns over the protection of the environment. Much has been done in the name of "environmentalism" which in reality has little to do with clean air and water, and everything to do with power and control.

For the degree of freedom we enjoy on our own property - whether it is a thousand-acre farm or a single-family dwelling lot in a town or city - is a strong measure of the liberty in a society.

Our respect for private property goes to the root of our other freedoms: freedom of speech, of religion, to own weapons, to gather peaceably, and on. Much is made that one should not "yell fire in a crowded theater." And while that is true in a moral sense, it is equally true that the property owner should have the right to disallow people from saying or doing anything in their theater, or even being there in the first place. But today the government dictates not only how we can use the land, but in many cases forces us to allow others to use our property in ways to which we object.

Freedom only exists where there is complete respect for rights of property ownership. When we go to another person's land, or home, or business, we should expect to be bound by their rules of conduct. And they should be free to protect their property and family as they see fit.

Increasingly, though, the government is usurping our property rights, in one fashion or another. It is fair to say that we are in a sense losing true property ownership. In many cases, the government prevents us from doing with our property what we would like, essentially making the land worthless. Yet government still manages to tax us at rates which rival rent for the pleasure of being forbidden from using the land. Some of the laws are ostensibly "environmental" in nature, others reflect a desire for "fairness," while still others make claims of simply being "good for everyone." While these laws may be good for the big-government bureaucrats, they are bad for almost everyone else. In fact, these laws amount to regulatory takings, which are prohibited by our Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

Perhaps the most egregious assault occurs, though, at the death of a property owner. Instead of being able to leave the family estate to his heirs, the owner's survivors must instead sit down with the government and negotiate how to divide up the property. The family farm is an endangered species, not for a lack of profitability or interest, but because the taxes assessed by government at our death forces the family to sell off land just to pay the levy.

Our freedoms and liberties are only as secure as our property rights. This was the underlying assumption of our Founding Fathers, and a foundation we are in danger of cracking. Without a firm respect for property ownership, all our other rights are only so much talk.