Monday, July 04, 2005

Prairie Vic

“A wide array of contemporary international treaties, ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the catechism of the Catholic Church to the 169th Covenant of the International Labor on Indigenous and Tribal People in Independent Countries of 1989, insist on property as a basic and stable human right.”

Hernando De Soto – “The Mystery of Capital” (page 165)

A little over a week ago I penned a few thoughts about the Supreme Court decision in the New London eminent domain case. I concluded with these words:

“One municipality, five judges, and a few corporations have picked the pockets of the good people of New London, Connecticut. The questions now remaining are “Who’s next?” and “What else is going to be lifted from us?”

A few days later I received a comment about what I had written concerning the New London case:

“Nor did they come for your house in 2005. The New London case involves a community trying to determine its future, and making a future that has jobs and hope for people. Private property rights should not stand in the way of doing the right thing for the unemployed and young, should they?”

It was, as I read it, an appeal to my faith and morality. How could I, a Christian stand in the way of “doing the right thing for the unemployed and young people?”

While I don’t think it’s a very good question, I’ve decided to take a few moments to explain why I believe that the right to property is a good and necessary right.

First and foremost, the right to property is established by Holy Writ. In fact, violating that right is condemned by two of the Ten Commandments. I’ll cite the references in contemporary language lest I be accused of using obscure, outdated language. The eighth commandment follows:

Exodus 20:15 (New Living Translation)

15 “Do not steal.”

And the text to the tenth commandment follows here:

Exodus 20:17 (New Living Translation)

17 “Do not covet your neighbor's house. Do not covet your neighbor's wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else your neighbor owns.”

That seems pretty clear to me. How about you?

I’ve heard many who advocate Christian socialism remind the rest of us that the “Book” says that we should “have all things in common.” I believe in the idea, in principle. But I’ve found that many of those who advocate it have their own agendas. They all too often drape their own covetousness in King James language and tell the rest of that we have an obligation to give what we’ve worked for, by God’s grace, to those who haven’t worked for it at all. If they want to play a proof-text game I’ll give them one to counter theirs:

2 Thessalonians 3:9-11 (New Living Translation)

9 “It wasn't that we didn't have the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. 10Even while we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Whoever does not work should not eat.”
11Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people's business.”

To those busy bodies I say, “If you want to own something, get a job, save your money, and then buy the things you want. If you do that and you can call it your property. If you do that I assure you that I won’t covet what you work hard to call property, any more than I covet what Bill Gates or Michael Jackson own. You can dispose of your property as you wish, but don’t you dare come to me like a sheep in wolves clothing and tell me that you have the divine right to take what I’ve worked for.”

I suppose the commenter might argue that a person whose property is going to be taken by commercial (not civic) interests because of this ruling will be compensated. The commenter also might argue that altruism should be the ruling philosophy in these types of cases. That is, as “science officer Spock” once put it – “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

There’s a small kernel of truth in the notion that a person would be compensated under such a circumstance. But would it be fair compensation? Ask those being displaced by the New London decision if they’ll be getting fair compensation and I think you’ll find that they don’t believe so. How much money would it take to replace the memories, the sweat equity, and the pride of ownership that came with their houses?

Ah, but there’s the issue of altruism. Wasn’t this decision, and the business activity that will flow from it, in the best interests the majority of us? The more I read the comment the more familiar it sounded to me. I went to my bookshelf and found my copy of Richard Pipes’ “Property and Freedom” and there it was:

“Ultimately, the propertyless will overthrow the propertied, and in the process abolish property altogether. Economic assets will first be nationalized and then become common good, with the result that everyone will contribute according to his abilities and receive according to his needs, which is the ultimate goal of communism.”

And what was the end game Marx and Engels had in mind when they formulated their theories:

“In communist society…society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing to-day and another to-morrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.”

Oh joy! Oh rapture! And all that I need to do to enjoy this utopian life is to give up my right to property.

It sounds too good to be true, and that’s because, of course, it isn’t.

Several years ago Nancy and I visited Prague. The Velvet Revolution had taken place and the people of the Czech Republic were trying to re-establish democratic rule and the fundamental right to own property. We stayed a wonderful Inn called the Pension Vetrnik. The inn had been owned by the family of Milos O’Partney for centuries. The family had taken great pride in what they had built. But then the communists came and everything changed. Milos was obliged to make his home and inn available to “the people.” He was told that the arrangement was going to be “for the best” and that he would be compensated for his generosity. Of course, the opposite happened. Milos gave and got little or nothing in return.

One night as we ate a wonderful dinner prepared by Milos and his wife he told us about what life was really like in the utopian days of communism. It was, as he put it, pure misery. His life, and the life of his family, was constantly at the disposal of the communist party. What he had once owned was now owned by the state. He had absolutely no freedom. Nor did the people of the Czech Republic. I asked Milos how important that little inn was to him and he replied, “I’ll protect it at the point of a gun if I have to. No one is going to take what my family has built over hundreds of years and take it away from me.”

Now Nancy and I don’t own an inn, but we do own a Prairie Victorian in Emporia, Kansas. It’s pictured in my introduction to this post. We bought it in 1999 and we have all the appropriate paper to prove that we own it. We have a mortgage. We have a deed to the property. And, we have the receipts for all the work we’ve done restoring this wonderful old money pit. We have memories of all the sweat we’ve put into this place over the years. This house is ours. It’s ours because we purchased it. It’s ours because God Himself respects our right to own it. And it’s ours because, at least for now, the United States government also respects that right. Nancy and I have worked hard to restore our house, and we don’t intend to just throw away our investment in time and money to satisfy the economic interests of some corporate entity or some “young person” who needs a job at our expense.

The commenter, and others who read this post, probably think by now that I’m a heartless brute for thinking the way I do. But my guess is that there’s far more charity coming from my home than many of theirs. During our professional lives we made our way into the thirty six percent tax bracket and never once complained about the taxes we had to pay. In addition, we gave another eighteen to twenty two percent of our income annually to various charities. We did so because we believed that we had a responsibility to give in return for the blessings God had given us.

I haven’t opened my wallet to boast. I’ve done so to give you, the reader, some frame of reference. I don’t envy those with wealth, nor do I ignore the needy around me. But I never have, nor will I ever, adopt a philosophy of life that says, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.” So, on this Fourth of July, when I’m celebrating American independence, I once again remind my critics that once my property is coveted, and possibly taken, my loss of freedom won’t be far behind. No amount of “altruism” they can muster will make me believe that their intentions are good. They just covet what they have not worked themselves to build. That’s not the altruism I subscribe to, nor is it the altruism that the Almighty subscribes to either.


James Fletcher Baxter said...

Those who ignore Boundary and Domain are cannibals and leeches of the first order. They are followers of the author of IQ failure and self-worshipping mindless rebellion: Lucifer.

There is no intelligence involved in such attitudes and behavior. It is unintended but certain self-destruction. The laws of nature and nature's Creator will dissolve those who initiate and practice such evil in His causal Domain Creation. His patience is limited only by His choice and timing. So be it.

I, along with Mr. Jefferson, tremble, when I realize what awaits the enemies of God.

In our own generation: Observe and Behold...

Dana said...

Without our property rights, our other rights have no meaning or value. What good is freedom of speech if the government can take your property on a whim.