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Protecting farmland, property rights not mutually exclusive
June 13, 2005 by Doug Puckett Guest columnist
The right to private property is inextricable from human freedom and democracy.
This right includes the ownership of the dirt on which we grow food and fiber and build our homes. It includes the cross we wear which symbolizes our faith. It includes the car we drive, which allows freedom of movement.
"Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist," said John Adams. George Washington said "Private property and freedom are inseparable."
David Friedman, professor of law at Santa Clara University recently wrote: "But property rights are not the rights of property; they are the rights of humans with regard to property. They are a particular kind of human right."
Editor Tim Fought of the Herald and News does not believe in preserving private property rights, as he made clear in his April 24 editorial. Fought believes that we have to choose between property rights and preserving farmland. We have to choose between these two, he says.
"You can't 'balance' acts that are inherently contradictory."
More than a million Oregonians voted for Measure 37.
It passed in 35 of Oregon's 36 counties. It received 61 percent of the vote statewide.
It received more yes votes than any other initiative in Oregon's history.
Oregonians overwhelmingly support private property rights. But they also want to see farmland preserved.
Because of this, Fought thinks that we are "incoherent," "fail to hew to logic," are "full of contradictions" and do not have the backbone to make "hard choices." Fought clearly has a problem with the concept of democracy with respect to Measure 37.
Measure 37 passed because Oregonians believe in private property rights and in fair play. It is wrong for government to take property from citizens without paying for it.
Rights under attack
Property rights have suffered under heavy-handed, subjective and arbitrary rules, designed by social engineers and planners who think they know how to use private property better than landowners.
Senate Bill 100, the 1973 legislation that created Oregon's planning system, contained a provision to appoint a blue ribbon panel which was to adopt a system to compensate property owners for lost property values suffered under implementation of the new laws. This provision was never implemented by the politicians in Salem. Measure 37 restored this provision to the original legislation, at least marginally.
Fought has posited a false dichotomy - preserving farmland and protecting private property rights are mutually exclusive. This is a cheap pedagogical trick. This is the type of fallacious thinking that some pollsters and some newspaper editors use to manipulate public policy. The two goals are not mutually exclusive and we can have both. Private property rights must be preserved at any cost. When government needs to take property from its citizens it has the right to do so through eminent domain procedures. When government exercises the right of eminent domain, it has to pay for the property it takes. Nothing less than this is acceptable. Private property must be protected as a right, while the idea of preserving farmland is a worthwhile goal.
Farmland needs to be preserved, but not at the expense of private property rights. There are other means to preserve farmland.
Billions of dollars of taxpayer money are spent annually to help preserve farmland.
These include programs to help preserve wetlands, to preserve highly erodable soils, and to preserve river and streambanks.
At the local level, farmers pay a reduced property tax rate on farmland. Punitive estate or "death" taxes levied by federal and state governments have destroyed many family farms. As these taxes are reduced or phased out, more farmland is preserved. Preserving farmland is a worthwhile goal that should be pursued. The right of private property is protected by the Constitution.
Fought has a straightforward view of preserving farm land. You simply take it from the farmer who owns and protect the land from him. There is no need to compensate people when you take land from them.
Compensation is "airy economic theorizing," according to Fought. He knows that billions of dollars of land have been stolen from landowners in Oregon, and he thinks it is unreasonable to pay for it.
Fought thinks he has a "right" to look at pastures and cattle and planted fields. Fought thinks he likes the "virtues associated with farming - hard work, both self-reliance and cooperation, and a sense of awe at the gifts of the earth."
He wants to preserve farmland at the expense of property rights. He wants landowners to subsidize his Pollyanna and mythical ideals.
Property rights vital
In The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engel write: "In this sense the theory of the communists may be summed up in the sentence: Abolition of private property." In the Soviet Union and the fascist governments in Germany and Italy, property rights were decimated. President John Adams said that "without property rights, tyranny and anarchy prevails."
When a newspaper editor uses his freedom of expression to urge the abridgment of the rights of private property, he is, in fact, jeopardizing his right of free speech. Historical perspective demonstrates that when protection for property is ignored, then other civil rights are put in peril.
On Jan. 9, 1905, Russian peasants gathered at Palace Square to beg Nicholas II to consider changing the land-use system that kept them enslaved as serfs on the land.
Hundreds of thousands gathered in peace and respect to ask the czar for reform, so they could own the land they worked. Cossacks gunned them down by the hundreds, and then rode them down under horses' hooves as they tried to flee.
No private property rights and no free speech existed. And yet Fought thinks the voters in the state are "incoherent" because we believe in protecting private property rights.
When the day comes that private property rights have to be sacrificed in order to preserve farmland, I predict you will no longer have the freedom of speech to gloat about his success. During the Nigerian Civil War, a poster appeared in Biafra; it was everywhere. It was on buildings, in restaurants, on lorries, and on billboards. It said simply: "Be vigilant: Freedom depends on you."
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