Libertarians and other free-market advocates agree that protection of private property rights is essential for economic liberty and prosperity. Yet none of the various freedom indices take property rights into account when comparing economic freedom in one country, state, or province to another.
For example, the only measure of property rights in the Fraser Institute’s index of world economic freedom is the “regulatory cost of the sale of real property.” But that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of property rights. What about the regulatory cost of the use of real property? What about regulatory limits on such use? What about the ease with which government can take property by eminent domain? All of these are much more important than the cost of selling property, yet are ignored by the index.
Last month, the Fraser Institute released its latest index of economic freedom for North America, comparing U.S. and Mexican states and Canadian provinces. Like the world index, this one does not measure property rights. Instead, it focuses on the size of government, taxes, and labor markets. The results are sometimes very different from an index of property rights. Continue reading
People sometimes ask the Antiplanner if smart growth is just a plot by liberal Democrats to force more people to live in cities, where they will become liberal Democrats. Normally my answer is that people don’t become liberal because they live in cities; instead, they live in cities because they are liberal. After all, I didn’t see any reason why living in a dense urban environment would tend lead to people to vote Democrat.
A recent Boston Globe blog post causes me to rethink this, however. Patrick Smith normally writes about air travel, but on Monday he was upset enough by something happening in his neighborhood that he deviated from this mission. Apparently, a homeowner near the rental home Smith lives in wants to cut down “an old, beautiful, and perfectly healthy tree” on the homeowner’s property.
Smith thinks this will “adversely affect the quality of life for me and several of my neighbors.” He suggests that “at a certain point, a tree is no longer one person’s private property per se, and belongs to the community.” Smith thinks that property owners should be restricted as to what they do with their trees.
On Tuesday, June 25, the Supreme Court issued a decision that helps protect people’s property rights from greedy municipalities. That decision ticked off Vermont Law School Professor John Echeverria, who considers it a blow to “sustainable development.” Like many recent property rights cases, the decision was made on a five-to-four vote.
In the case, a Florida property owner named Coy Koontz Sr. wanted to fill and develop 3.7 acres of wetlands. To mitigate the wetland fill, Koontz offered to put 11 acres of his property (about 75 percent of the total) under a conservation easement. But the St. Johns River Water Management District denied the permit, saying it wanted either 13.9 acres of Koontz’s land (leaving him less than an acre, or just 5 percent of the total) for development) or for Koontz to spend a bunch of his money helping the district restore wetlands elsewhere.
Koontz took this to court, citing the Supreme Court’s Nollan and Dolan decisions. In those cases, permits were granted on the condition that the property owners give some of their land to the public. The Supreme Court had held that this was an unconstitutional taking of private property.
At a recent meeting about Oregon’s land-use planning system, someone asked how much Agenda 21 has influenced Oregon’s laws and rules. The answer the Antiplanner gave was a big, fat zero. Agenda 21, after all, was written in 1992, while Oregon’s legislature passed the state’s land-use law in 1973. The most radical conception of that law was first conceived in 1989 by 1000 Friends of Oregon.
This point is made by a recent article from the Antiplanner’s faithful allies at the Heritage Foundation. All of the ideas known as smart growth, compact development, new urbanism, or whatever were developed in the United States decades before Agenda 21 was written in 1992. If anything, American planners influenced Agenda 21 far more than they were influenced by it.