Boxed In: A Need for Better Property Rights


On Monday, the Detroit News reported a new suit against Genesee County. Denise Miller of Linden, Mich., challenged the constitutionality of the parks department preventing petitioning without permits. She had been collecting petition signatures as part of the “Recall Rick Snyder” movement in a county park.  Park officials requested that she obtain a permit, which she had neglected to do, and then assigned her a three square foot space in a remote area of the park in which to continue her campaign (see picture below).

This rights infringement case adds to a disturbing trend of other recent, similar incidents. The City of Oak Park, Michigan, recently threatened Julie Bass with jail time for planting a vegetable garden in her front yard. City repairs to a ruptured sewer line destroyed her lawn, so, after determining that sod costs were too expensive, she decided to install several planter boxes. A city ordinance stipulates that front lawns “shall be planted with grass ground cover, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material.” Apparently a vegetable garden does not qualify as “suitable live plant material.” The city dropped the charges after this story gained national attention, but the city reentered the public eye yesterday when they decided to pursue charges alleging that the Bass family dogs are not licensed with the City.

The City of Oak Park joins a long list of federal, state, and local governments who attempt to regulate daily life through ordinances, regulations, and zoning laws. These compromise basic property rights, preventing people from realizing all the benefits of private ownership. Julie Bass owns her front lawn and her dogs, but licensing and ordinances prevent her from fully enjoying fresh vegetables and a game of fetch. And while Denise does not own any physical property, her right to speak and assemble freely is piece of intellectual property. She owns her first amendment rights, but only a permit allows her to actually exercise those rights to act on an issue important to her.

A person’s property must be their own, free from any infringements, if society is to function properly. Without well-defined and defended property rights, citizens lack the motivation to improve what they own, or use it for the benefit of others.  The only alternative to well-protected private ownership is public ownership. Publicly-provided goods like education, roads, and housing are infamous for the rampant disrepair and overuse that occurs because people have no personal, private investment them.

However, securing property rights guarantees personal investment, private ownership, and the widespread enjoyment of the associated benefits which include the creation of improved goods and services, higher levels of personal responsibility, and better stewardship. In order to achieve this security, all public ownership must be eliminated, and ridding our communities of cumbersome regulations and invasive laws that drive people away from private ownership is a good way to start.

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