Thursday, February 01, 2007

ACS v. FedSoc: Property Rights

Property Rights

     John Locke wrote of natural liberties to “life, liberty, and property,” and economists note that firm and enforced property rights are one of the most critical foundations of growing economy and functioning markets. However, there are cases in which property rights must be abridged or modified. The absolute right of a property owner to exclude all from her land and use it as she sees fit is said to be limited only to the extent that her use interferes with the protected rights of others. Once that limitation may have been clear-cut, but with an expanding scientific understanding of ecosystem interrelation and the dispersed effect of pollutants – along with the recognition of the dramatic effect of proximate land use upon property values – that maxim has become increasingly troubling to apply. There are clear cases in which environmental stewardship, the maximization of social welfare, and human health overwhelms our traditional (and constitutional) presumption that each is the king or queen of their own castle.

       It appears that my responder and I agree on an underlying point: market (read: monetary) valuations of property are often inadequate. It is an economic tautology to say that a homeowner values his land more than the market, else he would sell it. More complex and intractable is the case in which the owner and the market undervalue property, i.e. in cases where land provides vital – but nearly impossible-to-monetize – environmental or ecosystem benefits. Worries over the insufficiency of “just compensation” run quite a bit deeper than putting a dollar sign on “home, sweet home.”

      To see a FedSoc Member's take on this issue, click here.

The above represents my broad views on a few of the central contested points discussed by members of the ACS and FedSoc alike. The instant aim is to provide a backdrop for a conversation that can take place incorporating diverse viewpoints and more nuanced understanding.



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