Individual Control or Collectivist Control?

Many land use issues boil down to the question of who should make the decision as to the most appropriate use for any given property. Private property rights advocates will usually choose the owner of the property. They believe that the person who owns the property will recognize that their best interest lies in the wise use and conservation of the resources of the property. Property rights advocates recognize that there is a small fraction of property owners who will take a shortsighted approach, pillage the resources and then move on. Humans tend to project their actions onto others. They assume that others will see things similarly to themselves and consequently behave much as they themselves would. Because most property rights advocates manage their properties well, they assume that most other folks will also manage their property wisely. They will agree that society needs to deal with the small percentage whose unwise use of their property adversely impacts their neighbors, but only when the impacts exceed some fairly high bar. The flip side of private property ownership is collective ownership of property. By projecting their own actions, collectivists assume that individual owners will more often than not take the shortsighted approach of pillaging the property and often cause harm to their neighbors. The solution to that problem is management by committee via a large body of rules and regulations that are applied to all property, or at least the property that isn’t owned by the collective, or the abolition of private property by moving ownership to the collective. Through some mechanism unknown to me, it is assumed that the collective mind will devise a better use of the property than any individual might. My personal experience is that, while two heads may be better than one, the law of diminishing returns comes into play quickly as the size of the group increases. It doesn’t take a very large collective to prove the truth of the old saying, “Collectively, they couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the directions were on the heel!” Collectively we are able to make much larger mistakes than an individual would. There have been several large collectivist failures in the last century or so that we might want to learn from. I do find the collectivist attributes projected onto the property rights advocates interesting to contemplate. We thus become “ideologues” and “developers” and “sprawl mongers” and “clear cutters” among other interesting titles used to portray us as bad people because we aren’t collectivists. We certainly have ideas and use our right of speech to convey those ideas to others. I, for one, am certainly grateful for the houses I have lived in over the years that were built by developers. Most property rights advocates will choose a house with some property around it rather than an apartment in a downtown high-rise and not feel that we are destroying the earth by that decision. I’m unsure what to think of the “clear-cutter” label. During the King County CAO debates Mr. Constantine and Mr. Sims and Mr. Trohimovich kept telling me that according to the new CAO it would be perfectly okay to clearcut my 65% native vegetation set-aside area as long as I acquired a “forest production plan.” Mr. Trohimovich said on radio that clear cutting is what we do out here in the rural areas. So is the label of “clear-cutter” good or bad? What if I don’t want to clear-cut my set-aside, maybe just replace it with an orchard? Prevention of clear-cutting seems to be the primary rationale for preventing most uses of 65% of rural King County. And yet, the spokesmen kept saying it is okay. In hindsight, it was these very spokesmen for the collective that were proposing to violate state law—a larger transgression than the one they were pretending to fix. We have a prime example of collectivists destroying what an individual had protected for many years on Maury Island. Mr. Kerry Lapine owned, for twelve years, a couple of acres that happened to support a blue heron rookery. The birds had used the property for their rookery before Mr. Lapine purchased it. In fact, it was the largest rookery in Puget Sound with 200 to 300 nests, depending on the year. Mr. Lapine carefully kept people away during nesting and rearing times. He did a good job protecting the herons. The collectivists who run the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust decided that Mr. Lapine should no longer be the caretaker of the rookery and brought much pressure to bear on Mr. Lapine with the help of their friends at DDES. Eventually, a trade was negotiated, and VMILT took over ownership of the rookery. They allowed folks to go near the nests at the wrong time of the year and within two years all the heron were gone. What had been an important environmental feature wisely managed by Mr. Lapine, was destroyed by collectivists who couldn’t find the proverbial “directions on the heel.” These are the same folks who propose to manage all private property in King County, Washington, and these United States because they think property owners are too dumb to do it themselves.

March 28, 2010