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Oregon Property Rights: “Vintage”

Matt WingardCascade Commentary

Summary

Property is more than land. Eroding Oregonians’ property rights jeopardizes all the other rights we cherish.

Word count: 526

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A good friend of mine asked me a thought-provoking question some time back: “If you had to give up Freedom of Speech or your Property Rights, which one would you choose?”

The question clearly forces a person to rank their rights in order of importance. Only when the question had been posed did I realize the obvious answer. What is the point of being able to complain about a government that does not allow you to own anything? Bear in mind that “property” is more than land. It can be a patent, or an idea. It can even be the organs in your own body.

“What is the point of being able to complain about a government that doesn’t allow you to own anything?”

Why would the government care if you marched in the streets? Complain all you want. Others still decide what is yours: both what you can earn and what you can keep. Next to the right to control your own property, your other rights (speech, assembly, gun ownership, religious expression) pale in comparison.

This brings me to the discussion about Measure 49, the ballot initiative written by two liberal Democrat legislators behind closed doors in Salem and given a deceptive ballot title poll-tested by Governor Kulongoski’s staff. Unfortunately, most of today’s environmental groups do not have much use for antiquated notions of private property. So, with help from their elected allies in Oregon, they have conspired to severely erode your constitutional rights in order to achieve their land use goals.

The Oregonian recently published an editorial referring to property rights in this state as “vintage.” That’s quite amusing. One definition for vintage is “old or outmoded.”

Not too long ago, I had a disturbing phone conversation with a wealthy Oregonian who supports Measure 49 and owns a significant amount of property in the state. He told me that people who really believe strongly in private property rights should move to Texas because that is not what we are about here in Oregon. He told me property owners need to think about the community before themselves. Frankly, he said, it’s selfish to put your needs ahead of the community.

“[M]ost property owners have modest land holdings, and it is often the sum total of their life savings. Should the rest of us be able to steal their investment because we prefer that it remain undeveloped?”

For a few hours afterward I was confused about why a man of such means would so readily dismiss the free market and the very concepts of private property. Then I understood. He’s too rich to care. This is why so many multimillionaires advocate for socialist policies. They already have their fortune. What’s a tax increase or a loss of property value to them? It’s minor. Does a Fortune 500 CEO really care if his taxes go up by $1 million? Does this man I talked with care if his property loses 20% of its value. Not if he’s rich enough.

But most property owners have modest land holdings, and it is often the sum total of their life savings. Should the rest of us be able to steal their investment because we prefer that it remain undeveloped? Those are usually called “parks,” and we used to feel obligated to pay for them.

The Golden Rule is: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you don’t want the majority to one day steal your property, don’t run with robbers.

Matt Wingard is Director of the School Choice Project at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s premier public policy research center. To read other publications of the School Choice Project, visit www.cascadepolicy.org.

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