It’s the American dream to own property, which to most of us means land and a house. If this defines property, however, only some own it. Instead, property is everything that’s yours, from a pencil to a factory, and everything you are—your attitudes, intellect, even your life. The Declaration of Independence declares our “Life, Liberty and…pursuit of Happiness”, a phrase that denotes property. Everyone owns property and none of us could give it up painlessly.
Owning property, especially the traditional house and land, is good for us. We change, becoming more settled and responsible and society benefits. A nation of property owners is stronger than one where private property is denied. Most of our choices are about property: what to use, wear, eat or drive; where to live, travel, or study. Our agency over property extends to the opinions we form and issues we embrace. Liberty and property ownership are partners; you can recognize a free society by its private property ownership. Any force that can tax your property, restrict its use, force you to share it or dictate your opinions imperils your ownership.
As America slides into government control and abandons its heritage of individual freedom, our inalienable right to private property is disappearing. Predictably, the movement to accomplish this is in high gear, driven globally by the United Nations and the mythical despair of man-made climate change. Worldwide sustainable development, called Agenda 21 until its unpopularity necessitated a name change, emphasizes two things: control of our transportation and where we live. The goal is to move people into dense central developments where work, shopping and recreation are close, and substitute mass transit for private vehicles. This utopian scheme is driven by the grand visions of social planners who believe ordinary people can’t make appropriate decisions for themselves.
Because of international agreements like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change and the seduction of government money, communities nationwide are buying into sustainable development. History and experience show problems with this old, yet “new” scheme of utopian planning. First, it invites corruption. Government money is excessive and poorly supervised, the projects are large enough to hide mischief, and the elites have cronies with big promises and small ethics.
Second, Utopia doesn’t work. Detroit, Michigan, is proof. In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson made Detroit, the wealthiest city in the nation, its poster child for sustainable development’s granddaddy, the Model Cities Program. In July of 2013, Detroit declared bankruptcy. Officials, drunk with the grandeur of their idyllic dreams, built buildings and transportation systems people didn’t want or use. The costs created craters of debt. Today, according to the news program, For the Record, 60% of the city’s residents have fled and 80,000 deserted buildings desecrate the skyline. Crime is rampant, and corruption has jailed many officials. Detroit has the highest murder rate in the nation and a call to 911 brings help in 58 minutes. Portland, Oregon, another utopian dream, has seconded the failure of social planning. Utopia has been a bust.
Third, people don’t want the lifestyle offered. They like space—land, a yard for the kids, freedom to roam. You can build it, but will they live in it? Experience says no, so encouragement becomes push becomes shove. Local governments, chained to the economic rancor of their decisions, become desperate to drive people off their lands and into the projects they have so unwisely created. Homes and businesses outside the planned communities and transportation corridors die, along with the dreams, investments and income of their owners.
Fourth, the government gifts that seduce communities into participation are voracious Venus Fly Traps—fatal in the end. Federal money brings federal control into the community, so treasured small town values give way to the government’s social agenda. When the federal subsidies inevitably end, the costs fall to the locals, who then wallow in debt for their shortsightedness.
Apostles of the utopian dream promise affordable housing, improved living and environmental protection through centralized planning. Experience says they deliver debt, social decay and anything but a sound environment, as Detroit so poignantly testifies. According to the Environmental Conservation Organization “There is no better steward of the environment than a private property owner.” Those personally invested in the land protect it.
Sustainable development‘s planned communities sound good, and they can be, for those who want them. The fly in the ointment is its compulsion. Free countries give freedom to choose ownership and use of private property. Take away the choices and you take away liberty. This lifestyle rearrangement isn’t optional under the UN banner; compliance is mandatory..
Concern for the worldwide poor is desirable and necessary, but the guilt some demand for our prosperity doesn’t improve their lot. Giving generously to legitimate private charities does, and we cannot give if we are not prosperous. Government assistance is corrupt and ineffective—The Borgen Project, dedicated to fighting extreme poverty, says America gives 60 billion dollars annually, ostensibly to help the poor, through foreign aid. Despite this, the condition and numbers of the poor remain largely unchanged.
Utopia, if it is to be found, comes for those who create it for themselves through hard work and ethical living. Good government helps by protecting inalienable rights for all while discriminating against none through favoritism or meddling. Our task is to find and stop deliberate or innocent attacks on our right to own private property. We can start with some hard looks at local and statewide sustainable development.