- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

A reader wrote recently about his father, who has been a farmer, but is now ready to retire. His father figured on selling his land to get some money for his golden retirement years. But he found he cannot get anywhere near the land’s market value because busybodies have passed laws that destroy most of that value by restricting the sale of farmland.

The rationale for such laws is “preserving farmland.” Think about it. Two of our biggest problems today are obesity and agricultural surpluses. The last thing we need to do is keep farmland from being sold to those who want to use it to build housing, businesses or other things.

Even if we accept, for the sake of argument, the notion farmland needs to be preserved to serve some great national interest, the Constitution of the United States says private property cannot be taken by the government without just compensation.

When the government destroys half the value of someone’s property, that is the same thing economically as taking half of that property. But, because the farmer is left owning all his land, judges have let politicians get away with essentially confiscating much of its value without having to pay any compensation.

People who lead crusades to preserve farmland usually know little about farming and less about economics. Yet they think they have a right to prevent other people from making mutually agreeable transactions, when that goes against the fetishes of third parties.

Busybodies may flatter themselves that they are wiser or nobler than others — which is perhaps the biggest benefit from being a busybody — but the Constitution of the United States says all citizens are entitled to the equal protection of the laws.

In other words, people who want to wring their hands about farmlands or wetlands, or about some obscure toad or snake, have no more rights than people who don’t care 2 cents about such things. It is hard for those who have presumptions of being the morally anointed to accept, but that is what the Constitution says.

Unfortunately, too many judges are ready to fudge or fake what the Constitution says because they too share the vision of the anointed. So they downgrade property rights and let third parties impose their pet notions on others, using the power of government to violate the rights of those who do not agree with them.

What makes a lot of the talk about “preserving” or “saving” farmland or other things as phony as a $3 bill is that the real agenda is often very different — namely, keeping out people who do not have the income or the inclination to share the lifestyle of the anointed.

The real reason for preventing the sale of farmland to those who might build housing on it is that the people who live in that housing might not be as upscale as those already living nearby. Developers — heaven forbid — might build apartments or townhouses in a community where people live in single-family homes.

In other words, developers might build some of that “affordable housing” some people talk so much about and do so much to prevent.

The rationale for laws forbidding farmers from selling their land to anyone who wants to buy it is that existing residents have a right to “preserve the character” of “our community.” But these lofty words are lying words.

Only sloppy thinking allows sloppy words to pass muster. There is no such thing as “our community.” Nobody owns the whole community. Each individual owns his or her own property — and other individuals have the same right to own or sell their own property.

If the busybodies want to put their money where their mouth is, they can buy up the farmland themselves and then they can legitimately prevent anybody from building anything on it. But verbal sleight-of-hand is no justification for denying others the same rights they claim for themselves.

If there were some way to add up all the costs imposed by busybodies — on everyone from farmers to people wanting organ transplants — it would probably be greater than the national debt.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide