David Boaz is Vice-President of the Cato Institute. He has just written a book: Libertarianism, A Primer; in it, he makes a scholarly and persuasive case for a market-driven, consensual society in which government plays a very limited, albeit…
David Boaz is Vice-President of the Cato Institute. He has just written a book: Libertarianism, A Primer; in it, he makes a scholarly and persuasive case for a market-driven, consensual society in which government plays a very limited, albeit important, role. I have always found the Libertarian approach attractive; however, like most Americans, I have been comfortable with a governmental role that is somewhat broader than Libertarian philosophy would allow. Government is a mechanism through which citizens can achieve communal goals like building roads or discouraging discrimination. When Libertarians attack zoning laws, I respond that such measures protect my investment in my property, by insuring that someone next door will not use that property in a way that drastically diminishes the value of mine.
I may have to rethink my position.
Horizon House provides a daytime shelter for homeless people. It is a place to get a meal, or a shower, or counseling. Recently, Horizon House purchased a larger building. It is a few doors from the spot where the new jail will be built, and across the street from a facility operated by the Salvation Army. The building’s zoning classification includes the intended use. No structural modifications were planned, so Regional Center Approval (which requires City approval of signs, landscaping, and other development standards) was unnecessary. No problems were anticipated.
In response to complaints from business owners in the area, however, City officials decided that there were "better" places for Horizon House. They told Horizon House that it must obtain Regional Center Approval, although the law clearly says otherwise, and that such approval is unlikely. Horizon House stands to lose its deposit and costs to date–a total of $25,000. The seller, whose building has been on the market for several years, stands to lose his sale. All this as a result of an extra-legal and arrogant assumption of power by planners who know better than the buyer and seller what is "appropriate."
This is abuse of power at its worst. Whatever the motive–whether a complaint came from someone with political clout, or whether some bureaucrat simply decided that s/he was wiser than the people involved–the fact remains that the rules were all followed. This is not a case where one party is asking for a variance, or exception, to existing law; this is a situation where compliance with the law has been deemed irrelevant by those who have the power to interfere with private business transactions and who are willing to use–and abuse–that power.
We hear a lot from this City administration about reducing the size of government. Most of us assume that smaller government means less intrusive government–government that is limited in its authority to interfere with our private, legal decisions. The fact of the matter is that economic and civil liberties are indivisible; the government that can confiscate my property can dictate my political behavior, and vice -versa.
Libertarianism–A Primer should be required reading for all of us.