Entitlement, Dependency, Control

Responsibility isn’t something people are born with. It’s learned. It’s learned by prioritizing, making tradeoffs, weighing the benefits, costs, and risks of alternative courses of action, and dealing with the consequences of one’s decisions.

When an overprotective parent spoils their child by shielding them from hard lessons, or gives the child whatever it wants so the child will love them more, they fail to instill in the child a sense of responsibility. Instead they encumber it with a false sense of entitlement to whatever the child desires. Later, the child is faced with a rude awakening when thrust into a world where it has to compete with others who are accustomed to making hard choices and working for the things they desire.

Once a sense of entitlement is engrained in someone’s belief system, it’s difficult to overcome. Developing a sense of responsibility is counter to their conditioning, and they cannot easily grasp the notion that they are really not entitled to anything they haven’t earned. When something doesn’t come easily, instead of getting fired up with a sense of determination to work harder and make the necessary sacrifices to achieve their goal, they feel resentful that it isn’t provided for them. Whatever nominal effort they put into it seems like it ought to be enough. They feel a deep sense of personal injustice that they can’t have things that other people have, oblivious to the tradeoffs and sacrifices others have had to make to acquire those things.

In the real world, nobody is entitled to own a house. If you can’t afford a house, the responsible thing to do is to work and save and sacrifice until you can afford to buy one. By encouraging people to buy houses they really can’t afford, the government sets them up for failure later on when the house payments become a burden they cannot sustain. And when that time comes, the “homeowners” won’t consider that, until their mortgage is paid in full, the house isn’t actually theirs. Instead, they’ll feel entitled to the house in which they’re living, and deeply resentful of losing it.

A person who buys a house incurs a responsibility. If they’re shielded from the full impact of the responsibility they’re incurring, by making it easier than it would be (in a free market) for them to assume it, it gives them a false sense of security and makes the responsibility seem lighter than it is. That is not a wise thing to do. And the current economic crisis is a perfect illustration of that folly. Yet the government is going down the same path again, with the FHA taking on the role once played by AIG.

This is just one of many examples of the government fostering an entitlement mentality in its citizens. Perhaps, like the parent who spoils their child in an attempt to buy its love, politicians see this as a way to buy votes. But, like overprotective parents trying to make life easier for their precious dumplings, when government shields people from the onus of personal responsibility, it does not strengthen them; it weakens them. And it not only weakens the individual beneficiaries of the government’s largesse, it weakens the entire economy, and the underlying moral fiber of our nation.

For years, our government has been actively encouraging people to become less and less self-reliant. By the same token, it has been making us more and more dependent on government. The flip side of dependency is control. The more dependent one is on another, the more control the other has over them. Perhaps the underlying motivation is not so innocent as politicians trying to buy their constituents’ love. Perhaps it’s far more insidious.

The current crisis in our nation is not just an economic crisis. It has far broader implications. The only way out of this crisis is to bring about a fundamental change. — Not the kind of change that accelerates the crisis, leading to ever more weakness, dependency, and state control, but a return to the once deeply-held values that made this country great: personal responsibility, individual sovereignty, and economic freedom.

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Without Just Compensation

One of the purposes of the Fifth Amendment is to protect private property from usurpation by government, declaring “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Under the law of eminent domain, the state can compel a property owner to sell his property to the government, but is required to justly compensate him for the loss. However, there are other ways in which the state can usurp private property rights without actually taking title to the property. When the state imposes regulations that deprive a citizen of the rights associated with private ownership of some or all of his property, it’s known as a “regulatory taking.”

In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court found (Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council) that the state is only required to provide just compensation under the Fifth Amendment for regulatory takings when the regulations deprive the owner of “all economically beneficial uses of the property.” That means the state can legally deprive a property owner of over 90% of the value of his property without owing any compensation. The “categorical rule,” as this has come to be known, is a boon for any state desiring to usurp control of private land without the burden of having to compensate the lawful owners.

Rarely can it be demonstrably proven that a property has been rendered devoid of all economic value. Nevertheless, in those rare cases where that actually can be proven, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted the states yet another loophole to exempt them from having to compensate property owners for their loss. The Court ruled that, even if the regulations imposed deprive the property owner of all economically beneficial use of the property, the state is not required to provide compensation if the regulatory restrictions can be justified by “background principles of nuisance or property law.”

Under common law, nuisance is understood to be an activity or condition that unreasonably interferes with the right of other property owners to the “quiet enjoyment” of their property, or interferes with public health or safety. However, the reference to “background principles of property law” is much more ambiguous, as these background principles vary from state to state. Each state defines its own property law, and the “background principles” are often implicit assumptions that have never been explicitly spelled out until they’re claimed by the state, challenged, and settled in court. Then they become established law.

One of these background principles is the “public trust,” which we discussed at length in Private Property vs. Public Trust. Between the categorical rule and the blanket exemption for background principles of state property law, the Supreme Court has begotten a brave new form of eminent domain that enables the states to completely bypass the just compensation protection set forth by our founding fathers in the Fifth Amendment. Some states, like Oregon, are taking full advantage of that, quietly and methodically working on a number of different fronts to lay a strategic foundation of “background principles” that expand their legal bases for usurping control of private land.

What sort of long-term agenda might a state have for establishing a legal framework for unprecedented regulatory takings without compensation? The answer may lie in the influence of the rich and powerful environmental lobbies, whose agenda is to prevent as much development, timber harvesting, mining, or any exploitation of natural resources as they possibly can. Some people think that’s a good thing. But, apparently, not enough to achieve the goals of the environmental lobby without establishing government control of any resource in which they have an environmental interest. Some people are OK with that. After all, the government must know what’s best for the people, and will always act in their best interest. Therefore, it stands to reason that the government should own all natural resources (including land, air, and water) and/or control how they’re used.

The concept of government versus private control is at the core of the ideological conflict between Marxism and capitalism. Private property is a fundamentally capitalistic concept, and that is what is under attack. So, the next time you hear about some new land grab by the state, and you think it’s somebody else’s issue because it doesn’t directly affect you, consider that there’s more at stake in this game than just land.

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