Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Pen is Mightier than the Storm Surge

If you have seen photos of the Texas coast after Hurricane Ike, you are aware of the the destruction caused by the storm. Thousands of homes were seriously damaged or destroyed, and many will be prohibited from rebuilding. And the owners of many of the homes that survived Ike may be prohibited from occupying their property.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the State of Texas may seize hundreds of properties, including homes that survived the storm, under the Texas Open Beaches Act (TOBA):
Hundreds of people whose beachfront homes were wrecked by Hurricane Ike may be barred from rebuilding under a little-noticed Texas law. And even those whose houses were spared could end up seeing them condemned by the state.

Now here's the saltwater in the wound: It could be a year before the state tells these homeowners what they may or may not do.

Worse, if these homeowners do lose their beachfront property, they may get nothing in compensation from the state.

What this means is that what Hurricane Ike could not accomplish will be done with a stroke of the lawmaker's pen. The 1959 law proclaims that the beach between the normal high tide and the normal low tide is public property and it is illegal to build private homes on public property.

The law is typically enforced after a large storm moves the shoreline, but it can also be invoked after gradual erosion does the same thing. Regardless, the owner loses his property and receives no compensation.

The author of the law expressed no sympathy for the victims of this land grab.

"We're talking about damn fools that have built houses on the edge of the sea for as long as man could remember and against every advice anyone has given," A.R. "Babe" Schwartz said.
According to "Babe", since these property owners did something foolish (which is debatable) then the state has every right to seize their property. But who determines what is foolish? And why do foolish actions give the state the right to seize the property? "Babe" offered no explanation. Foolishness is not illegal, nor should it be so.

"Babe" attempts to justify his law:
Every one of them was warned of that in their earnest money contract, in the deed they received, in the title policy they bought," he said. "And whether you like it or not, neither the Constitution of the United States nor the state of Texas nor any law permits you to have a structure on state-owned property that's subject to the flow of the tide.

That may be true, but it does not justify condemning private property and seizing it for the state. More significantly, "Babe" uses the law to justify itself-- private structures cannot be built on public land, and since the beach is public land, the law is proper. This is nothing more than a circular argument.

The proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights, including property rights. As a part of that function, government must define how property rights are established-- as it properly did in the Homesteading Act. TOBA defines property rights out of existence.

The premise behind TOBA is that the public has a right to beach access. To secure this "right" a certain portion of the beach was declared public property and accessible to all.

The web site for Texas Open Beach Advocates defends the law because it protects a "basic and traditional right to some of the best of God's creation". No explanation is offered as to the source of this "right". Apparently we are supposed to just know.

The truth is, there is no such right. A right pertains to action. A right is the freedom to take action in the pursuit of one's values. A right is not a guarantee that one's actions will be successful, or that one will attain the object of one's desires. The mutual rights of others prohibits us from pursuing or attaining our values through the use of force.

The TOBA crowd believes that their desires constitute a right. They believe that if they desire something-- such as open beaches-- then others must provide that something. And all they need is some politician eager to win votes to accomplish their goal. All they need is someone willing to use a pen to accomplish what the storm surge couldn't.


A Girl From Texas said...

I am all for property rights but I understand where the government is coming from here.

The government doesn't just protect property rights but also provides services to protect the citizens. Services like fire dept, police, emt, etc. When people build their homes this close to water and storms hit, it puts these emergency people in danger. It costs the state money to search and rescue the residents.

Incidentally, the government isn't interested in seizing property. They make no money on their own property. They prefer that property be privately owned so they can receive the taxes on it. Maybe they wait a year so they can receive one year's worth of taxes before taking it over.

Ad Hoc Committee for Property Rights said...

The fact that it costs the state money to provide services does not justify seizing private property. More importantly, the state shouldn't be in the fire, emt, or rescue business, but that is another issue.

Your claim that the government isn't interested in seizing property flies in the face of the facts. If they aren't interested in doing so, then why do they do it? That is a rhetorical question, as I addressed it in the original post.

You state that "maybe they wait a year so they can receive one year's worth of taxes before taking it over." Which means, the property owner must continue to pay taxes on property he doesn't own. That is grossly unjust and further evidence of my point.

A Girl From Texas said...

The government provides streets, postal service and other ammenities that support the community. They seize the property NOT for profit but to prevent having to invest tax payer money into support services that become useless whenever a storm hits.

People who build this close to water are very much aware of the risks they take.

Believe me, if Houston could find a loophole and sell Memorial Park to a private developer like Wiengarten, they would do it in a heartbeat. The state makes no money on holding onto property. They make money on the private use of property.

Ad Hoc Committee for Property Rights said...

I am well aware of what the government does, most of which is outside of its proper function. My blog is less about what government does and more about what it should do.

Government's only legitimate function is the protection of individual rights, including property rights. When the government seizes property, for any reason under any pretext, they become a violator of rights. There never has been and never will be a moral justification for doing so.

Ad Hoc Committee for Property Rights said...

A Girl from Texas,

I notice in your profile that one of your favorite books is Atlas Shrugged. At the risk of sounding rude (which isn't my intention) I don't think you got the point of the novel.

The theme of the novel is the role of man's mind in the sustenance and enjoyment of life. Without his mind, man is virtually helpless.

Galt's Speech, and Rand in subsequent writings, makes it clear that force negates the mind and renders it impotent. When the state seizes property, or initiates force in any manner, it negates the mind.

A Girl From Texas said...

I have studied everything Ayn Rand has written, including but not limited to the following:

The Virtue of Selfishness, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Voice of Reason, Romantic Manifesto, OPAR, The Fountainhead (twice) and Atlas Shrugged 3 times.

I got it and I get it.

I met Peter Schwartz when I lived in NYC. He asked me why I studied her philosophy. My answer is still the same. Because I wanted to be my own person and her philosophy is the only philosophy that allows that.

I'll never forget my philosophy professor when i wrote my first Critical Argument. He knew I was influenced by her work. In the margin he wrote in red: "Are these thoughts your thoughts or are they Ayn Rand's thoughts". I have my own thoughts and I don't necessarily always agree with her. It was never my intention to be labeled an Objectivist when I studied her work.

I have succeeded in my goal. I am very much my own person with my own thoughts.