Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Might Does Not Make Right

Yesterday's post on RENEW Houston generated 2 comments that reflect widely held views on the topic of infrastructure and flooding. I think it worth looking at these ideas a little deeper.

The first comment states, in part:
I suppose you would think the City has no business building such infrastructure, but I'm willing to pay for it to keep the runoff from my property flowing safely and without impacting others.
The second comment reflects a similar point of view:
I cannot take issue with your general thoughts on government, its promises, and the notion that often times others do try to Impose their vision. And you do have an opportunity to vote no...

I'm a small government conservative, but this problem is not going to fix itself, and their is no incentive for the private sector to provide a solution.

Many may choose to accept the current situation. And again that is their right. But I fear that many will oppose this initiative and then be the first to complain when their neighborhood does not drain.
I agree that I have an opportunity to vote "no" on this proposal. But my views--and indeed those of any particular individual--on this subject will be rendered largely irrelevant if RENEW Houston succeeds in getting this initiative on the ballot. If the referendum is passed, the "will of the people" as expressed by voters will be imposed upon everyone.

To be clear, the issue is not drainage or flooding--it is property rights. The issue is the moral right of each individual to use and dispose of his property, including his money, as he chooses. In seeking to force Houstonians to pay for flood control, the proposed referendum is a direct attack on property rights.

The underlying premise is that the majority may do as it pleases because it is the majority. If enough people agree to some proposal, then it becomes proper and just. We have heard this argument in regard to zoning and other land-use regulations for decades. In fact, Americans have been hearing from the first days of the republic. But might does not make right, a fact that our Founders clearly understood. James Madison, for example, wrote:
There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.
The proper purpose of government is to protect the rights of individuals, no matter the number who wish to violate those rights or the pretense under which they do so. The fact that some individuals want to pay for infrastructure and flood control does not give them a moral right to force others to also pay.

If one accepts the premise that the rights of individuals are subject to a vote, then there are no limits on what the majority may do. The majority may commit any atrocity, and history is replete with examples. Individual rights, including property rights, are inviolate, no matter how many people want to believe otherwise.


Mr. Moderate said...

If you don't want to pay for your impact on the mutually owned drainage system, then we will be by soon to build the berms around your property to ensure that no storm runoff reaches the drainage system. You will be responsible for properly disposing of your storm water by other means, which I guarantee will be more than the cost of the drainage fee.

You do not live in a vacuum - at som epoint, you ahve to be part of the greater community, and pay for your impact on the community as a whole.

Brian Phillips said...

Of course I have to pay "my fair share". A gun is held to my head and the money is taken forcibly.

You do not explain why I should have to "dispose" of all rainwater that falls on my property.

I recognize that I live in a community. I prefer to deal with my fellow citizens by reason, rather than forcing them to act as I think proper.

Mr. Moderate said...

You don't have to dispose of all the rainwater that falls on your property, some fraction will be absorbed by the soil. However, the vast majority of water that falls on your property will run off of your property and into the drainage system. You can't reasonably argue that you aren't responsible for paying the costs of that drainage system attributable to your property.

One purpose of government is to allocate the costs of mutually owned infrastructure. Sometimes, those costs are determined by elected officials. On other occasions, the community as a whole uses a voting process to determine the allocation of costs.

You do have the right to use your property as you see fit. The community has the right to make you pay for any impact that extends past your property lines and imposes costs on the rest of the community.

Brian Phillips said...

The purpose of government is not "to allocate the costs of mutually owned infrastructure." The government should not own any infrastructure.

The only legitimate purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. See the Declaration of Independence.

Stripped to its essentials, your position is that "the community" may force me to pay for anything it deems proper. But as I said, might does not make right. And compelling individuals to act contrary to their own judgment (so long as they respect the mutual rights of others) is always wrong. Always.