Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 728, July 7, 2013

"Obama doesn't seem to have learned
the most important lesson of our
times: never fuck with the geeks."

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A Dog Defends His Territory
by Paul Bonneau

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

You are walking along a road, and come by a place with a chain-link fence. A dog comes rushing out snarling and barks at you as you go by. Continuing on, he finally stops barking and with a "Woof" goes back to his den, keeping an eye on you as you walk out of his view.

What changes if there is no fence? Almost nothing! He still comes rushing out snarling, he still stops at a particular point as if a fence were there. It's a little scarier for you, but for him it is the same. At some point—unless you encourage him by running from him— he loses confidence and aggression melts away. He is on less sure terms outside of his territory.

What a wonderful invention of Nature this loss of confidence is! Think about it; evolution has set our confidence to evaporate when we go outside a territory that is (usually) large enough to sustain us. It increases the number of niches that can be filled, and it causes us to not waste our energies defending a larger territory than we need for our survival. It's the most efficient means for passing on our genes.

Adding the "social animal" element does not change things very much. Each tribe defends enough territory to provide for the needs of the tribal members. However as the tribe grows, the territory must be enlarged, thus bumping into neighboring tribes. War conveniently (for Nature) simply whittles down the numbers in both tribes, thus solving that problem.

It seems to me that humans have taken this near-universal mode of animal behavior, and adapted it to another end, a social one.

I was down in the City Hall of a coastal Oregon town where we have some business, vacation rentals of homes (short-term rental). Now, the local ruling class has decided that short-term rentals disrupt the neighborhoods of year-round residents—so they say. Maybe they don't like to see people smiling and walking down to the beach in sandals, or kids having fun! Whatever the reason, they have come up with a plan to break the city into various areas, in some of which the practice of vacation rentals shall henceforth not be allowed. Never mind that the economic lifeblood of the city is tourism. I guess they have their cushy government jobs and the rest of the people in town can go hang. Or maybe their cronies in the hotel industry want to reduce the small-time competition; who knows?

Of course, people rent homes to generate income, so this policy is a form of theft at least from those who previously rented out in those areas; and from those who might in the future rent their homes or who might sell their homes (as a home that can generate income is obviously worth more than one that can't, all other things being equal). The income from a particularly well-suited home (one that is large enough to take a lot of people, that is well-appointed, that is on the beach, and that has good beach access) can get upwards of $100,000 per year. Many homes missing one or more of these factors can generate $30,000 easily. That is a significant amount of theft that the bureaucrats are contemplating.

It was interesting talking to the city bureaucrats about this. They are taking forever to implement this policy. They probably figure they are on shaky ground, particularly in a state that passed a prohibition on "regulatory takings" via initiative not so long ago (a law since gutted by legislative action from our ever-helpful state government). Maybe there are legal concerns or they worry about lawsuits sucking the city coffers dry. Even just discussing it you could see the shame, the lack of confidence. Of course the bureaucrats liberally slather every discussion about it with thick layers of euphemism not only to mislead their victims, but to shore up their own confidence as well. But you can still see it. Just like the dog that loses confidence, stepping outside his territory, doing something he shouldn't be doing. There seems to be something there that at least partially limits all the looting going on; thank Heaven for that!

By the way, the "regulatory takings" law and its demise was very instructive. Oregon was "land use planning central" starting with a bill passed in the legislature in the early 1970's. By 2004 enough Oregonians had been looted by bureaucrats that the people got fed up and passed Measure 37 by initiative. The measure was very simple: any regulation imposed on a property, if it cost the owner money, for current use or planned future use, must either be compensated for by the government that passed the regulation, or the regulation must be waived. The property owner must make a claim for this to occur.

Of course the bureaucrats and statists hated the notion that property or value could not be stolen without compensation; they were used to the normal thing where only complete confiscation (eminent domain) required any compensation—and that only to the extent the government decided it was worth. Nothing short of eminent domain cases were to be compensated; not even your property taxes were reduced. A pretty cozy racket, I must say. But in 2004, that was all over in Oregon.

Well, the looters are not without resources, so they put the propaganda machinery to work. Particularly interesting were some of the outlandish Measure 37 claims that appeared, and these were well publicised. I was examining some of them still available on the internet. My favorite was a farm that the owner supposedly wanted simultaneously to turn into a housing development and a gravel pit, demanding millions in compensation if they didn't let him. My Internet sleuthing suggested he was not one of those big bad developers but a fan of government control, at least if his interest group membership was indicative. Can I prove these claims were made by Measure 37 opponents? No. I don't have an NSA at my disposal, nor a court system. I'm just an old fart with a computer and an Internet connection. But I do have a fair understanding of human nature, at my age. I know the games people play.

Only a single instance of compensation actually occurred in all of Oregon for that period, a rather small one. Every other claim was settled by waiving the regulation involved—letting people use their property as they like, within the natural constraints of the market, and costing the taxpayers nothing. Imagine that—the horror of it all! However that did not stop the looters from publicizing numerous multi-million dollar claims and scaring the taxpayers with the potential cost.

Keep in mind what the looters were doing here. They were putting a lot of fear out there about the threat of people abusing freedom, abusing the regulatory taking prohibition. How did they generate that fear? By abusing freedom! By abusing the regulatory taking law! They did exactly what they preached against. I think more plans for gravel pits were put together in that three-year period than in the previous 150 years of Oregon history—none of them serious, of course.

Well, the legislature put together a "fix" for Measure 37 that was lengthy and legalistic and virtually unreadable. A lawyer's and bureaucrat's paradise, it was. It was sent to the people in a referendum (they didn't have the courage to simply overturn Measure 37 in the legislature). With the confusion and the looter propaganda effort, Measure 37 was gutted by Measure 49 in 2007.

I actually won a successful Measure 37 claim in that 3-year period. We owned a 93-acre (former) farm. We wanted to sell about 40 acres to my neighbor who was a tree farmer, so he could get a better road into his place and harvest his trees without having to cut the logs so short for transport on his old road. The state refused to let us sell, since it had a land-use regulation mandating an 80-acre minimum on farms (and on make-believe farms—Hell, it even applied on sagebrush flats). This is how the state "protected" the agricultural and forest industry, the supposed aim of land use planning—by trampling farmers and forest owners. We got around the dumb-ass law by leasing the land to him anyway, but the short-lived Measure 37 allowed us to complete the sale.

Nope, no gravel pits were in my future, with my Measure 37 claim (sigh). But oh, how I hate the looters...

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