The right to cash in on the product of one’s own labour is an essential element of any meaningful concept of the free man. In any civilised society, liberty is measured by ownership — our right to own and manage property, or to buy and sell it.
History has shown that free movement of property supports the economy and the wealth, especially the wealth of the least wealthy, has multiplied. This is not a surprising result. It is merely the natural result of giving a man an opportunity to employ his talents in a way most pleasing to him. To permit him to enjoy the fruits of his efforts in the manner he selects.
If he is denied the right to make his own choice, society is denied the benefit of collective efforts that choice would demand. The productive capacity of the individual, and hence the productive capacity of society as a whole, will tend to decline.
The rights of the individual and the role of government
Any action by governments with respect to private land are necessarily encroachments upon the individual’s dominion over the things he acquires. The significant question to ask is how far may these encroachments extend?
The problem exists of defining the point at which the inalienable rights of the private owner end, and the inherent power of the state begins. It is not an overstatement to say that the course of man’s progress toward personal liberty, human dignity and civil rights depends on how he answers this question.
It is a necessary requirement in a free country that we are without restrictions on the use of our property as long as it is not to the detriment of other individuals.
Zoning and planning
Without wishing to argue for or against the rapid rise of government control of private land by zoning regulation I do wish to indicate that it constitutes a direct encroachment upon the freedom of the individual to do as he pleases with his own property. Where zoning schemes are in operation the individual owner is not free to devote his property to the uses most suitable to his needs. A condition of property ownership has been removed. It could be said that you can have either ‘zoning’ or ‘owning’, but you can’t have both.
While it was once felt that by holding a freehold title on land the right of ownership was implied, now it is apparent in many cases one’s rights do not extend beyond the compulsory payment rates of land taxes.
The question again is one of deciding what degree of ownership rests on the individual and what degree is claimed by the state. If human freedom is to be preserves, that question must be faced squarely. Questions concerning zoning and government restrictions cannot be intelligently answered until they are placed within the context of freedom and liberty. When they are placed in that context, it is likely that the most vocal proponents of some of these government planning and zoning schemes will become their most violent critics.