Recently an Oregon man was thrown into a cage for 30 days because he decided to collect the rain water, that fell onto his property, into his own reservoirs. Guy Harrington of Eagle Point says he obtained the proper permits for the reservoirs a few years ago, but the courts later backpedaled on them. Harrington says, “They issued me my permits. I had my permits in hand and they retracted them just arbitrarily, basically. They took them back and said ‘No, you can’t have them,’ so I’ve been fighting it ever since.”
This incident reminds me of something Thomas Jefferson once said, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”
This concept of free action applies not only to the individual, but also to the property a person acquires. In a world of scare resources, physical resources need to be assigned to those people who are best capable of managing them. Naturally those who have the most at stake in piece of property are generally going to be the best care takers of its resources. In a free market, which is unencumbered by regulations or the theft of taxation, the market will naturally allocate the largest share of resources to those who put them to the best productive use.
When the state assumes control of private property, it destroys the natural mechanisms of the market to best allocate resources. In this case, the state assumes that only it has the ability to properly manage the water resources of Mr. Harrington’s property. It assumes that “the public” has a legitimate claim to the resources of Mr. Harrington’s property without due compensation and without regards to the sweat and labor it took Mr. Harrington to acquire and manage the property in the first place.
It may very well be that Mr. Harrington wanted to use the water for commercial purposes. We don’t know what he planned on doing with the water he collected, but clearly whatever he planned on doing with it is his business. Now that the state has deprived Mr. Harrington of his liberty and property by using laws that are straight out of communist Russia, the public may be deprived of the commercial benefits that Mr. Harrington could have engaged in with the resources he acquired through his own sweat and labor.
It is the height of arrogance for bureaucrats to assume that only they know how to best use other people’s property. It may also very well be that Mr. Harrington wanted to waste the water in a completely frivolous manner, but why should that necessitate throwing him in a cage? What legitimate claim does the state have to his water? In a free market, we know that when property rights are upheld, the market will naturally take resources from people who waste them and give them to those who put them to the best productive use. No intervention by the state is necessary for this to happen.
Even if one man were to completely waste the water that rained on to his land, it is impossible to justify throwing him in a cage and seizing his property, because there may be many other people facing the same situation who would not waste the resources. A one-size-fits-all law does not look at what the owners of the property are planning to do with it. It presumes that the owners will waste the resources, and that the state knows how to use them better. This kind of presumption is what brought down the Soviet Union, and its the same kind of presumptions that are going to destroy the United States as well.