Property rights key to economy

By Dave Hunnicutt
Oregonians In Action

Stanford University’s Hoover Institution recently published an interesting article entitled “Property Rights and African Poverty.”  The article, written by James Robinson, professor of government at Harvard University, traces the abject poverty in most of today’s Africa to the failure of the African people to secure a stable system of property rights.

As Professor Robinson notes, without the means to own, secure, and use real property, societies will not prosper economically, and poverty follows.  Control of property by government, in its many forms, serves as a barrier to a prosperous nation.

This is not to say that property regulation by government is not necessary – regulations that define property rights and create systems for recording ownership, resolving disputes over ownership, and protecting property owners from trespass, waste, and nuisance are critical for a system of property ownership.  In addition, regulations that provide modest limits on property uses are sometimes useful tools for ensuring that competing uses are balanced.

Ultimately, however, a society that promotes private property rights will prosper over one that does not.

Oregon has a history of aggressive regulation of private property, starting in 1973 with the passage of Senate Bill 100 by the Oregon legislature.  Our land use system was unique when it was created, and remains unique today – no  other state has copied our zoning model.

As Bill Moshofsky notes in his book Regulatory Overkill, Oregon’s land use planning system has gone too far, and now serves as a barrier to property rights and economic production.  Concentrating power in the hands of the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC), a single state agency composed of seven commissioners who are appointed by the governor, not elected, and who cannot be removed by the legislature or the people, is dangerous.  It is more akin to the systems discussed by Professor Robinson than those in countries that have a rich tradition of honoring property rights.

This is why Oregon must do a better job of respecting property rights, and take steps toward bringing our land use planning laws in line with those in the other 49 states by allowing local governments to have final authority over land use and planning decisions in their communities.  This would make the decision makers accountable to the public.

Professor Robinson’s article can be on the Hoover Institution’s website.  Here is the link:

For copies of Bill Moshofsky book on Oregon’s land use planning laws, please visit our website or contact us by telephone (503) 620-0258.

Dave Hunnicutt

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