The Preservation Mob

The City is currently preparing a 225-page document that details what property owners in The Heights can and can’t do. The neighborhood is designated as an historical district, and virtually any type of construction requires the permission of city thugs bureaucrats. The Chronicle reports,

Until now, officials say, the process for permit approval has been subjective and reliant on substantial guesswork.

Apparently, the city wants us to believe that the process will become less subjective because they have created a massive set of guidelines. The truth is, the very nature of the process is subjective and issuing mountains of documents won’t change that fact.

If approved, the new guidelines would specify regulations on the size, height and footprint of additions to the historic buildings, as well as detailed stylistic guidance on everything from window frames and doors and siding, chimneys and porches.

In other words, even the smallest details will be determined by government officials, and anyone who dares to disregard the city’s edicts will become a criminal. A property owner could be fined (and perhaps jailed) because he uses siding, moldings, or anything else that the city considers “inappropriate.”

Property owners will be prohibited from using the products and materials of their choice simply because those materials didn’t exist 100 years ago. To the preservationists, it is more important to preserve the historical character of the neighborhood than allow property owners to make decisions for themselves. Preservationists didn’t like what some property owners were doing, and so they passed a law to prohibit the offending actions. The subjective desires of preservationists are to take precedence over the rights of property owners.

If every property owner in The Heights was dedicated to preservation, an ordinance wouldn’t be necessary. The fact that preservationists pushed for an ordinance is their admission of the fact that some property owners are opposed to preservation. But the desires and interests of those property owners were trampled by the mob’s desires. What the preservationists couldn’t accomplish through persuasion they accomplished by parading to City Hall to demand that property owners be forced to conform to what the preservationists believe is right.

When individuals resort to force to impose their desires on others, they implicitly acknowledge that reason is not on their side. Angry mobs are one example. Preservationists are another.

Localism and Hypocrisy

The Texas legislature has attracted considerable scorn for its effort to reign in local governments intent on violating property rights. According to one critic, “It does this by kicking respect for democracy to the sidelines and squashing municipal initiatives like a bug.”

Democracy means unlimited majority rule–the majority may do what it pleases simply because it is the majority. It should not be constrained by things like rights or the Constitution. All that matters is the “will of the people.” And if the majority wants to violate property rights by banning plastic bags, regulating trees, preserving historic buildings, or anything else, it should be permitted to do so.

The advocates of localism do not complain about violations of individual rights. Their complaints are directed at efforts to protect those rights, because protecting rights is often contrary to the desires of the majority. They want the authority to impose their values upon the entire local community. The legislature should be “squashing municipal initiatives like a bug” when those initiatives violate individual rights.

Interestingly, Texas Republicans have long argued for “states’ rights” and complained about the federal government interfering in matters best handled at the state level. The backers of localism point to this fact and call the state legislators hypocrites. While there are elements of truth in this claim, the critics think that the hypocrisy stems from wanting local control in one context and denying it in another.

In truth, the hypocrisy arises from Republicans claiming to support individual liberty while supporting policies that violate that liberty. For example, Texas Republicans complain when the federal government protects individual rights by overturning state laws that restrict abortion or prohibit gay marriage. Republican’s inconsistency on individual rights is the source of their hypocrisy.

Just as municipal governments should not be allowed to impose the “will of the people” on a community, the state government should not be able to impose the “will of the people” on all Texans.

Awareness as a Choice

I was recently watching a minor league baseball game. A commentator noted that one of the young players showed a great situational awareness–the player was able to quickly assess a situation and determine what action to take. Another commentator asked if that was something that is natural or something that can be taught. The first commentator wasn’t sure.

Though this particular issue dealt with baseball, it has much broader implications. Awareness is a learned skill–all skills must be learned.

Awareness is our fundamental cognitive choice. We choose whether to be mentally engaged with our surroundings, or to be passive bystanders. The choice we make determines our level of awareness. And it is a choice that we face every waking moment.

The choices that we habitually make gradually become automatized. If an individual consistently chooses to be mentally active, he “naturally” becomes more aware. But he wasn’t born that way; he taught himself that skill. In contrast, the individual who routinely chooses to disengage his mind will be less aware of his surroundings and events that he witnesses. But he wasn’t born that way either; he also taught himself that “skill.”

Sherlock Holmes makes this point in A Scandal in Bohemia. Holmes asks Dr. Watson how many stairs lead up to their apartment. Though he has traversed those stairs thousand of times, Watson does not know. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear,” Holmes says.

We automatically see, but we do not automatically observe. Our eyes automatically provide us with sensory data, but it is our choice to be aware of that data or not.

Bonds, Parks, and Libraries

In November, Houston voters will be asked to approve a $495 million bond referendum. Mayor Turner wants $159 million in public safety bonds, $104 million for parks, $109 million for general government improvements, and $123 million for libraries.

Apparently, Turner thinks that the city’s irresponsible management of taxpayer money is justification for getting more money to mismanage. Rather than approving the bonds, voters should be demanding that the city quit wasting our money on things like parks and libraries. Both parks and libraries should be privatized. That alone would eliminate nearly half of the money Turner wants to take from Houstonians.

It is immoral to force taxpayers to subsidize the recreation and education of others. Those who wish to use parks or libraries should be the ones paying for them, not taxpayers.

There are countless examples of privately operated parks and libraries. Disneyland, Sea World, and Thousand Trails are a few examples. And consider The Woodlands, just north of Houston. This privately developed community has 125 forested parks and two hundred miles of hike and bike trails, in addition to dozens of lakes and ponds. Encompassing 23.4 square miles, The Woodlands has nearly eight thousand acres of green space.  Similarly, developers across the nation frequently include parks, walking paths, and lakes in their developments. If taxpayers weren’t forced to pay for our socialized park system, they would have more money to spend on visiting private parks.

The same is true of libraries. The first lending library in America, the Library Company of Philadelphia, was founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. Supported by subscriptions, members were motivated to join the undertaking as a means to pool resources for the purpose of purchasing a collection of books that they could not individually afford. The Library Company continues to operate as a subscription library today.

Similar libraries were established throughout colonial America. For example, the Charleston Library Society was founded in 1748, the Providence Library Company was established in 1753, and the New York Society Library was founded in 1754. These membership libraries were seen as a way for individuals to voluntarily work together to the mutual benefit of all involved.

Or consider Kindle Unlimited, which is a lending service offered by Amazon. For $10 a month, a reader can have up to ten books at a time. If he wants to borrow another book, he simply “returns” one.

Returning to the bond referendum, Mayor Turner wants $109 million for “general government improvements.” The best way to improve government is to limit it to the protection of individual rights. And a step in that direction would be privatizing parks and libraries.

Those who value parks and libraries will voluntarily pay for them. And those who don’t value them should be free to spend their money as they choose.


The Shawshank Redemption

Imagine being convicted for a double murder that you did not commit and then spending twenty years in prison. You would be forced to endure unimaginable horrors, not because you killed two people, but because, as the hero of the The Shawshank Redemption puts it, you were a bad husband and drove your wife into the arms of another man.

This is the plot of The Shawshank Redemption. It is a story of unimaginable injustice and the eventual triumph of justice.

Andy Dufresne was convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. Though he proclaimed his innocence, he soon learned that everyone in Shawshank Prison was “innocent.” Except for Red, who acknowledged his guilt and soon became Andy’s best friend.

Despite the brutality that he endures, Andy refuses to give up. As he tells Red at one point, there is a certain part of him that nobody can touch. And Andy won’t let anyone take that part of him away.

Shawshank was filmed in my hometown long after I moved away. But in May 2017, I returned for a visit and toured the prison. It only made me love the movie more because it concretized the horrors that Andy had to endure.

I spent two hours touring the prison. The prison closed years ago and is now just a place for tourists to visit. There were no guards or prisoners present. But even with the absence of guards and prisoners, it was a demoralizing experience, even though I knew that I could leave any time I wanted. Andy didn’t have that choice. Yet, he refused to allow anyone to rob him of what was his–his life and his love it. That is the beauty of The Shawshank Redemption.

Nobody can take our virtue from us unless we allow them. As Red narrates near the end of the movie, Andy Dufresne crawled through unspeakable foulness and came out clean on the other end. When life seems difficult, Andy Dufresne and his unconquerable spirit is worth remembering. We can crawl through unspeakable foulness and come out clean on the other end. But we can do that only if we refuse to surrender our virtue.

Justice for Students

I welcome the recently reported justice department decision to further look into cases of race based admissions standards that are alleged to discriminate against whites and Asians in favor of blacks, Latinos or native Americans.  I welcome it if the focus is on justice.

Every individual student has huge potential to advance himself or herself by the application of reason and integrity in the pursuit of the student’s own independent goals through honestly acquired academic skills. The student’s education can then lead to a highly productive career for which that individual can be justifiably proud. Effort must be applied individually in the face of some formidable obstacles such as limited financial resources, health problems, learning disabilities, economic downturn, family opposition, bad teachers, accident and yes racial or group discrimination.  This nation is replete with examples of people who have forged such lives in the face of adversity.  Just read the story of George Washington Carver for one example.

So, why impose upon the Individual student who has earned her place academically the injustice of rejection because the standards for the group with white skin were elevated?  Or, why heap upon the applicant admitted under lowered standards another injustice because he is assigned to the group with black skin? His lower achievement in preparation for college likely means greater chance of failure. It will also add fuel to the suspicion that what he does achieve of his own was instead due to his classification in the group with black skin.  Any quota system is a deliberately planned injustice. No one is rewarded for individual achievement and everyone is punished as a member of a group.

Remember, Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my four little chi1dren will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  Well, I have a dream that someday all our children will be afforded the justice they deserve, where they will be treated as individuals who forge their own character and are judged by it, regardless of ethnic or racial group.

Yes, review these cases and apply justice to the individuals. Ignore the group.

Deed Restrictions

Two of the stated purposes of zoning are preventing “incompatible” land use and protecting neighborhoods. Both of these issues can be addressed without the coercive means of zoning. Deed restrictions (or covenants) provide the means to limit land uses through voluntary, contractual means—by respecting property rights.

Deed restrictions attach to the deed for a parcel of property, and thus become binding on subsequent purchasers of the property. Deed restrictions can be used to establish land use requirements, such as establishing minimal home sizes and architectural features. Many subdivisions use deed restrictions to prohibit commercial activities within residential areas.

Many see no difference between zoning and deed restrictions. Zoning is mandatory and coercive, while deed restrictions are voluntary and contractual. If an individual does not like the deed restrictions attached to a particular home, he can purchase a home with less restrictions. Deed restrictions respect property rights allowing individuals to act on their own judgment, rather than being forced to act as government officials decree.

Most deed restrictions contain provisions for amending or even abolishing the covenants. Thus, the property owners who are party to the contractual agreement with their neighbors have the means to make changes to what is prohibited or required. As an example, one neighborhood in Houston—Lamar Terrace—voted to abolish their deed restrictions to allow commercial development after they concluded that their land was more valuable for that use, rather than the single-family homes the covenants required. The property owners in the neighborhood, not non-owners and government officials, were able to use their property as they thought best.

Deed restrictions allow both developers and property owners to quickly respond to changing market conditions. Lamar Terrace had originally been a suburb of Houston when it was built in the 1950s. But as the city expanded, and particularly after the construction of The Galleria nearby, property owners believed that the area had more valuable uses.

Interestingly, many areas of Houston do not have deed restrictions and commercial uses exist in close proximity to homes and apartments. While this decreases the property values of homes, it also makes homes more affordable in those areas. Houstonians have choices—deed restrictions and higher housing costs, or no deed restrictions and lower housing costs. Each individual is free to choose which best meets his needs, desires, and budget.

In most communities, deed restrictions are enforced by a homeowner’s association (HOA). In contrast to the almost unlimited powers of zoning officials, the HOA has very specific and limited powers. In short, the difference between deed restrictions and zoning is the difference between voluntary choice and coercive imposition, between the private agreements of individuals and the dictates of public tribunals. It is the difference between respecting property rights and their wholesale violation.

Manipulating Consumers

During its regular session, the Texas Legislature revived a program that offers a tax rebate of $2,500 for the purchase of an electric car. This is on top of the $7,500 tax credit offered by the federal government. While I am certainly in favor of lowering taxes, these programs are intended to manipulate consumers.

Much of the tax code is designed to reward taxpayers who act as the government deems desirable. If you own a house, donate to charity, or purchase certain products, your actions are rewarded with lower taxes. If you fail to take the actions the government wants, you are penalized with a higher tax bill.

Government would like us to believe that we have a choice in the matter. But that is akin to saying we have a choice when the tax collector proclaims, “Your money or go to jail.” Alternatives offered under the threat of physical force do not represent a choice.

These types of programs reward obedience to the government’s desires. If you buy an electric car, install solar panels, or do any number of other things that the government deems desirable, you will be allowed to keep more of your money. The greater your obedience, the greater your rewards. Conversely, less obedience translates to having more of your money taken by the government.

A Clash of Cultures

Much is being made of the Texas legislature’s attempts to reign in local governments. From “bathroom ordinances” to ride-sharing regulations, from plastic bag bans to tree regulations, local governments are increasingly infringing on property rights. The state government is properly putting an end to many of these regulations.

But the state’s local governments aren’t happy about this. They claim that the state is usurping local control. What is really happening is a clash of cultures.

Local governments–and particularly in the state’s larger cities–want to be more like California. They want to regulate and control everything in sight. In contrast, the state government is attempting to protect property rights, though it is doing so very inconsistently.

Local governments want to control what their citizens do. The state government wants to protect the freedom of Texans to live as they choose. These are two very different views on the proper role of government.

During the Obama Administration, Texas sued the federal government 48 times. In most instances, Texas claimed that the federal government was infringing on the state’s authority. Current governor Gregg Abbott filed 31 of those suits, and now he is fighting city governments over their attempts to exercise local control.

While there is much to dislike about Abbott, he is generally right on this issue. The purpose of government is to protect individual rights. If the federal government threatens our rights, state governments have a responsibility to defend them. Similarly, if local governments threaten our rights, state governments have a responsibility to intercede.

Unfortunately, Abbott and his colleagues are very inconsistent. They fight for our freedom to do as we choose on our land, but want to control what we do with our bodies. As one example, they have stepped up their decades-long crusade to outlaw abortion. They permit gay marriage only because the Supreme Court said that they must.

Not only is there a clash of culture within Texas, there is a clash of culture within the state’s Republican party.


The Hard Realities of Socialized Medicine

In my previous article, I explained the reasons behind the high cost of medical care in this country. With the Democrat’s Obamacare, and now the Republicans proposed American Health Care Act, America is falling into the same trap that has befallen every other western industrialized country – socialized medicine. Donald Trump and the political “right”, the alleged defenders of freedom have taken another step in their decade’s long capitulation to the political left. Socialized medicine is another example of how the “right” is putting into practice principles upheld by the left. What is the effect going to be?

To answer that, let’s look at medical care in other western nations. As noted in my previous article, when the cost is paid by someone else, demand will skyrocket. Governments that provide “free” medical care will eventually be faced with rising costs which have to be addressed within the larger political context of limited budgets, funding for other social programs, and increasing deficits and total debt. Inevitably, cut-backs in medical spending occur. The result: restrictions on medical treatments allowed, reductions in the number of hospitals, the number of beds, funding for state-of-the-art equipment, and  physician salaries, just to name a few.  With the government’s priority of keeping costs low, quality suffers dramatically.

The Canadian experience is a case in point. In 1984, as part of the continuing transition to a fully socialized system of health care, the Canada Health Act was passed. Among other things, it outlawed co-payments and extra billing by physicians. It also outlawed private health care. Over time, with the taxpayers continually increasing demand for free care, the ever increasing costs led to an emphasis on routine medical care since that is what the majority of health care demands consists of. The result is that adequate care cannot be provided for specialized needs. At least two provincial health plans in Canada (British Columbia and Ontario) found it necessary to permit patients with certain conditions to seek treatment in U.S. facilities. When health care in the U.S. becomes fully socialized, where are the Americans requiring immediate cardiac surgery, for instance, going to go when inadequate facilities have resulted in weeks or months of waiting lists?

The health care schemes in England and Europe are no better. A story back in 2011 revealed the dire straits the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is in. After years of excessive spending relative to income, the NHS was forced to reduce spending by $31 billion dollars by 2015. The results were predicable; a drop in the quality of care. Longer waiting lists, a denial of access to the latest medical treatments leading to “one size fits all” treatments, and the government failing to deliver on its guarantee of access to care, are just some of the results. Government funding of any product or service leads to rationing of that product or service.

Socialized medicine leads to the exact opposite of its alleged purpose. Instead of quality care at affordable prices, it leads to bankrupt health care systems that force bureaucrats to cut costs by reducing quality. Additionally, as costs escalate fewer funds are available for medical research. Most new medical advancements come from countries with freer systems. If America succumbs to socialized medicine, funds for research will diminish to almost nothing.

And it is a myth that it is free. It is paid for with prohibitive tax rates; by healthy individuals who can go for years with little or no need for care. And often, the elderly who paid the high taxes to fund the system in their younger years are then abandoned in their time of need due to cutbacks and restrictions that prevent them from getting required treatment.

Socialized medicine has been an abysmal failure in every country that has tried it. High costs, high taxes, poor quality and a system of health care where bureaucrats ending up dictating what medical treatment patients should receive is the inevitable result. Government funding of healthcare leads to government control of healthcare (as with anything else).

The only solution to the health care problems facing this country is a return to a free market. A free market protects every individual’s right to his own life by banning coercion in human relationships. A free market promotes competition, efficiency, and innovation. It results in higher quality and an ever increasing standard of living.