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Brad Harrington

Property Rights Under Attack

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A "local" piece, published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle on April 23rd, 2011.


By Bradley Harrington

“If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization.” - Ludwig von Mises, “Human Action,” 1949 -

A couple of weeks ago, while discussing individual rights, I provided a blueprint for determining our relationships with the control freaks bent upon protecting us from ourselves:

“The fundamental questions to ask yourself, in all such encounters with such folks, is: ‘What are this person’s intentions with respect to my life, liberty and property?’ And ‘Does this person seek to employ the use of force as a means of advancing their aims?’” (“Don’t let do-gooders rob you of your rights,” Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, April 9th.)

And, just to give you a rough idea of how loudly city events scream out to be properly analyzed in the light of such questions, and of how screwed up things can get when such analyses are not forthcoming, consider three recent occurrences for starters:

(1) Regarding the Pershing Blvd. roundabout, originally slated for work in the Spring of 2011: “The city might not start construction until August, because it’s having problems attaining rights of way.” (“Roundabout delayed,” Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, April 13th.)

So: We’ve established the funding, spent hundreds of thousands on planning, had meetings with the community and done just about everything else needed to get this project off the ground - except procure the rights of way in order to do so? But isn’t our “right” to do all of the rest based on this need first?

Could you imagine a private developer, such as Frank Cole, one of the men with whom the Pershing rights of way need to be negotiated, proceeding forward in such a fashion, wasting money without bothering to establish his right to do so first?

No, it’s only the ham-handed officials of the city of Cheyenne, blissfully ignorant of property rights, that could ever make that kind of a mistake. And, when presented with the fallout of it afterwards, we are now hearing talk about the city using “eminent domain” decrees as a means of “acquiring” the property anyway. Guaranteed lawsuit action there, that’s for sure, and who will be paying for it? You and I.

(2) Regarding the American Eagle/Cheyenne Airport boondoggle: “American Eagle has the unwelcome distinction of having the worst score overall among the airlines covered in the 2011 Airline Quality Rating Report.” (“American Eagle gets low marks,” Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, April 18th.)

How is it, exactly, that we get stuck with a carrier of such poor ratings? Not through any market-based process, mind you; for, if you recall, American Eagle was enticed into coming here in the first place with a fat state-taxpayer-funded $1.4 million subsidy. In the old days of private property rights, it would have been the consumers voting with their dollars that would have established what, if any, type of airport service would be offered at the Cheyenne Airport and by whom.

In today’s pliable age of anything goes, however, such considerations are deemed as unimportant and unnecessary: the bureaucrats, obviously, know better than we do how and with whom we should be flying. So they’ll just take our money and give it away to whomever they please. Free choice, brother? What an outmoded concept.

(3) Regarding the American Legion Post 6 Powers Field controversy: “City officials hope to avoid a lawsuit with the American Legion Post 6 baseball team over the use of Powers Field.” (“City and Post 6 want agreement,” Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, April 5th.)

Of all the blunderings in the area of property rights, this one is probably the one that screams out the loudest in protest, with no winners in sight anywhere: Caught up in the three-way huddle between Post 6, the city and the Feds in a goofy maze of mutually-contradictory funding and leasing arrangements, none of the participants have any recourse to sane and sensible property management any longer.

But, while the jury’s still out on the ultimate resolution of who will be able to do what at Powers Field, look to the Feds to wave their bigger guns to carry the day. And that’s a surprise? When the objectivity of property rights are not recognized for the absolutes that they are, what other standards remain to determine the realities of social intercourse?

For this, precisely, is what property rights are for: to establish a rational, moral and objective framework by means of which men and women are to deal with one another. As all three of these instances make perfectly clear, take those away and what you have left is: “I got a gun and you ain’t.” How’s that for our new principle of social organization? Looks to me like our property rights, not the state, are what’s “withering away.”


Bradley Harrington is a former U.S. Marine and a writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming; he can be reached at

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