Thomas Sowell

One of the reasons given by California's liberal Senator Dianne Feinstein for opposing the confirmation of state Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to the federal judiciary is that Justice Brown has refused to put property rights on a lower plane than other constitutional rights and has criticized the destruction of property rights in San Francisco.

Senator Feinstein has said that it is "simply untrue" that property rights have been sacrificed in San Francisco. According to Senator Feinstein, private property "is alive and well" in San Francisco, "with property values making it one of the highest cost-of-living cities in the United States."

It might be humorous, if it were not so sad, that a senior United States Senator has so completely missed the point of discussions about the destruction of property rights that have been going on for decades in legal and intellectual circles.

One of the main reasons for the outrageous housing prices in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay area is precisely the over-riding of property rights. Endless restrictions, obstructions, and bureaucratic delays facing anyone who is building anything on their own property in this area have forced housing costs to astronomical levels.

The issue is not the prosperity of property owners, many of whom benefit enormously from the restrictions on building that cause the value of their own existing property to skyrocket. San Francisco property owners like Senator Feinstein have made out like bandits from these restrictions on property rights.

Justice Janice Rogers Brown noted pointedly during her nomination hearings that she cannot afford to live in San Francisco, but has to commute from far away for court hearings held there. That is part of the cost of politicians ignoring property rights and courts letting them get away with it.

The costs are even higher when rent control laws over-ride property rights and create housing shortages in the process. Homelessness is particularly acute in cities with severe rent control laws, such as San Francisco and New York.

People sleeping on the sidewalks in Manhattan during the winter can die of exposure, despite far more boarded-up apartment buildings than would be required to house them all. Yet those buildings are boarded up because rent control laws make them uneconomical to operate.

The main victims of the politicians and courts over-riding property rights are people who own no property. The main proponents of these violations of property rights are often people who do.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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