Thomas Sowell

A reader wrote recently about his father, who has been a farmer, but is now ready to retire. His father figured on selling his land to get some money for his golden retirement years. But he found that he cannot get anywhere near the land's market value because busybodies have passed laws that destroy most of that value by restricting the sale of farmland.

The rationale for such laws is "preserving farmland." Think about it. Two of our biggest problems today are obesity and agricultural surpluses. The last thing we need to do is keep farmland from being sold to those who want to use it to build housing, businesses or other things.

Even if we accept, for the sake of argument, the notion that farmland needs to be preserved in order to serve some great national interest, the Constitution of the United States says that private property cannot be taken by the government without just compensation.

When the government destroys half the value of someone's property, that is the same thing economically as taking half of that property. But, because the farmer is left owning all his land, judges have let politicians get away with essentially confiscating much of its value without having to pay any compensation.

People who lead crusades to preserve farmland usually know little about farming and less about economics. Yet they think that they have a right to prevent other people from making mutually agreeable transactions, when that goes against the fetishes of third parties.

Busybodies may flatter themselves that they are wiser or nobler than others -- which is perhaps the biggest benefit from being a busybody -- but the Constitution of the United States says that all citizens are entitled to the equal protection of the laws.

In other words, people who want to wring their hands about farmlands or wetlands, or about some obscure toad or snake, have no more rights than people who don't care two cents about such things. It is hard for those who have presumptions of being the morally anointed to accept that, but that is what the Constitution says.

Unfortunately, too many judges are ready to fudge or fake what the Constitution says because they too share the vision of the anointed. So they downgrade property rights and let third parties impose their pet notions on others, using the power of government to violate the rights of those who do not agree with them.

What makes a lot of the talk about "preserving" or "saving" farmland or other things as phony as a three-dollar bill is that the real agenda is often very different -- namely, keeping out people who do not have the income or the inclination to share the lifestyle of the anointed.

Thomas Sowell

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

Creators Syndicate