Acquiring, owning, protecting, and making reasonable use of private property are not mere privileges government can grant or deny at its discretion””they are fundamental rights. The Bill of Rights, as part of our Constitution, declares in the Fifth Amendment that “no person shall be … deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law ….” That Amendment further states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” And again in the Fourteenth Amendment, local officials are forewarned, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ….”
The Basis for Prosperity
The right to private property not only is fundamental, it also is the basis for our prospering economically and living secure and healthy lives. Through private property ownership, people retain incentives to create, to initiate and sustain progress, and to use resources more efficiently. Lifesaving medical advances, technological innovations, energy efficient manufacturing processes, just to name a few, are made possible because of private property. The result is a high standard of living Americans have come to expect and cherish.
A high standard of living also gives Americans greater individual liberty. As people prosper economically, they are able to invest for education, retirement, recreation, homeownership, family security, environmental protection, etc. These freedoms in turn provide a higher standard of living and similar freedoms to others, like employees and customers, and launching pads for the accomplishments of future generations.
But unnecessary and intrusive government regulation severely restricts freedom, not only in the use of property, but in the enjoyment of its proceeds. That restriction hinders the marketplace by reducing the number of voluntary exchanges of goods and services in which all parties benefit. History has taught painfully what hostility toward private property rights accomplishes. The social and economic travesty caused by over 70 years of communist control of private property in the former Soviet Union is a lesson that should neither be forgotten nor repeated.
A Slow, Subtle Erosion
Like rust eating away metal until it crumbles, the erosion of property rights is a very slow and subtle process that can take not just months, but years, even generations””one instance, one case at a time. And nearly always, the erosion is not apparent. Indeed, this country’s fourth President, James Madison stated in 1788: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
And frequently, the victims of the “silent encroachments” are just ordinary folks. They are the hardworking and self reliant Americans struggling to attain””or maintain””the American Dream but who have been hampered by overzealous regulators and left adrift by the undertow of bureaucracy. Their shattered dreams and anguish are exhibited in PLF’s litigation program which is committed to enforcing the Constitution’s limit on the power of government agents to control private property.