Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
I don’t know much about Rand Paul, but I do know something about his father, Ron Paul, with whom Rand shares a Libertarian philosophy. I like Ron Paul and share many of his political views. But the problems faced by his son this past week over Libertarian rigidity has local implications as well as national effects.
Rand Paul’s immediate problem is explaining why his Libertarian philosophy in support of private property rights should override the public policy that it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their perceived race or ethnicity or religion or national origin. Rand Paul continues to believe that the owners of private businesses offering goods and services to the public should be able to refuse service to people whose racial-ethnic-religious-national origin characteristics displease them. This country, through its Legislative and Executive branches of government and approved by its Judicial branch, decided 46 years ago that such discrimination offended basic decency and the public good of fostering an egalitarian society, one in which all people had access to public accommodation, whether the accommodation is owned publicly or privately.
Rand Paul believes that such decency and egalitarianism are important, but he won’t let that belief trump his rigid Libertarian ideology that views private property rights as the ultimate good. If Rand Paul had been more straightforward about his views when interviewed about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he might have received less bad publicity. He could have said simply, “I believe that private property rights are more important than an open society free of ethnic-racial-religious-national origin discrimination,” but he didn’t. He hemmed and hawed around the edges of a clear, direct statement of his views. The equivocation is what got him in the most trouble politically.
This same private property rights belief is behind the actions of a majority of the San Marcos City Council, who regularly change the city’s Master Plan, which was established in the public interest by and through city residents, to allow zoning that gives private property owners what they want. To this council majority, private property rights (and the extra profit that a property owner can derive by developing land with apartments and commercial projects) are more important than the public good of having a well-planned community that develops in an orderly fashion as agreed to by all of the citizens who participated in the planning process and by a unanimous city council.
A city’s master plan or comprehensive plan includes land use (which establishes density levels and the kinds of zoning allowed), thoroughfare plans, water and wastewater plans, open space and park needs, drainage concerns, building regulations, and other features that make the community livable–that is, comfortable, convenient, functional, aesthetic, and satisfying for the public in general. It also provides for the right mix of uses in the right amounts to meet the needs of the city’s population for the foreseeable future. While it can be amended, amendments should be done only when the needs of the community change, not to satisfy someone’s money-making scheme.
In 1926, the U.S. Supreme Court held that zoning based on a comprehensive plan was a proper exercise of a city’s power to regulate the use of private property to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the community. The court found that the public good is more important than the private property rights of individuals who own property. A city’s power is referred to in law as the “police power”; that is, the power of a government to exercise reasonable control over people and property within its jurisdiction in the interest of the community’s security, health, safety, morals, and welfare. It is generally accepted as one of the powers reserved to the states under the U.S. Constitution, and cities are creatures of the states.
As recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, a primary goal of zoning has been to preserve single-family residential neighborhoods based on the proposition that families promote values that are desirable in communities. This view balances the property rights of single-family residential owners with the property rights of those wishing to develop their property for some other purpose and comes down on the side of single-family residential owners. This is often the opposite calculation made by a majority of city council members. They hold the property rights of developers as superior to those of single-family property owners. The security, health, safety, morals, and welfare of the public generally is of less concern to most city council members than are the economic goals of the developers, probably because developers are a source of significant campaign contributions and neighborhood property owners are not.
This imbalance is a major problem I have with rigid Libertarianism. It concerns itself less with the purpose of the social contract than with individual desires, whatever their effect on the community. When people form a community, they agree, tacitly or formally, to subjugate their private interests, to a greater or lesser degree, to the public good. Conflicts arise over how much private interest must be given up to serve the public good. Libertarians usually want no control or at least less control over private interests than do those who hold a more communitarian outlook.
At its extreme, Libertarianism acknowledges no concern for the public good, arguing for complete individual freedom in personal behavior and use of private property. Few people take this extreme position. Most people recognize that there are limits to individual freedom when one lives in a community. For instance, target practice with a rifle or hand gun creates a safety issue in a community, but may be done safely in an isolated countryside where a stray bullet could harm no person or property.
According to The Libertarian Party’s “Are you a Libertarian?” quiz, I am a Libertarian, but as I read through the party’s platform, I find that I agree with little regarding property rights, education, and free markets. In fact, free markets hold a god-like place in the Libertarian belief system, one that lacks supportive evidence as much as does a belief in Zeus or Zarathustra.
Undoubtedly, something is wrong with their quiz. It must have been designed by someone who went to a Libertarian private school (which is the only kind of school Libertarians believe we should have) and did not learn enough about tests and measurements.
After reviewing Libertarian beliefs, it comes as no surprise that Rand Paul (is his shortened name an homage to Libertarian icon Ayn Rand?) refuses to hold BP accountable for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. While government regulators, including Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, have responsibility for granting BP and its cohorts exemptions from environmentally-protective regulations, it was BP and its partners and contractors that made decisions that led to what may be the worst environmental disaster ever to befall the Gulf.
Tens of thousands of people who make their living from the harvest of food from the Gulf and its environs may not be able to work for a decade or more because of the damage done to the ecosystems in the Gulf and on its shore, and endangered species may become further damaged by the oil that has gushed from the hole in the sea created by BP for over a month, with no end in sight. And tens of millions of migratory birds that daily fly through the Louisiana marshlands are in danger. But Rand Paul says it is just a mere accident, unavoidable, and one of those things that happen occasionally. No concern of the government.
There is much attractive about Libertarianism, but unfettered private property rights and the abolition of public schools are not among tenets that would make this a better country or a better world. I have lived through a time when I could not enjoy public accommodations with friends, and those friends had limited housing options because of perceived private property rights that led to discrimination. I have seen the broad societal benefits of public education as it created middle class citizens of those who served in World War II or were new immigrants to this country. I don’t want to live in a society that will institutionalize discrimination and ignorance by organizing itself around a belief system that is no more proven than witchcraft, demon-possession, and voodoo. I’d as soon live in a society ruled by psychics.
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