Two bits of governmental action out of New York City serve to illuminate that which many of us already know: that progressivism spits on property rights.

First, the (now) Democrat-controlled New York State legislature cobbled together a “strengthening” of the rent control laws that analysis after analysis show as a prime driver of the perpetual housing shortage in New York City. Sure, there are those who benefit, but they benefit at the greater harm to the broader citizenry (sounds like every example of socialism throughout history, no?).

Second, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission slapped landmark status on the famous (to New Yorkers, at least) Strand Book Store, over the strenuous objections of the store’s owner. Landmark status imposes both restrictions and mandates on a property, purportedly for the sake of heritage or whatever.

These and similar governmental actions against the rights of property owners are always presented as noble in intent and beneficial to the community, but the reality is that they are almost always political. For vote-garnering, in the case of rent control (people generally don’t think through the consequences of such actions, and jump on the superficial “rich, predatory landlords vs struggling tenants” narrative. For political tit-for-tat, in the case of the Strand landmarking (the NY Post reports that the Strand action was a buy-off of preservationists leery of a re-zoning meant to draw tech and development to that area.

They also have another thing in common. They show a total disregard for the principle of ownership and the tenets of economic liberty.

Start with the meaning of “ownership.” Owning something is more than holding a piece of paper that says it’s yours. It includes control over that something, i.e. the ability to do with it as one pleases, subject only to the limits of others’ liberty and property. From those limits, there derive a number of legal matters, e.g. who owns the water in a river that flows through someone’s land, can you build a chemical plant next do someone’s home, how far up can you build, how far down can you build, matters of noise, pollution, and the like. We can debate such matters within a framework of liberty and ownership.

Also from those limits, there derive a number of restrictions of somewhat more questionable legitimacy, e.g. zoning laws.

Rent control and landmarking are neither of these. Legalities of ownership and zoning laws focus on the physical externalities of a piece of property i.e. the impact of their use on that which is immediately around them. Landmarking is an aesthetic, rent control is an interference in an economic transaction between two willing participants, and neither contributes to the preclusion of harm to neighboring properties. They are merely someone with no ownership of a property deciding what can be done with that property.

As such, they mirror the dismissal of private ownership that’s a core principle of socialism, and therefore of progressivism. Most such folks, however, are quite happy to own their property, and would probably bristle at someone else telling them what they’re allowed to do with it. Hypocrisy in politics is only outrageous when the other side does it, so we shouldn’t expect this crowd to be shamed into acknowledging other people’s property rights.

Some will recognize the title of this essay as that of a Naughty By Nature song from 1991. They weren’t singing about Other People’s Property, of course, but I can’t resist a good cultural reference. While the “P” they referred to was more about anatomy than real property, the covetousness toward “other” is the same.

I recently discussed progressives’ attitudes and beliefs about Other People’s Money, including the ways in which they justify taking it and in the presumption that they know better how to use it than the people who brought it into existence through their labors. That disregard for individuals’ rights to the fruit of their labor extends to OPP, as evinced by the blithe manner in which they’ve decided to impose their rules and will on the residential rental market.

And, as always, it’s the intent that’s sufficient, not the outcome. Outcomes don’t matter. Unintended negative consequences don’t matter.

So, the existing stock gets poorly maintained and doesn’t get upgraded. Old walkup apartment buildings that could be torn down and rebuilt with many more units sit in stasis, slowly sliding into decrepitude, and rather than add density where it’s desired, developers build in outer neighborhoods (the dreaded gentrification) in order to supply the unrequited demand. The influx of those who’d rather live closer to the center of things but can’t afford it changes the nature of neighborhoods, much to the outrage of the politicians who caused the problem in the first place, so they “do something,” and the cycle continues.

Lack of respect and protection for property rights, and the associated covetousness and feelings of entitlement as to control of OPP, have throughout the world and throughout history led to the degradation and collapse of nations and their economies. This, of course, doesn’t dissuade our current crop of progressive leaders, who can never imagine that they are as flawed as all those leaders of the past whose actions wrecked their nations.

New York was nearly ruined, half a century ago, by liberal politics. The scars of that mismanagement lingered for decades, and still linger in things like housing projects. The problems the city faces, in this particular instance the shortage of affordable housing, are easily and obviously traced to decades of rent control and other market interventions. But, instead of recognizing past mistakes, today’s progressive politicians not only perpetuate them, they double-down by expanding them, and then seek to correct the problems they cause with additional patches and mandates (e.g. developers are forced, in new construction, to set aside some units as “affordable).

As for the Strand being landmarked? Don’t be surprised if the additional burdens imposed by this undesired action speeds the demise of this already-imperiled New York institution.

None of that matters, though. Greed for and envy of OPP, along with the prideful presumption that heavy control can produce better outcomes, is part and parcel of present-day progressivism. The people who deride others as “greedy” are the greediest of all, and they’ve no problem destroying others in attempting to sate their endless rapacity.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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