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The wrongs of property rights

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Ray Ring's examination of so-called "property rights" lawyers' legacy missed two key points (HCN, 12/10/07). First, while Mr. Ring hinted at the edges, the article never directly confronted the fundamental contradictions in the "property rights" ideology. By opposing a rancher selling grazing permits to a conservation trust or a farmer selling land for ecosystem restoration, it is made clear that the right of an individual to do as they please with their property is not the core value or central mission of these organizations. In addition, demanding compensation for reducing grazing permits or water delivery reveals a belief that government subsidies are equivalent to private property - but only when those subsidies are enjoyed by those who eschew the concept of government to begin with.

Second, while the life's work of these attorneys has not resulted in a decision of Roe v. Wade proportions, all lawsuits, particularly those that result in protracted court battles, sap agencies' resources and divert attention away from regulation and stewardship. Considered in tandem with the Republican tactic of subduing government by freezing budgets, responding to legal proceedings are non-discretionary activities that further reduce an agency's ability to accomplish anything on the ground. Further, in this type of political environment, agency decision-makers are even more likely to capitulate to interests that conflict with their core mission rather than tempt further suppression from above or additional legal diversions from the right.

In this context, and despite the inherent contradictions between their stated goals and their legal arguments, the Pacific Legal Foundation, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, and their spawn have been tremendously effective at promoting exploitation of the public's natural heritage for private financial gain.

Carrie Phillips
Harwich, Massachusetts

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