Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Editorial - Trump tramples core conservative belief in property rights

Margaret Thatcher, when she was British Prime Minister, used a simple formula to describe the economic freedoms due to a properly free people: "A man's right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the state as servant and not as master." This was, in her view, "the British inheritance."

Her thinking, influenced by centuries of English jurisprudence and political philosophy, provides a modern statement of the same rights that America's founders sought to bestow upon their posterity. Thatcher's phrase embodies the conservative view of the role of government and of citizens' rights in a well-functioning and free society.

Property ownership exists in some form in every nation, but it is often informal. Even in the most unfree nations, the powerful elite feel secure about what they own, in part because the property rights of others are theirs to trample.

What distinguishes America from such countries is not its abundance of natural resources or the race of its people, but its scrupulous cultural and legal dedication to protecting everyone's private property rights. This critical application of the rule of law is what allowed a massive middle class to form and grow on a scale unprecedented in history.

...This is why anyone who wants the United States to remain a great country should be concerned that Donald Trump, who is running for the presidency, defends his own use of government to trample other people's property rights as a positive thing. Merely defending eminent domain, a valid legal principle recognized in the U.S. Constitution for obtaining private land for needed public uses, is one thing. But using it for private gain is quite another. And it is not as though Trump used it long ago and now disavows his actions as wrong.

But he has not seen the error of his ways. To this day, Trump defends his own use of state force to trample the property rights of a person less powerful than himself. He views it as a positive good and regrets only that the courts stopped him in one well-known instance.

In 1994, as we have previously noted, Trump tried to use used his connections and wealth to make government his tool for plundering an Atlantic City widow named Vera Coking. He wanted to build a parking garage where her house stood, and so he got a local government agency to force the sale for just 25 percent of what she had previously been offered for it. The agency would then transfer ownership of the property to his company.

Fortunately, Trump lost that case in court.

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