Private property rights essential to this nation – Feb. 2015

Land held privately provides more benefits than federal ownership

Most of the folks in agriculture are very aware of private property rights and indeed most understand that absent private property our system of agriculture would falter.  Agriculture has helped not only to drive the economic engine that is our economy but has provided a surplus of food that helps feed the world.

The basic concept that an individual may own land that can be used to support his or her family was one of those “self-evident” concepts that our nation was founded upon.  Most folks who own land or their own business understand that without this concept, productivity would suffer.  The former Soviet Union went to great lengths to prevent private ownership of business or land.  That system has been relegated to the dust bin of history.  The Communist Chinese recognized some of the follies of a total prohibition on private ownership.  They have relaxed some of their ownership prohibitions which has resulted in economic advances which have moved that country to the second largest economy in the world.  It just goes to show what can be achieved when governments recognize that people work better for themselves, their families and their neighbors rather than for the benefit of the “state.”

While we would think this concept would be so self-evident that no one would think otherwise, that is not the case.  It is still interesting to find people who believe that the federal government should hang on to 30 percent of the landmass and continue to expand federal land ownership. 

Recently one of the topics discussed during the Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Collegiate Discussion Meet dealt with whether federal lands should be transferred into private hands.  The individuals who were participating were young, intelligent college students who have familiarity with agriculture.  However, the discussion which I heard from some clearly indicated they had not had an opportunity to learn about private property rights and many felt that transferring federal lands into private hands would not be a good idea.  The problem seems to be that we who own property think that we don’t need to educate folks about the tremendous benefits associated with private property.  We think it is indeed self-evident. 

This is also true when listening to bills being debated in the legislature.  This issue of trespass on private land seems to be treated like a crime akin to jay walking.  Some of the legislators recognize that it is technically illegal, but don’t feel anyone should have to face any kind of a fine for this crime.  These same folks will defend our state game management agency’s prosecution of hunters who shoot a game animal outside of the proper hunt area because they either inadvertently or on purpose kill an animal over the hunt area boundary.  Yet, if you suggest that someone should receive similar treatment because they are trespassing on someone’s property (by the way, trespassing is without permission and illegal), they will loudly proclaim how unfair it is.

I have a hard time seeing the difference between the two actions.  Still, I think it gets back to people’s ideas about private property.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the example.  Now people don’t have the ready example that earlier generations had so they don’t see the issues surrounding public ownership of resources and production.  They also overestimate the benefits.  Unfortunately, without learning this lesson, reality will exert itself on our system and we may find ourselves experiencing the same outcome as the former Soviet Union.  It’s up to all of us to educate our young folks about the importance of private ownership before we end up with public ownership of everything and its inevitable outcome.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President

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