The other day, Susie Moore, my fellow RedState front pager, wrote a brilliant article about taxation and how Americans view tax refunds. Please take the time to read it if you haven’t. Her article got me thinking about income, and it’s relationship to property and personal,liberty. Here are my thoughts.
The fundamental issue is that there is an unstated presumption; That there is an actual, substantive difference between property crimes and violent crimes, or as they are referred to in Law Enforcement, “persons” crimes. Closer examination shows that when it comes right down to it, there is little if any difference. Both categories bring harm to others, varying only by degree.
It took me a long time to get this. Like many people, I considered persons crimes more heinous than “mere” property crimes. After all, “stuff” isn’t nearly as important as a human being. A little over twenty years ago when I was working the street as Deputy Sheriff, I had a minor epiphany. Like most young law enforcement officers, I considered the routine bicycle or other minor theft as not too exciting. It was much more interesting to make a big drug bust or be involved in a vehicle pursuit with the lights and sirens going. A common bicycle theft required a lot of paperwork and most days resulted in no thief identified, much less going to jail; though there was this one group of young pre teen “entrepreneurs” we busted running a bicycle “chop shop.” But that’s a story for another day.
Then came my epiphany. As a fairly junior member of the agency I worked for, it was a bit tough to feed a wife and two little girls on a Patrol Deputy’s salary. But it was doable, with some work and discipline. One year, my wife and I had made a personal commitment to not go into credit card debt to pay for Christmas. However, to make sure Santa Claus was adequately funded that year, I worked several overtime details in order to accomplish that goal. My oldest daughter wanted a bicycle, her first. With a bit of extra effort, I was able to get her one…the Barbie model with “pink streamers and everything, Daddy!”
Not two weeks after Christmas in the middle of the day, someone came into my back yard and stole my daughter’s new bike. She was crushed. What else could I do, but go buy her another? As I had worked voluntary overtime to come up with the cash for a replacement, it struck me that what was stolen wasn’t just a $150.00 bicycle. What was stolen was the piece of my life I had to spend to earn the cash to buy it…twice. In that regard, this “petty” theft was really a crime of violence, a persons crime.
Fast forward to these past few years and my habit of listening to Mark Levin discuss the Constitution, specifically, the Founders’ concern for not only personal, but also property rights and how integral the Founders believed those rights were to liberty. Levin points out four different amendments in the Constitution specifically give property equal regard as with liberty and people.
3rd Amendment: No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
4th Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
5th Amendment: No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
14th Amendment:…..nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;
Why did the Founders believe this way? My experience with my daughter’s stolen bike got me halfway to the answer. I realized that, in a manner of speaking, property is a form of stored labor. Somebody, somehow had to work to get the money to purchase that property. In that regard, property represents so many hours of a person’s life. It follows naturally from there, that taking property could be considered taking a portion of someone’s life. John Locke’s idea that property is a natural right derived from labor, influenced our Founding Fathers and the base documents that established and continue to maintain our form of government.
Before Locke, the common belief was that there was a “divine right of kings.” This divine right stated that all rights, liberties, and properties were held by the King. His subjects were permitted to use them only at his pleasure. Of course, the King could revoke such a right at any time. John Locke and a few of his contemporaries espoused a radically different paradigm–that certain rights resided in the individual. These rights were “natural rights” that were inherent long before, and regardless of, the existence of government.
Our Founding Fathers took Locke’s philosophy regarding life, liberty, and property and sprinkled it liberally throughout the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. This equal billing of these three fundamental rights continued until the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. After that point, personal and property liberties came to be treated differently and unequally.
One recent and truly egregious example of this, is Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws, whereby a citizen merely suspected but not convicted of a crime may have his property confiscated and must prove innocence, at his own expense, to get it back. Another is the Kelo decision by the Supreme Court, whereby property can be taken from one citizen because the state (city, county, or state) can obtain more tax revenues from another, a clear violation of the intent of the takings clause of the Constitution.
It’s time that we all as Americans understand that property is a significant part of liberty. It’s time we all demand the recognition of the fact that the possession of property, is a part of being a human being. Your property is your labor. Your property is you.
Mike Ford is a retired Infantry Officer who writes on Military, Foreign Affairs and occasionally dabbles in Political and Economic matters.
Follow him on Twitter: @MikeFor1039458
You can find his other Red State work here.