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What is the Libertarian Alternative to Zoning?

in Ask Dr. Ruwart, Liberator Online, Libertarian Answers on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 20, No. 13 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

libertarian alternative to zoningQUESTION: I am a homeowner in a low-income neighborhood. I work hard to keep my property up, and my yard is beautiful. I am enraged by people who leave tires and garbage cans in front of their houses, don’t cut the grass, and scatter their garbage all over the street. They do not have the right to denigrate my quality of life.

How do I reconcile my libertarianism with the fact that I call the city on these offenders and advocate stricter laws regarding how one keeps the outside appearance of his property?

MY SHORT ANSWER: In a libertarian society, when builders created a subdivision, they might choose to put deed restrictions on the homes. Prospective owners would need to accept these as a condition of purchase. Alternatively, property owners’ associations might be put in place with a starting set of restrictions, to be modified in time by the buyers into the subdivision. Such restrictions could include standards of upkeep. People who desired a well-kept neighborhood would likely buy in such communities.

People who would rather not be restricted would buy in communities or other areas where such standards were minimal or non-existent. In this way, everyone’s preference would be honored. Everyone wins!

Today, however, standards — even zoning — can fluctuate overnight with changes in city councils, zoning boards, or inspectors. Sometimes these standards are selectively enforced (e.g., a neighbor has to complain before action is taken). Buyers don’t always know what they are getting into and understandably become resentful when their neighbors use government to restrict them. Thus, unfortunately, today win-win solutions to these problems are rare.


Learn More: Liberator Online editor James W. Harris suggests the following articles for further reading on this topic:

  • How Zoning Rules Would Work in a Free Society“ by Ben O’Neill, Mises Institute, June 17, 2009. This short article shows what’s wrong with zoning, and why market alternatives are better and fairer. 

    Excerpt: “Contrary to the alleged necessity of zoning laws, there is ample scope for non-coercive solutions to zoning issues in the context of a free society of private-property ownership and nonaggression. In particular, private ownership of property allows for restrictive covenants to be agreed between the property owner and another party so that the allowable uses of land are limited according to the wishes of the parties. It follows that property owners within a given neighborhood may contractually agree to impose restrictions on themselves with respect to the allowable developments on their land or the allowable uses of their property.”

  • Zoning Laws Destroy Communities“ by Troy Camplin, Mises Institute, April 30, 2010. This short article discusses problems with zoning, including huge unintentional consequences that subvert zoning’s alleged goals of fostering and preserving communities.Excerpt: “Zoning laws are a violation of property rights. They destroy the sense of community in neighborhoods, increase crime, increase traffic congestion, contribute to urban and suburban air pollution, contribute to poverty, contribute to reliance on government — and, thus, reduce self-reliance — and contribute to the ruin of our schools. Most of our urban and suburban problems arose with zoning and other anti-property laws, to which welfare programs and public housing projects have contributed…”

Great News! The World Is Getting Better: HumanProgress.org

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 9 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

HumanProgress.orgThere is a large and growing body of evidence showing dramatic and remarkable improvements in human well-being in recent decades, especially in the developing world.

Unfortunately, this evidence is little-known and often overlooked. Bad news and predictions of doom and gloom are disproportionately reported. Many people, including the highly educated, simply have no idea of the great and ongoing progress in many crucial areas of human life around the world.

This exciting and uplifting news deserves far more attention. HumanProgress.org, a new website and research tool from the Cato Institute, hopes to accomplish that.

Many visitors who take the time to explore the site will be genuinely surprised by the well-documented major advances in world peace, living standards, environmental cleanliness, life spans, and much more. Crimes such as rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, and child abuse are all substantially down from the past. Around 5.1 billion people live in countries where incomes have more than doubled since 1960, and well over half the human race lives in countries where average incomes have tripled or more. Technologies unimaginable just a few years ago are now commonplace even among the world’s poor.

HumanProgress.org provides tools that let users see the many documented ways in which the world has become a far better place. Over 500 data sets of human development indicators from a variety of reliable sources allow visitors to compare indicators with one another, create and share graphics, and calculate differences in human well-being between different countries over time. Visitors can explore progress in categories including: Communications, Education, Energy, Environment, Food, Gender Equality, Happiness, Health, Housing, Transportation, Violence, and Wealth.

By putting together this comprehensive data in an accessible way, HumanProgress.org provides a fantastic documented resource for scholars, journalists, students, and the general public.

For a good graph-free overview of what it’s all about, go to the introductory essay “What is Human Progress?” which presents some downright startling figures and arguments and puts them in context.

And for an easy way to keep up with breaking good news about human progress — and to get a regular booster shot of reasons for rational optimism — you can like HumanProgress.org’s Facebook page.

Cato hopes that HumanProgress.org will lead to a greater appreciation of the improving state of the world. Things are getting better in many areas, to a remarkable degree, and largely due to progress in markets, civil liberties and peace. That’s great news! Let’s spread the word.