Private Property and Ecological Health

15th June 2004 

By [post_author] –

LA SELVA BEACH, Calif. — Michael Shaw is the owner and proprietor of Liberty Garden, where — using a program of seedbank management — he created a native plant oasis o­n the central coast of California. In this excerpt from his treatise “What is Private Property?”, Shaw explains that if people are free to create voluntary associations, the laws of economics and the consequence of stewardship will cause the earth to improve. “Private property and a healthy planet are inseparable,” Shaw says.

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Freedom associates authority with responsibility. In a society that respects individual liberty and private property, a property owner has every incentive to use his property wisely and well. For example, a forestland owner’s interest is served by pursuing a healthy future condition in his forest. He can derive a livelihood from his land over time only by safeguarding its long-term stability and productivity. He must implement the measures to protect his investment and retain the interest of others in the wood his forest produces. Foresters make it their business, for instance, to understand the cost of soil erosion, and they are in the best position to abate it.

Left to his own self-interested devices, the forester may become a wealthy man. Sustaining his wealth depends on sustaining its source, the forest he owns. Other people may use his products to carry out their own ventures, earning wealth of their own by supplying timber and paper to a market eager for quality goods. The wealth that such voluntary trade creates gives rise to the market demand for ecological health. The forester knows that neither he nor those he supplies have any interest in a forest denuded of trees.

Free enterprise seeks and achieves the objective of ecological health, as Liberty Garden also demonstrates. There, a former weed lot now supports a wild wonderland with a plethora of productive native plants, which in turn support an array of indigenous species. Like the foresters land, Liberty Garden proves that if people are free to create voluntary associations, the laws of economics and the consequence of stewardship will cause the earth to improve. What’s good for the property owner who remains free to pursue his enlightened self-interest is also good for the earth. The government can undermine or prevent these good things when it assumes the roles of land manager and species savior roles in which it has repeatedly failed. For instance, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has made species protection a government monopoly, turning problems that have viable solutions into crises that could become nearly insurmountable to resolve.

Liberty Garden illustrates how the ESA works against the very goals it has proclaimed. The central principle of land management at Liberty Garden is human control over seed-bank production. We eliminate seeds from non-native plants before they become viable, and we nurture the seed-banks of native plants. ESA regulation compromises and complicates this enterprise and devastates the economic value that would normally have resulted from the land’s improvement. Such regulations discourage seed-bank management and cause the desirable native seed-bank to die out.

The unanticipated consequences of the ESA extend even further. The ESA places in government hands absolute use and management authority over private property when a listed species is found. Claiming authority at Liberty Garden, the government has prohibited — through obfuscation — commercial human use and peaceful trade there. Lost are the mutual benefits and societal gains that otherwise would have occurred. At risk are the abandonment of Liberty Garden and the creation of other stewarded landscapes. After all, few would choose to invest time, money, and effort to create a dynamic wild habitat at the risk of federal ESA enforcement or a taking of use by a local planning bureaucracy. Such government actions erode the moral foundation of human stewardship by taking the private property on which that foundation rests.

If government continues to take authority over land management, achievement of human values (including ecological health) will remain elusive. This is why the institutions of private property and individual liberty must be protected now.

In place of the achievement that corresponds with self-interest, the mutual benefit that results from voluntary and peaceful trade, and the societal gains that flow from both, the enforcement of the ESA delivers to the ecology and to society what force brings — degradation and the consequent loss of human happiness and peace. To be who you are, to own your own self and the product of your energy, and to possess the authority and the responsibility for your actions are the foundations for your pursuit of happiness. A society with an increasing aggregation of happiness promotes peace and rising prosperity. Such a society pursues the ideals and the institutions of individual liberty, i.e. private property.

© 2003 LibertyGarden.Com

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