The Voluntary Neighborhood

Last week a Chesterfield circuit court ruled Romito has no obligation to pay dues to the homeowners’ association in the tony Bexley neighborhood. Romito bought his property two decades ago, when membership in the association was voluntary. Last year the Bexley Association made membership and dues mandatory. To force Romito to pay dues now, ruled Judge Herbert C. Gill, would be “simply unjust.”

That is Bart Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He uses the case as an opportunity to examine the political and philosophical arguments that inhere in the notion of government by consent. The issues are by no means clear-cut and Hinkle is careful not to make them seem so.

His conclusion, however, puts the burden of proof on those who would favor government power over individuals rights:

It is very easy to ask questions, said a wise fellow, and not to be satisfied by the answers. Still. Through the individual mandate embedded in health care reform, the economic stimulus, the zeal to regulate everything from restaurant menus to household lightbulbs, and much more besides, the friends of the current administration suggest — tacitly, one might say — that government has the power to do nearly anything it wants . . . anything at all. It would be nice if those who are so eager to order everyone else about would take the trouble to explain what, exactly, gives them the right to do so.

Arnold Kling reacts:

I do not think that there is a perfect solution here. However, my idea of competitive government is to try to minimize the cost of exit. For that reason, I would like to see neighborhood associations allowed to opt out of county services. If I am fed up with my neighborhood association, it is easier for me to move to a nearby neighborhood than it is for me to move to a different county to escape bad county government. The larger the territory controlled by the government, the harder it is to use exit. To me, that argues for minimizing the power of larger governmental units.

For those interested in the idea of competitive local government or private, non-coercive solutions to problems, I can do no better than to recommend two books: the Independent Institute’s Voluntary City and Aligica and Boettke’s Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development.