Category Archives: Property Rights

Fishing for Property Rights

As oil continues to spill into the Gulf or Mexico, the states around the slick face many tragic consequences including damage to ocean life, the threat of oil washing onto land, and lost tourism.

One of the greatest economic effects will come from damage to the area’s seafood industry. Market Watch reports:

“Looking back at the Exxon Valdez spill, there were significant fishery declines,” said Jackie Savitz, a senior scientist at Oceana, an environmental advocacy group. “There is no question that fishery populations are going to be set back.”

She noted that fish larvae are especially susceptible to oil and that the Gulf is a breeding ground for some of the country’s most commercially valuable species, including bluefin tuna, grouper and snapper.

While an unprecedented supply shock like the BP spill would hurt any industry, Gulf Coast fisheries were in an unenviable position before disaster struck.

The lack of property rights in these fisheries left the area highly susceptible to a Tragedy of the Commons. Without being able to profit from the long-term health of a fishery, fishermen have incentives to overfish in the present.  Gulf Coast fishing is currently regulated primarily by Individual Fishing Quotas, a blunt tool which relies on government command and control rather than market incentives to preserve fisheries.

While oceans often suffer from the Tragedy of the Commons, Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize for her work on common pool resources reminds us that there are solutions.

In Fencing the Fishery, Donald R. Leal explains the importance of allowing commercial fishermen to have a stock in a population’s long-term health, aligning profit incentives with the preservation of fisheries.  Gulf Coast regulators should allow for such market-based solutions to help the region’s economy recover.

Legal Plunder

How does law enforcement finance operations? Increasingly, police departments across the country pay for their activities, equipment and supplies by seizing the assets of people who have never committed a crime. It’s a process called civil forfeiture, and it’s at best, controversial. At worst, it provides direct monetary incentive for states and the federal government to steal property from innocent citizens. Gives a whole new meaning to Bastiat’s “legal plunder.”

Radley Balko explains how civil forfeiture perverts the “protect and serve” motto by introducing a profit motive: Continue reading

Bob Nelson on Utah’s Land Management

Neighborhood Effects blogger Bob Nelson had an op-ed in Friday’s Salt Lake Tribune arguing that Utah should offer to take control of federal lands in the state:

The largest area of Utah public land, 22.8 million acres, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Interior Department. Another 8.1 million acres is in the national forest system managed by the U.S. Forest Service in the Agriculture Department. On these lands, the most important decisions concern matters such as the number of cows that will be allowed to graze, the levels of timber harvesting, the leasing of land for oil and gas drilling, the prevention and fighting of forest fires and the areas available to off-road recreational vehicles.

Except in Utah and other parts of the American West, where the federal government still holds about half the total land area, such matters are the responsibility of private land owners and of state and local governments. It is time to end this antiquated system which has failed the test of time. Despite the possession of hundreds of millions of acres of land, and vast oil and gas, coal and other valuable mineral resources, the federal lands proved to be a money-losing proposition.

Read the whole thing here.

In 2008, Bob wrote about how local control of federal lands in California can lead to more effective fire management. And, of course, Bob is the author of one of Neighborhood Effects’ all-time most-read posts, wherein he argued that the US Senate is obsolete.

Property Rights and Blight

Proceedings for state takeover of Brooklyn properties continue with developer Bruce Ratner closing on the future sight of the Nets new stadium .  George Will explains in his column:

The Atlantic Yards site, where 10 subway lines and one railway line converge, is the center of the bustling Prospect Heights neighborhood of mostly small businesses and middle-class residences. Its energy and gentrification are reasons why 22 acres of this area — the World Trade Center site is only 16 acres — are coveted by Bruce Ratner, a politically connected developer collaborating with the avaricious city and state governments.

To seize the acres for Ratner’s use, government must claim that the area — which is desirable because it is vibrant — is “blighted.” The cognitive dissonance would embarrass Ratner and his collaborating politicians, had their cupidity not extinguished their sense of the absurd.

The properties in question are half-million dollar Brooklyn condos. Rather than paying the necessary price to buy each property, Ratner has turned to the political process to carry out his business. Despite a few remaining residents who are attempting to keep their homes, it appears that Ratner, aided by the state, are gaining the necessary court approval to seize the properties.  The New York Observer reports:

The state has officially filed in court to acquire the property in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards mega-development in Brooklyn, home-to-be of the Nets. The acquisitions are for much of the 22-acre site, as the state’s development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, is seeking to take title to the private property in the footprint and the city streets that currently run through it.

At present, the situation is grim for Prospect Heights homeowners, but simultaneously higher courts have an opportunity to uphold Fifth Amendment rights with this case.