by Dr. Lawrence Wilson

© January 2024, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.

All information in this article is for educational purposes only.  It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.

A question arises whether local governments should be able to buy land and properties for historic preservation to “maintain the character of the town or city”?
Examples. In the small city in which I live, the local government bought a golf course, an old theater and a number of hilltops. They also set aside at least one street as a “historical district” and do not allow homeowners there to modify their homes.
The local government refurbished the golf course and theater, and have kept the hilltops clear of houses to maintain a more beautiful look to the town.
Many people are happy with this extension of government power, so one must ask if it is legal and truly in the people's best interests.
At this time, we believe the correct answer is no.
The roles of government in the United States are specified in the national or state constitutions. Historic preservation is not among them. Therefore, it is illegal for local governments to be buying land and properties. However, more and more the constitutions are being violated and corrupt judges are allowing it.
The cities argue that it helps preserve the character of their cities. This may be true. However, there are other ways to do this besides buying the properties outright. Here are some ways:
1. It would be legal or more legal to offer tax incentives, to private individuals or companies to do the work of historical preservation. I believe this would be legal under the constitution. Perhaps they tried this first and could not find anyone to take on the projects, but I don't know.
2. Zoning can be used to preserve the character and quality of neighborhoods and an entire city.
3. One could set up a historical foundation or society that could buy properties to preserve them. I believe this has been set up in our town.
4. More transparency in government with no private meetings or arrangements. This would help keep government officials honest and able to stand up for what is right for the town.
- It is unconstitutional and therefore illegal, as explained above.
- It gives more power to the government. Once it has the power, the city tends to use the power for other projects that further expand the reach of the government. This is the slow creep of the growth of big government.
- When the government owns a property, it comes off the tax rolls. This causes more of a tax burden for the rest of the citizens and businesses.
- With ownership comes the possibility of lawsuits and other costly problems.
- Government enterprises tend to be much more costly to operate because they often must follow union rules about pay, vacation time, overtime payment, health benefits, retirement benefits, and more.
- All government enterprises are plagued by waste, fraud and abuse. This is known in economics, but not discussed enough. Basically, government-run projects cost 50% or more than privately-run projects.
Briefly, waste occurs because the government has less incentive than individuals to save money and spend money wisely. The city can go to the taxpayers if they run deficits. Individuals cannot do this. (Our town is in debt.)
Fraud is much worse with all government programs because policing the government programs is much more difficult than when an individual is in charge. There is less much incentive to police the program as explained above, and often a bureaucracy runs the program and corruption is common.
Abuse means that the program is misused. For example, a political donor may say if the government will use my cleaning company at the theater, for example, we will support your re-election. If you don't use our company, we will make sure you lose the election.
Abuse can be much worse, but even this is awful and is standard with government programs. It does not occur nearly as much with privately-owned properties and programs.
This issue brings up the all-important doctrine of limited government. This is a basic American legal principle. The purpose of limited government is to prevent what the founders called tyranny, or too much power in the hands of a few people. There is no way to do this except to limit the responsibilities and powers of the government.
Original intent means the intent of the founders of America when they set up the nation and its laws. For example, strictly limiting the scope and power of the government was part of the original intent of the founders.
Today, many attorneys and judges ignore the original intent of our laws and make decisions based instead upon other bases. However, respecting original intent is an extremely important legal doctrine.
As explained above, government purchases of land and property for historical preservation is, in fact, illegal according to the state and national constitutions. However, things have become very sloppy. This threatens one of the most basic modern legal doctrines - that we are to be governed by specific laws and not the whim of men.
Much of the problem with government programs is that the government is handling other people's money. This is always a problem. Most people simply don't care nearly as much about other people's money as they care about their own.
These days there is a complication for the cities. Foreign nations, notably China, and the rogues are coming to America and either buying land and properties or stealing them. One can argue that a stronger government is needed to counteract this imperialism.
However, one can also argue that while this is a serious problem at this time, a bigger government may be a liability and probably is.

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