We were sitting recently with some neighbors on the stoop in a sleepy central California beach town. Like most of the state’s coast, this area continues to gentrify; the community combines the long-time eccentrics typical of a California beach town with upscale Californians who live within driving distance buying weekend or retirement homes. This particular street runs perpendicular to the beach, with great views of the surfers and the whales, and increasing prices as the modest properties proceed down the block from Highway 1 to the ocean. There are not many better places to live in the world.
One homeowner just completed an arduous years-long process to secure planning permission to build an extension of his back deck on his own property. The neighbor next door took a long time to secure the necessary permits to knock down the junk house that was there when he bought it and build a new one on a prime lot on a bluff over the ocean. The neighbor on the other side said, we would like to do the same, but will perhaps remodel instead if we can’t get permission, due to either the whims of some bureaucrat or simply government inertia. The city has delayed getting back to him for six months, he shrugged, and continued with his drink.
Across the street, a house is completely gutted to the rafters; when we asked why the owner took this approach instead of demolition, we already knew the answer: it’s easier to get permits for a renovation than for a new construction.
In addition to the myriad levels of local government and numerous departments to navigate for permission to modify one’s own property, one needs to secure permission from the California Coastal Commission even to repaint one’s own house.
We sat astonished as these various property owners—all affluent, civic-minded, taxpaying citizens who are certainly capable of comprehending how government works—shrugged with mild perturbation, yet resignation, at the gauntlets before them.
How can we tolerate this encroachment on property rights?
California is certainly one of the world’s leading lights on NIMBY-ism, also known as, I have secured my comfortable place, and now I am going to pull up the drawbridge in front of everyone else. And you’re lucky to live here so shut up. But this is a town of several thousand people; perhaps a concerted effort could replace the entire city council, or county board, although there would always be more bureaucrats standing beyond the reach of accountability and more vested interests that know how to work the system—if for no other reasons than envy, petty power-grubbing, or a vague sense of sentimentality for the status quo. Many municipalities in the state have layer-upon-layer of restrictions, ranging from days (most days, as it turns out) in which homeowners are not allowed to use the fireplaces in their own homes, to limiting the square footage that a house can expand based on the size of the garage.
We remain astonished at the complacency with which citizens accept the lazy, irrational, often corrupt, machinations of the state.
This is the same California that, due to profligacy and mismanagement, had to issue IOUs in lieu of payments in 2009, including for tax refunds. That’s right, citizens were compelled to loan the government their money interest-free by over-withholding throughout the year, then when it was time to repay, the state said, don’t worry, we’ll catch you later. We remember thinking at the time, where are the citizens descending upon Sacramento with pitchforks? Moreover, nothing has changed via the ballot box since then.
Illinois recently paid lottery winnings with IOUs. Again, we wondered, where are the citizens with pitchforks? The lottery is a supposedly self-financing fund; how is it acceptable that the government confiscates the pot and shrugs when beneficiaries come to collect?
In Greece—i.e., the California and Illinois of the future—the government last summer not only refused to let people withdraw their own money from banks, but also didn’t allow them to remove cash and precious metals from their own safe deposit boxes. Despite media reports of widespread suffering and outrage (usually directed by Greeks at Germany), nothing has really changed in Greece; the voters returned the left-wing government to office and virtually ensured that this crisis will recur in a couple of years.
The western world is in a sickly decadent stupor. We mentioned earlier that this particular coastal California city is indeed one of the best places one could hope to live; but it does not follow that we should consider residing there a privilege, granted at the pleasure of the state, and we should just pipe down and accept infringements of our liberty. These examples of what citizens will accept from their supposed “representatives” certainly constitute leading indicators of complete societal collapse.
We know, you’re saying, these are first-world problems compared to what governments in most of the world do to their citizens. But anyone who has worked hard and participated honestly in society cannot take much comfort in that.