A mayor should display certain characteristics — leadership, courage and unselfishness come to mind. The most important characteristic we should observe, perhaps, is a demonstrated respect for property rights and a reverence for the rule of law.
Property rights are the foundation of a free and prosperous society. History is replete with examples of the poverty and tyranny that accompany the lack of respect for private property rights. The inability of governments to secure these rights is the universal determinant in the failure of nations.
In 44 B.C., Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman senator and inspiration to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, remarked that “the chief purpose in the establishment of constitutional states and municipal governments was that individual property rights might be secured.”
When public money is routinely used to fund private ventures, there is no security of private property. For example:
• Why would a business pay taxes to fund the construction of its competitor?
• When eminent domain is executed for “economic development,” is there security of private property?
• Why would an investor buy property when it can be taken for a price less than he is willing to accept?
When one enterprise is granted super-abatement, while others pay the full tax, there is no rule of law. A government that can provide different levels of protection of the law can do just about anything – and not in a good way.
According to its latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report filings, Fort Wayne spent $13 million on economic development and opportunity, $20 million for culture and recreation and $18 million for urban redevelopment and housing. That’s $51 million of activities that are not securing rights, and in many cases are doing just the opposite.
To paraphrase 17th century philosopher John Locke, the proper role of government is to provide for the security of life, liberty and property. It doesn’t matter what part of town one lives in or what color a person’s skin is, the mayor has the responsibility of seeing that justice is done. When businesses are afraid to open locations in a quadrant of town, it’s fair to say there is a failure to secure property rights there.
Rather than continuing the public-sector invasion of downtowns, where taxpayers have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe we could turn our attention to making cities livable.
Many residents deal with real-life problems of crime, failing infrastructure and diminishing employment prospects. There are ZIP codes where more than half of the inhabitants older than 16 are not working, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. There is a 20 percentage-point gap from one end of town to the other. If the next mayor turns his attention to protecting property rights, this gap may be filled with happily employed residents building futures for their families.
Jason Arp, a financial consultant, represents the 4th District on the Fort Wayne City Council.