Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What the Government Does For Me

Mrs Vache Folle and I "own" our home. That is to say that as long as we keep paying the banks who hold the mortgages and the taxing authorities at whose sufferance we are permitted to occupy "our" home, we can live in it and fix it up more or less as we please (subject to permit requirements and zoning restrictions and what have you). We have a yard and garden and several acres of woods, and we have the right to the exclusive use of these (until they're condemned by the government and taken away). We are perfectly within our rights to exclude others from our property, and I suppose that having the backing of the state and the police in this is something of a deterrent to those who might otherwise squat on our property or invade our home.
We don't really have to do much to exercise our rights to exclusive use. In fact, as far as I know, nobody has ever trespassed. We take sensible precautions such as locking the doors when we leave and keeping a scary looking dog or two. Moreover, we maintain good relations with our stay at home neighbors who keep an eye on the place. We all keep an eye out for suspicious doings and look our for our neighbors (except for the antisocial nutty ones).
Much of the security we enjoy derives from the good fortune of having amiable and honest neighbors who respect one another's privacy and boundaries and who care for one another. I also suspect that a lot of the security we enjoy comes from the concept of state sanctioned property rights and other machinations of the government. I like the convenience of not having to guard everything all the time and not having to be prepared to defend the possession of our estate from all comers. There are just a few comers, the state and the banks, that we have to contend with. With the banks, we volunteered to have them in the title records. With the government, we didn't volunteer, but it's probably worth a good deal of what we pay to have the potential protection afforded by the police and the courts. In a shittier neighborhood, this protection probably wouldn't be worth much, and property values and tax rates reflect this.
Beyond the police and courts and having the force of the law behind us, local government works to mantain the quality of the inhabitants of our neighborhood by taxing for schools at such a high rate that high income families are attracted by the promise of good (i.e. having relatively few low income students) schools and are willing to pay higher prices for homes in the community. This elevates home values and taxes on them and drives low income families out of the neighborhood by taxing them beyond what they can afford or making selling their homes too lucrative to pass up. This in turn decreases the probability that our property rights will be trampled on by anyone other than the government itself.
Finally, the government enforces significant restrictions on development which prevent us and our neighbors from subdividing our property and putting up denser housing. This likewise serves to keep the level of riff raff manageable.
I hate to admit it, but a lot of what makes my neighborhood desirable may very well be a product of government. Did I mention that about half of the neighborhood is owned by NYC as a preserve for its water supply? That keeps development down and our quality of life up.
If only we could achieve all this without the threat of violence.

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