Righteous Dominion

Cabbage Pie and Righteous Government

In my profession of land development, I cannot build anything without detailed and explicit permission from the local government and by extension, the neighbors and community at large that by law and precedent have significant influence over whether I get the permission I seek. Some level of government control over that business is appropriate. Unregulated construction and development can cause very real harm to neighbors, communities, and city governments. My property rights end when they infringe upon or harm the property rights of others. Thus, appropriate government oversight and community engagement is necessary. (See more here.)

With that essential need for appropriate regulation as a backdrop, what happens when that regulation also known as zoning law is abused or taken to an extreme?


Cabbage PieIn the business of land development, we live or die to the tune of millions of dollars based on elected official's whims, arbitrary musings, foolish visions, and self-righteous drive to redistribute, redesign, repackage, reallocate, and control our stuff whether naïve or malicious. Imagine this. If you were a cake maker, how would you like to be forced to go begging to some random guy (elected or bureaucratic) for approval every time you want to bake a new batch of cakes. How capitalistic or Constitutional is that? That random guy has the authority to dictate to you cake size, calorie count, frosting color, frosted flower design, flavor, and the number of cakes you can bake. If that random guy happens to likes cabbage pie more than cake even though most people can't stand cabbage pie, he has the authority of office to say:

"I like cabbage pie and I think more people should be required to like it to. I'm thinking if I force you into the cabbage pie business, it will magically make a market for that. If not that, I think your store should sit idle without making cake so that in case there is a market someday for my preference of cabbage pie, your store would be available to provide that. I would hate to see the potential opportunity for cabbage pie production in our town wasted by you being a greedy cake maker and using up your cabbage pie production capacity on cake. Not only that, your next door neighbor and Joe Blow five miles on the other side of town don't like cake very much and don't want you running down the neighborhood making cake. So, I now require that you make cabbage pie instead of cake."

As a cake maker, imagine you have very little reasonable recourse to these bizarre, unfounded, and idiotic demands. Your interest, property, and ability to be profitable versus bankrupt have little to no bearing or weight in the decision. The fate of your property and prosperity is driven by the needs, demands, tastes, and opinions of others. And, all that whimsical foolishness could change the next month and you'd have to start all over again. If you don't like the whims of the bureaucrat or politicians, tough luck. If you do something to annoy or challenge their whims, they have HUGE leverage of recourse over you because they hold the fate of your business in their hands. If you try to contact the politician to have a thoughtful dialog about the merits of cake over cabbage pie or to explain that customers would rather buy a 9" cake instead of the 40" cake he thinks you should be making but customers can't afford, he won't return your call and acts annoyed that you are bugging him. If you want to make more cakes (or heaven forbid cabbage pie) the next month, you have to go back begging to the same guy again. Hopefully you haven't done anything to aggravate or tick him off or he might not be in the mood to bequeath you with the graciousness of his permission for you to make more cakes.

Not only is that the life of the land developer, but anyone trying to do business in this environment where we have given more and more authority to government regulation all to our own peril. Of course, it is more complicated than that. Local government does have a proper role in in protecting the community from land development that would cause harm to the public or damage the property of existing property owners and neighbors. If someone wanted to build an experimental adobe nuclear plant, next to my kid's school, I'm sure I'd want someone to prevent that. A huge reason we have zoning laws is that people are rightfully very passionate and protective of their homes, neighborhoods, communities, and especially families. I get that and I respect that. Good government, including good zoning law, is important. This story about cabbage pie isn't about real families with real concerns protecting their homes. It is about when the laws that are put into place to protect those legitimate concerns are abused and distorted to the utter disregard for any harm that comes to the property owner being subjected to those laws.

But, that proper role has morphed into a beast. If 1880 frontier America was the "I can build anything I want without having to answer to anyone even if I dump raw sewage on my neighbor" side of the pendulum, and USSR was the "government owns ALL the property and they dictate where the cake shops and cabbage pie shops should go" side of the pendulum, then that pendulum has moved much farther to the "Russian" side than most people realize. Since that is the reality we live with today, you can see why we are motivated to not throw grenades at the crazies in office (or the back office at Town Hall) that have over time stockpiled an arsenal of nuke bombs they can throw right back. Not all politicians are nuts and not all bureaucrats are incompetent and/or communist. There really are some very capable, fair, balanced, and thoughtful people both on staff and on the dais. Many in office and many of the professional staff that guide their thinking are a breath of fresh air where there is predominant respect for individuals over the collective and fundamental Constitutional principles. But, there are definitely enough cabbage pie crazies out there, both elected and hired, that fundamental Constitutional principles such as property rights are under constant strain.

By the way, if you are one of the few who would actually like cabbage pie, ironically there is a Russian recipe for it here. Yeah, Russian, not making that up! If that's your thing, enjoy! Just please, do NOT try to make me eat that nasty stuff.

Pendulum Jail for Morrison

Graphic: The Balanced Pendulum of
Government Control
(PDF Version)

"Still Mine" Movie: The Proper and
Balanced Role of Government


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Jason Barney | jason@jasonbarney.com
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