Archive for category Property Rights

Health Care, Religion, Government, and The Left – Part II

Last night, I posted some audio of lawyers at a loss for words at a panel discussion on religion and government.  This morning, I’d like to post another clip from the Q&A, one that I think is particularly revealing about the left’s attitude towards religious liberty.  The commenter is Ed Kahn, the lawyer for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, and he’s discussing to what extent a hospital’s association with a religious body should matter.  Shorter answer: none.  But let him tell you himself.

(The audio quality here is markedly worse than the clip last night from Ms. Hart.  I think it’s a combination of Mr. Kahn’s voice and the fact that he was sitting farther away from the mike, but there’s a persistent hiss.  I ran it through the noise reduction algorithm, and while it got rid of most of the hiss, there’s a residue that makes it sound like he’s talking from the engine room of a starship, if the engine were powered by boilers, but I think it’s easier to hear than the raw sound.)

They can close shop on Saturday, but that doesn’t make them like a church or synagogue in my view.  And if they’re going to hold out their product or their service to the public, then they should not be able to mandate that their religious beliefs to which they subscribe, that the results of that belief should be visited on the people who are entitled to sign up for that service.

If there’s a market where comprehensive health care is available without restriction, and people understand that, then maybe it’s ok for somebody to say that we’re a Catholic health insurer and our hospital is going to be open six days a week, but our emergency room will be open on the Sabbath.  But in general, I think that if you’re providing a public service that is a necessity, especially, that it ought to be provided across the board, and the law ought to require it as a condition of licensing.

Some states do say to Catholic (unintelligible) hospitals, “You cannot restrict (unintelligible) abortion, you cannot restrict contraception services or tubal ligation,” and that, I think, is the better standard.  So I start there.  I think the concept that these organizations are health care, providing what’s a necessity, not simply a good like a candy store, overrides the ability to finesse what services they will or won’t provide, given an economic necessity or need, especially in monopoly situations.

There’s almost too much here to unpack, but let’s give it a try.  It embodies almost all the current liberal assumptions about having a right to other people’s work product, and the inconsequentiality of others’ religious beliefs, to the extent that they differ from your own.

The phrase that really popped out at me was this: “…people who are entitled to sign up for that service.”  Who talks this way, about people “signing up for a service?”  The Left, apparently.  Remember when Michael Moore rolled up to congressmen, asking them if they would be willing “sign their kids up to serve in Iraq,” as though it were a particularly violent venue for sleep-away camp.  Seventh-graders are “entitled to sign up for” band.  Adults purchase products and services with their own money.  Seventh-graders buy things, too, generally with their parents’ money, which leads them to feel entitled.

The statement provides a case study of the inevitable intersection between social issues and economic ones.  The Left feels entitled to sign other people up to do things for them, without realizing that at a minimum, there’s an opportunity cost.  Grant the dubious proposition that All Hospitals Are Created Equal, that you can require anything calling itself a hospital to provide a menu of services at all times, in all places.  They still can’t pay for the staff, facilities, and equipment to be perpetually on-call for every conceivable service or procedure.  They will have to make choices.  And since they are the ones providing the services, their own priorities and values will and ought to guide those choices.

That’s really the only fair way to decide.

If Charles Bronson were still around, he might reprise his scene from The Magnificent Seven where he throws the Mexican child over his knee and whacks him a couple of times for ingratitude, reminding him that his parents don’t do everything for him because they have to.  (Hey, you want to be treated like a child?)  Nobody makes the church or churches run these hospitals in the first place, except themselves from their own religious conviction.  If that same religious conviction prevents them from providing other services, Planned Parenthood should just see that as a market opportunity.

Of course, the same law that enables the HHS Mandate also makes it virtually impossible to open new, specialized, physician-owned hospitals, thus providing further justification for commandeering existing facilities.


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The Progressives and the Tea Parties

I love essays.  I love the essays of E.B. White and Joseph Epstein.  Some authors who have fine bodies of work in other fields, I know mostly through their essays: Cynthia Ozick and Stephen King come to mind.  They are enough to stimulate, while leaving enough room as an exercise to reader to keep from totally satisfying.

Every year, I try to get a hold of the latest Best American Essays edition.  Yesterday, with serious CFA studying closed to me because I can’t take notes or work problems, I hauled up the 2007 number.  There I found Loaded, an essay by one Garret Keizer, in favor of gun rights.  What makes the essay interesting is that, as a self-proclaimed Progressive, he argues in favor of basic self-reliance, the necessity of firearms in lightly-policed rural areas, and the racial history of gun-control laws.  Make no mistake, Mr. Keizer is pro-gun.

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Whose House Is It, Anyway? – Part II

In this morning’s Denver Post, the organization Historic Denver, Inc. has an oped defending Denver’s demolition ordinance.  This isn’t in and of itself surprising, and neither is the fact that people who seek to extend their rights over your property would commit a number of logical fallacies, while employing all sorts of rhetorical sleight of hand.

The authors assume that if some is good, more is better.  By admitting that Denver’s historic ordinance has protected historic properties for 40 years, they place the burden of proof on themselves to show that additional protections are necessary.  They go on to mention a number of historic districts and buildings that were saved much longer than four years ago, without showing any building that has been both recognizable and saved since the demolition ordinance was passed.

As  to the property that started the recent conversation, they refer to the “Wallbank House,” a name that virtually nobody would recognize, writing out entirely the name of the man who actually bought and paid for the property, Gary Yourtz.  A nice touch to show where the authors’ sympathies lie, with houses rather than with the people who inhabit them.  It makes sense that they don’t refer to the case in any depth, since it went against them in just about every way conceivable: the demolition objection was withdrawn, largely under pressure from the community, and was in any case initially filed by one neighbor and by one resident of Arapahoe County.

They claim that since everyone buying a house knows the rules, it’s perfectly fair to property-owners. I doubt Mr. Yourtz knew these rules, and until his case hit the papers, I doubt most Denverites knew about them.  Sniffing that you knew the risks only makes sense if most people actually do.

They also quote some telling statistics.  This past year, not a single building threatened by demolition was granted historic status, although 10 were identified as “potentially significant.”  They nowhere quote the costs involved in pursuing the claims, either by the landowner or by the city.  As in many such laws, filing the objection entails trivial cost, while the investigation and legal defenses can run in the the tens of thousands.  These are extraordinarily expensive conversations, and the price is only incidentally borne by those starting them.

As I’ve said before, I’m all in favor of historic preservation.  But Historic Denver, Inc., is trying to use the law the stack the deck in favor of making some people live in a museum against their will.

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Breaking New Ground

When Kenneth Feinberg was appointed to politicize oversee the BP restitution process, many of us were worried that even under the best of circumstances, the government was forfeiting confidence in the process to gain some expediency.  Now, it turns out that Feinberg was worried, too:

BP money is being used to pay $950 an hour to a law professor who has declared the administrator of the $20 billion claims fund for Gulf oil spill victims independent of the oil giant.Fund czar Ken Feinberg said Thursday he has agreed to pay New York University professor Stephen Gillers for his advice. Since being hired, Gillers has written a letter stating that Feinberg is neutral and not subject to BP’s direction or control.

“Is he being paid by BP money? Yes,” Feinberg said. “Who else is going to pay for the entire cost of this program? You can’t ask claimants to pay, you can’t ask states and federal governments to pay. The buck stops with BP and BP has agreed to pay the entire cost of the infrastructure of this program.”

Actually, Mr. Feinberg, the buck doesn’t stop with BP.  It stops with you, and it started stopping with you the moment you took on the role of sole arbiter of these claims.

BP is one of the parties to the arbitration and has no business paying an extortionist ethicist to determine the ethical behavior of the arbitrator.  Histrionics and legal theatrics aside, why on earth should the people putting in claims have any faith in the results of his “analysis?”  Which means that the government hasn’t even gotten Feinberg the appearance of ethics.

Of course, courts are considered honest brokers, with appropriate levels of review, without having to pay extortionist rates to college professors to tell them how to behave.

All of this could have been avoided if the administration had played against type and decided to follow existing law, rather than making it up as it goes along.

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Remind Me Again, Who Paid For This House?

The Denver Post reported earlier this week that someone who bought a house – and the land it sits on – managed to retain the right to demolish it and build a new house.  Gary Yourtz bought a nice, mid-century modern house at 825 S. Adams St. for $1.1 million, planning to raze the place and build a house he wanted to live in.  Using a law designed for historic preservation, neighbors filed an application for landmark designation on his home 15 minutes before the deadline.  Now, Yourtz’s lawyers are $18,000 richer, but he has the right to do what he wants with his property.

Of the two complainants, one, Susan Livingston, lives in Belcaro, the neighborhood where the house is.  The other, Mitch Cowley, doesn’t even live in Denver County, yet asserts a property right over a house he likes to look at.  By his logic, I have at least some right to go around dynamiting the vast majority of Denver’s public “art.”  (Actually, come to think of it, some sort of citizen petition process on these eyesores wouldn’t be a bad idea.)  Denver has hundreds, perhaps thousands of these houses, and I’m sure if Mr. Cowley is driving miles and miles out of his way to see this one, there are others he can learn to love.

I say this as someone who believes in historic preservation, loves the look of mid-Century architecture, and thinks that having the designation makes sense.  But this fellow paid for his house, neither of the complainants did.  To sandbag a guy after he’s bought a house and tell him he has to live in it as is or re-sell it is absurd.  Property is more than the dollar value assigned to it.  It’s the right (externalities aside) to use it as one wishes, to not use it at all, and to prevent or permit others to use it as one wishes.  It is also – painful though this may be – the right to destroy it and replace it with something better.

There’s a principle in historical research that thing used are not preserved, while those preserved are not used.  There’s no reason to believe that what holds for households shouldn’t also hold for houses.  Eventually, these preserved buildings will appeal to a narrower and narrower slice of owner, until they turn into museums.  Again, I have no problem with preserving some of these buildings.  I’m not a big fan of HOAs, but if Belcaro homeowners want to get together and sign off on never changing their homes, they can do so.  It’s their own rights they’re signing away, and anyone buying the house can do so knowing the rules.

According to Assistant City Attorney Kerry Buckey, “Some of these structures, in a way, are owned by the whole city.”
Ah, no.  No, they’re not.

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