October 5 - October 11, 1995

Law of the Land

B y  J e f f  S m i t h 


THE MORE TIME marches on, the more amazed I am at the wisdom and far-sightedness of the men who wrote the Constitution.

Their insight into the future is manifested in the durability of the document--it has held up for 200 years with comparatively few elemental modifications. Those modifications have tended toward bringing more classes of people under the protection of the Constitution, rather than eliminating essential flaws in it. This in turn testifies to the basic soundness of the reasoning that gave birth to the Constitution and the wisdom of its authors. They were wise enough to know that what was true regarding human rights and the limitations of governmental authority in the 18th century would be true in the 20th and the 200th.

They would not be amazed that their document makes as much sense in our time as it did in theirs. It is our foolishness that leads us to believe the authors were quaint old antiquarians who made a lot of lucky guesses about the future.

It has been noted by Constitutional scholars since, however, that most of what contemporary mores deem wanting in the document can be attributed to the fact that the authors were men of property in this new nation, and that if any class is favored by the Constitution, it is the landed gentry.

True enough, as far as it goes, and yet one can pick and nit-pick throughout the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which is its first 10 amendments, and find nothing that gives any American the right to live wherever the hell he pleases, and nowhere is it guaranteed that any of us has the right to profit by speculative ventures.

Despite the fact that the Constitution was written by men of property, property rights were not elucidated beyond the right to refuse to have one's home turned into a barracks by government fiat, and that one's person, home, and property--seen as extensions of one's person--were not subject to unreasonable search and seizure.

Beyond that, as far as property, personal or real, are concerned, the founding fathers said, Hey, it's a free country, and you're free to succeed--or fail--within the laws of the land and of the marketplace.

Today a lot of real estate speculators and dreamy-eyed buyers believe much more is implied in the founding documents. Speculators buy ranch land on the cheap, pay next to nothing in taxes, and then demand their "right" to a rezoning that will automatically make their cheap land worth many times what they paid. Then they chop it up into tiny ranchettes and peddle it to would-be country squires who demand their "right:" to live out in the middle of nowhere so they can picture themselves as the Marlboro Man astride a horse. Then of course the land hustlers and the hustlees demand that government provide them with all the urban amenities they just whined so loudly to leave behind them--all of which the rest of us have to chip in for.

But you know what? None of them has any right to any of the stuff they're demanding. If you want to live the life of a rancher, you should be able to raise the price of a ranch. And willing to live with the deprivations as well as the joys that life implies.

If you want to enjoy the wealth of the successful entrepreneur, you'd better have both the wealth to speculate, the courage to take the entrepreneurial risk, and the business acumen to know a bullish trend when you see one. Because nobody has any guaranteed right to profit...

...all you have is the right to give it a shot, within the laws as they stand at the time of your venture, and within the scope of a government of, by, and for the people, and charged with the responsibility to enforce the laws and apply public policy for the greatest good of the greatest number.

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October 5 - October 11, 1995

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