The Rights of Man (or a Company Formed by Man)

RECEIVED Mon., April 23, 2007

Dear Editor,
    I note with interest the following statement from Michael King in his recent article regarding the attempt of Wal-Mart opponents to rewrite the City Charter [“Point Austin,” News, April 20]: "What we've got here is an old Texas conundrum: property rights (i.e., capital) trump civic rights, and big property rights trump all. I continue to wish RG4N godspeed in their challenge of that institutionally anti-democratic presumption, certainly much larger than the Austin city limits."
    Hmmm … well, the Chronicle is famously liberal, and I suspect many (most of your writers) would feel right at home with the majority of the tenets of socialism, so I'm a bit surprised King seems to be unclear on the difference between it and democracy.
    Private property rights lie at the very heart of freedom – for if a man (or a company formed by man) is not free to dispose of his own property as he chooses (within the limits that he and his fellow men have defined in the laws they adopt for their society), he is not free in any real sense of the term.
    The elevation of the “civic” over the individual is, in fact, the very heart of socialism, and at its extreme, communism. And there is nothing democratic about giving a disembodied “collective” primacy over individuals and the business organizations they form.
    One need not be a fan of Wal-Mart, or unsympathetic to the plight of the Northcross neighborhood, to realize that, fundamentally, Wal-Mart (or the Marriott or Lincoln, if you prefer) has only the obligation to comply with the laws in place at the locale where it wishes to develop – and clearly, Wal-Mart has complied.
    You might not like the result, but there is nothing undemocratic about exercising private property rights under the rule of law.
Mark Coffey
   [Michael King responds: I'm sure the Northcross neighbors inordinately imposed upon by the corporate property owners in their midst (well, not exactly, since they hail from Dallas and Arkansas, respectively) would be amused to learn from Mark Coffey, for whom ideology apparently trumps reality, they've stumbled one step short of communism. The sleight of hand he performs between "a man (or a company formed by man)" – as though there is no real difference – allows him also to blind himself to the difference between effective, substantive democracy and de facto corporate tyranny, unlike mythological "communism," a real and present danger to representative democracy. Moreover, it isn't even clear in the present case, as he insists, that Wal-Mart has in fact complied with the relevant laws or dealt honestly with the neighborhood and the city. Appeals to property rights in the abstract absolute are no more than special pleading for those who own the most property.]
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