Capitalism and Zoning Laws
- From my Formspring account. I was asked two interesting questions regarding zoning laws.
Zoning laws are not necessary. Why? It’s because property owners should have the freedom over their land property. Zoning laws are a form of statist regulations. They are based on the premise that your local government knows what’s good for you and it has the right to put things in order. But we all know that if you violated the property rights of your neighbor, then your neighbor would have the right to go after you in the proper court of law. What would prevent you from doing improper/illegal things? The individual rights and property rights of others.
Regarding your answer on the city zoning laws, what if a harmful industrial plant (radioactive/noisy/pollutive) were built within a residential area? What should the people and the government do?
That’s a very good question. The very first idea that hit my head is that no rational, thinking, intelligent businessman or investor would put up a “harmful industrial plant” within a residential area. That would be self-defeating and economically dangerous to the company and its owners/investors. But what if “a harmful industrial plant (radioactive/noisy/pollutive) was built within a residential area.”
That question tells me that the “harmful industrial plant” had already been built within a residential area. Can the government or the people do something in the absence of zoning laws?
First, those who have the right of action- that is, the right to sue- against that “harmful industrial plant” are none other than the affected or injured members of that residential area, not the government. Again, the context of your question is, a harmful industrial plant now operates in a residential area- and perhaps has been there since time immemorial.
There are a number of ways to get rid of that industrial plant if certain members of that community were indeed affected by its operations and/or activities. Here, the limitation on that industrial plant is not merely the community members’ property rights, but most importantly their “individual rights” as well.
There are possible instances wherein affected/injured community members may sue that harmful industrial plant for huge damages. Like I said, the proper role here of the government is to protect those whose rights have been affected. It has the duty to protect the innocent against the guilty. There rule or logic here is: Your right ends when others’ begin.
These possible instances are as follows:
- If the plant emitted harmful radioactive and/or pollutive substances that severely affected the health of the community members.
- If the plant continuously caused unbearable, unnecessary noise that affected the community as a whole.
- If the plant illegally, unreasonably, wantonly dumped industrial waste that affected the community members’ health, convenience, etc. Mere dumping of industrial waste that affected community members’ health and environmental condition could give these affected community members the right to sue the plant’s owners and executives.
- If the plant emitted harmful smokes and other substances that are harmful to community members’ health.
- If the plant’s other operations significantly altered the community’s ecological balance and condition, the logical result of which is that some community members’ health conditions have been severely affected. Examples of this are as follows: contamination of water bodies, contamination of water and air that affected the community’s livelihood, etc.
Any of the above-mentioned instances could give the affected/injured community members the right to sue the plant and its owners/executives and ask for huge damages. Again, the only proper role of the government is to protect rights. Even if the plant had been operating in that area for more than 50 years- or long before it was categorized as a ‘residential area’- it has to be held accountable for possible violation of rights it wantonly committed. Let us assume that such a place was considered or categorized as a residential area 10 years ago. If this is the case, the plant’s owners/executives should have weighed down the situation and have the prudence and foresight to make the right decision.
They should have thought: Is it still economically viable to remain in that area? Or: is it now time to relocate to a “safer” place? To remain or to relocate indeed involves some economic factors and/or options. But the plant owners need to logically, rationally assess the situation by considering the economic, ecological, and human impact of their decision to stay or to relocate. Negligence is committed through lack of foresight, lack of skills, imprudence, or the failure to logically assess the situation, which promptly calls for the doer’s/ involved person’s prudent, immediate judgment.
In case of industrial crisis, the plant owners/executives cannot simply raise a defense that the crisis was caused by “force majeure” or “an act of god”. In the first place, they should be fully aware of the NATURE of their enterprise or business. They should understand that the nature of their enterprise could affect other people’s health and lives. Thus, their decision should involve extra care and prudence. They cannot simply interpose a defense that “they were not able to relocate due to financial constraints.” Human life is superior to an enterprises’ desire to make profits. This is why the government and the courts need to properly, logically assess the facts of every case, which involves the violation of rights.
There are many ways to violate a person’s rights. The most known examples are murder, theft, robbery, physical injury, etc. But one’s rights can be violated by simply dumping garbage or harmful substances in front of his/her house. If it were established that certain mysterious/new diseases or illnesses that affected a number of community members had been caused by the plant’s emission of harmful industrial substances/smokes, then the government has the duty to punish the guilty and protect those whose rights were affected. Apart from imposing huge fines and damages, the court may also order the relocation of the plant.
Capitalism does not postulate that anything or any activity that makes profits is good. If a profit-making activity violates or transgresses upon a person’s rights, then capitalism demands justice. Capitalism is NOT synonymous to corporatism, a system which combines government and corporate interests. In a capitalist society, the only proper role of the government, the powers of which are properly limited by law or the Constitution, is to protect people’s rights.