Giving, Taking, and the Common Good

Lois Jemtegard wanted to sell a portion of her land along the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge, a national scenic area. Interested buyers wanted to build a house on the property. A governmental commission put a stop to their plans, claiming that building a house along the gorge would destroy a stunning view, a piece of nature's unique artistry.

The current debate on "takings" legislation centers on many such conflicts, and the stakes on both sides are often quite high: individual rights vs. the common good, or individual profit vs. environmental protection. A pivotal point of discussion is often the question of who should be compensated for what.

"Takings" is code language for governmental regulations or restrictions-especially those driven by environmental concerns, such as protection of a species or habitat-that "impose upon" private property values. Should the government compensate a landowner for restricting the use or value of private land? Answering that question gets into serious issues regarding the intersection of private property, caring for the environment, and acting for the common good.

Those behind the nation's current anti-government wave often cloak takings rhetoric in images of small-scale property owners denied use of their land. But a clue as to whose interests are really served by such policies is found by looking at who puts up the big money to support takings legislation: the timber industry, oil and mining companies, and other multinationals.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1995
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