Freedom is … a liberty to dispose, and order, as he likes, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property.

—John Locke. Two Treatises of Government, 1689.

When the government prohibits the demolition of a building on the grounds that it is ‘heritage listed’ or a ‘cultural landmark’, the government is essentially confiscating that property because ownership without control is not ownership at all. Just as a man who is drafted into the army or conscripted to work in a factory is a slave regardless of what he may be paid, so too when the control of a person’s property is taken away, that property ceases to be his, regardless of whether or not he is able to obtain some remuneration from, or live in, what was once his.

It would not offend property rights if the government first purchased heritage buildings on the open market (without the aid of compulsory acquisition or confiscatory property taxes) and then set up a trust to care for the building. However, such an activity would infringe another principle of good government. It is not the role of government to spend taxpayers’ money on agitators’ pet projects. If a group of agitators want to preserve a cultural landmark, let them hold fundraisers or sell their own houses to obtain the money to buy it. Those who do not share the agitators’ driving need to protect the cultural landmark should not be forced to pay for it.

Some may respond, “But if the majority of the population want to see the building saved then surely it is acceptable to use taxpayers’ money?” It is not acceptable; the power given to the majority to impose taxes on the minority is limited. It cannot rightfully be used for anything outside the legitimate sphere of government. Thus if the majority vote to spend tax revenues on free electricity, free water, free power, free health care, free public transport, free drama lessons, free dentistry, to feed Rwandans, to buy heritage-significant buildings, to pay for a philharmonic orchestra—in all cases they want something for themselves but are preferring to plunder others rather than pay for it themselves. The fact that you want to plunder someone does not make it moral to do so, whether you are an individual or a majority of the citizens of a country.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove