Sunday, September 11, 2005

Why Conservatives Should Be Wary of Wal-Mart

I've heard conservatives - all of the ones I listen to anyway (primarily Rush and Jason Lewis) - speak up in favor of Wal-Mart's various questionable practices. Jason Lewis (whome I admire greatly) in particular keeps harping on the zoning issues that plague Wal-Mart within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. With most of these I agree.

However, most of these arguments assume that Wal-Mart is simply a capitalist entity simply searching out the greatest profit in the best markets, and is being held back by the local governments. If this were the case, I could hardly argue against their "cause".

What happens though, when Wal-Mart uses the local goverment to meet its own ends against the wishes of the local citizenry? In my particular case it seems to me that Wal-Mart has gotten "in bed" (take that as you will) with the local government to change local zoning so that they can get in where the residents most affected are overwhelmingly against it. How is Wal-Mart (and its ilk) to be viewed when they use the local government to thwart the will of the people, as opposed to just being a victim of it as so many conservatives say?

Good or bad, the ability for local governments to zone different areas is what it is. When I bought my home, the adjoining land was zoned for small retail shops. This should have served to enhance property values over time. However, when Wal-Mart entered the picture, the county government conveniently found it necessary to grandfather the zoning in favor of Wal-Mart that allows them to build a 250,000 square foot, 24-hour Super Wal-Mart that butts right up against people's backyards (can you say, "increased tax base"?). These are the very people who, when they bought their homes, bought it with the knowledge that only small, individually owned, retail outlets would be there.

Since then our neighborhood, the most affected, has been in a multi-year legal battle with the county and Wal-Mart to get the zoning back to where it was when we bought our homes. The local citizenry has also almost completley replaced the county commissioners who made the original grandfathering decision. The new commission has also appealed the decision of its own board that approved the change in zoning in Wal-Mart's favor. Thank goodness for the voting process and the concern of local citizens, but this should never have had to happen.

The very arrogance of Wal-Mart and the local county government (in cahoots with each other) should cause any morally and intellectually honest conservative to question when a "capitalist entity" like Wal-Mart has crossed the line. Not everything they do is good, and not everything they do is within the spirit of true conservative capitalism.
posted by Dennis at 10:55 PM (permalink) 4 comments

The Fundamental Problem with HOA's

I've heard a lot of conservatives rail against anti-HOA legislation. They naively tend to see it as the government stepping in and trying to thwart private citizens governing themselves. On the surface, this makes sense - i.e. the very concept that it's wrong for government to try to stop private citizens from self-government is a tenant of conservativism (a la the Constitution). However, I have a different perspective. In a nutshell: HOA's are just as bad as government entities.

As I like to do, I will preface this with my own personal bias/context: I come from Los Angeles, where there is little concept of an HOA. Individual citizens battle it out in court when one person wants to paint their house purple, etc.

That being said, here's my argument: HOA's purport to stand for the benefit of the neighborhood at large, protecting home values, etc., etc. However, what they REALLY do is to completely deny the right to property.

HOA's primary purpose is to protect the property values of a given neighborhood or subdivision. They do this through convenants by which all residents abide. If you violate those covenants you could get fined, have a lien aganst your home and other various nasty outcomes. If HOA's truly served this end, they would be fine in my opinion. However this is far from what they do.

Covenants are almost completely arbitrary. In my particular HOA for instance, they don't allow privacy fences. However, there is a country club literally a mile away that does allow them, and their property values are far above ours. Why is this? Is it not possible to have a privacy fence that enhances property values (or at least does not harm anyone else's property value)? It is possible, and to have a rule against them is absolutely arbitrary.

What HOA's do in essence is to make one's property in actuality the property of the HOA, "leased" by the homeowner. Whenever a particular homeowner wants to make a change to his or her property, they must petition the rest of the neighborhood to let them. This in effect renders personal property rights ineffective at best. I can't just add a deck extension because my deck is too small. Why is this? Only because the covenants say so. Not because it has any bearing on property values.

I'm sorry, but a deck extension that is 1 1/2 inches from flush against the side of my house will not affect anyone's property values, especially my own (other than make it go up because the deck is now bigger). The fact that I could get fined if the contractors make such an error is completely asinine. There are a million other such arbitrary rules that limit my ability to change my property to suit my needs without at minimum a major hassle.

The reason conservatives should rally against HOA's as they are currently is that they are in effect a local goverment imposing the rights of the many on the individual property rights of each individual that's a member.

Here's how an HOA should work: I can make any change to my property that I want to. At that point, it's becomes the HOA's (i.e. the rest of the neighborhood's) reponsibility to prove that my changes will adversely affect everyone else's property values. The onus then becomes that of the HOA to show why my change should not be allowed. Short of such proof (in court if necessary), I should be able to change the exterior of my house as I see fit. Period. Anything else is just another (unofficial) goverment entity telling me what I can and cannot do based on the whims of others as opposed to achieving the stated goal of the HOA in the first place.
posted by Dennis at 10:31 PM (permalink) 4 comments