You Only Think You Own Things

“A government big enough to regulate everything you have is big enough to ensure you never really have anything.”

If you’re like the average American, you have a house, a car or two, a home full of furniture and “your stuff,” and hopefully some money in the bank. But none of it’s really yours anymore. There used to be a day when we owned things–long before I was born–but no more, and increasingly we own less and less.

Here’s just a few examples.

There’s a deed filed at my county courthouse showing that some property lists me (specifically, something called a “living trust,” but I’ll get to that) as the owner. But I don’t really own the property. It’s got easements and covenants attached to it. I don’t get to choose my water service, or my sewer service. In fact, I don’t have sewer service, I have a septic tank. I didn’t get to choose the size of the tank because the county told me what I needed when I renovated five years ago.

I didn’t get to choose where my leach field was on my own property. The county told me that too. I can’t burn anything on my property without talking to the county. I can’t shoot varmints with a .22 either. A few months ago, a (probably rabid, but clearly sick) fox stood, panting and unmoving, in a neighbor’s driveway. I called city animal control, who told me I live in the county. I called the number for county animal control and the phone was promptly answered, as always, by the answering machine.

After waiting an hour or two, my wife implored me to deal with the issue. I was on the way to get my .22  with the 10x scope, when my across-the-street neighbor came out with something that looked like a military M4–probably a Remington R5 RGP or something–set up using a mailbox, and took out the fox with a clean heart shot. Two or three hours later, animal control came and collected the carcass. Technically, I think my neighbor could have been charged for shooting the fox. I wasn’t dropping a dime on him.

I don’t get to “choose” my Internet service or my phone company or my cable TV provider or my power company. Something called “right of way” belongs to the municipal entity, be it the city or county or wherever. They get to sell, erm, “franchise” these services to companies who bid on them. And they don’t really care if customer service is good (there’s a reason why cable companies have the lowest customer service scores). I don’t get to choose my gas company, because they haven’t run city or the joint-venture company that provides gas out to my house yet.

Did I mention that I live close enough to the city line for an average high school quarterback to complete a pass from my house well into the city limits?

I spent a year lobbying the city and the county to get the fire station located little more than a football field from my house to be able to respond to emergencies at my house. It’s a city station, fully manned 24/7. But I live in the county, which uses a volunteer department. Last I checked, the city and county supposedly have come to some agreement but I have no idea who will show up if I actually have a fire or accident. My insurance rates are still high, that I do know.

But I don’t own my property. I owe the bank, and if I fail to pay them, I have a variety of options I can pursue before they go to foreclosure. Many people faced with “Honey, I shrunk the paycheck and I can’t pay the mortgage” take the “let’s not tell the bank” option. It works really well until they foreclose and the sheriff shows up. I would not do that, but no such option exists with the county.

Thankfully the bank thoughtfully pays my insurance and my taxes for me, with my money. They even hold my money for me until the bill is paid. But if they didn’t the county would have no problem auctioning my land and home. If I owned it outright they’d love to take it from me at pennies on the dollar. If I were fortunate enough to live in a place like Honolulu, where property values rise faster than Bill Clinton judging a beauty pageant, I might even find myself priced out of my own property.

It does happen. People who owned their homes free and clear for decades on Oahu, where the average price of a home hit $685,000 at the end of 2014, could no longer afford the property taxes–even with the lowest property tax load in America. They either had to sell the family home (and leave the island because they can’t afford a new home), or take a mortgage to pay the tax and hope for the best. The median income of a state employee in Hawaii is $36,350. Do the math.

Some of these people went from owning a nice home to homeless on the beach in Waikiki. Back in 2008, I saw the tents. But now Honolulu is trying to clean up the city; they’ve made the homeless move, or leave the island. Some were once property owners, but they never really owned their property.

I don’t own my cars either. Yes, I have loans on them, but at one time I did own a car free and clear. But I have to pay to drive it, so why not owe the bank too? I have to pay the state and county to drive the car, I have to pay the state to keep a driver’s license that I’ve had for 25 years (since I moved from New Hampshire to Georgia). I have to pay for my Georgia Weapons Carry License. I own guns, but I don’t really own them either, apparently, unless I want to keep them unloaded, in a box except when I’m at home.

I have money in the bank, but it’s subject to all the banking laws. If I open a business that President Obama doesn’t like (such as third party payment processors, which I used to do; or payday loans, which I never did but believe is a legitimate business), the bank might be told not to do business with me. Not because the business is illegal, but because the government thinks it’s not so nice. The federal government, not the state. If I want to sell one of those guns I don’t really own, I might need to apply for a federal firearms dealer license, which gives the government the right to search the house I don’t own, down to the furniture in the bedroom I thought I at least owned.

I have retirement accounts in my name and my wife’s name, but at any time the tax laws could change and I could see the value of those accounts plummet to fund some anti-drug program in Bolivia, or to pay the Chinese interest on a trillion dollars of debt I didn’t borrow. I have been paying into Social Security since I was fifteen. I won’t ever see a penny. I don’t really own my money.

I don’t own my healthcare anymore. My doctor started in his profession to be in business but now works for a consortium of doctors who work for the government, because they have to deal with HIPAA, EMR, Obamacare, health exchanges, Medicaid, Medicare, and all the public health requirements piled on for fun. My doctor’s eyes look tired lately when I see him. A family friend who found he did medicine like Forrest Gump played ping pong was told by doctor after doctor not to become a doctor. He could have gone to Harvard Medical School. Instead, he became a physicians’ assistant, went to a top-rated PA school, and makes more money than most medical doctors with one tenth the hassle.

My doctor doesn’t own his practice, and even emergency room medical staff are contractors. Nobody owns their healthcare anymore. We just see people who work in varying ways for the government.

I don’t “own” my children. I never really own them in the sense of property–that’s God’s business–but I don’t have the liberty to mold them the way I might like. Thankfully, I can still homeschool in America without worrying too much that the government will take my children. But I still have to pay school tax even if I teach my kids at home. If my kids are walking down the street and a neighbor decides they shouldn’t be there, one call to the police drops a dime in the nightmare machine. Then people who get paid to make family case files take years (to justify their jobs) show up and do exactly what they’re paid to do–make my life a living hell.

If my boy decides to make a finger-and-thumb “gun” at school, everything gets placed on lockdown and the news crews show up at my home to interview the “gun nut with a troubled child.” I teach my children to be very careful how they play at school. No touching anyone for any reason. No finger-and-thumb, no cops and robbers. No cowboy play. No winners. No losers. Just participation trophies because everyone’s special which means nobody is.

I don’t own the air I breathe. The government can decide to pump malathion into the air if they want to, and I have to breathe the toxic cloud. If I owned a ranch (which I don’t), I can’t make a pond without the EPA deciding to fine me twenty million dollars. I may win the lawsuit, but the people from Washington D.C. get paid to destroy lives, while I would have to spend two years of mine fighting them while trying to make a living.

That’s the whole thing isn’t it. The government has built organizations, apparatus, wheels within wheels to deal with every possible situation. They’ve staffed agencies, desks, and bureaucracies without end, written tens of thousands of pages of regulations, spent countless hours briefing Congress to obtain more power over our lives, and they get paid to do it. While the rest of us just want to live without crossing one of those invisible lines that trip the alarm bringing all the demons in government hell into our lives.

We live, we pay our taxes, and then we die. Which brings me back to why the deed on my house is in the name of a living trust. Because otherwise, when I die, there’s a good likelihood the government, even in my permanent repose from mortality, will reach in to the grave and take the stuff I never really owned in the first place from those to whom I wish to bequeath it.

President Gerald Ford misattributed a wonderful quote to Thomas Jefferson, who was never reported saying it and never wrote it. “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

I think the quote didn’t really go far enough. It should be “a government big enough to regulate everything you have is big enough to ensure you never really have anything.” The government can never be big enough to give you everything you want–that’s an illusion. But in trying to attain that, it certainly can, and does, ensure you never really own anything at all.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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