Allodial Rights

I’ve made reference before to the concept of “allodial rights” or “allodial land rights,” the idea that a person’s land is his, completely and absolutely.  The land is not a grant subject to the authority of any king or magistrate, or subordinated into smaller plots under one governing authority; rather, the land belongs fully to the landowner.

When writing my piece Saturday about the Dukes and their struggle with the Town Council in Society Hill, South Carolina, I found a piece at The Center for Social Leadership on the topic of allodial rights.  The piece argues that allodial land rights—which are the norm in the United States—differ from those of the feudal system.  In a feudal system, the lord or king of a land controls all of the land, and leases or grants that land to subsidiaries with certain fees or obligations to the lord in exchange for the use of the land.

Under an allodial system, however, every landowner owns his land free and clear (or has the potential to do so), and is not subject to any higher authority in the use, maintenance, and disbursement of that land.  He is, essentially, the king of his parcel.

Of course, that’s never completely true.  The use of the land is subject to the restrictions of local ordinances.  Some towns enforce certain minimum standards of upkeep, and issue fines for particularly dilapidated and dangerous structures on private property.  Local governments assess property taxes; if those taxes go unpaid long enough, the government can and will strip you of your land.

I think of property taxes as a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless:  most localities don’t have a better way to fund most of their operations (besides business licensing fees, franchise fees, and the like), and property taxes are the only consistent way to make sure the bulk of residents are paying something into the local or county coffers.

The consequence of that, however, is that you never truly own your house, and you’re at the whim of the county assessor and the local authority responsible for setting property tax rates (“millage” here in South Carolina).  Most assessors seem pretty honest about the assessed value of homes, but a crooked assessor could easily appraise the value of your home far above its actual market value—resulting in a steeper tax bill.

As for the local governing authority—usually a county or city council (or both)—one of the few safeguards against sudden, dramatic increases in millage is the hope that member of that authority themselves own property, and won’t want to see their bills rise.  That’s often not enough, though to stop increases (it’s probably also a strong argument in favor of property ownership to either vote or to hold public office:  a homeowner is far less likely to make decisions that could affect homeowners—himself included—adversely than a renter [of course, the renter himself would face increased rents on the more heavily-taxed property]).

Unfortunately, I don’t see any better alternative.  A local consumption tax (like the popular penny option sales tax) increase could cover some costs, but it depends on residents spending their dollars locally, which is not guaranteed in this age of Internet shopping.  Increasing business licensing fees just puts a greater burden on businesses—an may run them and their licensing fees and property tax dollars out of town.

Still, the appeal of pure allodial land rights is strong.  For the most part, my instinct is that most Americans—at least in red States—can use their land as they wish, with the obvious exceptions (I couldn’t open a hog rendering plant on my property without my neighbors’ consent—nor would I want to do so).  Local ordinances should strive to preserve as much of that freedom as possible, while also taking into account the needs of the town or county at-large.  In any conflict, the individual’s property rights should be prioritized as much as possible without harming the cohesion and rights of the community members at large.

It’s a tricky balance.  “Every Man a King,” as the old Huey Long slogan went, might not be feasible (and is destructive in the way he meant it), but when it comes to allodial land rights, it’s a worthy ideal.  Like most ideals, however, it isn’t always achievable.


11 thoughts on “Allodial Rights

    • Like property taxes, I think eminent domain is a necessary evil, and should only be used for projects that are clearly, unequivocally in the public interest: road-building and -widening, for example. The whole fiasco in that town in Connecticut where they took people’s homes to build a pharmaceutical campus is a clear abuse of eminent domain.

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      • Kelo was, of course, a travesty, even by modern standards. Take an old woman’s house for a parking lot, forsooth!

        Interestingly, I grew up in Indiana and worked for rural electric co-ops (Indiana usage REMCs). We had to obtain easements (which we were forbidden to pay for) from landowners to build lines AND were required to serve all residential property in our service areas amongst other requirements both pro and con). The theory was that (I think) that if you wanted central station electric service, you could contribute the use of a little land to make it happen. At the time this was all in the REMC Act of 1952 as amended, so it might be different now. The private utilities OTOH could and did use eminent domain and build on public rights of ways.

        Clear as mud, what? Actually, it worked pretty smoothly.

        I actually think more should be financed by local taxes, including most roads, although yes, I would support a property requirement for (at least county) voting, it keeps the control local where you might have a chance to wring the scoundrel’s neck (not you, obviously) rather than trying to be heard, even in Lincoln, but especially Washington.

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      • Kelo, yes! I thought that was the name of the case, but was too lazy and indolent to look it up to confirm. Ah, yes, I am truly a politician now.

        Yes, eminent domain makes sense for electrical lines and such. I know that here in South Carolina, when the SC Department of Transportation came to Lamar to clean out drainage ditches on residents’ property, they had to obtain written consent from the property owners (I signed one, even though I don’t really have a ditch). Again, seems like a no-brainer, but I’m sure someone has some objection to SCDOT coming to clear out their ditch. Sounds like the government doing something useful for once, if you ask me!

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      • In theory, and in past practice, in the Old Northwest, property ran to the center of the road and it was the property owners responsibility to maintain it, including cleaning ditches and grading the road. It worked OK when road were dirt and almost all property owner were farmers.

        The only real trouble we had was in trimming trees. A distribution ple just doesn’t need much land, We did try not to cut across fields though, nothing like driving through a crop to irritate a farmer, and they owned the company.

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      • Yes, I knew about farmers being responsible for maintaining their section of road, and/or roads in the immediate vicinity of their village. The system works until it doesn’t—there’s a lot of work to do on the farm, and the road can get neglected pretty fast!

        Yeah, I’ve always marveled at those broad “boulevards” cut through long stretches of pine barrens, power poles sweeping through the gap. I hiked part of one at Sesquicentennial State Park in Columbia, South Carolina, just to see the massive poles up close (and because I had always wanted to do so, haha). But you’re right—the power pole across the street from my house (with my mailbox underneath its light) takes up very little space.

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      • Yep. After the 94 Ice Storm out here, the had a few miles of H structures down, they had to force through diggers, but the structures were built offsite and set by Helicopter which then proceed to string the line and tie it in, with nobody on the ground. It’s quite the sight to see a helo threading the line through the insulator strings, and goes amazingly fast.

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      • Traditionally pulled in by ropes through blocks, and never allowed to touch the ground, it leads to trouble. I remember reading in the trades when I was a kid about a 675KV crossing of the Mississippi River, around St Louis. It was measured the towers installed and then the brought the wire, pre measured and pred terminated to achieve the design tension. Went perfectly, of course, slide rules don’t lie.

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