Today’s exasperating story on NPR was about oil companies and landowners in Colorado. It seems that due to an almost century-old law, in much of the West when you buy property the government retains the mineral right to that property. Lately, due to high oil prices and the need to reduce dependency on foreign oil, the government has been selling off these mineral rights to the oil companies. What this means is that you can be minding your own business on your own land, and one day you get a letter in the mail saying “Hi, we here at BigOilCo have decided to drill your land”. And you can’t do anything about it.
Colorado is trying to pass a law which would require the companies to at least compensate the landowners for damages. A previous similar bill was defeated by concerted oil company lobbying. NPR played a clip of an oil company exec whining about how they would have to compensate dozens of homeowners for each drill site, because of the proliferation of subdivisions. Cry me a river. You know what? I hope the new law passes. But it really isn’t enough. The law which deprives landowners of the rights to the minerals beneath their feat is beyond bad. It’s immoral. It’s evil. Those companies should have to offer a fair price for every single plot that they want to drill on. And if the landowner refuses, they should have to suck it up and move on.
Yet again, corporations profit at the expense of the individual, and it is made possible by the collusion of the State. This is why it just baffles me when people claim that a libertarian society would be some kind of corporate paradise, where Wal-Mart rules and the people are screwed. Where does this notion come from? Libertarians believe in the primacy of property rights. I don’t think many people have thought through just how much a total respect for individual rights, including property rights, would change society. It wouldn’t make for a corporate paradise, I can promise you that.