Those who benefit from government coercion seldom like it when the gun is turned around and pointed at them. They have no hesitation to demand that government use compulsion for their benefit, but complain when compulsion is directed at them. As an example, mobile-home owners in Chula Vista, California, have long benefited from a city rent control program. The program keeps rents for leased lots below market value.
In the past, this program has been free to the mobile-home owners, but the city has recently imposed a $60 fee for those who want to take advantage of the “service.” Mobile-home owners, and some city officials, are howling in protest. “I’m concerned about this, because people who live in mobile-home parks often live there for a fundamental reason: They can’t afford to live anywhere else,” said Deputy Mayor Steve Castaneda. “I don’t want them to have to choose between a meal and a ransom to the city. Because that’s what this is: extortion.”
When the city government uses force against the lot owners, the mobile-home owners and their supporters find it perfectly acceptable. But when the city asks for a modest fee for that “service,” it becomes extortion. Consider further: the mobile-home owners do not have to pay the fee; those who don’t will not be eligible for the city’s rent control program. The lot owners, however, have no choice in the matter. They are compelled to hold their rents below market value, regardless of their own judgment or choice.
Mobile-home owners and their advocates are concerned that those who do not pay the fee will face rent increases. However, they show no similar concern for the lot owners, who are likely losing a lot more than $60 a year due to rent control.
This entire ironic mess illustrates what happens when government intervenes in the private, voluntary interactions between individuals. Of course, the city should not be controlling rents or imposing such fees. The city should protect the right of lot owners to set whatever rents they choose, and mobile-home owners can decide if those rents are reasonable or not. Unless force or fraud is used, it simply isn’t the city’s business.
If the mobile-home owners don’t like this new fee, their proper response should be to defend the property rights of the lot owners. If they want their rights protected, they must be willing to defend the rights of others. Until then, the city will continue to believe that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. And the city will continue to cook both of them.