City officials in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park apparently have so little to do that they’re taking the time to prosecute a woman for the dastardly crime of growing vegetables in some well-tended areas of her front yard.
This is a perfect companion to what I wrote Thursday about the need for “legal fences” that keep other people from telling us what to do on our own property. I was thinking more of free cities — and of one group not being able to tell another what to do — but it comes down to the same issues: choice and property rights.
In the Detroit case, Julie Bass faces 93 days in jail for having a small vegetable garden in her yard, because the city says she’s in violation of the city regulation that says front yards must have “suitable” vegetation. Bizarrely, the city has taken the position that this word only means “common,” so Bass is only allowed to have grass, trees and flowers that are common in other yards. (For the record, none of the dictionaries I checked agreed with the city.)
The problem is that the statist system is “one size fits all.” Politicians and bureaucrats make rules for everyone, and the majority can force its will on the minority whenever it wants about most things. It’s perfectly reasonable if people want to live in a community without vegetable gardens in the front yard or neighborhoods where flagpoles aren’t allowed or communities where every house has to be painted with pink and purple polka dots. But people should have a choice about that. It should be part of the known rules from the beginning — and it should be perfectly acceptable for different communities or cities to adopt different rules, whether they’re about foliage, architecture, safety or labor rules. Let people choose.