Imperial Valley Rip-Off

The Interior Department's 160-acre farm limitation amounts to a war against the productive


In the Imperial Valley we see an escalation of government's attack on the institution of private property, on the right to make private contractual agreements, on the right of inheritance, and on the right to retire on the accumulated wealth of one's life work. As Professor Armen Alchian of UCLA has said: "Overwhelming political power over property rights is again superseding personal freedoms, which depend on private rights to the use of property." (My defense of property rights should not be misconstrued as support for federally subsidized water.)

Over the past 75 years, hard-working families have turned a desert into a food basket. Normally, one would expect that the government would look with favor upon such productive farmers—who help it, at a lower cost to itself, feed the massive welfare rolls that government has built up through the politics of vote-buying. But no, the attack on the productive people of America by their own government now knows no bounds. No longer content with taking from one-third to one-half of their incomes under penalty of prison, government has now moved to confiscate their wealth, their capital, their ability to produce, built up over generations of hard work. The productive people—instead of consuming away their earnings—saved, invested, and built. Their punishment for not being wastrels is confiscation.

By its action, the Department of the Interior has shown that it is an enemy of the productive. Perhaps now there will be a Productive Peoples March on Washington. It is certainly a march that is overdue. Soon it will be too late. If the imperialistic bureaucrats get away with this confiscation, the word will go throughout the land that anything that is saved with which to build—anything that is not consumed—will be stolen by the government. Then the government will at last be happy. It will have the whole nation on the welfare rolls. It will have every person dependent on government handouts. That great scourge of government, a free people, will cease to exist. The United States will then have returned to the mainstream of history that is peopled by only two classes—the rulers and the ruled.

The Imperial Valley farmers are in dire need of help. They are being robbed by government in order to appease a left-wing ideology. Productive farms that not only support their owners but also provide food and agricultural products for millions of people are to be dismembered and destroyed in order to create a new class of welfare dependents—farmers who cannot support themselves, much less large numbers of other people.

This governmental attack on the productive extends beyond the farmers of the Imperial Valley. By reducing the productivity of agriculture, it means higher prices throughout the land. It strikes at the wages in the worker's paycheck. It steals the purchasing power from the widow's pension. It pinches further the opportunities of dependent children. It grabs at the purchasing power of bankers and industrialists who receive abuse for taking risks and who support the charitable and cultural foundations of our society. It benefits only the government, its class of welfare dependents, and the well-paid bureaucrats who service them.

It strikes at the depositors of the banks that have financed the mortgages on the farms. When a person's mortgaged property is confiscated, that person is bankrupted. He no longer has the capital—the land—with which to earn the income to repay the mortgage. This action by the Department of the Interior not only dispossesses the productive of their wealth; it dispossesses them also of their character, their reputation. To dispossess farmers of mortgaged land is to dispossess bank depositors. Government bureaucrats might think they are robbing the large, absentee landowner but instead be grabbing the pittance of widows and the funds saved by workers with which to give their children a college education.

But the government does not care. Government does not like widows who are independent of its handouts. It does not like hard-working people who educate their own children. To government, education is just another handout. It does not want children to be thankful toward their parents; it wants children to be thankful toward their government.

Imperial Valley is just the beginning. Government is on the move against the productive. Productive people are in its way, because they can exist independently of it. Government does not want anyone independent of it. If the American people want their independence, they will have to fight their own government for it. The American government is no longer a defender of private property and personal liberties. It is now a usurper of property and liberty. It serves only its own interests.

If America is to survive, productive people must defend their own interests. They must bring their numbers to bear on the Congress before their ranks are further thinned.

Dr. Roberts, an internationally known economist, is widely published in scholarly journals both here and in Europe.

Interior's 160-Acre Rule

Government moves to break up large land holdings, make small plots available to landless poor. Doesn't it sound like a newspaper headline a couple of years ago when Echeverria, the great socialist protector of the Mexican peasantry, initiated his now-famous land redistribution scheme? Well, it could be; but it could just as well be a current newspaper headline about the actions of the U.S. Department of the Interior under Secretary Cecil D. Andrus.

It all goes back 76 years, to the Reclamation Act of 1902, passed under the approving eye of President Teddy Roosevelt. Large parts of the West were barren desert lands, and this bill got the federal government into the farm-irrigation—and thus the dam- and canal-building—business. But the act, like many others, was couched in the rhetoric of helping the little guy; so it included two restrictions to guard against monopoly by the big guys over the land or the soon-to-be-available water. One was a small-holdings requirement: no federal water for anyone with more than 160 acres; the other, a residency requirement: no federal water for absentee landlords.

You won't find a lot of farms that are that small in the West. The law limits the size of federally irrigated farms to 160 acres per family member, including children. In addition, various legal technicalities make it possible to get around the restriction—for example, by large partnerships or by leasing arrangements. But critics complain that this is so only because the residency requirement largely goes unenforced, partly because a 1926 reclamation act failed to repeat the requirements, leading to the Interior Department position that it had in effect been repealed. But, a recent court ruling has cut the ground from under this position, giving Secretary Andrus, in his eyes, a clear mandate to enforce the 76-year-old law.

Not surprisingly, there have been outcries from Western landowners, some of the most vociferous from those in California's Imperial Valley. For there, even the 160-acre requirement has never been enforced. The valley is irrigated by water from the Colorado River, compliments of the Hoover Dam and the All-American Canal, built in the 1930's; and the residents get this water for free. In 1933, the Interior Department ruled that the Reclamation Act did not apply to the Imperial Valley because it referred to water sold by the government. And so now we have Imperial Valley protests against Andrus's declaration that the government is going to go to it, breaking up larger-than-allowed land holdings and getting back to the populist intent of the original law—small family farms, not "agribusiness."

—Marty Zupan