Regulation

Where's the Michigan Militia When You Need It?

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Back in 1996, I published a little rant in Liberty [pdf] about porch furniture. Here's the core of it:

Not my house, but it does have a certain rustic charm.

When I was a college student, I lived in a house with a sofa on its porch, and life was grand. People could gather there to talk, or smoke, or drink, or play music, or make out, or just watch pedestrians wander by. It was both an adjunct to the house—an extra room smokers or loud talkers could be sent to without feeling banished—and an opening to the outside world. Random passers-by could stop for a second, stay for an hour, and end up our newest friends. The couch was ripped-up, dirty, and comfy. And our landlord made us get rid of it.

He was a good landlord in every other respect. But after he took away our couch, our house's social life took a bit of a dive….

[C]ouchnapping our favorite furniture is a landlord's prerogative, I suppose. The house is his property, after all, and I don't remember demanding any special sofa rights in our lease. But the city council of Indiana, a small town in western Pennsylvania, has no such excuse. In December, the Indiana Borough Council banned residents from using furniture outside if it is "not specifically constructed for outdoor use." Offenders will be fined $50-$100 for a first offense, and up to $300 if they keep sinning. The law was specifically designed to get couches off porches. According to the Associated Press, "The idea came from Councilman John Morganti, who has campaigned to clean up things he regards as eyesores."

Well, that's America: one man's way of life is another man's eyesore. Except in this case, the latter is a powerful prig, and he doesn't mind forcing everyone else to conform to his sterile social vision. Don't be surprised if this latest affront to civil society catches on in other cities. There is something about a happy porch that drives a busybody mad.

Fourteen years later, the story has arrived at its sad punchline. In a dual attack on the social lives of students and the property rights of landlords, the town where I went to college—Ann Arbor, Michigan—has now banned porch couches. It's a city with no shortage of busybodies, but I never dreamed it would assault its own indigenous culture so ruthlessly. Next thing you know they'll start locking people up for smoking pot.

[Hat tip: Clark Stooksbury.]