“For if property is secure, it may be the means to an end,
whereas if it is insecure it will be the end itself.”
—Paul Elmer More
Property, Merriam Webster’s tells us, is “something owned or possessed” and specifically a piece of real estate; or “the exclusive right to possess, enjoy, and dispose of a thing”—in other words, ownership. In recent years, ownership or property rights have increasingly become identified with the third element of that definition—“to dispose of a thing”—and dispose has come to mean simply the ability to sell the property. And not without good reason, because, at first glance, this element seems to be the one most threatened by government confiscation—either directly, in the form of eminent domain and onerous taxes, or indirectly, through environmental regulations, burdensome zoning codes, and even well-intentioned laws, such as historic-preservation ordinances. In part because government almost always wins these battles, those who fight the confiscation of their property are usually reduced to arguing that they are not being properly compensated (in the case of direct confiscation) or that the indirect confiscation will reduce the price that they will be able...