Liberty Blog readers are probably familiar with F.A. Hayek’s classic The Road to Serfdom. In it, Hayek warns against the unavoidable outcomes of central planning, including the loss of individual freedom and the failure of any but the most rudimentary and oppressive plans to deliver the stated goals, all while destroying prosperity and creativity. It is important to remind ourselves regularly what a serf actually was (and can still be): an unfree person, bound to a plot of land, who was obliged to work that land for a master or lord who exercised the right of ownership, typically in a feudal social structure.
So a serf is someone who is required to farm land for someone else who exercises ultimate control of the property. That is sounding more and more like the California legislature’s attitude toward farmers who purportedly own their own property. Fresh off of last year’s loss in her attempt to impose unconstitutional restrictions on conversion of farm land in California, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman has introduced a new bill, AB 1961, that would require California counties to adopt a Sustainable Farmland Strategy, whose purpose would be to “assure that counties recognize that farmland is a limited and valuable resource which must be conserved wherever possible.”
Legislation like this does not help farmers farm. It limits their freedom to do anything except farm, particularly when the economic and regulatory realities are that the land would be put to better use. This bill precisely targets the property rights of the farmer who has concluded that California’s oppressive regulatory regime and increasingly unreliable water supply make farming infeasible on the land. When you cannot make a decent living farming anymore, but California says you may not use the land for anything else, what are you but a serf?