Friday, February 19, 2010

The Eminent Absurdity of Eminent Domain

When Emperor Napoleon was building a palace for his son, the king of Rome, one of the landowners asked a very high price for his home, which was expected to be demolished to make room for the palace. Napoleon's advisors suggested using the government's eminent domain powers to seize the property. The emperor said: "Leave it where it is - as a monument to my respect for private property."
Check this out, dictator Napoleon respected private property and modern "democracies" do not. The landmark Kelo ruling has now brought the absurd logic of eminent domain to its ultimate conclusion. Witness the results of government's promotion of the "public good":

As of September 2009, the original Kelo property is now a vacant lot, generating no tax revenue for the city.[14] (…) Two years after the Supreme Court decision nothing is happening on the ground and it appears doubtful whether the city's redevelopment project will proceed. In September 2009, the land where Susette Kelo's home had once stood was an empty lot, and the promised 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues had not materialized.[14] In November 2009, Pfizer announced it would close its New London research facility.[16] After the Pfizer announcement, the San Francisco Chronicle in its lead editorial called the Kelo decision infamous: "The well-laid plans of redevelopers, however, did not pan out. The land where Suzette Kelo's little pink house once stood remains undeveloped. The proposed hotel-retail-condo "urban village" has not been built. And earlier this month, Pfizer Inc. announced that it is closing the $350 million research center in New London that was the anchor for the New London redevelopment plan, and will be relocating some 1,500 jobs."

But some clouds do have a silver lining:

A group of New London residents formed a local political party, One New London, to combat the takings. While unsuccessful in gaining control of the New London City Council, they gained two seats and continue to try to gain a majority in the New London City Council to rectify the Ft. Trumbull takings. In June 2006 Governor M. Jodi Rell intervened with New London city officials, proposing the homeowners involved in the suit be deeded property in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood so they may retain their homes.

The Kelo decision increased public awareness of eminent domain abuse. Many states have now passed constitutional and statutory restrictions on eminent domain. However, what many fail to understand is that the problem is not "abuse" of eminent domain but eminent domain itself. Once you place the vague and absurd notion of "public good" above private property, abuse is inevitable. Using the pretext of the allegedly beneficial effects of infrastructure construction, eminent domain destroys the most beneficial institution of them all - private property.
The Fifth Amendment currently reads:

Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

But it should read:

Nor shall private property be taken for public use. Period.

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