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Thursday, January 12, 2006

More Corporate-State Land Theft

Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, is the scene of another corporate-state land grab, majestically called "eminent domain." (Think about what that phrase implies.) Here's the news story. The city has condemned 60 middle-class homes and businesses so that the properties can be conveyed to developer Jeffery Anderson and partners for expansion of a swanky shopping center and apartments. The new shopping-center wing would feature a Crate and Barrel store. (You can complain to the chain here.) Two homeowners refuse to bow to the state and have gone into court, with the help of the Institute for Justice. The case is now before the Ohio Supreme Court. During oral argument Wednesday, a member of the court asked an attorney for the town why the local government should have the power to brand properties "blighted" and to take them against the will of the owners. "In the end, it is up to the City Council to make that decision because they know the community best," said the attorney. Such arrogance from political hacks.

This is really getting out of hand. Big retailers (Wal-Mart, Costco, and others) should be ashamed of themselves for seeking to build stores on stolen property. It's time that we make them aware that we know what they are doing. No one without political connections is safe. The U.S. Supreme Court said last summer that taking private property in order to turn it over to developers is constitutional. Score another one for Spooner. At least the Supreme Court ruling prompted people to put the heat on politicians in some states. As a result, it might be slightly tougher for governments to seize land for so-called economic development. But in most cases, they can get their way by declaring a property "blighted." It's a virtual blank check. We'll be safe only when people realize that eminent domain strikes at the heart of liberty.

Laissez-faire voluntarists have long maintained that that the difference between being pro-market and pro-business is vast. Business was never enthusiastic for open competition, preferring the safety of protectionism in all its many forms -- consumers and workers be damned. We're at the point where being pro-market requires being anti-business.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.


Stephan Kinsella said...

Sheldon, excellent post. I agree with every word, except for your insinuation (I think) that state laws permitting eminent domain for "private use" are really unconstitutional (despite the ruling in Kelo); or, in the alternative, that if such state laws are indeed constitutional, then the Constitution is not worth having.

I would agree with the latter sentiment in any case. And perhaps, just as the ruling in Kelo is waking some people at the local level up to the dangers of eminent domain (abuse, or do I repeat myself)--perhaps rulings like this will wake up libertarians naive enough to put their faith in a "Constitution" and the philosopher-kings on the Supreme Court.

But as to the implication that the Constitution does, or should, prohibit such state laws or practices--as I've argued before; 2, state laws regarding eminent domain, even if terrible and unfair, do not, in fact, violate the federal Constitution; and, moreover, that this federalist vertical division of powers is not unlibertarian.

Sheldon Richman said...

Thanks, Stephan. I would associate myself with the position Roderick Long takes here.

Anthony Gregory said...

Sheldon, outstanding blog and post! I'm frustrated with the libertarians that think being pro-market necessarily means being pro-business — nearly any business, no matter how anti-market that business behaves!

Your blog seems a great new addition to the libertarian blogosphere. I will have to stop by often.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Thanks Sheldon (BTW I echo Anthony's sentiments). Everyone knows, however, that Roderick Long is a left-libertarian sellout.

Just kidding, Roderick.

Roderick is a genius, but I think he's wrong on this one. It doesn't pass the "guffaw" test to propose that the Congress and States in the 1760s really understood the 14th Amendment to do what its modern expansionist proponents claim it does.

Personally I prefer to separate is from ought; fact from wish. I prefer to accurately describe our political-constitutional system; and where it is unlibertarian, to say so and then argue for its illegitimacy and for change. I think too many libertarians (not accusing you or Roderick of this) confuse what they want from what is; and in their activist-zeal they confuse tactics and strategy with an honest assessment of what is. Thus we have libertarians rhapsodizing about how libertarian our Constitution "really" is; arguing that the income tax is not "really" a law, or really constitutional; arguing that because a law is unlibertarian, it is proscribed by the ninth amendment etc. I think these are often basically dishonest arguments, though I understand the motivation to make them.

Sheldon Richman said...

Thanks, Anthony. I appreciate your kind words.

Stephan writes, kiddingly, "Everyone knows, however, that Roderick Long is a left-libertarian sellout."

Then so am I. :)

I agree with Spooner. What the authors of the Constitution or an amendment "meant" is not relevant. We are entitled to read the language plainly within the context of justice and liberty.

The Last American said...

I've started up a couple of lists of just such companies and cities, just to shed light on these practices to the public.

I'm hoping that, like cockroaches usually do, when you shine light on them, they'll scurry away.