Friday, 24 June 2005

A black day for property rights everywhere

Property rights are under attack everywhere. New Zealand home-owners and farmers are given the finger by planners, mayors and Jim Sutton; Zimbabwe shop- and shanty-owners are given their marching orders by the urban planning bulldozers of Robert Mugabe; and now American home-owners have just been told to bugger off by no less an authority than the US Supreme Court. STORY HERE. Background here.

That' s right, the Supreme Court has declared that the US Constitution gives state and local authorities the power to throw people off their land and out of their houses in order to build shopping malls, car parks, auto plants, 'new urbanism' housing projects--anything they like in fact. Homeowners should just shut up and take their medicine, says the Supreme Court in the former Land of the Free.

The 'eminent domain' clause in the constitution is the problem--the nonsense notion that 'compensation for takings' is all that property rights is; that is, if the local authority or Transpower decide to take your house or put their power lines over your property then you have no right to object. Just shut up and take your medicine. As I explain here, the NZ political party noisily espousing this overbearing authoritarian nostrum is the ACT Party.

Time to ask Rodney and Stephen Franks for a 'please explain' letter.


  1. Bush will be very happy with this decision. It illustrates exactly what a new appointee to the high court might mean. Unfortunately a replacement for Rehnquist will not change much, but hopefully Bush gets to appoint a replacement for a liberal as well.

  2. Thing to do IMHO is to put real property rights on the agenda.

  3. In the US they thought they had that...

    Democracy is a failure, and a constitution doesn't help.

    Time to leave this gravity well.

  4. Just heard, there is (or going to be) one exception: Indian property...

  5. Berend, you said, "
    Democracy is a failure, and a constitution doesn't help."

    It does help enormously if,

    a) actual property rights are protected WITHOUT TAKINGS ALLOWED.

    b) there is public upport and understandig for the importance of and moreal justification for property rights.

    If either of those things had been in place here, we would never have seen the introduction of the RMA.

  6. America has these. It didn't help.

  7. That's my point, Berend. The United Police States has neither. Have a look at what Wikipedia says about eminent domain:

    The Consitutional clause in question is the Fifth Amendment, which concludes: "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

    The Founding Fathers thought that was enough, since in their day the value and justice of property rights was unquestioned. Sadly, those days are long, long, looong gone; intellectually you could say their demise began with JS Mill's 'Principles of Political Economy.'

    In shortc then, the 'eminent domain' clause of the Fifth Amendment was never the protection of property rights it was thought to be. And intellectuals since JS Mill were never the protectors of property rights we would like them to have been. And neither are the politicians of today--with some very rare exceptions.


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