Friday, 9 February 2007

A debate on taking property for the public good

The pylon battle in the Waikato and the taking of Suzette Kelo's Connecticut home so a developer can build a shopping mall have between them raised the issue of what the Americans call eminent domain, or what we might call taking private property for 'public' use.

Anyone who has ever seen the film The Castle will know what I'm talking about: taking someone's property, or a portion of their property, on the basis that you have the legal force to do so, and that compensation 'on just terms' is provided for the 'taking' of the property.

In The Castle, of course, the issue was what exactly those 'just terms' would be. For Daryl Kerrigan, the owner of the house being taken for development of the neighbouring airport by a private company, no terms could be considered just. "You can't buy what I've got," he wails. No value anyone else could offer would replace what he's already got.

In the American context, of course, the Constitution actually protects the taking of private property for public use - "nor shall private property be tken for public use without just compensation" says the so-called 'takings clause' of the Fifth Amendment -- but in the submission of some people (which list includes me) inclusion in that Constitution doen't make it right; and given the experience of history (which as I explain in this post, shows that routes for rail and pipelines and the like can and have been put together voluntarily, without any need for public theft) it's not true that it's even necessary.

However there are people who think that eminent domain is marvellous. Many of these people are developers. Many of them are politicians. One of them recently agreed to debate Yaron Brook from the Ayn Rand Institute on this issue. Yaron is not in favour of eminent domain. Not in any way whatsoever. His opponent is. His opponent is a leading advocate of taking private property for public use, and he used to head the department that some have called The Federal Bulldozer, a department that spent years throwing people out of their homes against their will in the name of 'urban renewal' (the slums his department built are now know as 'The Projects,' and are more like urban sinks than examples of renewal). This prick still thinks he was justified in everything his department did.

You can listen to the debate between Yaron Brook and this advocate for public theft here, at the Principles in Practice blog. Yaron is a lot more polite than I would have been in the circumstances.

Listen here. And come back and let me know whom you found the most convincing.

LINKS: Eminent domain: To preserve or abolish - Principles in Practice
ACT protecting property rights? - Not PC
Pylon pressure ignorant and unnecessary - Not PC
Political plundering of property owners - James Bovard, Freedom Daily

RELATED: Property_Rights, Objectivism


  1. In Valencia, Spain, they can take part of your property and force you to contribute to the redevelopment.

    I saw an item on TV last week showing a man who had his swimming pool paved over and half his house demolished because it was deemed to be for the greater good. He received 10,000 Euro compensation but had to pay 40,000 Euro for the new infrastructure on what was once his land. And, of course, the remaining part of his house plummeted in value. Despicable - but I don't expect the Socialist Spanish government to really be concerned about changing these laws.

  2. I'm struggling to understand how yet another shopping mall can be deemed a public good requiring government mandated land confiscation. Would be interested to know the reasoning.

    I don't think it compares to major infrastructure where there are little to no alternative sites/routes and where there can be massive benefit to the community.


  3. Insider, you said: "I'm struggling to understand how yet another shopping mall can be deemed a public good requiring government mandated land confiscation. Would be interested to know the reasoning.

    It's a good question. The advocates for theft would answer it with just one word: Tax.

    New London, Connecticut, the town in which Suzette Kelo's former home was located, was (according to the thieves) "losing its tax base," and they figured a deal offered by a developer to build a shopping mall, new condominiums, a resort hotel, a park and anything else they could think of would do the job. (This was clearly a developer happy to use the big stick of government to do what he couldn't or wouldn't be able to do on his own.)

    Suzette Kelo was not asked how she felt about her home being given to a private developer in order to "enlarge the tax base" of New London. They simply took it.

    Today, the 364,000sqm taken for the development (see picture here) is best described as "a bulldozed lot overgrown with weeds."

  4. I have no sound in my computa so could not listen to the audio...but I may say that I know the deputy chairperson of the ARC, Christine Rose.
    She is a friend who married to a Friend, I can only Say here that she has a degree in philosophy, and is an atheist by religion, and Rabidly Anti-capitalist, Anti-American in her politics. She is one of those sorts who would love to be Secretary General of the UN!
    She would have no problem destroying private property rights for her own grand schemes!...she'd take pride in it!
    And because of this our friendship has become strained and I have not seen her for 4-5 years.
    It is sad when friendships end and I do miss their company and the debates!...unfortunately they she was incapible of keeping our political debates on a friendly basis and got angry with me and my defence of Captalism, and American/Christian values.

    When I ran for Mayor of Hamilton I said that I would defend private property right as my first principle...Divest the council of as much phoney business that it was involved in and concentrate on solving the traffic woes.
    But I said I would have nothing to do with public transport, as this destroys that market, which would be much better if handled by free enterprise! I said I would rather do nothing at all about the roads, than run ruffshod over private property!...Thus I say it is better to have trafic jams than a council that steals and evicts!

    I also pointed out how develoment restrictions are a chief cause of congestion,(like halting home businesses and saying you cant mix residential and business, means people must use the roads to get to work!).
    I said that citys with secure property rights left to develope "organically" will not only do away with the insane notion of town planning, but become naturally the optimum.

    I believe conviscation of property for transport solutions merely makes things worse as Statist infrastructure can never keep pace with Natural growth, and so the thefts must continue year after year! Who is going to say enough is enough!???
    If Aucklanders get sick of trafic jams they ought to move to Whangarei!

    That's my take on this

  5. Tim, you said, "I said I would rather do nothing at all about the roads, than run ruffshod over private property!...Thus I say it is better to have trafic jams than a council that steals and evicts!"

    On that, you might enjoy Andrew Galambos's observation that, "A traffic jam is a collision between free enterprise and socialism. Free enterprise produces automobiles faster than socialism can build roads and road capacity."



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