10/18/2004

Eminent domain is contrary to prosperity — (Nevada) Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard, 10/16.04

Letter to the Editor

By Floyd Rathbun

Thank you for including the guest editorial "Court Should Swing Back the Pendulum" in the Oct. 8 edition of the LVN. The author objects to the use of "eminent domain" to take private property from one owner and giving it to another private party. I agree with author. The only thing wrong with the editorial is that it is too short to adequately deal with the property rights issues.

Examples I've seen are carefully worded to make it sound like everyone will benefit greatly with huge piles of cash, open spaces, sustainable communities, a marvelous quality of life for everyone and all for free. Except it is never "free", because the loss of protection of private property rights always results in loss of productivity and wealth. The clever words are just a smoke screen to cover social engineering that is designed to "redistribute" private property for the good of society, regardless of who it hurts.

People either believe that the redistribution of property is a good thing or that it is evil. After all, history tells us that entire nations believe that property should be given to each "according to his need" and taken from each "according to his ability." Advocates believe that it is good to fulfill their lofty vision of how our society should look, especially if they can do it at someone else's expense and at the same time increase the number of regulatory employees in the local planning office.

Opponents argue that it is another sign of evil in a deteriorating society when we disregard individual rights and thumb our collective noses at three of the Ten Commandments. God told us through Moses to never covet what other people own (Tenth Commandment), never steal the property that we covet (Eighth Commandment), and don't lie about it when we get caught (Ninth Commandment). The author of this editorial explains that government officials are willing to do all of these things, and it must be stopped.

An early example of this abuse of power was the condemnation of private property in Poletown (Detroit), Michigan in 1981. This action was endorsed by the Michigan Supreme Court and became the standard used to justify this abuse of government power every since. By coincidence, the Michigan Supreme Court recently reversed the 1981 use of eminent domain to benefit General Motors.

The Poletown condemnation of property was done on the basis of GM promises of industry, jobs, tax revenue, etc. to the community leaders. So 4,200 people lost their homes, churches were bulldozed, the neighborhood lost 140 local businesses, and local people were violently evicted, many of whom represented families that had lived there since the 1870s. The GM plant was built but did not produce any where near the promised largesse to the city, and no one was accountable for the failure or the damage to the citizens.

For the last twenty years, communities all over the US have used the Poletown example to condemn the property of citizens, but that won't be possible now. The current Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the 1981 decision was completely wrong and that a new proposal to condemn 1,300 acres for an industrial park is unconstitutional. The current judges explained that the "economic benefit" argument for Poletown cannot be accepted because it would allow bureaucrats to use the same argument to falsely justify any eminent domain action that they could imagine. The Justices also said that ..."If one's ownership of private property is forever subject to the government's determination that another private party would put one's land to better use, then the ownership of real property is perpetually threatened..."

Until about fifty years ago, everyone understood that one of the primary purposes for having a government was the protection of private property ownership from any sort of theft or violence. That protection was designed to prosecute self employed criminals such as bank robbers and, more importantly, to protect property owners and businesses from unpredictable and arbitrary actions of the government. It was understood that prosperity, like ours, is only possible because private ownership of property meant that citizens would risk private investment for the rewards of free market economies and capitalism.

Last Friday's guest editorial is a great reminder that we can only continue to be a prosperous Nation, as our Founding Fathers promised, if we return to the moral principles that protect private property ownership. I pray that we will once again understand that property belongs to the person who owns it.

Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard: www.lahontanvalleynews.com