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The Cody Blog: When Government Steals Private Property

Thursday, June 23, 2005

When Government Steals Private Property

Homes may be 'taken' for private projects
Peasants fighting back in rural China
The idea, people, is that we try to make China more like a capitalist society, even one as quasi-capitalist as the U.S.
Not the other way around.


Blogger jason said...

LOL yeah you americans really belieave in freedom, and funny how you guys dont practice what you preach. You guys let 1600 dead soldiers for a free iraq, but you guys are spitting on your on constition. Funny how nobody in your media isnt fervantly angry, no protests, just alittle blog commentary. Thats it. Theres something really wrong in america, when nobody talks about how your 4th amendment rights now mean nothing. Whats next your 1st amendment right of religion, press, why not throw in liberty to and freedom down the drain. Americans are hypocites and wastes there own young soldiers lives in iraq if they let this stand

6/23/2005 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger Quant Trader said...

Great post. I am stunned by this ruling. What really concerns me is that I'm not seeing any outrage or even much coverage at all of this outside of the blogging community. Maybe it's just me but it seems like the Supreme Court practically abolishing private property rights would be big news that would concern most people.

6/23/2005 08:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These homeowners were offered more than twice the high-end appraised value for their homes and the government was willing to go up further than that before suit was filed. This is a democracy and if one homeowner is going to stop the progress of hundreds to a significant degree then pay them well for it and move their asses out.
This project is projected to save that entire community. It was at death's door. So a couple of very greedy homeowners can stop that salvation?
I have no problem with this based on the facts involved. It shouldn't and will not happen often across the country. The local politics simply won't allow for it to get out of hand.

6/24/2005 02:05:00 AM  
Blogger Quant Trader said...


"Democracy" is not the right of the majority to take from the minority at will. Razing people's homes to enrich real-estate developers is not "progess". Wanting to continue to live in the house one's lived in all one's life is not "greed".

Local politics won't allow this to get out of hand? Real Estate developers dominate local politics in most municipalities.

6/24/2005 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger BelowTheCrowd said...

Personally, my take on this is that it really changes nothing. The SCOTUS has taken the position that local laws and local courts have the final say on such matters, going back to the Williamson decicion in 1985. Even before that, eminent domain was frequently used for projects that were nominally public, but generally benefitted private interests (virtually every stadium or sports arena built in the US in the past few decades has taken advantage of such BS).

I'm not liking the state of the world, and I wish the decison had gone the other way. I'd like the "public use" term to be strictly defined, not defined as "anything the local government likes." Taken together, the dissent and concuring opinion on this case suggest that there is growing opposition to the current school of thought.


6/24/2005 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger jason said...

my question would be, if sometime in the near future, if a person decides to defend the home he legally owns with arms and weopens, would the state by force, maybe even lethal force, take away his home. Its a political and legal nitemare. The politician, mayor, governor, president, or ceo involved, would have there careers esentially be finished. It would be a pr nitemare, you would have a man who legally owns his home, and you have the government taking away his home and giving it to the rich. Its going to happen one day, and its going to change how we think of government and how it works.

6/26/2005 01:33:00 AM  
Blogger BelowTheCrowd said...


It can't possibly change the way I think of government.

However, I think the biggest problem is that many people don't realize how much power above and beyond that which is clearly stated in the constitution has ben given to government in the past few decades.

"Regulating Interstate Commerce" now effectively means "doing anything that might in some broad theoretical sense impact some legal or illegal, existing or non-existing, commercial or non-commercial market, which may at least potentially cross state lines." Under the guise of regulating such "commerce" the federal government busts people who grow certain plants in their own backyards for their own enjoyment. Or regulates the content and labeling of product that is only sold in one location and never across state lines. I won't even start on guns, tobacco or agricultural products. Or millions of other things.

Property rights, of course, have gone in a similar direction.

So no, I won't wake up and be suddenly surprised at the nature of government. I know what it is. Too bad everybody else is more concerned with Michael Jackson.

And am I the only one who's noticed that "Mr. Ownership Society" himself made much of his money by getting ranchland expropriated in order to build his Texas Rangers a new stadium, against the desires of the landowner???

(Not slamming Republicans here, Democrats are just as bad.)


6/26/2005 06:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Eli said...

Ever flown on a plane before? The land the airport was built upon was probably obtained using eminent domain.

The next time you're driving down the interstate, I suggest you exit immediately as the Interstate Highway System would have been impossible without the power of eminent domain granted through the 5th amendment.

6/26/2005 10:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Tim Wiese said...


There is a not-so-slight difference between using eminent domain to build a road, airport or other government necessity that will clearly benefit the public "good" vs. using eminent domain to build a new Super-Walmart or some other private development that promises "good paying jobs" an "expanded tax base" or some other equally nefarious community economic benefit.

The decision in this court case will enable the latter. The former was never in question.

Developers can now petition your local politicians to use eminent domain to take you home, farm, or whatever they want. I don't know about your community, but in mine you can trust the local politicians about as far as you can throw them. They are already obvious pawns for the local developers. This decision will only empower them more.

Unless you have deep pockets that can counter those of the developers, good luck winning the eminent domain battle when it comes to your property: The Supreme Court just guaranteed that sooner or later it probably will.

6/27/2005 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Cody Willard said...

Jason -- Posting this on the blogs and fighting it through our political system IS practing what we preach.

Anonymous "twice the high end" poster -- It's irrelevant how much or how little these OWNERS are offered. By definition, they OWN the property and that means they're supposed to have the right to choose what to do with it, regardless of how stupid or smart their choice might be.

Jason -- your question about defending by gun can be applied to income tax and all other forms of coercien and oppression that people might at some point rise up against. The government has a monopoly on legal use of force.

Eli -- who says that airports and highway builders having used imminent domain to steal their property was right? It wasn't. All forms of theft of private property by the use of force (which is what eminent domain really is) is evil and wrong -- including our highway system and airports.

6/27/2005 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding your last comment "all forms of theft of private property by use of force is evil", has everyone forgotton that this country was founded by theft of private property from the native Americans? Or is that not a big concern since they were only natives and not white? Seems to me that theft of private property by force is a tradition. Who cares about fairness, justice, wanting to live in the same place where one has lived all their lives, eh??? Where would this country be if the founders had followed what you propose? Surely you are not implying that was evil ;) (Iam being sarcastic of course). If I recall correctly, wasn't NYC built on land practically stolen, sorry purchased for peanuts?

6/27/2005 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Cody Willard said...

I am certainly calling the theft of property from Indians evil, though they, as a group, didn't have the concept of private property for real estate, nor was there a constitution at the time guaranteeing such rights on this soil taht we now call the US.

6/27/2005 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to be hedging your position Cody. Just because a certain group of people did not follow the same conventions, beliefs, judicial or religious, and lacked documentation or written rules does not make it right. Colonialism has long used that as an excuse to steal land from other people. British did that successfully over decades, India, several islands in the Carribean, etc. Taking over any territory by force, plunking down a flag and then drafting unfair constitutions, i.e. unfair to the residents from which the territory is being stolen, does not justify the action. I don't think one needs a piece of paper to define what is right and wrong. Seems to me nobody cares when land is stolen from others, but when it comes to their own, everyone gets up in arms. Right and wrong ought to be a universal concept and not applied selectively or justified by ones' own beliefs and concepts of law.

6/27/2005 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Cody Willard said...

I said explicitly that it was evil. pointing out facts doesn't hedge.

6/27/2005 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Eli said...


The founding fathers said it was right. That for the betterment of the country there would be instances when an interstate highway system is more productive for everyone than a field of crops or pasture land for a farmer.

As an economist, what is your take in where the US would be in the global economy if eminent domain wasn't established by the 5th amendment?


The town of New London, CT had been declared a "distressed municipality" by the State of Connecticut. Population was at a level not seen since the 30's. Unemployment was 7.6% and in 1996, the Navy closed down their Undersea Warfare Center eliminating a ton of jobs.

In 1997, Pfizer planned to build a $300 million dollar research facility, but would only do so if the city followed through with the city plans to upgrade the area.

At the end of the day, this city was dying, and it's administrators were trying to do what they could to save it and give it a chance to thrive once more. Sucks for the 15 homeowners that lost the suit, but what of the other 23,000+ citizens who will benefit from the resurgence of economic stimuli?

6/27/2005 07:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Tim Wiese said...


Why this particular set of properties? Why not build the plant on public parkland if it is so critical to the community's survival?

An unemployment rate of 7.6% makes a community distressed and justifes taking property through legalized theft?

A dangerous precedent has been set here. The only good thing with this decision is that the courts have basicly decided that this is an issue of State, rather than Federal law. But look for more community "leaders" with $$$ in their eyes to attempt to evict lawful land owners so that they can campaign on a "I brought jobs" message.

I'm not anti-development mind you: It's funny how the same city "leaders" who mis-use Eminent Domain will at the same time use restrictive zoning to eliminate potential competition and keep others from maximizing the value of their property.

In many communities, only developers who have paid sufficient tribute to the local politicians are able to get a zoning change through the legal tangle. A private individual attempting the same doesn't stand a chance.

If New Londen needs development then they should change their zoning laws to encourage it. I haven't reviewed the specifics of this particular case, but I'm betting that the properties in question are not zoned commercial, and that they could not be zoned commercial until and unless they were sold to this particular developer at a "residential fair-market-value".

So they must be sold at residential-fair-market-value so that a developer can immediatly turn a paper-profit by changing them to commercial-fair-market-value.

It doesn't sound fair at all.

6/28/2005 03:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Eli said...

"No, you see. Here's the problem. You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do." :)

I'd be interested to hear if your opinion were unchanged after you've studied the case.

6/28/2005 10:41:00 PM  
Anonymous MapMaster said...

Hyperbole alert! Stealing? Theft? I don't think so - these people are being paid for their property. Forced sale? Yes. I don't necessarily agree with the decision, but when the commentary gets this frothy, reason suffers.

Also, I am wondering where (or if) the whole private property thing ends for you, Cody. Do I have the right to pollute a stream just because it is on my property? Even if it gives the family down the street cancer? Ever heard of the tragedy of the commons?

Absolutism about private property rights or prescription medication may make for an attention-getting blog, but it does a disservice to your intellect.

7/01/2005 02:33:00 PM  

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