Arguments Against Eminent Domain and Its Use for the Benefit of Private Parties (2005) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Arguments Against Eminent Domain and Its Use for the Benefit of Private Parties (2005) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 26, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2005 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay earned over 8,300 page views on Associated Content/Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 26, 2014

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The power of eminent domain has had a lengthy history, first originating in the Middle Ages and becoming enshrined in British common law. It is included in the U.S. Constitution as a means of government appropriating private property if this appropriation serves a “public use.” However, under the 5th Amendment, the government is obligated to provide “just compensation” for any property thus taken, which is usually interpreted to mean that the government must pay the market value of the property to the owner from whom it is taken.

Recently, however, governments at all levels have begun to stretch these powers to encompass one private party’s land being taken for the benefit of another, especially if the other is a larger business that has the potential of bringing in greater tax revenues. This is a measure of questionable constitutionality, and even far more questionable morality. It is desirable to abolish such seizures of private land for the purposes of redistribution to other private entities, and to at least limit eminent domain powers to seizures that will only be directed toward benefiting government projects and infrastructure. That is, the power of eminent domain might still be invoked to build a public road or school, but not a shopping mall or apartment building. The arguments in favor of this restriction are overwhelming, even though it does not go as far as complete eminent domain opponents such as myself would like.

First, for somebody who values property rights, private property is an absolute, not to be contingent on “the public interest.” If the individual sees the benefits of keeping his property as outweighing those of selling it, he can either refuse to sell it or ask for more compensation. Anybody but the owner should be allowed to take the property only with the owner’s consent.

Often, current governments do not even give market value to “compensate” for seizures, but, even if they did, there are subjective values that owners associate with their property which are hard to quantify and which only the owners themselves can enumerate accurately. As the story of certain homeowners in the 2005 Supreme Court case of Kelo v. New London shows, some of them have built their dream homes out of places that were run-down when they first purchased them. And, after they had invested their lifetime’s work into those houses, the houses were condemned by the government. Surely, a coercive demand that they accept “market value” is not sufficient to compensate such a deeply personal investment.

Furthermore, “the public interest” is a collectivist notion, which ignores the fact that only individuals exist and that invoking “the public interest” in fact implies that the government should coercively back some private interests over others.

The policy of eminent domain has, recently, been used with blatantly power-hungry justifications. Business X brings in less tax money than Business Y might, so X must be demolished to give way to Y. Y is also a larger business that might create more jobs, so this justifies putting out of work those individuals who are currently employed by X. The flaw with this reasoning is that it views individuals as fungible, or substitutable for one another. It should not matter how many other individuals benefit from a government policy if it ruins the livelihood and property of even one innocent person. Individual rights are absolute.

Advocates of eminent-domain redistribution of property to private parties will attempt to state that the government can actually bring about “efficiency” through the use of eminent domain power to achieve “urban renewal.” However, economic theory from Adam Smith on has shown that the free market achieves any goal more efficiently than the government. A business that thrives because of government favors through eminent domain is not thriving because it functions better than others in market competition. As a matter of fact, that business might well not be favored by supply and demand, and has therefore not been able to acquire the land it seeks under a mode of free, voluntary market exchange. Therefore, its owners are seeking to gain what they have not earned by expropriating it from those who have earned it.

The kind of eminent domain supported by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London is pure legalized theft. It is time to recognize it as such.

 

3 thoughts on “Arguments Against Eminent Domain and Its Use for the Benefit of Private Parties (2005) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

  1. This really helped me on my assignment that was required from me in my Government honors class as a Sophomore. I kinda got an idea about what I should write in my essay. Thanks a lot!

  2. Elon Musk, CEO, SpaceX corporation seeks to buy up all properties in Boca Chica village, Brownsville, TX 78521. A retirement community, several families have invested life savings in property located next to the Lower Rio Grande wildlife refuge, a bird sanctuary. The area is positioned 2 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 3 miles from the Rio Grande River and Mexico with surrounding bay and wetlands as a view shed. Some of the residents do not want to leave but because the state is interested in supporting SpaceX’s ambition to launch rockets to Mars from this location a corporation has been set up to support building a spaceport infrastructure that will connect SpaceX to the state as virtual partners without a direct relationship. Due to FAA time constraints requiring SpaceX to ensure the safety to life and property in the area concerning rocket launches scheduled in two months, SpaceX has offered to buy out reluctant residents at 3x market value its proxy appraiser has assessed our property is worth; non-negotiable. I rebuilt my home and do not think their offer is fair or equitable. The only reason I will entertain the thought to leave is because SpaceX has bought, already, the majority of the empty lots in the area and has started building out its space industrial complex. This pristine wildlife refuge has been transformed destroying our retirement community peace and quiet forever. If I do leave I want to be compensated for my loss with the burden of responsibility to go to SpaceX for relocation and resettlement: property in kind putting me in as close to the condition I currently enjoy. And for me that would be a home close to the beach with bay views and peace and quiet. SpaceX’s offer is unconscionably low to expect me to uproot myself and start over again. I am to decide to take their offer no later than October 17. This is a date in keeping with the urgency for SpaceX to meet FAA safety requirements and be able to launch in November. I feel I am being pushed off my land, under the circumstances. SpaceX is in total control and cohorts with the state of Texas that has provided legislation that gives eminent domain power through a nonprofit spaceport corporation which I feel will be activated if I and others in the community refuse to sell at their price. With the courts, public opinion, judges, and law enforcement at its disposal it is impossible to have a level playing field in the current climate in
    the Lower Rio Grande Valley. This poor area is aching for jobs and will do anything to keep SpaceX here.
    I believe your article is spot on. Individuals have rights and if SpaceX wants my property it should treat me with dignity and respect and negotiate a fair and equitable agreement.

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