Friday, June 24, 2005

Confiscation, Inc...

Mr. Atos

In her novel,
We the Living, Ayn Rand chronicled in fiction, her recollection of the Communist Revolution in Russia. One sobering aspect of that event was the use of the tactic of property confiscation and eviction as a tool of political retribution. If one was not loyal to the cause, one's home was posessed by the state and was provided to a more affable subject. The previous owners were provided alternate available housing. If they were particularly disagreeable, they were provided no alternative. Do let's be clear that this is not going to be the immediate effect of yesterday's Supreme Court decision, Kelo vs. New London. But the door has been opened to a new realm of dangerous possibilities.

Vodkapundit is considering this along similar lines down the slippery slope,

Imagine this. What if you were in an unrelated fight with your local city council over something. Maybe you had a problem with your kids' school, or a tax dispute, or you were complaining about a dumb law, or you just spilled a drink on some councilman at the local bar. This ruling would literally give them the power to throw you out of your house and put up a strip mall in its place. And that doesn't even touch on the prospects of developers making campaign donations--or outright kickbacks--to local politicians.

As someone who has experience with cities, zoning, permitting and building construction, VP's concern is dead on. The labyrinth of bureaucracy can conceal innumerable injustices. And there is very little recourse in the courts with the SCOTUS decision offering a shield of legal precedent. What is afterall the nature of "public use?" By the time you litigate that semantic conundrum, your home, farm, ranch, business will be demo'ed and regraded... or simply designated a 'Natural Area.' What is to keep Corporations from being established, whose specific purpose is confiscation for public use? Frankly, I'm not particularly concerned about Wal-Mart, Intel, or even Pfizer. Ultimately they must face the wraith of public opinion expressed on the market by the flow of capital. But, Confiscation, Inc. maintains its funtional viability by means of political patronage. And that is a dangerous condition of extra-legal insulation. Justice O’Connor clearly recognized this danger, when writing her dissent:

To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings for public use is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property and thereby effectively to delete the words for public use from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent...

...Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.

I'll let the lawyers analyze the details of the ruling and its long-term legal ramifications. Personally I cannot help but wonder how this ruling will be interpretted by cities like Portland, Austin, Boulder, San Fransisco, Seattle where issues of 'social justice' and 'social equity' have become synonymous in the political lexicon for 'public use.'

Read, Conservation Economy: The Architecture of Statism and let your mind linger a bit on the ramifications of yesterday's ruling applied in the context of sustainability... and politics.

For more meaningful analysis, see also:
Institute for Justice
Stones Cry Out
OKIE on the Lam in LA

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