“And the clock on the wall’s moving slower. Oh my heart it sinks to the ground. And the storm that I thought would blow over. Clouds the light of the love that I found.” – Robert Plan, Led Zeppelin, Fool in the Rain.
The above quote has absolutely nothing to do with this post. However, a friend and reader was very pleased on the last post to see that I had quoted Robert Plant. So, since this post is similar (in the vein of corruption in the republic), I thought I’d stick to Led Zeppelin. I suppose you could claim that the country’s slow decline toward fascism is a “storm that I thought would blow over” and that it “clouds the light of the love [of freedom] that I found,” which certainly makes “my heart sink to the ground” … but this is really a stretch.
Municipalities frequently use powers of eminent domain to seize private property for public use. It is generally held that they have to pay “just compensation” for the property, and that it must be for “public use.” In 2005, New London, CT “condemned” a private property so they could use the space in a redevelopment plan. That is, they took property from one private citizen and gave it (sold it) to another private citizen for private use. The Supreme Court held that this was legitimate because the economic benefits counted as “public use” (see Kelo vs. New London).
The case naturally caused an uproar amongst the defenders of individual rights. To take from one private citizen and give it to another is an absolute abuse of power. What we’d like to consider today is the source of the outrage. That is, exactly what part of New London’s nefarious behavior has caused the outrage? The government, took an asset, from a private citizen (a specific private citizen), and gave it to another private citizen. I argue that none of these is new and that the unique combination of them is no more of an infringement on rights than standard government behavior.
(1) The government took an asset from a private citizen. They do this all the time through taxation. Now, do I think taxation is wrong? No. The government must somehow accrue money to perform tasks laid out in the Constitution, “… establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence …”. So, it is not the fact that private assets were seized that causes uproar.
(2) A specific citizen. Now here we may be on to something. The government didn’t produce a “blanket tax” in this process, they taxed a specific person. Of course, this is not too far from standard operating procedure. The tax code has so many loopholes and caveats that it may as well be a specific tax rate for each specific citizen as the government powers see fit. Heck, the whole TARP kerfuffle has brought the notion of specifically taxing executives in the financial industry – seizing assets from specific citizens. (I’m no defender of TARP recipients, but targeted taxation is an outrage.)
(3) Gave it to another private citizen. This too is the rule, not the exception. Government giveaways of “public funds” to private citizens are nothing new. We do it with entitlements. We do it with banks (TARP) and car companies (GM). For crying out loud, we just gave $54 million to a casino through the stimulus plan (OK, technically it was a loan – at ridiculous rates). Contract perks to well connected political donors don’t surprise anyone anymore.
So, there you have it. Nothing in this eminent domain case is outside of the norm of government operations. It appears to be only the specific combination of events that runs afoul of political sensitivities. Perhaps New London would have been better served by seizing the property for a public park, building the park, then selling the park to the private citizen. Then it would be OK, right?
Now, I don’t suppose we can get rid of government seizure of assets, either via taxation or the general practice of eminent domain. But the rest we can take on.
We can push for a tax policy that doesn’t target one individual over another. Honestly, why should the government say “we will tax you less if you engage in activities of which we approve”? Like buying a house, or having kids, or making less money – unless you make over the Social Security cutoff, where we will also tax you less. This is how parents treat their children (goodies for obedience), not how “public servants” treat their masters.
We can also push for an end to government giving money to private citizens. It just shouldn’t happen. We should have a rabid anti-giveaway mentality as a nation. Any politician who takes a bribe (or a donation for quid pro quo) should be run out of office at our earliest convenience – even recalled by petition of possible.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing” (probably Edmund Burke, though the true origins are a bit hazy.) The good men and women of this country, and there are many, must stop doing nothing in the face of this decline. But, I suppose our day is coming.