“Democracy is the road to socialism” – Karl Marx
A friend forwarded me an article today, which can be found here, about an eminent domain case involving Columbia University and a local, privately owned gas station. It appears that Columbia University, a private entity, convinced the state of New York to seize private property (a gas station) from its owners and transfer it to Columbia U.
You won’t have to cast about too far to figure out where I stand on the issue. As the article notes, this hearkens back to the Kelo case, which we wrote about way back in “Republicorruption … Eminent Domain.” But, since the issue apparently keeps coming up, perhaps we should keep writing about it.
Recall that in a democracy, “the government” is nothing more than the aggregation of the people. We are, after all, a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people.” So, when “the government” seizes the assets of a private citizen, it is really the people seizing the assets of particular people.
As with any eminent domain case, there must be some claim made of “public benefit” by the seizure and transfer. This presents a rather pesky difficulty – how exactly do we go about defining a public benefit? Do we mean economic benefit? I hope not. If so, then all one needs to accomplish to seize another’s property is to convince a judge somewhere that you have a better business plan and can turn a quicker profit.
As near-impossible as it would be to ascertain economic benefit from nothing more than a loose claim, it’s probably easier to come up with than some more amorphous definition of “public benefit.” In this case, Columbia University clearly benefits – they are able to obtain property they presumably could not through standard free market actions. The former owners do not benefit though – they are denied their property for a lower price than they would have otherwise demanded. (You may claim that “they had no intention of selling” – yeah, but I guarantee you this gas station had a price. $1 million? $10 million? Who knows? But there was a price, to be sure.) How can one balance these two and come up with the decision that the “public” is better off with the Columbia benefit?
So, here we have the people [the government], overruling the will of the people [former property owners], for the good of the people [“public benefit of Columbia University gaining more property]. It makes the head spin just a bit.
As the article notes, the libertarians are up in arms about the decision, as well they should be. Then again, the libertarians are upset about pasteurized milk, so their rage is often discounted. It appears though that more than libertarians are upset here – which is a good thing.
How does one come to the conclusion that it is OK to take from one private citizen and give to another, even if guarded by some hazy “public good?” To arrive at such a place, one must start from the notion that private property does not exist as a fundamental basis or right of human existence. That the things you own, which you acquired by free exercise of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (unalienable rights, or so we claim), are NOT your own. They actually belongs to “the people” en mass, who have merely allowed you to maintain control of the property for the time being. This is an interesting philosophy, and we know from whence it comes. “The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: abolish all private property” – Karl Marx.
I will add, as I have noted before, that private-to-private transfers via eminent domain are just a subset of a greater government property grab. After all, isn’t money also private property? (Careful how you answer that one – if you say anything other than “yes” then money is no longer a viable means of exchange and the entire financial system will collapse immediately. You don’t want that on your conscience do you?) Yet the government has been taking money (taxes) from private citizens and transferring it to other private citizens (through entitlement programs) for some time. This is no less a crime.
You may counter that the taxation does not target specific individuals, or that the entitlement programs are laid out in a generic format. This is splitting more hairs than one can reasonably count in the 1000 words or so that I usually reserve for a post. What does it matter if a tax doesn’t call you out by name, or if the recipient of benefits cannot be traced directly to your “donation?” It is still a transfer of private property from one person to another.
As with the eminent domain case, the government will make some vague claims about all of this contributing to a “public good.” Rarely do they ever undertake to actually study the impact of their programs and whether the public actually benefits. They meant well and it fit within their general theories about human behavior – that’s plenty of cover, right?
Ah, but I have confidence in the Americans. We are steeped in freedom and may yet turn course, back to freedom and human rights and away from the jagged rocks of statism.