The "Luxury" of Limiting State Theft to the Low Thousands

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This 1,790-word L.A. Times article about the massive local public school expansion currently underway—"some call it the largest public works project in the western United States," the story says—somehow neglects to find room for a single critic or victim of the Eminent Domain which has made it possible. Instead, we get separated passages like this:

About 1,200 families and 400 businesses have been displaced so far. […]

Though the district avoided taking large numbers of homes in the first building phase, these officials say they probably won't have that luxury for much longer.

Italics mine. One of the victims of the Eminent Domain binge was the original family owner of the landmark Hollywood Star Lanes bowling alley, immortalized in the The Big Lebowski.

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  1. Putting this in context:

    We’ve been able to allow freedom of political speech for a while, but we won’t have that luxury much longer.

    I know people like the ability to assemble, but they won’t have that luxury much longer.

    We’ve tolerated non Christians in this country in the past, but we won’t have that luxury much longer.

    People feel that they shouldn’t have to put a soldier up in their extra bedroom if they don’t want to. We need to make them understand that their attitude is a luxury.

    If I take a long nap, will it be better when I get up?

  2. They’re going to try to do the same thing in Phoenix for a new ASU campus. There are “price disputes” over property values, so the city will fix that and just take them.

  3. Aside from the Eminent Domain issue, the Big Lebowski was terrible. Don’t use it to increase emotional affinity for your argument.

  4. What are you talking about Pliskin? That movie was sidesplitting funny.

  5. [i]Aside from the Eminent Domain issue, the Big Lebowski was terrible. Don’t use it to increase emotional affinity for your argument[/i]

    Regardless of the movie’s merits, the significance of a location is in part determinative of its fair market value. What a buyer is willing to pay for a property (or let it go for) is influenced by things like historic or cultural significance, as well as sentimental value and attachment on the part of the owner. So it is relevant.

  6. Snake,
    Due to my love of Escape from NY and all things Isaac Hayes. I’ve held my tongue before, Pliskin, but your blasphemy is reprehensible.

    Now take it back, before I send a Chinaman to urinate on your rug.

  7. Terrible?

    The Dude abides.

  8. Why exactly is this “state theft”? Is it because you view *all* eminent domain as state theft, or because you don’t think that the compensation here is adequate, or you don’t think it’s truly for a “public use” (which seems to be a weak argument here–it’s not like taking someone’s property for some private developer; public schools are a classic use for eminent domain). The particular public use may or may not be wise, but that’s another matter.

    Jason Ligon: There is a pretty obvious distinction betweeen this and taking away freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. The constitution does not say “private property shall not be taken for public use.” It says “private property shall not be taken for public use *without just compensation.*” Whether you like it or not, it *would* be perfectly constitutional for the state to “take large numbers of homes” if they paid just compensation and it were for a public use. In that sense, declining to do so is indeed a “luxury.”

    Of course you may say that even if eminent domain is *constitutionally* permissible it is *morally* theft. Fine. If you want to think so, do so. But don’t expect me to be impressed by analogies to things which clearly *are* prohibited by the Constitution.

  9. David T. for President

  10. Mo Dude, “Chinaman” is not the prefered nomenclature. Asian American, please.

  11. From the article: The district hasn’t been in the business of erecting schools for years. Most campuses were built before 1960, and for decades, they mostly sufficed. Then, in the 1980s, district enrollment began to swell past capacity.

    Gosh, why could that be? I don’t know, because the LAT won’t tell me.

    However, I do have this article: Immigration fuels school-building frenzy: yet when the project is officially completed in eight years, it won’t be enough. That $10 billion will buy 162,000 seats, but projections are that, by 2012, the district will need an additional 33,700 seats

    If libertarians are annoyed about eminent domain, they should be doubly annoyed about massive subsidies to those who employ “cheap” labor. Many of the students in the LAUSD are the children of “cheap” laborers and illegal aliens. Wouldn’t the libertarian-correct thing to do be for the employers to pay the true cost for that “cheap” labor, rather than shoving the ancillary costs off on the rest of us?

    I suggest also looking at who passed the school bond in question. It only passed by 20,000 or so votes. If San Francisco County had voted like the rest of California, it would have failed. However, the “liberals” in S.F. pushed it over the top.

  12. Also, if you’d like to complain about this or any other LAT article, send an email to: Readers.Rep@latimes.com

    (I’d also suggest sending an email to someone higher up suggesting they get a better Reader’s Rep, but that’s up to you.)

  13. The four words that the government can use to trump the suffering of people deprived of their property rights…

  14. …”It’s for the children”

  15. This is definitely among the top five pretexts employed by scoundrels.

  16. The thing that gets to me, in that article and at looking at schools around here (and I’ve been in on the planning of one, we were doing the road relocation for it), is that the schools put in so much non-classroom space. All these articles talk about how overcrowded the classrooms are, how the schools have temporary classrooms are put in the playground, and how land is scarce for new buildings. Then they talk about schools with 2 gymnasiums and an auditorium, with a full complement of fields. I realize that there is some non-classroom space necessary in schools, but 2 gymnasiums? 2 schools next to each other, each with a full complement of athletic fields?

    Every time school officials get a chance, they go for the cadillac options. Then they complain about how much it costs. Glass-front buildings with lots of angles are nice, but they do cost more, sometimes a lot more. Performing Arts centers are nice too, but are they really necessary in a high school?

    If the major problem is space to put schools, why isn’t part of the discussion ‘let’s cut down on the school a bit’? I never see that angle pursued. It’s always ‘how can we get these 3 properties so we can put the gym in.’ In my opinion, Eminent Domain should be a last-ditch solution, not just a weapon in the arsenal of planners and administrators. Even for public uses. There are more than two sides to each of these decisions, but most of the time, it seems like the discussion is ‘HOW can we get what we want.’

  17. Just for kicks, Lone Wolf, could you name one of society’s ills that isn’t immigration related?

  18. Why don’t they build schools HIGH instead of WIDE? Oh, a multi-story high-rise school is an eyesore? At least know one would have to be (expensively) evicted.

  19. David T — When the government says “you must sell your property to us at a price we have determined; you have no choice,” I count that as “theft.” Not the criminal-code definition of “theft,” but the dictionary definition of theft. (My dictionary sez: “the wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal good or property of another.”)

    It’s an unwanted exchange of ownership by force, imposed on someone who has done nothing to deserve it save for having the apparently bad manners to build a business where schools would be overcrowded four decades later.

  20. David T:

    You are correct, of course. The comment was born of frustration at the cavalier attitude of an inefficient, monopolistic, and generally incompetent state function that sees fit to remind us that we live in our houses at their whim. I occasionally gripe incoherently when frustrated.

  21. “If libertarians are annoyed about eminent domain, they should be doubly annoyed about massive subsidies to those who employ “cheap” labor.”

    Actually, the subsidy is going to the school not the employer.

    No offense, but it’s the lack of critical thinking that keeps things the way they are. Call the cost of education a “subsidy of employers” and you won’t see the real problem.

    The schools provide a service. The cost of the service is greater than what they charge (zero). The money subsidizes the school. Now, hopefully, you can begin to see the problem.

  22. Aside from the Eminent Domain issue, the Big Lebowski was terrible.

    ????!!!!!

    This… this agression will not stand, man!

  23. David T writes:

    “The constitution does not say “private property shall not be taken for public use.” It says “private property shall not be taken for public use *without just compensation.*” Whether you like it or not, it *would* be perfectly constitutional for the state to “take large numbers of homes” if they paid just compensation and it were for a public use.”

    Well, that’s perfectly true. But the Constitution does not say that the state gets to decide what just compensation is. “Just” compensation means that the owner gets paid the value of his property. In a free market, only the owner gets to say what “just” compensation amounts to.

    (David T for President my ass.)

  24. “people feel that they shouldn’t have to put a soldier up in their extra bedroom if they don’t want to. We need to make them understand that their attitude is a luxury.”
    I recently reread the text. It says that in time of war, troops may be quartered in private homes as prescribed by law. War on terror, war on drugs, etc.
    So that soldier in your bedroom may be rude or trespassing or bad policy, but could be constitutional. What does the state constitutional eminent domain case law look like? Is recall of those to blame an option? Is there a group to make sure everybody can fight for just compensation (which is more than market value, it includes a premium for moving when you don’t want to.) Is just compenation a jury question? Has anybody called IJ?

  25. Speedwell and Matt: When you say that the “state” sets the price, it is important to remember that the condemning authority does not have the last word. If you think the price it sets is too low, you can appeal to the courts. Ah, but you say, they are also “the state.” (The state is a monolithic entity, right?) But in my experience, the courts do not by any means always rubber-stamp what the condemning authority sets as the price; there are judicial guidelines and precedents which do (however imperfectly) limit the arbitrariness of the condemning authority.

    Of course your objection remains–that it is a *forced* sale; that however “just” the price, it is not the one the property owner would agree to (which of course in some instances is infinity). True enough, and of course the Fifth Amendment uses the word “taken” which quite clearly implies that it is not voluntary, yet is constitutional if done with “just compensation.” So it is not unconstitutional, but is it, as Matt says, “wrongful?” This obviously depends on your notion of the proper function, if any, of government. Here I will simply observe that only an anarchist could object to *all* use of eminent domain. (Example: Take a government function that even a minarchist will agree is a legitimate function–like national defense. Suppose my property is the only property in a given area suitable for a defense plant, or that it has some rare mineral resource necessary for the defense effort. Can anyone but an anarchist deny that the government has the right to take my property, after paying me just–in the legal sense–compensation, of course?)

    Obviously, someone who is not an anarchist might still think that the government should not provide schools; and in that case, he would naturally regard any taking of private property for schools as “wrongful.” But if you think education is a proper function of government, I do not see how you can escape the conclusion that the government may have to take (with compensation of course) the property necessary for it to exercise this function. Now it may be that in LA there were alternatives, that the government could have built the schools on already public property, etc.

    I am not unsympathetic to libertarian arguments that eminent domain can be abused. For example, I do not like the use of it to benefit private developers. I think that this is stretching the concept of “public use” too far. But the use of it for public education seems to (non-anarchist, non-minarchist) me to be perfectly acceptable, and yes, I would still say that if it was my property they were taking. I wouldn’t *like* it but I wouldn’t regard it as theft, either.

  26. “Just” compensation is not nearly enough. Market value should be granted, determined by a third, non-governmental party Then multiply it by 3, to make up for the “emotional pain and suffering” caused by displacement. (Hey, it works for lawsuits.)

    Being forced from your home for the “publik good” should be the equivalent to winning the lottery.

  27. Can’t these damn kids telecommute to their classes like adults?

  28. The Los Angeles house in which my mother grew up (in Echo Park, long, long before it became fashionable) was condemned as part of a freeway expansion. Fifty-odd years later, my mother still recalls the forced but state-subsidized move to a nicer house in a better neighborhood as the best thing that happened to her childhood.

  29. The problem I see with eminent domain is that it seems to have no limits. As was said, “if you think education is a proper function of government, I do not see how you can escape the conclusion that the government may have to take (with compensation of course) the property necessary for it to exercise this function.” The view of education as a state function is fairly mainstrean nowadays. Problem is, there seems to be no end to the things people think are proper functions of government. A few years ago maybe no one thought that taking land from its owner to give to a private developer in order to increase a city’s tax base would be a legitimate function of government. But now it happens. I know people who believe it is a perfectly reasonable view that the function of government is to redistribute income to make all people economically equal and society “fair”, fair, being where no one has more money than anyone else. Couldn’t you just as easily say, “if you think income equality is a proper function of government, I do not see how you can escape the conclusion that the government may have to take the property necessary for it to exercise this function?” How would you limit eminent domain, when the “proper role of government” seems to be expanding without end?

  30. If the government want to purchase property, they should buy it on the free market like the rest of us. Of course, they should use their own money, not ours. This would also put a huge stop on the number of poorly thought out ‘social programmes’ which do nothing to solve social problems, but increase council tax, income tax, business rates, bureaucracy and so on. I know, I live in a country where it happens.

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