I'd Still Rather Be Here Than There


As Kelo v. New London rattles around the Supreme Court, Free Market News asks if China is more free than the U.S. The evidence is a new amendment to protect private property:

In March of 2005, the National People's Congress of China is expected to approve an amendment to their constitution specifically stating that private property is inviolable, and will restrict the use of eminent domain. This will have an enormous effect on Chinese ownership. According to Mao Yushi, a renowned economist in Beijing, citizens own 11 trillion Yuan in private property already, compared to State assets of about 1 trillion Yuan. [4] Clearly, China's reformation is well on its way.

Sounds good, but a look at the details in the amendment itself is less promising:

A typical public infringement of private property rights is the forcible relocation of urban and rural residents in the process of developing real estate projects or the construction of economic projects.

Millions of urban and rural residents have been forced to leave their homes with inadequate compensation.

To address this problem, the proposed constitutional amendment adds "the State should give compensation" to the original stipulation that "the State has the right to expropriate urban and rural land."

In China, urban land belongs to the State while rural land is legally stipulated as being collectively owned, which in practice means that it is owned by township governments.

However, legal scholars argue that residents' housing on State-owned land should also be compensated for as private property at a market-based price.

I assume Chinese property owners can count it as a step forward that they'll be compensated for having their property seized, but wouldn't this change merely bring China closer to the existing situation in the U.S.? Under present eminent domain practice, owners already get "fair" compensation for their losses. Cases like Kelo aren't about whether property owners should be compensated, or by how much, but whether the state should have such broad powers to take away your stuff. This amendment seems like a clear step forward, but it doesn't appear to address the more important question of where ownership begins.