Property Rights

George Will on New York's Eminent Domain Abuse

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George Will had a great column in yesterday's Washington Post detailing some of New York's ugliest cases of eminent domain abuse. Here's something that won't surprise any readers of Reason: Bruce Ratner's notorious Atlantic Yards project is right there at the top of the list:

The Atlantic Yards site, where 10 subway lines and one railway line converge, is the center of the bustling Prospect Heights neighborhood of mostly small businesses and middle-class residences. Its energy and gentrification are reasons why 22 acres of this area—the World Trade Center site is only 16 acres—are coveted by Bruce Ratner, a politically connected developer collaborating with the avaricious city and state governments.

To seize the acres for Ratner's use, government must claim that the area—which is desirable because it is vibrant—is "blighted." The cognitive dissonance would embarrass Ratner and his collaborating politicians, had their cupidity not extinguished their sense of the absurd.

Last month, Jacob Sullum explained how New York's controversial Empire State Development Corporation uses "blight" as a pretext to seize property. And in October, I explained why the state's highest court should have put a stop to Ratner's land grab.

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  1. Where the fuck is joe?

    Oil-rich Venezuela ushered in 2010 with new measures rationing electricity use in malls, businesses and billboards, as Hugo Chavez’s government aimed to save power amid a crippling drought.
    The new regulations came into effect January 1, with businesses required to comply with reduced consumption limits and authorities warning of forced power cuts and rate hikes if the measures are not followed.

    http://www.breitbart.com/artic….._article=1

    1. Where the fuck is joe?

      I am post joe, but for the love of God, please don’t invoke him just to torture us newbies? He have heard of him or her, we have seen SugarFree’s links to the Ancient times when joe roamed the reason. Please, for all that is good, please stop?

  2. Leave it to George to expand my vocabulary. Cupidity.

    1. I like George Will, but sometimes his writing has a bit too much “Look how smart I am” vocabulary in it. I’m all for learning new vocabulary when there’s a word that describes a concept I’d have otherwise had to use several words/sentences to convey, but in this case, the word “greed” would have worked just fine.

    2. I like George Will, but sometimes his writing has a bit too much “Look how smart I am” vocabulary in it. I’m all for learning new vocabulary when there’s a word that describes a concept I’d have otherwise had to use several words/sentences to convey, but in this case, the word “greed” would have worked just fine.

      1. If everyone in the paper did it, then I can see how it might get annoying, but when one man is single-handedly keeping the reading grade level of the entire paper above six, I think he ought to be applauded for doing so.

        “Greed” would have sufficed, but “cupidity” helped make it a painting in newsprint.

      2. Apparently, looking it up in a dictionary worked just fine too. And just because two words are synonyms does not mean they are identical; there are different connotations and shades of meaning possible.

        1. English is the richest, most vital and most adaptive language in the world. Why hobble it? Why dumb it down? I’m grateful that there’s at least one American columnist who still writes for adults.

      3. George Will is a putz. I remember his anti-Libertarian diatribes from the Reagan days.

        -jcr

        1. No, I am a Putz. I remember those diatribes too. I remember my diatribes from my 1960 liberal days. I changed like many of us because I grew up. For George Will to change as an adult is truly impressive to me. He has always been one of the best columnists around but it is even better that he has started leaning towards ‘our side’.

      4. Bucking for Winston Smith’s job?

  3. I wish somebody would extend eminent domain to all deeded property, not just land. Cars, boats, trailers, etc. People aren’t coming out in opposition to eminent domain abuse because what few are even aware that it exists simply don’t give a fuck. With the exception of people living dangerously close to an expressway no one ever anticipates their home or neighborhood being seized for development. That’s something you only read about in the paper; that happens to the other guy. Somebody needs to up the ante if people are ever to open their eyes. I’ve got about two grand burning a hole in my pocket right now, and the guy down the block from me has a pretty sweet early Camaro with a busted taillight, hasn’t washed the thing in over a week and had it parked under a tree. I’d say it looks pretty blighted.

    1. Don’t give them ideas.

      1. I think they’ve already gotten that idea. Remember the Maryland legislature voting to seize a football team back in 1984 (only being thwarted by the team moving out of state in the middle of the night)? That wasn’t even tangible property, let alone real estate.

        1. So Maryland was trying to seize laundry?

    2. Doesn’t DEA already cover that?

  4. By the standards invoked by ESDC, I believe Gracie Mansion would qualify as “blighted”.

  5. You know, what with threaded comments and all, this blog seems blighted.

  6. A “great article” would discuss the inherent market failures related to hold-outs and the monopoly positions they hold, and possible alternatives solutions other than eminant domain.

    Sorry, but this doesn’t qualify as great, but rather just a plain old partisan screed.

    1. A greedy developer stealing 22 acres of land from hundreds of owners may solve a market failure, but the moral failure is far greater.

      1. Notice he doesn’t bring up government monopolies…

        1. Only when the government owns everything will the market truly be successful.

      2. No actually it doesn’t solve a market failure. No one has a right to your stuff if you aren’t willing to contract to sell it, and they certainly don’t have the right to use the power of the state to force it so.

        Oh, and as usual, Chad’s argument is ass dumb

    2. Holdouts arent a market failure, they are a market success. How the fuck is wanting to keep your own land a failure?

    3. Define “hold-out”. In detail.

    4. inherent market failures related to hold-outs

      A person choosing to keep their property isn’t a “market failure”. It’s an exercise of their human rights.

      Scratch a liberal, find an autocrat.

      -jcr

  7. Market failure? Why are these market failures?

    1. There are market failures because taxes aren’t high enough. Duh.

    2. A market failure is when allowing people to act as they choose results in a situation different from what a Benthamite utilitarian wants. For instance, since Megan Fox isn’t offering sex to anyone who wants it, that’s a market failure. Obviously, we need to enforce eminent domain over her body. It’s for the good of the people.

  8. Chad, I want to buy one of your kidneys for $1.02 and if your monopoly position causes a market failure, I’m prepared to pursue alternative solutions.

  9. A “great article” would discuss the inherent market failures related to hold-outs and the monopoly positions they hold,

    The ignorance and cognitive dissonance packed into that sentence are truly a wonder to behold.

    Somebody declining to participate in a market is not a “market failure” and cannot create a “market failure”. There is no market defined as “this guy over here buys everything.”

    Every property owner has a “monopoly” on their land, and every piece of land is unique and non-substitable at some level. I guess that means that there cannot be a market in land, merely a series of local monopolies.

    1. RC, you are simply dead wrong. A monopoly is a classic textbook market failure and often results in wildly sub-optimal performance.

      Every property owner has a “monopoly” on their land, and every piece of land is unique and non-substitable at some level. I guess that means that there cannot be a market in land, merely a series of local monopolies.

      It is odd you accuse me of “cognitive dissonance”, then go on to ADMIT my point that landowners are monopolists.

      Land is not fungible, especially land in developed areas. If you have an idea as to how to build these mega projects in an urban area WITHOUT eminant domain, please, enlighten me. What exactly is your alternative, that would eliminate both holdouts based on stubborn irrationality AND holdouts who are just trying to extract monopoly profits? Or are you going to make the absurd claim that these projects are NEVER more valuable than what is currently located where they need to be built, and hence there is no problem to solve?

      1. This begs the question: WHY do you have to have the mega projects?

        Qui Bono?

        1. Someone in, or with great influence on, government?

        2. Why? Because many times they are better uses of the land than what is currently there.

          1. Going back to the kidney example, your second kidney would be much better used in the body of a person suffering from kidney failure that it is in your body. Does that mean that the govt can remove your kidney against your will?

            1. I bid .50 for both kidneys. HEALTHCARE COST SAVINGS!

            2. First, your situation is implausible.

              Second, my right to life is of a higher order than my right to own a particular piece of land.

              Third, I cannot be compensated for the loss of my second kidney, but I can be compensated for the loss of a peice of property.

              You aren’t even to the apples and oranges stage yet…more like apples to concrete.

              1. First, kidney failure is a relatively common occurrence. It’s not implausible at all.

                Second, your can go on living just fine with one kidney, so your right to life is not violated.

                Third, you can be compensated just as easily for a kidney as for land; the govt gives you the supposed market value of what they take. Yes, your own kidney that your mother gave you is unique and irreplaceable, but guess what, so is the land and the structure built upon it that the govt is taking via ED.

                1. Umm, even if the bizarre hypothetical where you needed the kidney of someone only had one kidney (has this happened, ever?), your hypothetical would still fail because it is not evident that your use for that kidney is “much better” than leaving it where it is. Indeed, it would be a tie at best, and a loss once you consider the transaction costs and medical complications.

                  There is no “market value” for your second kidney.

                  1. What if that second kidney saved the life of someone making millions of dollars each year? That person would pay tons of taxes over the years to the government because of that kidney.

                    Isn’t that exactly the rationale behind the current eminent domain abuse? That certain assets need to be redistributed because the government could make more money?

                    That second kidney is just underperforming in your body. Get it out there and into someone who is going to make more money for the government.

              2. Your kidneys are an inefficient use of tissue where they are now. Voluntarily give them to someone who will put them to better use. The cuffs are just so you don’t injure yourself during the procedure. We ran out of funding for anesthetist services. Those nasty anesthetist hording their services!

            3. Good call, Tulpa!

              Chad wrote that there are “better uses of the land than what is currently there”. The only one who defines what’s a “better use” is the property owner. Your thoughts (and mine) about what the property owner does on his own property are worthless opinions. If you want a Starbucks and an NBA arena there, good for you! But it’s an empty opinion. It’s like what people do in their bedroom: we can opine about what “better uses” somebody can have for their private parts, but they’re nothing but opinions. An individual’s sex life, like their property, is their exclusive dominion.

              It’s kinda crazy, ’cause an individual’s right to his land is so fundamentally sacrosanct in America – in law (note the Constitution) and in the culture (“A man’s home is his castle”) – that I can’t believe this is even being argued by Americans. (Maybe Chad’s a Cuban student traveling here?)

          2. Better for whom?

          3. Why? Because many times they are better uses of the land than what is currently there.

            You’re a fucking Nazi, Chad.

          4. Please clarify. Define ‘better’. Who gets to decide what better is?

      2. By your definition, there is no limitation to the state’s eminent domain powers to seize (for joke compensation) anyone’s house or land

      3. There has never been any such thing as “market failure” and you are incapable of proving that there is.

      4. A monopoly is a classic textbook market failure

        Nope. There are exactly two kinds of monopolies: government granted monopolies, and temporary monopolies that are in constant peril of being overturned by new competition. Neither is a “market failure”.

        For example: when Alcoa had a monopoly on aluminum production in the United States (they never had a worldwide monopoly), the price of aluminum fell steadily, because they were competing with other metals in most of the applications for which aluminum is well-suited.

        -jcr

  10. “Market failure” is a term meaning “I don’t like the way this turned out.” It has nothing to do with real markets.

    BTW, the correct word for a situation in which there is only one buyer and many sellers is “monopsony”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopsony

    1. No, this isn’t a monopsony. The problem is that each piece of land is owned by a monopolist.

      1. I see, so we need to eliminate the whole concept of private property.

        Where have I heard that before?

        1. No, you just need to recognize it has limits. Indeed, in the case of land, it is even more limited than usual, due to its inherent monopolistic characteristics and the utterly obvious fact that neither you nor anyone else created it.

          1. Chad will be ignorantly redundant at 7:00.

          2. Hahahahahahahaaha! Oh fuck, I just pissed my pants, which I assume has its own monopolistic characteristics.

        2. No, you just need to recognize it has limits. Indeed, in the case of land, it is even more limited than usual, due to its inherent monopolistic characteristics and the utterly obvious fact that neither you nor anyone else created it.

      2. So you oppose private ownership of land? Man, that’s like not even socialist. You realize that communism is an absolute and complete failure, right? There’s a consensus on that and everything!

        1. See above. Rights are not limitless.

          1. A right that ceases to exist when the govt disagrees with how it is used is not a right at all. which is exactly how you apparently see property rights: as soon as you refuse to sell your property to the party the govt wants to have it, your property rights are forfeited.

            1. Ahh, standard libertarian absolutism…if it ain’t 100% pure, it is worthless.

              Rights have value, but not infinite value. Particularly when it comes to land, I consider rights to be of a very low order. Think of land ownership more as a long-term lease.

              1. Hardly. I agree that there must be limits to property rights; for instance, survivors of an airplane crash on private property should not be held guilty for trespassing, etc. But this is not the type of limit you’re putting on property rights; you’re saying that, if the govt has found some supposedly better way for your property to be used, then property rights are irrelevant.

                Of course, if you believe property owners are really just “leasing” the land from the government, you’re so far out in left field that I’m not sure why I’m bothering with you.

                1. How did people “obtain” the land in the first place? Government fiat and/or bigger guns than whomever was their first, or buying it from said person. Why do you have absolute ownership in this case (or of anything, but this case in particular).

                  1. MNG, who cares how it was gotten hundreds of years ago? I purchased all I own from people who owned what I bought. This sounds like an issue to you. Like you think you get to distribute my property at your whim without compensating me for it just because I have something you want.

                    .05 per kidney and that is my final offer before clubbing you and taking them.

                  2. The private owner has more claim to it than the state does. Yes, the problem of the origin of property is a vexing one, but experience has shown that a system based on private property — even if such is only a legal fiction — is much more conducive to human welfare than state ownership.

                    1. Why? It is only BECAUSE of the state that the “owner” has any rights at all.

                    2. One of these days, Chad, you will become a totalitarian, without ever noticing how you got there.

                    3. Hazel,

                      Chad has been a totalitarian for at least as long as he’s been commenting here. It’s just that he doesn’t want to admit it to himself.

                      -jcr

                    4. Chad has been a totalitarian for at least as long as he’s been commenting here. It’s just that he doesn’t want to admit it to himself.

                      No, I think he’s been getting more authoritarian in recent months. Probably caused by his reading of the abridged version of Das Capital.
                      I don’t remember him saying “people are owned by their society and the state can do whatever it wants” a year ago. That’s Marx’s influence.

                    5. It is only BECAUSE of the state that the “owner” has any rights at all.

                      Wrong again, pinkbot. It’s only because of the rights of the people that the state has any legitimacy.

                      Hamilton got this wrong, too. It’s why he is reviled as a traitor by anyone who cares about their liberty.

                      -jcr

                    6. The problem of original ownership isnt vexing at all. Mises handled it fine – just draw a line.

                      Arbitrary, sure. Vexing, not at all.

      3. No, this isn’t a monopsony. The problem is that each piece of land is owned by a monopolist.

        You can’t be this retarded. Well, ok, clearly you are. So a thousand different property owners are a thousand ‘monopolies’. So we give it all to Bruce Ratner to break… the monopoly.

      4. Chad, there are plenty of other places that Ratner could build his development. They just might not be as desirably sitated.

        He might have to build in a region that isn’t as conveniently located near lots of customers.

        The landowner does not have a “monopoly”; there are other people Ratner could buy from. He just has more desirable property than others.

      5. each piece of land is owned by a monopolist.

        “When I say a word, it means what I choose it to mean.”

        My Imperial Majesty,
        The Red Queen.

  11. “Market failure” is a term meaning “I don’t like the way this turned out.” It has nothing to do with real markets.

    BTW, the correct word for a situation in which there is only one buyer and many sellers is “monopsony”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopsony

  12. the inherent market failures related to hold-outs and the monopoly positions they hold

    blibbity blabbity

  13. Arrgh. Double post.

    Feed the server squirrels to the snakes. (See “New laws” post, above.)

    1. Poor Aresen. Another victim of market failure.

  14. Morose gherkins clatter down the street; elephantine pixies garble seductive singsong.

    1. Revised Statutes, (Any Jurisdiction), Chapter CDXXXIV, Section clxix, paragraph 3(c)(xii)

  15. Threaded comments are a market failure.

    I HAVE SPOKEN!

    1. For sure. Can we eminently domain them out of existence?

  16. Bulldoze threaded comments NOW!

  17. Gosh, all the blight around here is hurting my eyes.

  18. Speaking of ThreadBlight, a little proofreading goes a long way…

    just sayin’

  19. If you’re commenting on my “eminently domain” comment, that was intentional.

  20. No, this isn’t a monopsony. The problem is that each piece of land is owned by a monopolist.

    How is a single buyer (backed by the full force and majesty of the government) seeking to gain control of all the individual parcels NOT a monopsony?

    The “problem” is that you approve of the consolidation of these properties into a mega-project, and disapprove of any individual’s resistance to the grandiose plans of his betters.

    1. There are plenty of other potential buyers out there, as the hold-out could always cash out to yet another hold-out.

      1. Uh, buyers at a price I’d like to get? Or ‘buyers’ hoping to use force to get it cheap?

        1. If you are a holdout holding up a multi-billion dollar project, you can obviously hold out for far more than your property would be worth in the normal case. Or, if you don’t feel like waiting, you could sell the property to someone who doesn’t mind…still reaping a big fat share of the monopoly rent.

          1. far more than your property would be worth in the normal case

            If this is the case it must be normal.

            .25 for each kidney now. Lay on your tummy and shut up.

          2. Ah, so Ratner has a right to the property because he’s rich, while the original property owner (who can’t afford to buy all the land around his or her property) is just a “holdout” (Russian: kulak) gumming up the works.

            Thank you for revealing the ugly face of liberalism in practice, its mouth wrapped firmly around the glans of the wealthy.

            1. Thank you for revealing the ugly face of liberalism in practice

              This isn’t liberalism, even in the sense left by the total bastardization of that word in the 20th century.

              This is robbing the poor because the rich find them inconvenient. A liberal would want to rob the rich and give the loot to the poor.

              Chad’s no Liberal. He’s just a fucking toady, hoping for his chance to pick up a scrap or two of “stimulus” as his wing of the Ruling Party shovels it into the maws of their paymasters.

              -jcr

          3. What if the land has sentimental value to you?

          4. Oh the horror. Some poor person sitting on a shitty old house in a slum might just make millions of dollars. We can’t have that. Honest billionaires can’t be deprived of their right to buy up slum property on the cheap.

          5. Chad,

            I hope you realize that your argument boils down to “Ratner deserves the power to rob other people because he’s richer than they are, and participates in the right political circle-jerks”.

            I remember a time when the Democrats pretended to be defenders of the poor and middle class against the rich.

            -jcr

        2. Actually, land acquired by eminent domain is rarely acquired cheaply.

          The problem with ED is not the price offered or paid, it is the fact that the transaction is made against the sellers will.

          As Patrick notes at 11:18PM it is entirely the land has sentimental value to the owner, or it is entirely possible that the owner is uses a completely diferent system of values to arrive at a ‘fair price’ at which he would be willing to sell.

          And, of course, it goes without saying that Chad is, as usual, full of shit.

          The notion that some private developer’s desire to build a “mega project” trumps the property right of an existing owner is the pure malarkey of a Rockefeller Republican. Privatize profits and socialize costs.

      2. There are plenty of other potential buyers out there, as the hold-out could always cash out to yet another hold-out.

        Like Bruce Ratner.

  21. Pro Lib-

    I was not referring to any specific comment or commenter in this blighted benighted thread; to be honest, if I was thinking of anyone in particular, it was our good friend John.

    1. Very well, then.

  22. A monopoly is a classic textbook market failure and often results in wildly sub-optimal performance.

    As Minister of Optimality, I shall abolish all sub-optimal resource utilization. Honest.

    1. Can you do that through the full utilization of competition in a free marketplace, oh kind omnipotent Sir?

  23. There are plenty of other potential buyers out there, as the hold-out could always cash out to yet another hold-out.

    Ooh- are you referring to evil speculators?

    In any case, this is an absurd argument; there is one, and only one, ultimate buyer.

  24. just a plain old partisan screed

    Lots of lefties are opposed to this giveaway too–at least the ones who aren’t politicians or union construction workers.

    1. Or H&R commenters, apparently…

      I’ve argued often that liberals are not as willfully stupid as they’re portrayed to be in these parts, but that assertion never seems to be backed up by the presence of a reasonable liberal here…

      1. That’s the problem with lumping all humans into one of two camps.

        1. I lump humans into two camps: The Reasonable and the Unreasonable.

  25. As far as I know, ALL eminent domain is eminent domain abuse

  26. What we really need to do is actually start enforcing the Constitution.

    Emiment domain is only legitimate for public use. And public use is ONLY direct, government activities such as highways, schools, courthouse buildings and things of that nature.

    Public use is NOT taking property from one private party to give to another one on the theory that an alternative private use will generate more tax revenue for the government and/or jobs for the community or some such rationalization

  27. Eminent domain abuse is a classic illustration of what actually existing socialism is like. It’s not some system of resources optimally destributed according to a central plan. It’s a system where the politically connected use the veneer of “public goods” to seize wealth for themselves.

    That Chad is going around eagerly defending the idea of public takings in this context, which is so obviously an example of corruption, is simply a demonstration of his willful ignorance.

    At least the fact that Ratner is so obviously in bed with the city government and so obviously taking unblighted property for his own benefit out to give you *some* pause about the potential for abuse of the “public use” justification, Chad. Seriously. At least admit that it’s *possible* something the government does in the name of the “general welfare” might not be objectively so.

    1. That Chad is going around eagerly defending the idea of public takings in this context, which is so obviously an example of corruption, is simply a demonstration of his willful ignorance.

      I suspect that you’re being unduly kind.

      -jcr

      1. I’m a master of the understatement.
        I’m fairly convinced that Chad’s IQ is below 100.

        1. Remove that last zero from your number and you’ll be about right.

  28. They should call it imminent domain. Sometime soon, the government is going to take your stuff.

  29. I bid one thousand quatloos for Chad’s liver.

  30. Private property owners facing the threat of eminent domain quickly learn that they are not standing on a level playing field legally, economically or politically.

    Among other lessons, there is a lot of play in the “just” of “just compensation.” The power of eminent domain brings with it a sense of entitlement. At that point, property owners are merely an obstacle to be swept aside ? when, in fact, they possess the key asset coveted by government and the corporation.

    But property owners can fight back. Our two-year battle against Houston-based Spectra Energy which seized our property rights for an underground gas storage field led to the development of a website which has begun to attract whistle blowers inside the energy industry. We are collaborating and helping property owners in many states. For info, visit the site: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/

    By the way, our new neighbor, Spectra Energy, has received two Notice of Violations for “unlawful conduct” related to emergency shutdowns and emissions at its storage field in Bedford County, PA. Reports of contaminated water supplies are on the rise since they began operations.

    Like Kelo and Atlantic Yards, the ripple effects of eminent domain are never over.

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