Free Minds & Free Markets

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Ilya Somin looks at the state of property rights after a series of post-Kelo reforms.

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    The political response to Kelo has led to some important reforms. But it has also led to the enactment of a great many ineffective or meaningless laws. Further progress requires us to understand both the successes and the failures of the Kelo backlash.

    This is what happens when laws are used to "protect" a right - any good lawyer can find ways of circumventing the letter of the law by the use of semantics and wording. You cannot expect laws to replace that which should be held by principle: that property rights are paramount for a civilized society to exist.

  • Robert||

    But how else could a right be put in force? By some strong arm guy?

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    Kelo relied on Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff which was a case where a few land owners had a monopoly in Hawaii (probably because of hawaii's history) and the government force these owners to sell to their tenants. I don't see any difference between this case and Kelo except for that in Hawaii they took from the "big guy" and gave to the "little guy" and in Kelo they took from the little guy and gave to the big guy. So my question is: are people outraged at Kelo because it took from the little guy or because the government took for private use? My guess is people are outraged because they took from the little guy. This is why laws have mostly been meaningless: it's hard to put a principal such as "don't hurt the little guy" into law (which is what the population outside of libertarian blogs actual want from the legislatures).

  • Robert||

    You mean it would be hard to put the "don't hurt the little guy" principle into law in the limited context of eminent domain, or generally? Generally, yeah, but in the limited context of eminent domain it's pretty easy, because the "little guy" can be delineated by size or value of land holding. You could, for instance, enact a statute or constitutional provision that if the total value of land owned by somebody is less than X amount, then a taking of part or all of it has to be compensated by double or triple its market value.

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    Andronoid does not undersatnd the Hawaii case. There the court stressed that it permitted the taking in order to eliminate the impact of the oligopoly (not monopoly) on the working of the real estate market, and that elimination was the permissible public purpose. In Kelo there was admittedly no social harm being eliminated; the city just wanted to make more money and to cozy up to Pfizer Prarmaceutical Co. for whose benefit it was proceeding with the project. And by the way, the New London project isn't going anywhere; no redevelopment contracts have been awarded and none are in sight. Connecticut blew $70+ million, with nothing to show for it so far. Your tax money at work.


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