Thursday, August 05, 2010

Eminent Domain by the Backdoor

Earlier today I was talking with my friend Prof. David Beito, a good libertarian and the chair of the Alabama Advisory Board of the US Commission on Civil Rights. David has been investigating the use of "blight" ordinances to seize property in Montgomery, Alabama. The properties are declared "blights" by the city which then comes in, often very quickly, and destroys the home.

They then bill the home owners for the service provided by the city, and sells the property to highest bidder, often wealthy land developers. The homeowner not only loses their home but may end up having to pay the city for the services it provided.

Beito said: "We have good evidence that these homes are not in fact blighted, that is the pretext that they are blighted and that is why they are being demolished. Property owners are losing their land and I think there is good reason to believe it often ends up in the hands of wealthy developers. It's eminent domain on steroids."

Beito's commission has recommend that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission investigate the matter thoroughly. Of course this confiscation of private property is being conducted by the Republican administration of the mayor. So we have Republicans stealing private property, chucking people out of their homes and destroying their property and transferring title to wealthy land developers. I guess we should be glad the Republicans are the party of "limited government" otherwise think how they would be acting.

I did know that David was involved in this issue, defending the property rights of people who tend to be poorer and less powerful against the use of government power by the wealthy and powerful. As I have said repeatedly, this is the nature of government power. It tends to benefit the rich and powerful, rarely the poor and powerless. I didn't know this issue had broken into the news in the last couple of days when I called him. I was pleased to hear of his efforts. He is doing precisely the sort of thing I believe libertarians ought to be doing——defending the rights of the most vulnerable people in society.

It is not that I don't think the talented and wealthy are without rights. Quite the contrary, I want a society where talent is rewarded and those who earn the rewards keep them, as such a system benefits us all. What I don't want is a society where those with political pull can manipulate a web of regulations as a means of redistribution the rights and wealth of others to themselves. And while my friends on the Left assume that such redistribution can be easily, and usually, used to benefit the poor and powerless, I feel that history shows that to be a fiction. Quite the contrary, I believe the historical record shows that those with political influence, who tend to be rich and powerful, almost always are the real beneficiaries of such concentrations of state power. Montgomery today is just another example of that.