Imminent Eminent Domain: Paying Tribute in Collectivist Society

Recently there has been some ruckus over the eminent domain ruling by the Supreme Court. While there have been vastly different interpretations of the ramifications of the decision, there is no doubt that the ability of the State to claim dominion over private property has been expanded. Although this decision has surprised some people, it shouldn't. This is merely the logical progression of 'value-free' economics. Its chickens have come home to roost. What we are witnessing is the perfect combination of the negation of private property ownership and the illegitimate denial for an individual to apply a subjective value preference to events in his life. To put it simply: We're all serfs now. Meet your new boss: anyone with the ability to direct the planning of your community.

Of course, this ruling should outrage private property advocates everywhere. Any further powers of private property delegation being granted to bureaucrats is truly a scandal. However, there is an even greater evil buried in this episode: We have finally reached a public repudiation of American ideals by the federal government. Although the Supreme Court, Congress and the Executive branch seem to compete for the highest examples of contempt for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, this moment is historic in its flagrant rejection of this nation's founding intent. With this ruling, the United States is no longer a 'moral nation' in the sense that its citizens derive certain inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. The Supreme Court has claimed that 'public use' trumps the right to own property. The ramifications of this are horrifying, of course. Bureaucratic accounting projections now outweigh private ownership and inalienable rights. The Supreme Court has reinforced this. We may as well toss the entire Declaration of Independence out the window, according to the Supreme Court.

Of course, the founding documents of the United States of America didn't say that a person must believe in God (or a god, or a specific God) in order to have rights ' simply that anyone that exists has rights which an not be alienated. You're here ' you have these rights. This is the great shining American ideal. The cornerstone of this philosophy is private property and self-dominion (i.e., life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). The recent Supreme Court decision negates this. While most commentators are content to debate the extent to which eminent domain may be applied, the real evil is that the public has been conditioned to tolerate any such thing as eminent domain. Now, the ruling that the net benefit to 'the public' trumps private property means this nation is no longer grounded in moral recognition of inherent and inalienable rights. Consensus (and not inalienable ideals) is now our master, regardless of whether the consensus is morally proper and just. So long as the 'public' stands to benefit, the individual and all he owns is fair game. Again, while this is outrageous, it is simply a natural permutation of what happens when 'value-free' economics are applied. We are currently at a fork in the road as Americans: do we have morals and principles, or do we not? If we do nothing here and accept the ruling, the answer to this is clear.

A few years ago, while I was on my initial path toward exploring anarcho-capitalism, I drove to New Orleans to visit one of the premier scholars on libertarian concepts and private property rights: Walter Block. (Note: for anyone serious about understanding freedom, I strongly suggest reading anything Walter Block has ever written.) We discussed private property rights, and he suggested I read the works of R.H. Coase. He posed some interesting problems with wealth maximization versus 'homesteading' and private property retained by the individual. He also predicted with astounding accuracy the events which are unfolding before us today. Dr. Block clearly demonstrated to me how 'net benefit to the public' or 'wealth maximization for society' is not a valid primary factor for assigning property rights. However, with almost uniform dissent to the rights of man, the Supreme Court, as well as many legal proceedings in lower courts, are applying the destructive reasoning of Coase with increasing frequency. The problem at hand is that arguments aiming at the maximization of net societal wealth as the highest ideal have replaced the arguments regarding the right to individual subjective preference.

If you'd like an example of what Coase, and the reasoning of the Supreme Court, is all about, it would basically boil down to this:

If I, as a central planner, put up for punching you in the nose $150,000, but you only had $20 to have me not punch you in the nose, my budget wins and I punch you in the nose. Society benefits, because I have stimulated an economic transfer of $150,000, and if I'm any good at what I'm doing, I might also stimulate some publicly subsidized medical attention. My punching you in the nose might even have special auxiliary bonuses to the public!

Now, you might say, 'wait ' it isn't right for you to punch someone in the nose, just because one guy can contribute more to 'the public' for the rights to do so,' but the Supreme Court doesn't agree. In fact, unlike Coase's theorem, the controversial ruling does not even attempt as an ultimate goal to maximize economic gain, but merely provide 'fair market value' for the property rights usurped by the State.

The road to run roughshod over individual rights is wide open. Consider the following egregious example: Suppose your town council decides to rape every woman in your town and provide 'fair market value' for doing so. By the current eminent domain logic, it could claim eminent domain over their persons and have their way. This might seem like a vulgar and extreme example, but it illustrates the point of what the Supreme Court is trying to communicate exactly. Also, if the Supreme Court deems a person's home to be subject to public use (so long as there is a projected economic benefit), what else is up for grabs when private property rights no longer apply? Why should we expect a person to claim the right to any portion of their property, their person included, when the ownership of property need only show a benefit to 'the public' to be re-allocated to a specific use? It is also not reasonable to believe existing laws prohibiting rape would stop such a scenario, since all three branches of government have demonstrated a capacity to violate private property rights at every turn, and the Supreme Court has validated this action. If the assignment for use of private property is ceded to bureaucrats, we may one day wake up to find all of our mothers, wives and sisters being conscripted as concubines for public officials in return for the approximate 'fair market value' compensation given to a red light district worker in Amsterdam. With the way the Fed is simultaneously raping the dollar, the victims will most likely lose some points on the conversion, as well. If you think this is a far-fetched idea, pieces of the idea are already at work in Europe. This disgusting scenario is meant to highlight what could happen if the morals governing our culture are not considered in economic calculation. With the current official practice of 'value-free economics,' this sort of thing was bound to happen. While the implications to private property in the Supreme Court decision are clear, the assault on any moral grounding of our culture may be far more devastating. It should be clear right now that there is no law in this nation protecting us from abject slavery since the State has claimed the ability to exert dominion over any property in the 'public' interest. The good news is, if you believe in inalienable rights and principles, you do not need a decree to claim these inherent rights for yourself.

There is a fix for this morass, however. First, we must demand the reversal of the obscene decision handed down by the Supreme Court. Secondly, the 'public' must take private property rights more seriously, and understand why they are a part of what once made America the hope of the world. Furthermore, we must clarify why we libertarians and anarcho-capitalists carry on the fight for these rights with such verve and vigor. We need to reach individuals as individuals, which leads me to the next point. We desperately need to include in discussion and allow (insist, even) for wider acceptance economic theories that take into account the subjective valuation of preferences. Even if these subjects are not well understood, we need to be better as a philosophical movement of getting these points introduced into general discussion.

Public officials hate the work of Mises, Hayek and Rothbard simply because these giants have efficiently exposed the shortfalls of central planning, but with government now declaring arbitrary rights to assign our property for public use, we need to again reach out to people and remind them why the inviolable rights of individuals were such an issue in the founding of this country.

People should be free to make their own disparate and subjective choices about the allocation of their property without the threat of seizure of said property simply because government officials project that they can squeeze a few more dollars out of it than what is produced currently. Please note: the fix is not one set of standardized and mandated morals, other than the adherence to the non-aggression axiom and acknowledgement of subjective individual preference. We needn't compete over issues of whether my God can beat up your God. Classical liberalism and Mises need to make a comeback here in America . This is a huge philosophical commitment, and change is not easy to come by in the placated masses of today, but even Joe Schmoe can see why he should retain the ownership rights to his home. Aside from the opportunity to expose another evil of the State, this latest Supreme Court ruling represents a unique opportunity to communicate the libertarian vision to previous audiences that were either unwilling to listen or uninterested. This error on the part of the Supreme Court is something that literally hits home with everyone, and we should make every effort to resuscitate the classical American ideal and individualism. This most certainly includes shrugging off the command of the State, and its claim to the moral imperative.

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Frank Speiser's picture
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