Sunday, February 27, 2005

Look out... You might just get what you wished for

Steven Greenhut has an excellent article on an important case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this week involving eminent domain. Greenhut is not optimistic, and neither am I.

(Setting the background, eminent domain is the power of government to take private property for public use.)

Greenhut quotes the key question involved:

Does the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment permit condemnation of private property for transfer to other private parties solely for the purpose of
promoting 'economic development'?

This has long meant that your house can be knocked down to make a road, school or hospital.

The problem is that the meaning of "Public use" is changing from the traditionional road, school, or hospital ... to the "public benefit" that the new owner promises to create more jobs than you do, or will pay more taxes than you do.

So, you are now in a race to be the best owner of your own property, or you are outta there.

So let's see where this leads.

As much as anyone, I enjoy this game:

If goverment offers Benefit A,
then expect Restriction B as a logical consequence,
Bonus points allowed for Government Rationalization C,
No matter what the parties originally intended.
Sadly the game is too predictable..

For example:

If government promises health care,
then motorcycle riders must wear helmets
to save the medical costs of motorcycle accident brain injuries
No matter that motorcycle riders like the feel of the wind in
their hair.

See how much fun it is? Here is another recently discussed one:

If govenment guarantees you an unemployment benefit...
provided that you accept any legal job... and
if prostitution is legal....
well then, ......enjoy your new job........
no matter what you think of it.
Eminent domain offers a fertile field for this sort of imagination.

In this week's Supreme Court case, Kelo vs New London, where a big business (Pfizer), wants a government power (the City of New London, Conn.), to kick a little little old lady out of her house, so they can build an office park, the game goes like this:

If Pfizer promises to create jobs and pay more taxes than you do.
and if the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment means
"more jobs and more taxes",
then you are out in the street
No matter that you don't like it.

The best government that money can buy.

Now here's a final example for you:

If your property taxes are low due to California Prop. 13,
and if someone else got your house condemned so
they could pay
more property tax,
then you might be outta there.
No matter that you don't like it

Who wouldn't want to buy your $300,000 house at a government auction for $150,000 as long as they signed up to pay more taxes than you do?

How's that for "public benefit"?

Just stop asking for government benefits. Some big-government type has just read this idea and is now working on it.

I invite your posts with other versions of this game.

(Full Disclosures - I actually own a few shares of Pfizer .... and I am against what Pfizer is trying to do here.)

(Full Disclosures - I think Prop. 13 that results in "The newcomer is burned" is bad public policy, but I don't want to see it circumvented by lawyers as outlined above)