Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Again with the repeal of property rights

I may be obsessing, but I can’t let this one go.

I hope you can stand one more post on eminent domain, because this editorial from the NY Times is a must-read for those who, like me, are more than a bit nervous after last week’s decision outlawing our right to private property.

Then there is this one written by Jim Miller, Executive Director of the League of Minnesota Cities, for the Star & Sickle.

Both are wonderful illustrations why falling in love with government is dangerous. The authors of both are asking us to relax and trust that elected bodies will exercise their power with proper restraint, that the power of eminent domain will only be used in extreme circumstances or as a last resort.

Forgive me if I don’t share their confidence.

For almost a week I’ve been hearing, and making up, worst-case scenarios about where this ruling can lead only to have those in favor of repealing property rights respond with something similar to, “what are the chances of this or that happening?”

My answer: Pretty damn good now that there is nothing to restrain government at any level of confiscating property for any perceived “community good.”

This decision is so broad; government can take any property it wishes as long as it can prove there is a better use for it, one that will improve the community.

In fact, the verbiage used by our Socialist friends at the NY Times illustrates just how much leeway governments now have for confiscating your property.

Take, for example, the following two excerpts:

It [the court’s decision] also is a setback to the "property rights" movement, which is trying to block government from imposing reasonable zoning and environmental regulations. Still, the dissenters provided a useful reminder that eminent domain must not be used for purely private gain.

The majority strongly suggested that eminent domain should be part of a comprehensive plan, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing separately, underscored that its goal cannot simply be to help a developer or other private party become richer.

Let’s focus, shall we on the phrases “purely private gain” and “strongly suggested…”

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty impressed with the level of specifics in these two.

What is the threshold to determine if a gain is purely private? If a city can make one dime more, or one penny more for that matter, by taking property from one and giving it to another, then the gain is not “purely private.”

The second phrase is even scarier. It said, in total, “The majority strongly suggested that eminent domain should be part of a comprehensive plan and Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing separately, underscored that its goal cannot simply be to help a developer or other private party become richer.”

No orders here, just a suggestion. As for Justice Kennedy, his qualification is another way of stating “purely private gain.”

Let’s see, faced with a choice between increasing tax revenue and allowing long-term residents to keep their houses in a one-off project, which choice will your city council make.

Besides, any city can rationalize any takings by saying it’s part of an overall plan.

Let’s face it, folks. We’re screwed.

There is no longer any limit on what government can use as an excuse to take your property.

So now, I begin to wonder, if the city – not to mention county, state and feds – can take your property merely for the good of the community, how long will it be before they begin to regulate what you do on your property – for the greater good of the community, of course.

I’m not talking about not allowing you to store TNT or other explosives in your garage.

I’m talking about smoking – indoors or out, the ability to sit on the front step and have a cold beer after cutting the grass. What about firing up the grill, especially charcoal.

Each of these are liberties we take for granted now, but what if you have some nosy-assed neighbor who complains about the smoke from your Marlboro drifting into his yard? What if he wants to sell but can’t because nobody will pay the asking price because it’s too expensive for a house next to a smoker?

Don’t laugh, it’s coming and you know it.

All we need is one asshole to make the case that smokers drive down property values and, before you know it, government will start yelling greater good bullshit and you won’t be able to smoke in your yard or home.

If one takes it to the logical conclusion – this is really scary shit and we need to be ready to fight it.

In fact, we need to begin fighting it now. By the time it gets to regulating behavior in your home and yard, it’ll be too late.

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