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07/02/2005

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William Bordelon

Mr. Becker, I take issue with the following:

"It is difficult to establish a simple dividing line between what is and what is not a public use. Since private companies are involved in building roads, running electric power plants, and other public use projects, why is that fundamentally different from using eminent domain to authorize construction of private baseball stadiums, or private business redevelopment in a poor neighborhood?"

I submit to you that it is not difficult to find a dividing line. With the exception of the very last example in this statement, every one of these are instances of non-discriminatory public benefit. Every single individual citizen has the ability, if not right, to benefit from public utilities, roads (toll or otherwise), and sporting arenas.

To begin, private companies are involved with government contracts for a number of reasons, not the least of which is efficiency. Probably the most important reason, however, is that the government lacks the physical resources with which to achieve a specific goal.

For example, in building a highway, the state and federal governments simply do not have the vast amounts of physical labor and supplies required in order to conduct surveys, engineer the road itself, gather materials, etc. What the government does have is capital. Hence, the efficiency factor of hiring someone else to do the work, rather than raising taxes in order to procure everything possible to complete a project. Once the project is finished, of course, every citizen-commuter has the right to use the highway. Moreover, a highway, toll or otherwise, is an essential public resource. Whether it's commuting to work, or shipping goods from Miami to Seattle, access to public roads are vital to both the citizen so as to put food on the table, and the economy, simply in order to meet supply and demand.

The same can be said for public utilities, with one significant difference. In some states, public utilities are run by private companies on behalf of the states. Although the Supreme Court disagrees, these companies do wield some state function in providing an essential service to the public. Further, public utilities can not discriminate against a citizen for access (barring geography or lack of service in an area, of course). Again, citizens have the right to procure these essential resources, albeit with a more direct price tag in the form of a monthly statement, rather than in tax season.

With respect to sporting arenas, arguably, the hardest to justify of these examples, nothing prevents me from walking into Camden Yards, MinuteMaid Field, or the Louisiana Superdome except the price of admission. Moreover, these stadiums are quite often used for public purposes, usually in outreach to the local communities. In some rural areas, sporting arenas have become public forums. What makes justification difficult here is the fact eminent domain does occur for the benefit of a private corporation on behalf of the public.

That, however, is distinguishable from what is now happening in New London, CT. Pfizer is not building a facility for the benefit of all those involved. Rather, it is constructing a research facility which will employ a select few people. Given the amount of expertise involved, it is highly unlikely that even a plurality of those people will be citizens of New London. The "public" facilities are de facto designed to benefit employees of Pfizer, who will relocate to New London to work at the new facility and enjoy new homes, all at taxpayer expense, with a view of the waterfront no less. The only likely tangible benefit to the New London taxpayer will be an increase in the tax base. Unlike the sporting arena, public utility or highway, unless an employee at Pfizer, I will have absolutely no right to benefit in some fashion from the construction of the facility.

In a rather lucid dissent on O'Connor's part, she foretold of events that would unfold as a result of the majority's ruling. O'Connor's dissent has been prescient, as a number of companies have now filed for eminent domain seizures throughout the country in the aftermath of Kelo.

There is another factor here, too, that is overlooked by a purely classical economic perspective, namely, a human one. O'Connor was correct in that the people to be most likely impacted would be those unable to represent themselves effectively, the poor, the indigent. Case in point, back in 1997, Shintech Industries attempted the same thing in New Orleans that Pfizer succeeded in doing in New London. Shintech managed to have entire neighborhoods (with an emphasis on the "s") condemned for government taking in order to build a facility that would "enrich the lives of New Orleanians in providing jobs for the future." The problem is that most people in New Orleans were unqualified for the types of industrial jobs that would be brought to the city, let alone the hundreds of people who were about to be displaced. The citizens, with the help of a local university law clinic, fought the action and won, on a number of bases, including local interests outweighing the governments, the fact that the VAST majority of the citizens' whose homes were condemned were poor African-Americans, and that some of the neighborhoods were historically rooted in the city's history, but the most important of these reasons appeared to be the human factor. What would happen to the single mother family whose "just compensation" amounting to a mere token could not possibly buy another home anywhere near the city?

In New London, there was an 87-year-old woman who spent her entire life in one of the now-condemned houses. On a personal note, one of slight tangential relation, my great-grandmother was 87 years old when she died, and I got to know her quite well. She once told me of a simpler time, roughly the mid-1970s right after Disney World opened, where Cumberland County, Tennessee local government officials planned on seizing her home that she'd lived on for almost 40 years to build a ceramics facility. When they approached her house, she walked out with a shotgun, and dared them to come any closer. The officials walked away, and the ceramics facility was built on another parcel of land that the County already owned.

When I heard of that woman in New London, I immediately thought of my grandmother. The last I read, she planned on staying refusing to get off her land. If she's anything like my grandmother, I hope she's armed.

Mr. Becker, there is a dividing line: access and benefit. Not to beat the drum of reading dead white men's minds, but surely it could not have been the Founding Father's intentions to allow the government to seize property at will.

Wes

I do believe the right to own land is as fundamental as the right to own any other property,...And how fundamental is the right to own any other property? :)A common sentiment is "It's mine so I have a right to do what I want with it!" and, with respect to inanimate physical objects created by human labor, that sentiment has considerable validity.For example, if someone bakes themselves a cake, then they have a right to do pretty much whatever they want with the cake. They have a right display it on a shelf or eat it or smash it or set it on fire or sell it or trade it. They don't necessarily have the right to hit someone over the head with it but not because of limitations on their ownership of the cake.On the other hand, while ownership of people is, in the sense of hiring people for jobs, fundamental to most economies in the world, there are very good reasons for placing very strict limits placed on this sort of ownership.If an employer says, referring to employees, "They're mine so I can do what I want with them!" most people are going to be quite skeptical. Similarly, although there are people who say "It's my land so I have a right to do what I want with it!", I believe there should be strict limits on the rights that accrue from owning land. Of course it is also necessary to avoid a situation where a corrupt government official says "It's public land so I have a right to do whatever I want with it!"I do agree that some sort of free market is probably a necessary part of efficient allocation of land but there also need to be strict limitations on the rights that accrue from ownership of land.In particular, when eminent domain has been invoked, the recipient of the land should in no circumstances be able to claim "It's my land so I can do what I want with it!" but the supreme court ruling(s) allowing eminent domain transfer to private ownership allows exactly that.

Paul Deignan

For does that mean it is free?

A strawman extrapolation.


Obvously, parks are for public use and there are admission fees to parks. Why the need to falsify a simple point that "public use" means "public use" and that "public" means accessible to all equally. No, this does not imply means testing. It means that a fee is equal to all within the scope of the jurisdiction of the seizing governmental entity.

For example, some state parks charge $4 for in-state residents and $5 for out of state resident. State universities have different tuition scales for in-state and out of state.

Where, in heaven, does Becker get the notion that "public" means free? This is absurd.

nk


an entire blog on public goods might be interesting. what is a public good and what is not?

nk


private vs. govt roads

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1433988/posts

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