The Supreme Court dealt a stunning blow to the freedom of Americans this week in the case of Kelo v. New London. You don't have to be a legal expert (and fortunately, the blogosphere is full of them, to help us understand the history of the case) to recognize the horrendous principle that has become the law of the land: in the words of George Will,
The question answered yesterday was: Can government profit by seizing the property of people of modest means and giving it to wealthy people who can pay more taxes than can be extracted from the original owners? The court answered yes...Notice the list of honorees, and you will see they comprise the more liberal Supreme Court Justices; the dissenters include Rehnquist, O'Connor, Thomas, and Scalia, the conservative heart of the court. This is not a surprise, for socialism remains the dirty little core of the liberal mindset, the notion that there is somehow something noble about the 'public good', while the conservative and the libertarian believe in a public composed of one person at a time.
...Liberalism triumphed yesterday. Government became radically unlimited in seizing the very kinds of private property that should guarantee individuals a sphere of autonomy against government.
Lest I be accused of slandering the Left, I note for the record that many, if not most, liberals would recoil at the suggestion they are socialists...that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that the socialist notion that the collective trumps the individual, to put it in Ayn Randish terms, is at the heart of this decision, and so many other things that are wrong with 21st century progressivism.
Rarely does this contagion reach so high, though; one would have thought the Rehnquist court would not be the one to allow the 'public good' to be defined by every locality as it sees fit, in regard to the life-changing and often life-ruining power of eminent domain. When one sees the qualities present in many city council members - think of your own, whatever your location - this is a humbling thought indeed, bordering on the terrifying.
To conclude, I return to the essay that gave this post its epigram:
Private property rights are important to economic development because:Political freedom and economic freedom are entwined together; one cannot have the one without the other. The cord of our social fabric has frayed a bit more with this truly horrible legal precedent.
- Recognized private property rights provide the legal certainty necessary for individuals to commit resources to ventures. The threat of confiscation, by either private individuals or public officials, undermines confidence in market activity and limits investment possibilities.
- Clear property rights tend to make decision makers pay close attention to resource use and the discounted value of the future employment of scarce resources. Absent private property rights, economic actors will tend to be short-sighted in their decision making and not conserve resources over time.
- Property rights are the basis of exchange and the extension of ownership to capital goods provides the basis for the development of financial markets that are essential for economic growth and development.
- Secure private property rights, as indicated in the above quote by Thomas Jefferson, is the basis for limited and civilized government. The elimination of arbitrary confiscation and the establishment of regular taxation at announced rates enables merchants to calculate the present value of investment decisions and pass judgment on alternative allocations of capital.
UPDATE 06/29/05 8:46 a.m. - many thanks to the great Arthur Chrenkoff for the link, as well as Jon Henke...