How Bureaucrats See Eminent Domain


by Timothy Sandefur

We got an email from a city administrator from a midwestern state, who wouldn't let us use his name (wonder why?!). He had this to say about the backlash against eminent domain abuse:


Hated government bureaucrat here. City Administrator. I have read all your hand wringing on Kelo with some amusement. We have an attorney in our town who owns a building that is falling apart and endangers the public, which I had to block off. Well, he has the building in his corporations name, so he is not touchable.  That's right, if you set up a corporation and let a building go to hell, you can just walk away. Nothing the big bad local government can do about it. There is no responsibility to the community, city or to anyone.

I find the libertarian philosophy a very selfish one: It continually promotes the interests of the individual at the expense of all else, including the health of the community.

While I certainly have worked with many fine industrial and small business people, I also work with slumlords and several others who really do not say much for the private sector.

Kelo is much ado about nothing.

Note how your desire not to be forced to keep your home or your business is "selfish" and just "hand wringing." Well, I suppose it is "selfish," in the healthy sense that not wanting to be robbed of the things you've earned is "selfish."

What's actually "amusing" here is this gentleman's attempt to avoid the real issue. Nobody is saying that government should be forbidden to protect the public from buildings that are "falling apart." But he doesn't want to talk about government seizing property for "economic development"—i.e., transferring the property to another private owner for his own private profit. He doesn't want to talk about the condemnation of 1.5 acres owned by the Mississippi Valley Truck Center to make way for a multimillion dollar waterfront development, or the condemnation of the Star Brewery in Dubuque, Iowa, so that the city could replace it with a restaurant and other commercial uses.

Unfortunately, this attitude—that the uproar about eminent domain is "much ado about nothing"—is typical of bureaucrats who think your property is just a tool for them to use in shaping the kinds of neighborhoods that they would like to see: who see property, not as a right, but as a privilege.