by Timothy Sandefur
My review of Carla Main's book Bulldozed appears in the San Francisco Daily Journal—I think for Monday, although I was told it would appear on Friday. (Online and hardcopy might have different publication dates.) Anyway, subscription is required to read it, but here's an excerpt:
Lawyers and economists can examine Kelo from many sophisticated angles, disputing the framers’ original intent or the economic efficiency of redevelopment. But the sharp edge of this debate cuts to the heart of American communities, and it is there that Carla Main has chosen to focus. Her book describes the awful consequences of redevelopment in Freeport, Texas, where the city fathers decided to build a tourist marina on property owned by Western Seafood, a business run for three generations by the family of Wright Gore Sr. (I filed a friend of the court brief supporting the Gores in the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.) The ambitions of the city council, backed by government’s ability to string out legal proceedings for years at taxpayers’ expense, gradually turned this blue-collar community into a battleground of bitterness and reprisal—the predictable consequence of coveting your neighbor’s land. As Main puts it, “small-town grudges and loyalties…take on new dimensions when people who have known one another for a lifetime hold the power to take each other’s property away and give it to someone else.”
The basic purpose of property rights is well expressed in the old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.” When the “good fences” are torn down—when ownership is rendered a matter of political favor—when the autonomy which property protects and which grounds any healthy society is replaced with government chicanery—then the true essence of community is destroyed, and the future of one’s livelihood turns not on merit, but on the decisions of bureaucrats. Their decisions are made, naturally, on political, instead of moral or economic considerations, and the consequences are not only nasty, petty, and hostile, but incalculably wasteful as well. In addition to the damage it inflicted on the community, the politicians of working-class Freeport pledged their constituents to ruinous debt to persuade a millionaire developer to remake the city.