L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 325, June 26, 2005
"We're All Indians, Now"
ANOTHER Road to Serfdom
Exclusive to TLE
Thursday, June 23, 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the so-called "takings clause" of Amendment V to the U.S. Constitution was null and void. Oh, there will be some quibbling about the details, and the court threw in some language about the states being able to pass restrictions on takings. But does anyone think many (or any) will? Now that local or state governments have been given the go-ahead to employ eminent domain to steal property from its rightful owners and give it to politically and/or financially powerful private interests, why would they voluntarily give up that power?
Yes, eminent domain has been used over the last 20 or 30 years to do just that, but courts gave lip service to the takings clause by making the local warlords (I mean , local governments) hide and obfuscate their crimes. For example, property would be transferred to government first, then (after a suitable mourning period) sold to the developer it was originally intended to pass to in the first place. Now, the veil has been stripped away. It's as if the bank robbers need not wear masks any longer.
Aside from the immorality and flagrant unConstitutionality of it all, why should we be both outraged and fearful? Any libertarian with a background in economics can tell you that property rights are the underpinning of both personal and economic freedom. Which are, actually, one and the same thing. But non-libertarians don't always understand the distinction.
In economics, secure property rights are a prerequisite for a flourishing and expanding economy. People will not work long hours or risk capital if they do not have the expectation that they will be able to keep (at least) most of the fruits of their labors. One need only observe poor economies anywhere in the world, and one recurring factor will be that what passes for a government there can capriciously steal the property of those under its misrule, or allow the politically connected to do so. Up to this ruling, most people in the U.S. have felt secure in their possessions. No longer.
The past 20 years have seen an increase in brazen theft of property. While there has been subtle theft through the income tax and its bastard children for 90 years, and theft through excessive and burdensome regulations for the last 40, the use of asset forfeiture has come into widespread use relatively recently.
Like many other government initiatives, asset forfeiture was "sold" to the gullible public as a tool to fight organized crime and drug lords. (What group of criminals is more organized than the government? Who, more so than the individuals in agencies like DEA and F-Troop, have more to gain from the "War on Drugs"?) It soon morphed into seizing property to finance the police budget, both for operations and wish lists, punishing people that the local warlords ("There you go again . . .") disapproved of, or even grabbing property the thugs coveted. It got so bad that some localities were forced by the outrage of those they lorded over to curtail the worst of the abuses.
But asset forfeiture was based on English feudal law (see the FEAR Web site at http://www.fear.org/ for a history and other background information), resurrected in 1970 as part of RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). And like a science experiment in a bad SF movie (not specifically targeting the Sci-Fi Channel, much), asset forfeiture mutated into a monster. Men accused of cruising for drugs or hookers had their cars seized, for instance. Nor is a conviction, or even an indictment, required.
The EPA and related agencies also seized property in a subtle manner. By placing restrictions on whether the property owner can build or improve (or even repair damage) on his property for being a "wetland" or home to an "endangered species," these agencies essentially devalue the property without any compensation to the owner. Their claim was that no taking had occurred, as the owner still retained title to the property. But the land now had little value, since it could not be developed or improved; nor could it be sold for anything approaching its value prior to that ruling. Property owners contesting these rulings in court have seldom had success.
So now we come to out-and-out theft (taking) of a person's property, throwing people out of homes and off of land that they may have occupied for decades. For the first 150 years or so, this was done only for the public uses referred to in the Constitution: public buildings and roads and the like. It was abused to a large extent during the expansion of the railroads, but most of that land was "government owned" before being given to the railroads. (This was another form of theft; if the railroad had paid fair market value, that money could have been used for retirement of "public debt" rather than placing that burden on the taxpayers.) Then, in the middle of the 20th century, takings were allowed, by a previous Supreme Court, to pass to private ownership if the goal was to remedy urban blight.
Then, as now, creative accounting about future benefits will always show that the proposed action will bring in more money than retaining the status quo. Just like every publicly-financed sports stadium, civic arena or convention center, every public transportation scheme or other pie-in-the-sky project these slick bastards foist upon the taxpayers, the actual performance or benefits are far less than projected. In most cases, the project loses money for the governmental entity. Not that a nearly perfect record of failure inhibits these morally deficient deviants in the least.
Again, this ruling means no more Mr. Nice Guy. The thugs no longer need to speak softly and carry a big stick; they can come in and make you an offer you can't refuse. The pretense of the sophisticated, cosmopolitan and charming Count from Eastern Europe has been swept away and all that is left is a horribly disfigured monster lusting after our blood. We have come full circle: all property belongs to the king.
We may refer to the king as the President, or Governor, mayor or whatever, but some warlord now has title to your property, and will let you keep it only so long as no one else makes him a better offer. It may not have a major impact for several years, but rest assured (or don't rest comfortably at all) that it will. No craftsman can resist using a newly acquired tool, and government leaders are not known for their moral restraint.
Add to all this the increase in home values, and homeowners are increasingly vulnerable to extortion. The only sure way to avoid becoming a target for either takings or asset forfeiture is to have political influence. Bribe (I mean, make campaign contributions to) the right warlord (I mean, politician), or find your land being considered for a new office building, or Wal-Mart. Your land is owned by the local baron, and you occupy it at his pleasure. At least they haven't tried to bring back the droit du seigneur. We are on our way to becoming serfs; except our rulers take far more of our production than feudal overlords took from their serfs.
And don't be surprised, once the Real ID Act is implemented and RFID chips, whether in the ID cards or in our bodies, become mandatory, if our freedom of movement is not just tracked, but controlled and restricted. "Why do you need to move, Mr. Jones? Are you running away from something?" or "Ms. Greene, why would you want to vacation in the Caribbean? Are you trying to set up an offshore bank account?"
Will this be the event that finally galvanizes Americans to wake up and demand their freedom back? I wish I could answer in the affirmative. I really do.
You've read about it, now if you want to DO more FREEDOM in your life, check out:
This ain't no collection of essays and philosophical musings!
Doing Freedom! Magazine and Services specializes in