Friday, June 24, 2005

Some thoughts on the Eminent Domain decision

The Supreme Court just ruled that local governments can condemn private property in order to give it to other private parties. Well, patents, copyrights, and trademarks are all considered property, and if the government can confiscate property and hand it over to another private party, it shouldn't be restricted to real estate.

What's to stop the court from saying "Paramount, you've screwed public for the last time with Enterprise, we are now confiscating your Star Trek property and handing it over to Pixar." Or giving Linus Torvalds the Windows source code, under the argument that he could do a lot more good for the community than Bill Gates?

Frankly, I wish legislators would get smart and draft a Private Property amendment instead of worrying about flag burning.

An addendum:

I'm trying to think of *any* way to force this decision into something approaching sanity, but it's freaking difficult to figure out any way to keep the government honest.

The only thing I can imagine is requiring the government to come to you and say "Your land is worth $X," at which point you can either sell it to them for that price, or accept the (presumably) higher valuation of the land and pay higher taxes. In other words, your property is assessed at $250K, the government wants to condemn it to give to another private party, and offers you $300K. At that point, you can either accept the $300K offer, or your new assessed valuation is $300K.

This would somewhat lessen the chance that the government would bid too low -- you could simply pay the tax difference and keep the land -- and from taxing you off the land, since you could always accept any truly outrageous "offer."

This of course is imperfect, and probably has holes you could drive a Winnebago through, but at least it would prevent an artificially-low offer, and somewhat lessen the probability that the local government would condemn it for a low price and then turn around and sell it for a profit.


As an off-topic point, on the argument about private vs. public enterprise, I consider myself Libertarian, but my personal view is:

If private enterprise doesn't provide a necessary service, the govenment must provide it.

If a service is a private monopoly, the government can provide a non-subsidized, competitive alternative.

If a service is in a competitive market, the government should stay out of it.


There was a disagreement about whether or not the above was a Libertarian position on Fark, so here is my answer:

#1 *has* to be provided by the definition of "necessary service," and if private enterprise isn't providing it, then government has to.

#3 is fairly non-controversial, since most Libertarians agree that the government should stay out of competitive markets as much as possible.

Now on to #2, the one that might annoy other Libertarians. The reason that I include it is because I don't consider non-competitive markets to be free markets -- if a private company has a true monopoly on a necessary service, a person is not free to choose a competing service. Things like phone service and electricity are close to this in many parts of the country.

This is why I suggested that the government could provide a non-subsidized, competitive alternative if the service provided were wholly self-supporting, did not have an unfair advantage because of subsidies, and operated under the same laws and regulations as the original monopoly. If anything, the private company would have a huge competitive advantage, considering the rules and bureaucracy inherent in a government-run agency.

So in this specific case I fall on the side of competitive markets over government non-interference. If the market were to mature and become competitive, then the government should get out of it. Many people of course disagree, but hey...


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