Thursday, June 23, 2005

eminent domain for private development projects??

marjorie says...

wow. I can’t believe I am actually in agreement with the ultra conservatives on the Supreme Court. The decision handed down today agreeing with municipalities that they should have the right to condemn people’s homes and property for private development projects is completely wrongheaded. In the name of job growth and economic prosperity, the majority on the court stated that cities know what is best for their local economies and should have the right to condemn private property for economic development projects. According to press reports, the case was brought by residents of a working class neighborhood in New London, Connecticut who the city wants to buy out of their homes to make way for a private office building, hotel, and other commercial purposes.

As we all know simply from following our local politics, the mantra of job growth is rolled out to justify every development in existence. We also know that politicians are up to their eyeballs in developer’s money. And we know that certain types of neighborhoods -- working class and communities of color -- are quite undervalued across the political spectrum, making them easy targets for mowing down in the name of “urban renewal”.

The issue of balancing private property rights with the social good is in my view of profound importance. I generally think private property is too revered in our culture, to the point of a large number of people thinking that our social safety net programs should be abolished. I am all for redistribution and the power of eminent domain to be used for the public welfare.

But, I can not agree with John Paul Stevens when he says that: "Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted governmental function, and there is no principled way of distinguishing it from the other public purposes the court has recognized."

It is certainly clearly distinguishable. It's distinguishable because economic development is generally always considered a private market function, whereas other projects are mostly infrastructure related or for the building of public institutions.

When governments "promote" economic development they are usually engaging in what many of us call "corporate welfare" -- tax subsidies, land and capital giveaways, and job training subsidies. These projects are often undertaken without any clear cost/benefit analysis, and without accountability mechanisms put into place. And they often favor large companies over small businesses.

I completely agree with Sandra Day O’Connor’s dissenting statement that: "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

If we lived in another world where public control of assets was a core value this question might be entirely different. But, we don't. Instead we live in a world shaped by private capitalist land development that is motivated by profit.