Thursday, September 28, 2006

A College Memory: No to Amendments 5 and 6

Even though it was over twenty years ago, I still remember the day that my Twentieth Century American History professor said something that baffled the class. Nobody could believe that it was considered radical when Theodore Roosevelt said that human rights precede property rights. I wonder, would even the most conservative students consider that simple statement axiomatic today? I suspect that at least a couple of students would feel the need to argue about the importance of property rights.

If it's not obvious, the point is that property rights are not under siege. They simply aren't; no matter what some people would have you think. The fact is, John Stossel was railing against eminent domain long before Kelo. I won't go into a long-winded account of Richard Epstein and the concept of "hidden takings" (you can read an admittedly biased account from the Nation), however, a well-financed effort to exploit concerns over property rights was underway long before Kelo. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that its primary goal was the "repeal of the twentieth century":
It will be said that my position invalidates much of the 20th century legislation, and so it does," Epstein wrote in Takings. "But does that make the position wrong in principle?... The New Deal is inconsistent with the principles of limited government and with the constitutional provisions designed to secure that end." In telephone conversation, I asked the professor for examples and he obliged with gusto.

"Most of economic regulation is stupid.... What possible reason is there for regulating wages and hours?" Epstein said. "If my takings doctrine prevails, you have no minimum-wage laws. That's fine. You'd have an OSHA a tenth of the size.

When I found out that the lead attorney for Kelo was a member of the Institute for Justice, I suspected it was another Paula Jones elves situation --attorneys more interested in scoring political points than representing their client. But Scott "never mind the obvious" Bullock seems to be honorable. There was too well-funded an effort to exploit property rights fears for a Kelo case not to be exploited sooner or later. But Kelo has given people an exaggerated fear of their property being confiscated.

That's a reactionary liberal's conspiracy theory-based reasoning for why you should not make a knee-jerk decision to vote for amendments 5 and 6. Gambit Weekly, the BGR, and the Times Picayune all give more respectable reasons why you should vote against the amendments:
The Bureau of Governmental Research, Council for a Better Louisiana and Public Affairs Research Council have raised valid concerns about the amendment's complexity and potential for the unintended consequence of prohibiting the redevelopment of storm-ravaged South Louisiana. Critics also argue that there is no evidence of abuse of eminent domain laws in Louisiana and that the amendment is unnecessary. With the potential for thousands of blighted properties to fester in greater New Orleans post-Katrina, an amendment that could limit the expropriation and restoration or replacement of badly damaged buildings is ill advised.

Never thought I'd say this, but Gambit, the Picayune and the BGR are all right on this issue.

BTW: Not sure whether Dr. Collin was referring to:
ordinarily and in the great majority of cases, human rights and property rights are fundamentally and in the long run, identical; but when it clearly appears that there is a real conflict between them, human rights must have the upper hand; for property belongs to man and not man to property.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT, address at the Sorbonne, Paris, France, April 23, 1910.—

or the more provocative:
"Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it."
(Speech, Osawatomie, August 31, 1910)

Thanks for posting this...I was leaning "no" but hadn't really looked very closely at the issue.
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