The “Libertarian Position” On Gentrification?

Regular commenter VRB recently asked me what libertarians thought of this story, regarding the poor and black former property owners in New Orleans getting screwed out of their homes by the government:

Evidence of eminent domain abuse can be found in the overwhelmingly-Black Lower 9th Ward, where the city bulldozed homes without informing their owners. Then there was the plan to raze 3,000 units of affordable housing in the city’s housing projects, which many Black New Orleanians called home, even though they were in relatively good shape. Add to that, only half the city’s population (and only 30% of the city’s Black population) has returned and you have the potential for a replay of all that we know about large scale displacement and its disastrous consequences. (See Mindy Fullilove’s “Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurt America and What We Can Do About It”)

This all leaves me with a deluge of important questions such as:

Who will Mr. Blakely’s eminent domain powers and Recovery Zones benefit? How will the many Black homeowners and entrepreneurs still living outside the city represent their property? Will already-struggling communities of color have to worry about city-sanctioned permanent displacement of former residents? Will “appraised value” for property be determined by pre-storm worth or storm-depressed real estate values? Where will the $1.1 billion of public money come from and what is the relationship of the Recovery Zones with the broad, city-wide Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP)?

With broken promises of affordable housing, an ineffective housing rebuilding program (Road Home) that is now running out of money, widespread housing discrimination, and elected officials who see Katrina “clean[ing] up public housing in New Orleans”, many former residents can’t even find a place to live, let alone establish employment, access quality healthcare, or feel safe in their communities. If left to their own devices, the powers that be seem to be heading toward the gentrification model, which will rake in the bucks for a small minority of people with vested interests in real estate, finance and politics at the expense of most of the people.***

Notice that I said that they were getting screwed by the government, not by developers. Developers may want to raze your property, “buy” it from you for sub-market rates without you having opportunity to object, and then turn it into higher-priced housing at a large profit to themselves. But they can’t do that. Only government has the power to do that, and it’s government that should be looked at here.

So what is the “libertarian position” when poor black people get screwed by the government? Well, like most other issues, it’s a problem with the government having too much power. Government claims to be looking out for the poor, but government is driven by people that have a need to get reelected. To get reelected, you need to buy advertising. To afford advertising, you need to court people with money. So in the long run, you try to keep a balance between “appearing” to help the masses while you’re really helping the people with money behind the scenes.

When government is involved, rich people with lawyers win. Poor people who can’t afford lawyers lose. When government decides who to screw, they go for the easiest target. Why do you think the middle class gets audited while rich people with teams of lawyers to construct their tax shelters don’t? If you’re going to be a bully, and government is most certainly that, you target the people least likely to fight back. It’s that simple. This is how government works. This is how government must work. That’s how all the incentives line up. Anyone who tells you differently shouldn’t be trusted.

You want the libertarian position on poor black people getting screwed by the government? You want the libertarian position on black people being tossed out of their homes before the government bulldozers head their way?

I’d like to say that if we elect “the right people”, all will be well. But that’s not true. The only way to solve this problem, and the libertarian answer, is to take away the government’s bulldozers. Take away their power to screw people. Take from them every bit of power that you can, because you know they can’t be trusted to wield it.

***Note: there were a bunch of embedded links in the original source, you’ll need to click over there to read all of them if you’re interested, as I didn’t carry them over.

  • John


  • tarran

    Hear, hear!

  • Jmarsh

    “Then there was the plan to raze 3,000 units of affordable housing in the city’s housing projects, which many Black New Orleanians called home, even though they were in relatively good shape.”

    Someone is on the special flavor of crack. I’ve been through, around, and in nearly every “neighborhood” southwest of the CBD and none of the projects could be categorized as in relatively good shape with a straight face.

    Nearly every link through that article is a puff piece that romanticizes utter garbage. Shotgun shacks that have a “link to the past” because they still have original clapboard siding, or someone famous ran a whorehouse there? Give me a break. The city and FEMA *did* make attempts to warn the owners, and they most certainly could view their property before December. If we can all agree that a house burned to the framing represents “blight”, then what was left of the 9th ward and St. Bernard parish certainly fits the definition.

    I dislike government takings as much as the next libertarian, but this argument is being colored with way too much fictional history by outsiders. These homes, were not exactly in the greatest shape to begin with precisely because their owners would not, or could not provide for their effective upkeep. This would seemingly preclude said homeowners from being able to gut and rebuild their home, even provided the money.

  • VRB

    But it is their property, Jmarsh.
    That shack as you called it was shelter to someone. I guess you would have wish they all would have washed out to sea and you would not have to look at poor people or the way they live. An since when did New Orleans have any shame in whorehouses or is it different if they are in the French Quarter?

  • Jmarsh

    Ack, as much as it pains me to say this, if you’re going to argue government has no role in public health, I’m obviously not going to convince you otherwise. I do have some dead horses I’d like to stack on my property five feet from a bus stop, though. You’re also ignoring the massive amount of money sitting in the vote buying scheme otherwise known as “road home.” It may take me five years to recover a firearm from a government agency, it’ll take some time before people get more free taxpayer money (once Blanco is no longer governor, it will probably happen within 6 months.)

    The primary point of my post was to dispute the picture painted by Racewire and the source links. I don’t have any problems with houses of ill repute or with poor people. There is also something we’re losing sight of (my bad), which is probably the result of a poorly worded original article… [b]3,000 units of affordable housing in the city’s housing projects[/b]. That seems to implicate those 3,000 units were *not* private property to begin with. Most of the housing in the 9th was private property, so I believe they’re getting things confused by using neighborhood tags interchangeably.

  • VRB

    It was more your tone, not so much as your wording.
    I know I haven’t seen the neighborhoods that you speak of, but I had heard similar description of my neighborhood, when it was intended to be destroyed for a highway. We were all supposed to be living in these rundown houses and shacks.

  • Jmarsh

    VRB, That’s a common problem, girlfriends complain of it often :)

    There’s a “Team America” pall that gets cast by the outside media about most of New Orleans, but the black areas in particular (the same traits aren’t to be found in the primarily Vietnamese areas, so “minority” doesn’t work.) You remember the line that went something like,
    [quote]”Before Team America showed up, it was a happy place. They had flowery meadows and rainbow skies, and rivers made of chocolate, where the children danced and laughed and played with gumdrop smiles.”[/quote]

    When you have direct, personal experience over a decade with New Orleans, you laugh as you hear the media describe it as they have, and cry when people from other states buy it hook, line and sinker.

  • Joshua Holmes

    Essential reading for eminent domain:

    Stealing from the Poor, Giving to the Rich