Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist.”     Lord Acton

June 4, 2008

You can’t own property in California

by Jason Pye

Property rights took a hit in California yesterday:

Voters in California yesterday overwhelmingly supported Proposition 99, a ballot measure that will significantly empower state and local officials to seize private property via eminent domain, and rejected Proposition 98, which would have protected property rights and ended rent control. As legal scholar Ilya Somin noted in the Los Angeles Times, Proposition 99, though masquerading as a defense of private property, was actually sponsored by groups representing counties, cities, and other redevelopment interests who drafted it specifically to counter Proposition 98. Among other crimes, Proposition 99 will protect only owner-occupied residences from condemnation, leaving apartment buildings and other rental properties wide open for abuse.
[...]
Proposition 98, on the other hand, would have placed significant limits on such abuse. But while that might have gone over with the voters, ending rent control was far less popular, even though the law would only affect rent controlled apartments once they became vacant, thus leaving current tenants unaffected. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came out against Prop. 98, however, claiming it “would undermine California’s ability to improve our infrastructure.”

For someone who claims to have been influenced by Milton Friedman and witnessed the evils of socialism in Europe, he certainly has take a sharp turn to the left since becoming Governor of California.

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14 Comments

  1. Ah, democracy at work! Let’s call this “exhibit A” as an argument against Mike Gravel’s idea of the “National Initiative.”

    If property rights can be voted away, so too can any other rights. This is something Mike Jingozian, Steve Kubby, Christine Smith, and other “real Libertarians” who somehow think Gravel is “ a real Libertarian” (while simultaneously saying that Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root are not “real Libertarians”) should take into consideration.

    DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EQUAL LIBERTY!

    Comment by Stephen Littau — June 4, 2008 @ 10:14 am
  2. …and further up I-5, home prices continue to rise!

    Good on’ya Kali! Keep sending us your retirees!

    Comment by Bob — June 4, 2008 @ 11:32 am
  3. This can be interpreted in one of two ways: a) the voters are informed and capable, and thus disagree with your arguments therefore you ought to save your criticism as they have made their choice; or b) the voters are ignorant (and refuse to be otherwise), which suggests that perhaps ‘liberty’ is best kept out of the hands of children.

    Although direct attempts to misinform the citizen indeed makes us like children, metaphorically, which this result may exemplify.

    Comment by Alex — June 4, 2008 @ 11:45 am
  4. I think the problem is that to too many people think eminent domain just means the government taking some imaginary, abstract abandoned building. Its someone else’s building being taken and its blighting the city/town.

    They don’t think about Kelo vs. New London or take these bills to their logical extension of giving the state power over all property (except for the rich and/or politically connected of course).

    Comment by Ben — June 4, 2008 @ 4:27 pm
  5. A few reflections, although I believe that California voters made a poor decision.

    First: government taking of private property is not a left sided thing. It is absurd to promote it as such, given the private property takings against the landholders’ will all along the Rio Grande to put up the border fence.

    Second: no one seems to be willing to promote a States’ Rights defense for eminent domain, the way they are willing to in same sex marriages and abortion.

    Third: given that the Constitution mentions property 4 times; 1 of those regarding Federally owned property, and the other 3 describing the process for taking private properly legitimately, it would be difficult to prove any original intent of property as an unassailable natural right. Additionally, using the very same arguments that Gonzales used in defense of habeas corpus’ theft, it would be far easier claiming that there is no constitutional protection of private property rights. Again, should this be considered as left or right within your binary distortion of political views?

    Defense of liberty is not better performed by either side of the political bipolarity, and the greatest threat to liberty is always the side which possesses the scepter of power; ALWAYS. Anyone who believes otherwise, has had their head up…err..in a hole for the last 7 1/2 years.

    Comment by a knight — June 4, 2008 @ 5:46 pm
  6. Alex -

    As a resident of the SF Bay Area, I can say quite forcefully that voters were intentionally misled about Prop. 99. The media were presenting it as a “reasonable restriction” on eminent domain when it is, for all intents and purposes, no restriction.

    Here’s my take from a post I wrote yesterday:

    “Proposition 99 only protects property if the government’s stated purpose is to transfer non-blighted residential property from the owner-occupant to another private party on a non-emergency basis only if said owner-occupant has resided there for over one year. Catch all that?

    In addition, such transfers may still take place even if the intention is stated so long as the private development is incidental to a public work.”

    This leaves aside the profound misinformation floating around on the effectiveness (or severe lack thereof) of rent control, which is what opponents used to torpedo Prop. 98.

    Comment by Quincy — June 4, 2008 @ 5:47 pm
  7. a knight –

    There’s a distinction to be made here between goals and tactics. In terms of goals, people like Bush and the other neo-cons are very much right-wing. Schwarzenegger is moderate in this regard. In terms of tactics used to advance those goals, Schwarzie, Bush, and co. are just as far out to the left as Obama and Hillary, and at the end of the day, the tactics count a hell of a lot more than the goals.

    When it comes to tactics, both of the major parties are leftist, and that hurts the country.

    Comment by Quincy — June 4, 2008 @ 5:51 pm
  8. @ Quincy – I think you dodge the issue, I was attempting to advance: that the left and the right have become so blurred in the present day as to make any analysis using the left/right dichotomy largely meaningless. I would also allege that in large the failure of the contemporary right and its present day plunge into the dark well of moral relativism can be attributed to three events: 1) Nixon use of the Southern Strategy successfully, which was embraced by the GOP wholeheartedly; 2) The New Right’s commandeering of the concept: conservatism; 3) The Reagan Administration’s acceptance of the Neoconservatives as conservatives.

    This is well off the track here though. I wandered into this thread because I have ben researching the tenth amendment as of late, and have ben pondering the use of States’ Rights posturing in the Libertarian Party, which has allowed anti0-libertarian viewpoints to be accepted within the party as a place where it’s OK to agree to disagree. Where this has occurred is: same sex marriages, abortion and decriminalisation of drugs. It has not been advance in the case of eminent domain. This is why this thread caught my attention. I have in the past participated in commenting on thread posted by Professor Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy. He strikes me as a rational person, willing to look at properly advanced arguments oppositional to what he has posited. There is honour in this. (check out this post of mine, plus other posts in the trhead for a bit of understanding) I am not just out of a low eccentric orbit in this namespace… I doubt that I’ll find the time presently to comment in Professor Ilya Somin’s current thread regarding this topic at the Volokh conspiracy though, unless he makes it a several day series.

    One last remark though. I glanced at an LA Times analysis of the two proposals and it seems to me that the one that was passed is closer to the concept of what private property cpnstitutes a Natural Right, as advanced by thomas Jefferson in his letter to Isaac Mcpherson, August 13, 1813. Although it’s most often used in relation to intellectual property, it still has relevance here:

    “It has been pretended by some, (and in England especially) that inventors have a natural and exclusive right to their inventions, and not merely for their own lives, but inheritable to their heirs. But while it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from nature at all, it would be singular to admit a natural and even an hereditary right to inventors. It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance. By an universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common, is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it. Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society.”

    Absentee landholding, which would constitute the majority of trailer parks and apartment buildings are not a Natural Right, but instead a gift of the state. What a state has given, it will surely someday take-away. cheers.

    Comment by a knight — June 5, 2008 @ 3:37 am
  9. Quote:

    “First: government taking of private property is not a left sided thing. It is absurd to promote it as such, given the private property takings against the landholders’ will all along the Rio Grande to put up the border fence.”

    Very good point, A Knight.

    Thanks for the clarification, Quincy.

    Comment by Alex — June 5, 2008 @ 9:26 am
  10. a knight,

    This is well off the track here though. I wandered into this thread because I have ben researching the tenth amendment as of late, and have ben pondering the use of States’ Rights posturing in the Libertarian Party, which has allowed anti0-libertarian viewpoints to be accepted within the party as a place where it’s OK to agree to disagree. Where this has occurred is: same sex marriages, abortion and decriminalisation of drugs. It has not been advance in the case of eminent domain. This is why this thread caught my attention.

    This is a topic that has been discussed here, and I just recently posted about “states rights” and how they can be used to justify anti-libertarian policies. I, for one, don’t advocate for states rights; I advocate for liberty. These are often related (CA same-sex marriage decision, medical marijuana, etc), but often contradictory as well (Jim Crow, segregation).

    Without speaking too much for my co-contributors, I do believe we all eschew the “left-right” dichotomy on a regular basis. Sometimes it is convenient to use that nomenclature, while probably also a bit lazy. In this case, I would call eminent domain inherently as socialist/leftist phenomenon, though, regardless of whether it’s initiated by someone with R or D after their name. For both, it indicates a belief in communal property and is against the principles of individual rights. Thus, using a “leftist” tactic to achieve “right-wing” goals would still be called leftist.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — June 5, 2008 @ 2:02 pm
  11. Brad –

    Thanks for saying what I was trying to.

    a knight –

    I really don’t see much of a value to left and right anymore except as a rough analog to collectivist vs. individualist, so I really don’t think I was dodging anything more than commenting while tired.

    On the concept of states rights, it should be obvious that states don’t have rights, individuals do. Insofar as local control helps secure the latter, I support it. But states rights have no inherent good and do not deserve any special consideration.

    As to how states rights managed to wiggle their way into the Libertarian agenda, I think it has a lot to do with the focus on the federal government as the big bad guy. States rights natually rob the feds of power, leading some folks to embrace them as a good thing without thinking through the consequences.

    Comment by Quincy — June 5, 2008 @ 6:32 pm
  12. Quincy:
    I am very strongly against the concept of “states’ rights,” but I think you miss an important part of the libertarian argument in favor of states’ rights, which is that any thing that decentralizes government more is inherently a net positive for liberty, even if individually decentralized units act in an anti-libertarian fashion. The argument boils down to a belief that by respecting states’ rights, you ensure that anti-liberty policies are restricted to only a handful of areas rather than imposed on everyone.
    This is an argument, as I suggest, that I strongly disagree with; however, it is an argument that has more of a basis in libertarian thought processes than simply a focus on the feds as the purveyors of evil.

    Comment by Mark — June 6, 2008 @ 6:35 am
  13. Mark –

    That still doesn’t answer why states’ rights has gained traction above and beyond the concept of decentralizing power, which I agree is wholly libertarian.

    In a state like California, the concept of states’ rights doesn’t do anything for libertby because the state is larger than many nations are. The really useful decentralization of power here would be down to the county level, as they are small enough units that they couldn’t gather the resources to become as dangerous to liberty as the State of California would be, but at the same time they would provide some consistency in laws in the immediate geographical area. In fact, there are counties in California that dwarf entire states in New England.

    Comment by Quincy — June 6, 2008 @ 11:42 am
  14. I didn’t say it was a good argument- just that it was the argument.

    Comment by Mark — June 6, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

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