Sunday, June 26, 2005

Eminent Domain

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've by now heard of the latest SCOTUS debacle, Kelo v. New London. Eric has a good round-up of posts on the topic, and the entire libertarian blogosphere (Brad, Robert's Libertopia, and T.F. Stern, to note especially) has been abuzz on the topic. Several rants, some articulate, some not, and lots of moaning and groaning about the loss of property rights.

All good, and all needed. But what are we going to do about it? Stephen at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds (which is getting added to the blogroll as soon as I get back to my broadband connection) has a good start: amend the Constitution to specifically prohibit the use of eminent domain except in transactions where the land will be going to the public good; that is, actually being used by the government for a public project, not to be sold to a private developer. However, this raises a thorny issue. Amending the Consitution is, intentionally, extremely difficult. It requires either a large, populist movement to call for a convention or convince their representatives to support the amendment, or it requires enough Congressmen to have the balls to stand up for their principles and support the amendment. Without either (and preferebly both) of these things, no amendment can ever get started.

While many have called for beginning a letter writing campaign of sorts to Congress, I would like to offer a prediction of apathy and ultimate failure. Congress isn't going to do anything about this situation, because Congress is a left of center institution, especially when looking at things from a libertarian point of view. Even those that are called "right-wing" in Congress are still, more often than not, neo- or theo-cons. As such, they are far more likely to busy their time with passing the flag burning amendment than they are with this particular amendment. Likewise, the populist movement is unlikely to be an effective route, at least any time soon, because of the simple fact that real libertarians are a very small minority in the population.

So if we don't have Congress, and we don't have the majority of the population, what do we have? Like so many smaller government activists before us, we have the states. More specifically, the state legislatures. T.F. and Eric have both related instances of State representatives acting on this or other related issues. The issue is out there, and at least a few representatives are aware of it. The key is getting enough representatives in enough states to recognize the issue so we get a critical mass, where the ideas become propagated through the populace without our (the libertarian blogosphere) direct involvement. This isn't as hard to do as one might think. While this example might be the exception rather than the rule, I think it should be somewhat accurate, at least, for the rest of the country. I know my local newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, is always running stories on the front of its Midlands section about the latest news coming out of the Unicameral (our legislature). These stories often involve just one or two state senators holding some sort of press conference about a bill they are planning to introduce. In other words, all that is required to get the story out into the world is the convincing of one or two state representatives. Speaking from personal experience, that's a lot easier to do than getting one or two national representatives convinced.

Once the story is out there, I think (I could be very very wrong here...this is where I delve into the very theoretical) that a surprising thing will happen. The same people that elected Reagan will hear the call to arms and stand up once again to be counted. If we are able to get the ideas out there, in the media and in "circulation," so to speak, we will reach a point, sooner rather than later, when we will reach critical mass. When this happens, it's all downhill from there. If we are able to reach critical mass, the hard work is done. The populace has the idea, is sustaining it, and is nurturing it. The amendment might not happen right away, and, if we are able to change the political structure sufficiently, it may not even happen at all as it won't be needed (at least in the short term). But if the idea is out there, the important work has been done; that is, the populace has been made aware of the idea, they have continued discourse on the idea, and they have adopted it as something they see worthy of value.

However, you'll notice the operative words in the above paragraph. "If," "Once," and most importantly, "Hard work." That's what this struggle will be. Hard work. Consider the process it took from the first Enlightened thought to the ultimate fulfillment in the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately I'm on dial-up so I will not be able to look up the exact dates, but I'm willing to wager that it is at least, by the most conservative, strict estimate, 50 years, if not more. As so many have said, we, as bloggers, are the modern day equivalents of those brave souls who set out in their pamphlets with what they felt were good ideas for the betterment of man, and who ended up changing the world. Just as they did, we must be persistent in our efforts. And most importantly, we must, just as they did, be unflinching and unyielding in our struggle. This, for me at least, is the proverbial "line in the sand." Yes, there were many things that upset me before, but none such as this issue before us now. I think that most of you feel the same way, judging by the uproar in the blogosphere. We need to channel this emotion and use it, remember it.

If there were those among us that needed a wake-up call, this should be it. More importantly, the rest of the country may not know it yet, but if our efforts are successful, this court case will be remembered as their wake-up call, as well.

disclaimer: I am typing this while on vacation, and my brain may not be fully functioning. I mean, honestly, you think those damn Supremes would at least have the courtesy to hold off on their huge, watershed ruling until I got back from vacation. I must not have that kind of pull. Anyway, I look forward to having my idea(s) torn apart in the comment section.