[Please proof read before using]
Ripples of Kelo?
Tibor R. Machan
It seems like Kelo v. City of New London, CT.?the infamous case in which
the US Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that private property may be taken so as
to transfer it to others who might do with something conducive to the
likes of local politicians?has energized the enemies of private property
rights. Now they are arguing that whenever the government takes property
from someone, it need not even be compensated. Why? Because it never
belonged to anyone but the government in the first place.
This appears to be the rallying cry of people from around the country
lobbying against a Congressional measure (H. R. 3824) that would require
governments to pay for taking property from citizens so that this property
could serve some public purpose. Various members of Congress?e.g., Raul M.
Grijalva and John Conyers, Jr.?are claiming that any measure that would
compensate property owners when such takings occur amounts to ?a massive
new entitlement program.? Letting folks keep what they own?or requiring
government to pay for it when they confiscate it?is now to be construed as
an entitlement, a kind of gift from the state.
Suppose a government regulatory agency declares that your backyard or
farmland must be preserved so as to provide a habitat for some endangered
species. The lobbyists are claiming that when your property is confiscated
for this purpose nothing is actually taken from you because the property
in fact belongs to the endangered species, not you, in the first place.
The Endangered Species Act supposedly implies this. The reduction ad
of such an idea is that if some bug or virus infests your body, you may not
expunge it because they and not you have a right to be there. As if bugs,
viruses, and endangered species had the right to private property, instead
of human beings.
Here is where all the talk about animal rights has its insidious,
misanthropic results. If one holds to the myth that animals have rights,
including property rights, then these lobbyists?who will surely be
standing in line to administer any system honoring such animal rights?have
a point. (Yet even then the fact that people took possessions of the land
in question first would support the idea that if property is taken from
them, it should be compensated. By whom, you might ask. Well, by those who
want to provide the animals with a habitat, namely, the
In fact, as my book Putting Humans First, Why We Are Nature?s Favorite
(2004) argued, animals have no rights and any law that is enacted under
the assumption that they do is a farce. The only reason for these laws is
that there is a large enough active constituency that wants them and wants
to be in the position to administer whatever regulations emerge in the
wake of having them enacted.
OK, some of these lobbyists may in fact be animal lovers and may be
motivated by this love to run roughshod over private property rights. And
instead of collecting the money needed to make room for their beloved
animals, they prefer going to the government and having it force human
beings off their property without even compensating them for their losses.
Of course, this procedure is nothing new. Indeed, even the US Supreme
Court?s Kelo ruling wasn?t entirely novel. People have been going to
government for many years to get their way against other people. As one
sage warned, "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.
It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves
largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always
votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public
treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose
fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship." (Attributed to Sir Alex
Fraser Tytler [1742-1813].)
We are witnessing this evolution now, with environmental lobbyists
basically urging that the government confiscate all private property if it
can be useful to living beings other than ourselves. This is exactly the
kind of altruism that one leader of the animal liberation movement called
for back in the 1970s, in a book titled Animal Liberation (Random House,
And it is very likely that these lobbyists will prevail, sadly, since the
courts have neglected to stand firmly in defense of the right to private
property when other objectives were advanced as reason to violate them.