Friday, May 22, 2009

Another Post on Eminent Domain in the Medical Center

Yesterday the Chronicle editorial supported limiting the Texas Medical Center's eminent domain powers. But as is often the case, the editorial conceded the moral premise underlying eminent domain. Noting that TMC has condemned at least one house and forced the sale of 15 others, the Chronicle asks:
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the public need for TMC’s cash-generating parking garage should have overridden Central City’s interest in remaining residential. But if so, shouldn’t that decision have been made in the open? By elected representatives? Or by people who answer to elected representatives? Or at least not behind closed doors?

In other words, there is nothing wrong with some entity seizing private property--it just needs to be done in a democratic fashion. So long as "the people" have a voice in the matter, property rights can be violated. This is a complete abrogation of property rights. Property rights, like all rights, are not subject to a vote. They cannot be overridden by "public need", no matter who is making the decision.

The editorial concludes:
We support Rep. Garnet Coleman’s effort to remove TMC’s eminent-domain power over residential neighborhoods. (Coleman’s original bill, H.B. 3709, has been rewritten as an amendment to a larger eminent-domain bill, S.B. 18, now under consideration in the Texas Legislature.) TMC would retain its ability to condemn commercial properties — which is still an extraordinary power for a corporation to possess.

With that in mind, we hope that in a future session the Legislature will consider changing the organization’s charter, and require TMC to open its meetings and its records to the public. If a nonprofit is going to wield a governmental power, it ought to behave more like a government.

Again, the editorial does not question the use of force. It just wants that force wielded more democratically. But the number of people supporting the violation of property rights does not change the fact that such violations are immoral. Government's monopoly on force should be used to protect our rights. There never has been, nor will there ever be, a valid justification for using government power to violate the rights of individuals.

Underlying the editorial's position is the implicit advocacy of mob rule. So long as "the people", or their elected representatives, have a voice in the matter, private property can be seized if it serves a "public need" or the "common good". But any atrocity can be justified if this serves as the standard. If "the people" are the sole judge of what is proper and acceptable, the rights of every individual are under continual assault. "The people"--that is, the majority--can do as it pleases simply because it is the majority.

In principle, this is a rejection of principles. A principled position would declare eminent domain immoral, no matter who wields that power or the purpose of its use. A principled position would reject the initiation of force and declare the rights of individuals inviolate.


Billy Allred said...


I recently found your writings and am enjoying reading them. While I do not consider myself an objectivist, I do agree with most of your positions.
I found you be searching the internet for materials related to zoning. I blogged a reading list which includes some of your material.

I live in a rural PA township without zoning and I just successfully ran for Township Supervisor based on an anti-zoning platform. I found the six part series you and Warren Ross did on Houston Zoning. I read somewhere that those articles were published in pamphlet form and distributed by the Houston Objectivist Society. I would love to get my hands on that pamphlet or reprint them myself. Can you direct me to a pdf version or somewhere I can order them?


Brian Phillips said...

Thanks Billy. You can download a PDF here.