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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Knappster: There's Property, and Then There's Property....

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that property rights are so trivial and unimportant that it's okay for any politician with a bribe in his pocket and a wild hair up his ass to take your home at gunpoint, bulldoze it and build a parking lot where it used to be.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that property rights are of such paramount importance that anyone who creates a tool which might conceivably be used to violate them can be held liable if anyone does violate them.

Apparently the importance of property rights depends on just whose rights we're talking about -- your real ones, or the imagined ones of governments and corporations.

Some animals are more equal than others.

Kind of makes you wonder what world the liberal blogosphere lives in. Do you think it's ever the McMansions or the gated communities that get bulldozed for "economic development projects," or to build a new freeway? And it's funny how those "blighted areas" are always inhabited by poor people--and how the "revitalization" projects always result in a net loss of housing units, with the new ones priced out of their range. Not to mention how downtown gentrification, in the process of making Main Street attractive to a bunch of yuppie bastards, also prices it out of the range of family businesses operating on a shoestring budget. And at every step of the process, the real estate interests get rich. But Daily Kos and fellow travellers are so hypnotized by all the Art Schlesinger rhetoric about government as a "progressive" force, and Clinton's hoodoo that government's just "all of us working together," that they refuse to see the hand in their pocket.

P.S. There's some great stuff at Counterpunch on the same theme.

Alexander Cockburn: ....the Court’s liberals, plus Souter and Kennedy decreed that between private property rights on the one side, and big-time developers with the city council in their pockets on the other, the latter wins every time.....

The case on which the Court ruled was known as Kelo v. City of New London. In the decorous prose of Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times, it concerned “a large-scale plan to replace a faded residential neighborhood with office space for research and development, a conference hotel, new residences and a pedestrian "riverwalk" along the Thames River. The project, to be leased and built by private developers, is designed to derive maximum benefit for the city from a $350 million research center built nearby by Pfizer Inc., the big pharmaceutical company.”

I assume every CounterPuncher can figure out what this really means. God help all “faded residential neighborhoods”. Well, if the poor folks work really hard maybe they’ll be able to go live in the Grand Hyatt or Towne Plaza raised on the rubble of their homes.

George Corsetti [producer of Poletown Lives!]: Justice Stevens talks about how the New London plan was “carefully formulated” and how the local legislatures and courts were best at “discerning local public needs.” Nonsense. Many of these local politicians have the values of used car salesmen and the not-so-subtle exchange of votes for campaign contributions is commonplace....

The difficulty with this case and with this issue is that it does not address the fact that there is simply too much money to be made by politically connected developers and too many corrupt, self-serving local politicians and legislators willing to do their bidding.

And the media, our watch dog on government, is as profit-driven as the developers and is certainly more closely aligned in interest with the banks and chamber of commerce types than with the working class. If anything, the corporate media can be depended upon to cast the issue in a way that makes voting against some development project akin to burning the flag. How could anyone be “opposed to progress” or opposed to a development that will “produce jobs” or “clear slums” or “increase the tax base?”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect the nice upper middle class and wealthy homes are protected not so much by property rights anymore as by zoning laws.

The principle is of course that government serves the weathly/powerful. I suspect that the means by which their homes remain safe may very well be zoning laws though.

No such principle applies to small businesses in the poor sections of town of course.

It's a completely unscientific and unquantified observation, but when driving around I've sometimes noticed how much more small enterpreneurial activity there is in some of the poorer sections of town as opposed to the more affluent areas. I don't know if this is by necessity or affordability or whatever but this is what may be destroyed by this ruling (it is afterall ever so much competition in products and labor I suppose).

June 29, 2005 8:30 AM  
Blogger Vache Folle said...

My Con Law (how apt this sounds lately) Prof Burton Wechsler used to teach the subject from a sort of class struggle perspective. When he asked us to explain a case, he would say "Tell Aunt Minnie who won and who lost", Aunt Minnie being the generic layman.

Once you put aside all the Constitutional mumbo jumbo and legitimizing discourse, and this can be put aside whenever it is convenient to do so, Kelo is all about the rich lording it over everyone else.

June 29, 2005 12:40 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I am gonna have to blog on intellectual "property" some time, as I have spent ages on Liberty Forum trying to convince the skeptical that Intellectual "property" is theft. Take Rand's defenses for it - that people should be entitled to the fruits of their own mind. Well, what if I come up with a new idea or scheme or design, but you also come up with the same idea and get to the patent office first. If Rand is right that I should be entitled to profit from the use of my mind, then by granting you the patent, I am being robbed.

Likewise, if I hear a song you sing, I store the memory of that song in my head. My meomories are a part of my mind, a part of me. If I own myself I surely own them. So if I write down the song from my memory, on to my paper, with my pen, all I am using is my property. I am not robbing anybody else.

And if an author doesn't want people copying his work and marketing it as their own he has two already existing recourses. The first is to point out that if anybody sells a poem that I wrote, but they claim they wrote, they are committing an act of fraud, and most libertarians would penalise them for doing so. And secondly, authors can only make their works available under agreement that holders would copy or allow them to be copied without the author's permission. This would not be enforcing property rights, as the work and its contents would belong to the buyer - but they buyer would have an enforcible agreement with the author as to how he will use his property.

June 29, 2005 12:56 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


That sounds pretty close to one of Jane Jacobs observations on the economic life of cities.

Vache Folle,

Oh, sure, it's a matter of legal principle: "It ain't illegal. I oughta know--I'm the sheriff!"


I enjoyed your Libertarian Alliance article, which made a similar argument. As I recall, it got some hardcore Objectivists pretty hot under the collar. I don't like IP because it tells me I can't do what I want with my own stuff, if it means configuring it in the same pattern that somebody has a legal monopoly on.

There's a reason for property in tangible assets: the same physical space can't be occupied by two people at the same time. And if one person is occupying and using a piece of land, he precludes others by his very presence. In addition, the defense of his property is entailed in the very fact of maintaning occupancy. On the other hand, "defending" one's "intellectual property" involves the state invading my actual property and stopping me from doing what I want with my own stuff.

June 30, 2005 7:37 AM  

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