The Czar of Benton Harbor

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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172 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    How come Jason Kuznicki is the only Libertarian talking about this?Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    Budget, expenditure, and contracting decisions.
    Unilaterally modifying the terms of existing collective bargaining agreements.
    Entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
    Recommending that noncomplying city officials be removed from office.
    Selling city assets.
    Disincorporating the government, with the governor’s approval.

    In other words, the power to overturn local elections when the locals voted the wrong way.Report

    • Aaron in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      The difference between the new law and the old law, in that respect, is minimal. Prior to this new law, once an emergency manager was appointed the elected leaders of the affected municipality were pushed into the background. Under the new law, same thing.Report

    • rj in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Let’s not forget the power to unilaterally abrogate contracts that were supposed to bind the parties. You see, contracts are sacrosanct to libertarians, except when they involve government employees.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to rj says:

        Even when. Not “except” — even.

        That’s partly why I view the new law as such a significant increase in power.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to rj says:

        My problem with this take is the following.

        Let’s say that I (Jaybird) and Jason Kuznicki (Jason Kuznicki) sign a contract with each other. I will give him X dollars and health care and a pension in exchange for him shooting other people’s dogs for me.

        He does a pretty good job of this.

        Now I run out in the middle of the night one month and am now kicking it in Argentina with some lovely German families who moved there 65ish years ago. Oh the stories they tell!

        Now Jason K tells you that you, rj, owe him money and health care and a pension.

        Do you?

        What if I told you that he signed a contract and kept up his end of the bargain?Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

          Jason didn’t sign a contract with you; he signed it with the Jaybird company, of which you were the former CEO and rj is the current one. Does rj as new boss get to unilaterally cancel contracts? The conservative answer seems to be yes for union workers but no for highly paid professionals.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            What if rj is just a citizen who was merely an indirect beneficiary of living in a society where he didn’t have to worry about dogs?Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              Then he doesn’t have to pay anything other than his taxes.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Would it be fair to raise rj’s taxes to ensure that everything that Jason Kuznicki signed up for shows up in his bank account, medical care, and pension?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Is it fair to say to Jason “They guy that signed that contract you thought was legally binding is a schmuck. I’m revoking it. Silly of you to have made any decisions based on its being valid Next time around, inherit a few bazillion dollars so you don’t get yourself into these situations.”?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                “I’m revoking it.”

                Oh! I think I see the disconnect. You think that you have the power to revoke it… which means that you think that you have the power to fulfill it (I presume, anyway).

                My take is that the contract didn’t include me as signatory on either end and, as such, is not my responsibility to revoke *OR* fulfill.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                In other words, all government contracts are invalid. Period. Interesting theory.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Invalid? I didn’t say that.

                I would rather say that they are the business of the two signed parties.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                One of which has been given the unilateral right to revoke them. That’s fine with you?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                “that’s fine with you?”

                It depends on your definition of “fine with me”.

                I think that it’s a goddamn shame.

                I also don’t think that you (Mike Schilling) ought to be held accountable for deals that you didn’t agree to and could easily have been signed before you were born.

                Are you fine with holding people who have not yet been born accountable for deals that you sign with another person?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think we could have done better at the Treaty of Ghent, but I try not to dwell on it.Report

  3. Jason, you’re really on top of your game here. “Not all so-called privatizations increase individual liberty,” explained and documented. Well done.


    • I can’t locate your point or principle here, Jason, but it took all the way ’til Point 5 to gratuitously slam Republicans, and for that we are grateful. Some of us. 😉

      In rebuttal, we Republicans are fascists and authoritarians first and foremost, remember. That duly enacted “emergency powers” were exercised in a fiscal emergency—and one that showed no signs of abating—is exquisitely untroubling.

      Neither is a state straightening out its wayward local governments the least bit troublesome in principle. That’s what they’re for. [That and throwing monkey wrenches into the wheels of WashDC and Leviathan.] Federalism is cool.

      There are many lacunae here, like

      Was the previous incompetent administration affiliated with any particular party?

      Was the previous incompetent city manager appointed for, y’know, patronage reasons?

      Was the previous law [before the new draconian, GOP one] effective in solving this long-going mess?


      Michigan voters could still rescind the powers of emergency managers, and they should.

      Michigan does have an initiative process. I prefer representative democracy to plebiscites meself, and the bill passed by 62-47, 100% along party lines. Predictable. [Do corrupt and dysfunctional local regimes tend to be Democrat? Just a thought.]

      Were some Republicans involved? Yep. Were some Democrats? Yep. Were some libertarians? Sadly… yep. I don’t see a single agency, a single level of government, or even a major ideology with clean hands here. The whole incident just makes me want to puke.

      You’ve come down on the side of the angels, JK, but I’m still unclear why.

      I can picture this whole dysfunctional mess—including the rest of the redevelopment multi-purpose scheme per the golf course and Whirlpool MegaCorp, Incorporated—resulting in something far less pukeful than the status quo ante, which by all accounts was and is thoroughly pukelicious.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke says:

        There are many lacunae here, like

        Was the previous incompetent administration affiliated with any particular party?

        I did some looking. I had a hard time finding party affiliations for the local government. If I had to guess, it would be Democrats, which fits very well with my overall theme — no one has clean hands here. Of course, that’s still only a guess.

        Was the previous incompetent city manager appointed for, y’know, patronage reasons?

        The previous city manager was the whistleblower who exposed the corruption, so I’m guessing no on this one.

        Was the previous law [before the new draconian, GOP one] effective in solving this long-going mess?

        I don’t have any evidence saying that it wasn’t effective. I’d definitely consider such evidence if I found it. Or if you did.Report

        • Why the GOP does not have “clean hands” is the lacuna here, Jason, exercising duly authorized emergency powers under duly proper legislation.

          I don’t have any evidence saying that it wasn’t effective.

          The problem was long-standing, and unresolved under the pre-2011 legislation, sir. This seems undisputed as fact. Place was and is a dysfunctional shithole.

          I hope you’ll have time to review the rest of my objections and reservations at some future date, Jason, and thank you for your time.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Think of them as gun laws. There’s no need to pass new ones when you’re not even using the old ones.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Why the GOP does not have “clean hands” is the lacuna here, Jason, exercising duly authorized emergency powers under duly proper legislation.

            If the commie-dems passed a law forbidding Christian worship, would they be able to say the same thing? Duly authorized emergency powers? Duly proper legislation? (Is there such thing as unduly proper legislation?)

            The answer is no, of course. The Republicans passed a bill that seems unjustified to me. I’d be happy to see some finding that the old law wasn’t working, but I haven’t discovered it.

            Shall we both keep looking?Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Couple of further notes.

            First, to new folks: “Commie-dems” is the name our resident troll gives to the Donkey Party. A joke, then.

            Second: Don’t you find it interesting, Tom, that I’m taking the conservative position on at least two counts here? First, the old law was better. And second, local government is better than faraway? Ironclad conservative principles both, and I even sometimes happen to share them too.

            You meanwhile? “My party, right or wrong.” I find that very interesting indeed.Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Jason, congrats, I see you as ‘growing.’ Please feel free to use ‘commie-dems’ all you want.
              BTW, you were going to put something together explicating your atheism? Good Friday’s coming up, and that seems a good time, considering the Gospel accounts of those sharing your inclination to spit in Christ’s face.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                You heard it here first: I’m saving the post on atheism for when my sideblog goes live. It’ll be one of the first few posts I make there, along with my favorite drugs to take and which heavy metal songs contain libertarian messages when you play them backwards.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                People try and put us down
                Just because we favor the unregulated free market
                Things they do look awful cold
                Hope I die before universal health care becomes available

        • Aaron in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Does Benton Harbor even have partisan elections?

          If we’re going to take the position that states should not have emergency manager bills, vest appointed emergency managers with sufficient powers to remedy a municipality’s financial crisis, or for that matter that a trustee in a municipal bankruptcy should have similar authority, then yes – everybody’s hands are dirty. If you agree that emergency managers are never desirable but are nevertheless sometimes necessary, it turns into an exercise in line-drawing.Report

  4. stillwater says:

    Awesome, Jason. Nice work.Report

  5. TrueLiberal says:

    Okay, I’m just wondering why it’s such a bad thing (other than this whole sad state of affairs being a bad thing) for the people of Benton Harbor to get the government they asked for.
    Did they not put these people in office? Did they not sit by and allow corruption and mismanagement to rule their city for years?
    Sending “Big Brother” in to fix the problem does nothing to repair this town in the long run. What happens when the benevolent dictator returns from whence he came? The ignorant people in this place will put in place new corrupt leaders.
    I say let them have the city they asked for. Allow them to fester in the cesspool they created.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to TrueLiberal says:

      Collective action. We can’t presume that everyone in Benton Harbor enjoys a corrupt government. Saving the minority from an evil city is … well, rather Biblical, isn’t it?Report

      • TrueLiberal in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Good point and yes, I agree. However, to what degree should we intervene in the affairs of others? For how long? How much force should be used? If the minority we are “saving” is content, what right do we have to demand they be saved?

        My concern here is these people have not come to the revelation of “self governance is hard”. It must be worked for. A czar appointed to ride into town and fix this thing can only clean up the mess for a time. The “saved minority” will smile and wave as he leaves while admiring the cleaning he did. But, shortly after, the good-ol’-boy crony network will be back at city hall.

        Better to teach/tell them to take back their own town and provide them help, afterward, with them directing the clean-up, or give them a bus ticket out of town.

        That way, you end up with a productive, honorable town or it will die of its own sickness.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to TrueLiberal says:

          I think you misunderstand how these things work. No one comes in with a boatload of money, pays off the old debts, and says “Go forth and squander no more.” The EFM does what’s needed to get the budget in order, and that means cuts to vital things like schools, garbage, police, and fire. That doesn’t lead to a lot of smiling and waving.Report

          • TrueLiberal in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Er… I fear you didn’t read the posts closely. We were referring to the minority who supposedly want the change. Ostensibly, those people would be happy with the cuts and budget changes.

            But, since you bring it up, I’ll pose my inferred question in explicit form this time. What happens when the EFM leaves? Or does he stay forever? Does he appoint a successor on his death-bed? Essentially, after all the “cuts to vital things” you refer to take place, what then?

            There are only two possibilities. Continued tyranny and “Go forth and squander no more.”Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to TrueLiberal says:

              I doubt anyone’s happy with “:You got yourself in deep shit. I bought you some boots, and showed you which way is up, You take it from here.” Happier than continuing to dig downward, but that’s not saying much.

              In principle, when the EFM leaves, the budget works, most likely in high austerity mode. It’s the job of the local government to keep it working. No miracles occur.,Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Indeed. Past a certain point, “what makes the voters happy” isn’t an option anymore.Report

              • Aaron in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                When you look at cities with a long history of corrupt and/or incompetent management, you often find that the voters and business owners who might otherwise have led a push for change have already voted with their feet.Report

              • TrueLiberal in reply to Aaron says:

                The point is it’s not the responsibility of the rest of the state to ensure the happiness (or financial well-being) of the residents of this town. As Aaron rightly points out, with situations such as these, the people who want things to be fixed have probably already left or soon will. (sounds kinda Randian, yes?) As they should. Unfortunately, this city was a bad bet. The state should not “double-down” by pouring more money into this place. I doubt any of us would go another round with Enron if given the chance. Cut your losses, move on.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to TrueLiberal says:

                Where do you see more money being poured in?Report

              • TrueLiberal in reply to TrueLiberal says:

                @Mike, does sending in a financial mismanagement repairing-corruption busting-abuse stopping government savior from on high to save the commoners not cost money?
                Look, I understand I’m being a hard-ass on this but honestly, I hold no sympathy for those who create/allow this type of mess in their town. “Your mess, you clean it up.” “You made your bed, now lie in it.”
                Jason, I think you and I agree in principle, I just tend to be more simplistic while you are more realistic.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to TrueLiberal says:

                Yeah, it costs his salary. Do you think that would work out to more than the cost of a bankruptcy proceeding?Report

              • TrueLiberal in reply to TrueLiberal says:

                Ha, methinks it would be more than one man’s salary. But even if it were, at least there would be long lasting benefits to bankruptcy. (not that I support bankruptcy)Report

  6. TrueLiberal says:

    Just sayin’…Report

  7. JakeCollins says:

    A right-wing “think-tank” served as a cover for corruption and exploitation by the wealthy?
    I, for one, and shocked to find gambling in the right wing intellectual establishment.

    Perhaps libertarians of good faith should overcome their “presumptive” naivete about their so-called allies.Report

  8. Elia Isquire says:

    Hey, great post — the most informative one-stop source I’ve seen yet on this issue — and kudos to you for traipsing where so many of us would rather not (even though it’s quite liberating!) and sayin’, “my b.”

    And the first point of my congratulations is much, much more emphasized than the second (because point-scoring is rather unseemly).Report

  9. E.D. Kain says:

    This is a really excellent post, Jason. It also helps flesh out a lot of what I was talking about in my post earlier, which was essentially that the language and ideas of libertarianism are sometimes used as cover to push really authoritarian, illiberal policies – even in situations like Benton Harbor and Detroit where drastic measures might indeed be justified.

    Anyway, nicely done. Kudos.Report

  10. Bob says:

    Yeah, Jason, a thing of beauty, really. And great answers in the comments.

    However, the cake, ugh!Report

  11. James K says:

    Oh please, we all know the cake is a lie 🙂

    But in seriousness I think you make a lot of sense here. This is a story about governments overreacting to emergencies, rather than any specific idealogical agenda.Report

    • dollared in reply to James K says:

      Oh, please. Are you suggesting that the Governor of Michigan doesn’t have an authoritarian agenda here?Report

      • James K in reply to dollared says:

        Possibly, but that to me still falls under “overreact to emergency”. Politicians tend to be the sort of people who believe they can fix anything if they just have enough power. Hell, I consider it one of the primary reasons that power corrupts.Report

    • kerFuFFler in reply to James K says:

      As a Portal fan myself I was wondering when someone would say, “the cake is a lie”. Glad someone did! 😉

      Interesting post. I was in Benton Harbor about 30 years ago and it’ economy was already reeling. Sure the government may have been incompetent or corrupt or both. But when a small town loses a huge percentage of its manufacturing jobs and most jobs left are just the services the citizens provide to one another it seems unavoidable for the town to sink deeply into the red ink even if everything is on the up and up. It seems harsh to blame the citizens for for the bankruptcy in such a case, and punishing them seems inappropriate when they are already suffering from an economic dislocation.Report

  12. Superluminar says:

    Excellent post, and the point about credibilty/honesty was very important; also thanks for providing a handy crib sheet for the issues.
    Now excuse me, as I have something in the oven I need to check on…Report

  13. Rufus F. says:

    Okay, Jason, I really like this post. Seriously. It’s great.

    And I do like the quote from the Mackinac Center, honest I do. But it’s not entirely above puke-level for me- there’s something about it that reads about as naive and sunny as a Disney cartoon.

    “To play on Churchill’s famous quip, the free market system is the worst type of economy, except for all the others.”
    Hey, you know what’s great about living in a banana republic? Free bananas! (If you can steal them).

    “We look forward to the day when the myths and fears of free-market capitalism are dispelled, along with the misplaced faith in a benevolent, omnipotent state.”
    Personally, I look forward to the day when the criticisms of free-market capitalism are silenced, along with the critics.

    Honestly, if we’re going to march forth, triumphant and blindfolded, into the Bright New Future, the last thing we need is “myths and fears”- because if there’s one thing we can learn from the Greek myths, it’s that the best way to do anything is to commit entirely to it without reservation. Anything short of total hubris would be statism.

    Leaving aside the sarcasm, “fears” constitute a problem? Really? Committing your entire society to one way of doing things while silencing any “fears” about that isn’t a bad idea at all?

    Oh, and in case we were wondering, there are two and only two options: 1. this bullying and totally uncritical embrace of the Free Market Utopian Borg, or 2. State Control.

    Okay, by “naive and sunny”, I really mean kinda stupid.

    I’m sorry to be Mr. Grumpy here, and it has nothing to do with the actual post, but I just don’t get why people can be so righteously caustic and sober-minded when it comes to state power and turn into Little Miss Sunshine when it comes to how neato the market is. Critical thinking is not Communistic.

    Ack! Rant over. I still liked the post.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus F. says:

      “To play on Churchill’s famous quip, the free market system is the worst type of economy, except for all the others.”

      This was actually one of my favorite bits, because it’s bluntly anti-utopian. Rightly understood, the free market is meliorist, not utopian. And that’s a good thing. Utopia sucks.

      “We look forward to the day when the myths and fears of free-market capitalism are dispelled, along with the misplaced faith in a benevolent, omnipotent state.”
      Personally, I look forward to the day when the criticisms of free-market capitalism are silenced, along with the critics.

      I look forward to the day when we can once again teach the controversy about vaccination — is it against the will of God? Why can’t we have decent criticism anymore?

      The fact is — and I never stop hearing it from my friends on the left — there is broad consensus that a high degree of market-based choice is a key part of a prosperous economy. Not just for the folks at the top, who are going to be rich even in a North Korea. For everyone. After that, we need to get the ground rules right, and that’s a conversation we can have. Let’s have it.

      Leaving aside the sarcasm, “fears” constitute a problem? Really?

      Yes, if they are unfounded.

      But anyway, to some degree mission statements have to be superficial. They can’t just use a text dump of Capitalism and Freedom for a mission statement, even if doing so would be a bit more rigorous in the arguing.Report

      • I’ve tried to respond to this three times now and keep deleting it. The gist of what I would say is that the arguments that you’re dismissing out-of-hand without hearing them here are not the ones I would be making if we’d gotten to that point.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

          “The fact is — and I never stop hearing it from my friends on the left — there is broad consensus that a high degree of market-based choice is a key part of a prosperous economy.”

          Sure. And it is not remotely where I was going with that. The debate about which is superior, a market-based economy or a state run economy, is indeed settled for most of us. But dismissing any and all qualms about free market capitalism as amounting to faith in state socialism, which the MicMacs do, or anti-science superstition, which you come pretty close to doing, is completely disingenuous when we’re talking about extending free market economics (traditionally, the market is a single, bounded sphere of society) into realms of society that have been outside of the market until this point. In that case, I’m not the radical and the question hasn’t been settled.

          So, if you want to ask, “What is the best way to get high-quality, inexpensive clothes to the most people in the most efficient way possible? The state or the market?” we’ll probably agree that the question has been settled in favor of the market. But, it’s not about that with these organizations. It’s about taking the services or institutions that have traditionally been provided either by society or the state and turning them over to the market, or more specifically to corporations. And then, when someone like myself says, “Wait, we don’t know how well that’s going to work?”– ironically enough not far from what you’re actually saying in the post- I’m not actually making a brief for a state-run economy or Marxist-Leninism. All I’m doing is making the conservative argument, which is that making sweeping and radical changes to the way things have traditionally been done in a society might bring about newer and bigger problems and so people should, at the very least, be permitted to keep a jaundiced eye open for those problems without being dismissed as cranks or communists.

          You also wrote: “Good and bad things both travel under the name “privatization.” Not all so-called privatizations increase individual liberty.” Precisely. This is why I think that there are in fact legitimate fears about free market capitalism, specifically about extending the market into every area of society based on the fact that it has been wonderful for delivering clothes and television sets, and that those fears don’t uniformly amount to “teaching the controversy” about science in the classroom or lobbying for state socialism. Again, I’m not the radical here. This organization? They’re the radicals. I’m the conservative.Report

          • greginak in reply to Rufus F. says:

            Great post Rufus regarding to a too often overlooked point about capitalism.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Rufus F. says:

            Years of trading in high-risk markets have taught me there is no Free Market. The highest-risk markets ought to be the most-regulated. Anyone who says “Free Market” without understanding the implications is an idiot: buys must match sells and trading accounts must cover bad bets.

            I despair of these Individual Liberties types. They don’t understand markets. Furthermore, Churchill’s reference was to democracy, not markets, free or not. I contend, having seen what happens when the State withers away or has been cut back, to the delight of these so-called Free Market types. Markets disappear, that’s what happens, and these selfsame Free Marketeers, the erstwhile rah-rah-ers, secretly line up for billions of dollars from the benevolent State they cursed so loudly while they were building financial castles in the clouds. Yes, when everyone’s lined up on the Sell side of the trading pit, like so many white robed morons awaiting the Messiah to mount the stairs on the Buy side of that contract, life is very different.

            While my children were teenagers, there was a little notice posted on the door of the refrigerator in Wild West type in the style of a Wanted poster. It read “Children, move out while you still know everything.” Free Marketeers ought to quit their jejeune whining and grow the hell up: the laws they want to repeal were written in blood. More, not less regulation, is the essence of risk markets.Report

            • kerFuFFler in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Yes, sadly too many conservatives and libertarians rely excessively on the phrase “free market” without understanding much of what Adam Smith explained about how regulations were necessary to promote one. All too often the conditions that must be met for a market to produce optimal outcomes do not arise by themselves. Regulations must be designed to overcome the naturally occurring impediments like monopolies.
              Presumably there are sophisticated Libertarians and Conservatives who understand this, but most rank and file members have been encouraged to see just about all regulation as an evil and not a necessary one at that.Report

          • Chris in reply to Rufus F. says:

            Yay! Now if only the conservatives, and not just libertarians like Jason, would read this. It might clear up some misconceptions.Report

  14. The Republic of Stupidity says:

    Just came by from Balloon Juice to see the place and…



  15. The Raven says:

    Cui bono?

    he Mackinac Center does not disclose its donors. But a review of tax records shows that the group’s funders include the charitable foundations of the nation’s largest corporations and a host of wealthy conservative and libertarian benefactors. Between 2002 and 2009, the Mackinac Center’s donors included the Charles G. Koch Foundation ($69,151), founded by the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, who, with his brother, David, is a major backer of conservative causes; the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation ($80,000), the charity tied to the son of the co-founder of Amway, the multibillion-dollar direct marketing company; the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, established by the parents of Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who serves as the foundation’s vice president ($195,000); and the Walton Family Foundation ($100,000), established by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his wife, Helen.–Andy Kroll, writing in Mother Jones, about a month ago.

    These people are in no way libertarian. They are simply rich aristocrat-wannabes.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to The Raven says:

      You haven’t answered the question though. “Cui bono?” means “Who benefits?”, not “Who donates?”

      To be fair, I didn’t answer the question either. It’s not obvious to me who benefits from a much stronger emergency manager law. Or even who was the intended beneficiary. Or, for that matter, whether the listed donors even approve of the measure, regardless of their personal benefit. (It’s also possible that the state of Michigan is the real beneficiary, but I haven’t seen a compelling case for it yet.)

      As I’m sure you’re already well aware, I also draw a salary from an institution that receives money from the Koch Foundation. Do you suppose the Kochs benefit from being on both sides of the debate?Report

      • The donors who support the Mackinac Center benefit from having their power extended a bit further in various ways. As in Adam Smith’s nations of shepherds, they want, “Civil government […] instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

        “Do you suppose the Kochs benefit from being on both sides of the debate?” Yes, by keeping the focus of the debate on property rights, rather than on the necessities of life for all. It is the same debate that is being played out nationally and internationally: do we focus on money and the monied or do we focus on the lives and livelihoods of all?Report

      • > It’s not obvious to me who benefits from a much
        > stronger emergency manager law.

        Whichever political party is currently in the governor’s office.

        I always find it amusing when either political party installs grand sweeping powers when they’re in office, because the clock starts ticking on when they’re going to be claiming that the law they championed is now being used by the other side badly.Report

    • I find it interesting that the Kochs are listed first on that list rather than the biggest funder, the Prince Foundation. It strikes me that this is exactly the kind of policy I’d expect to be supported by an unabashed beneficiary and advocate of expanded executive power.Report

  16. RTod says:

    Just echoing what everyone else seems to be saying, but it deserves to be said a lot. Great, great, great post. By far the most informative piece of “journalism” I have seen/read about this topic.

    Which is pretty sad over all when you think about it, but that doesn’t diminish how much Jason rocks.Report

  17. rea says:

    Not bad, as far as it goes, but you omitted a crucial fact–Benton Harbor is a 92% black town in a majority white county. The local government was inept and corrupt, but the city’s basic problem is the economic consequences of many decades of forced racial segregation.

    Benton Harbor, in other words, is a miniature Detroit, and Detroit is the real target of this new statute. Racism plays well with the Michigan GOP’s base.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to rea says:

      I was aware of it, of course. Your hypotheses are reasonable and not at all excluded. I thought though that saying “Detroit is next” was maybe more of a prediction than I was willing to make.Report

    • Mike in reply to rea says:

      I live in this city, and have lived in this county for most of my life. This wasn’t a case of forced racial segregation at all. Like a lot of urban area the racial makeup changed a lot in the 60’s–things really began changing when business started to move out/shutdown in the 70’s.Report

      • rea in reply to Mike says:

        This wasn’t a case of forced racial segregation at all. Like a lot of urban area the racial makeup changed a lot in the 60?s–things really began changing when business started to move out/shutdown in the 70?s.

        You do know that there were major race riots in the town in ’60 and ’66, and that the town was occupied by the National Guard for a while?

        Once again, this is a 92% black town of about 12,000 in a majority white rural county. Across the river is St. Joseph, a 90% white town, similarly sized, where the average per family income is roughly twice that of Benton Harbor. You think this situation arises by accident? Note that coercion can occur without formal state action.Report

        • Mike in reply to rea says:

          As a little background: I live in Benton Harbor. I’m in and around Benton Harbor and St. Joseph daily. My father was born and raised here. I’m pretty familiar with the local situation. I recognize that a disparity exists between the two cities, but it wasn’t always this way.

          I am aware of the race riots, something we discussed when I attended a local school. I still fail to see the coercion here. I might be dumb, but explain this to me, because this seems to be de facto segregation brought on by something other than coercive forces, even absent state action.

          What I was stating above, rather terribly, was that companies left (jobs gone), and white residents left with them for the most part.Report

  18. Jay C says:

    Good post, Jason, but a minor correction:

    In your response in Point 9 you state:

    Kelo had implications for everyone in America, and we can’t easily undo them.

    Which isn’t quite accurate. IIRC, even some of the SC’s concurrences in the Kelo case made the point that New London’s “taking” – while constitutional and legal, in their opinion – was of dubious value; and that it was up to the individual states to set the rules for eminent-domain takings. Which I always read as :

    “This situation sucks, but we have to allow it; and if you don’t like it, change the parameters at the state level. We won’t stop you.”

    I think there was a move in several states, post-Kelo to change their eminent-domain rules to tighten up the definitions of “public use”, although I have no idea how far they have gotten, and where. So legal protection from abuses of the Kelo variety can be “done”; although one would probably have to fight the Koch Brothers and their fronts to do so.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jay C says:

      Here’s the Institute for Justice thanking the Kochs for their support. IJ litigated Suzette Kelo’s case. They’ve long been the leading opponents of eminent domain abuse in the courts — and they’re paid for partly by the Kochs.

      As you know, the Kochs also support my employer, the Cato Institute. Here’s Cato’s amicus brief. Here’s ten pages of links from us.

      The Reason Foundation has been a steady, vocal, principled opponent of eminent domain abuse. They take Koch funds too.

      So you want me to fight the Kochs? What side do you want me on again?Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Jay C says:

      So legal protection from abuses of the Kelo variety can be “done”; although one would probably have to fight the Koch Brothers and their fronts to do so.

      What’s interesting about this is the fact that the Kochs provided the seed money and AFAIK continue to be one of the primary donors to the Institute for Justice. And what is the Institute for Justice primarily known for?

      A. Representing the plaintiff in Kelo
      B. Lobbying vociferously at the state level for changes to eminent domain rules to tighten up the definitions of “public use.”
      C. Representing additional plaintiffs, both pre- and post- Kelo in combatting eminent domain abuse and attempting to make state courts interpret the definition of “public use” narrowly.
      D. All of the above.

      Answer: D.

      Koch-smear fail. In fact, were it not for the Kochs, there would be no national public interest group fighting on this issue at all. But hey, it’s all a diversion to enable their eeeeeeeee-vil.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        As an unapologetic Liberal and an amateur historian of dissenters and their enemies, I have paid some considerable attention to the Koch brothers. I come down on the side of the Kochs, at first out of perversity, but the more I look at them, especially David Koch, I have come to believe they fit the model of honest dissenters and their enemies conform to Swift’s Confederacy of Dunces.

        I will not extend that metaphor to put the Kochs in the role of Swift’s genius, for I do not agree with much the Koch’s have to say. Yet when I consider how much I have enjoyed (and supported) PBS NOVA over the years, I will not condemn a fellow PBS donor, especially not its primary donor, David Koch.

        Sorting out the dissenter and his enemies, one his enemies resorts to eponymous shibboleth, the game is over. Koch and Soros have made great fortunes and if they spend them as they see fit, in ways you do not like, save yourself the embarrassment of the pissybaby insult of tarring their causes with their names, as if they were King Midases in reverse, wherein all they touch turn to shit. Such was ever the last foul eructation of the bigot and the enemy of dissent, and the list is long, starting with the enemies of Copernicus.Report

        • Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

          (golf clap)

          Blaise, you can turn a phrase. Your declarative norm does occasionally grate on my ear, but goddamn, man, when you’ve got a good point and a nice target, you do skewer it so completely.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Heh. It’s a stilted mode, the declarative, but it’s the Big Bertha driver in the bag o’ rhetorical golf clubs. Ad mortem te, Catilina, duci iussu consulis iam pridem oportebat Cicero, Oratio in Catilinam Prima.Report

        • North in reply to BlaiseP says:

          I’m with Pat, good stuff Blaise.

          If I could wave a wand and make one small idiosyncrasy of the left vanish it’d definitely be the Koch obsession. It’s such a dead end derailment on any subject it’s interjected into, much like Soros on the right.Report

        • dollared in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Claptrap and poppycock, if you insist on using Victorian English to have a 21st century conversation.

          First, we have documented cases that the Kochs have committed violations of election laws. No such cases exist for Soros. Second, the Koch funding pattern includes deliberate secrecy and attempts to hide sources of funds – again, no such cases for Soros. Third, this secrecy is extreme in cases where their assets are the direct beneficiaries of the political issue at hand – again, no such evidence for Soros. Fourth, we have utterly clear evidence of the mendacity, from top to bottom, of the organizations funded by the Kochs – from Swiftboat-style lies peddled in attack ads, to blatant intellectual dishonesty from places like Heritage and Cato, much less little hack houses like the Mackinacs andthe McIvers. Finally, in Wisconsin and Michigan the Kochs have allied themselves with authoritarian leaders like the two governors, who are peddling authoritarian laws to undermine and silence their political enemies. In Wisconsin, the Koch actually provided private security to restrict access to the state capitol building. Again, Soros, with his long history of opposing authoritarianism – and his personal experience of despotism – has no such history.

          Bottom line is that dissent is honorable, open and honest, and usually is not tainted by pecuniary self-interest. Dissent supports democracy by ensuring that all voices are heard fairly. The Kochs are slimy, underhanded, dishonest underminers of democracy. They are playing hardball in favor of lining their pockets through lower tax rates, and increasing their personal wealth through eliminating their obligation to limit and be accountable for the externalities that their polluting assets produce.

          And why do the Kochs work in this anti-Democratic manner? Because their positions – that economic freedom includes freedom to dump pollution on neighbors without accountability, that economic freedom includes low tax rates on high income persons, and that economic freedom includes denying others the right to freely associate in labor unions and to set the rules of those unions as they freely see fit – are profoundly unpopular with Americans ( and most other citizens of the developed world). They must obtain their special benefits from the government by secrecy and by authoritarianism, since they could not prevail in an open contest.

          The Kochs and Copernicus – that is truly rich. And I agree, I would not equate them with Swift – the Kochs see no irony in suggesting, through their spokespeople Paul Ryan and Scott Walker, that we eat the elderly and the poor to fund the Kochs’ accretion of personal wealth. No, they have actually proposed exactly that. And by your silly mail, you have endorsed it.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to dollared says:

            Nice big words, dude. Maybe you could try to have a real 21st Century convo instead of a 20th one.

            Do they suck or are they cool?
            Tehy are not cool.
            Then they suck.Report

            • dollared in reply to Jaybird says:

              Oh, my bad. Did I use “accountability” and you’re a Libertarian, so you’ve never see that word before?Report

            • Superluminar in reply to Jaybird says:

              So you don’t actually have any counter-arguments then? Oh well.

              Speaking as a Liberal, I’ll say that it’s clear that the Kochs do some set of things, A, that I agree with (see the examples JK and MT have provided), and some set of things, B (see Dollared’s comment), that I don’t like. Now for me, I think B outweighs A by a large margin, hence I’m not very happy with what the Kochs do overall, but I can understand that for libertarians that calculation may be reversed.


          • BlaiseP in reply to dollared says:

            Latin, not Victorian. And I don’t indulge in “conversation”, not when I have a point to make. If you’re going to insult me, at least apply the right adjective. Simple opposition doesn’t go very far with me.

            When I consider the wretched state of American politics, I have concluded I can only be a Liberal. Liberals start from the bottom of the barrel. Liberals represent dissenters, we are the enemies of tyranny. The hangdog criminal in shackles, the insane, the illegal alien, the autistic child, the refugee, the poor, the religious kook, the atheist, assorted hated persons of a thousand descriptions, the benighted, the stupid, these are the causes of the Liberal.

            Now I am presently teaching an ad-hoc course on the Federalist Papers to a group of Tea Partiers at the brew pub down the street. I have come to LOOG, a Liberal among Libertarians, that I may learn a thing or three and be disabused of a hundred misperceptions and third-hand generalizations. In short, I am not the smartest guy in the room here. I don’t know jack about Libertarians or what makes them tick. But I do like Chaucer’s Clerk.

            Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,
            And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.

            Here’s where I won’t abide cheap shots. I am not a Libertarian and the more I see of it, the less I agree with it. Did the Kochs commit vote fraud? Or should we say the Kochs gave money to people who committed vote fraud?

            As for secrecy, what shall we make of Barack Obama’s unseemly secret meetings with Karen Ignagni to sell out the public option in his own health care initiative? I gave the Obama campaign some money and I still believe he’s an okay president, though I have my problems with him: are you ready to tar me with the same brush with which you tar the Kochs? Why doesn’t anyone call it Ignagnicare?

            You simplistic creature: politics is not for the squeamish and the tub-thumping Idealist is a lost soul. Now I’m out there, teaching these Tea Partiers why they ought to be outraged, disabusing them of the idiotic fearmongering, showing them that Liberals are not idiots, that politics has gone round and round the same mulberry bushes for centuries, that ordinary people only gain power when they build their positions on facts, not cheap shots, when they come to understand representative government is driven by moneyed interests and yes, that without powerful backers, no political movement can affect the legislative process. I’m a missionary because I come from four generations of them: I cannot convince anyone. They must convince themselves.Report

            • Superluminar in reply to BlaiseP says:

              You have a translation of that into plain English, right?Report

            • dollared in reply to BlaiseP says:

              The vote fraud obsession gives you away. You are the fraud, echoing classic Republican operatives’ concerns. You are no more liberal than Karl Rove.

              You don’t want black, elderly or poor people to vote. Those are the people impacted by attempts to restrict voter registration, since they are least likely to have current drivers’ licenses. That is precisely the anti-democratic point of the Koch efforts – they want things that are unpopular, so they must limit other people’s ability to vote. A true liberal and a true libertarian would not limit voting rights.

              Bear in mind that no one at ACORN was ever charged or convicted of voting fraud. The irregularities surfaced with ACORN all had to do with registration, which is not voting. No illegal vote has ever been recorded from an ACORN registration, because all the incorrect registrations were caught in the verification process. The only person convicted of voter fraud in the US in the last five years is a Republican state legislator in Indiana who lied about his residency.

              No, quoting Chaucer will not make you anything more than what you are: a shill for people who would limit the freedoms of others for their personal gain. If you find that insulting, then you should reconsider your actions and positions.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to dollared says:

                Dude, if you think there is no space between Blaise and Karl Rove, you need glasses.Report

              • Mark Thompson in reply to dollared says:

                Who the hell mentioned anything about ACORN? For that matter, I don’t see where Blaise made an accusation of anyone committing vote fraud, except to ask you whether the Kochs had themselves committed vote fraud or had merely given money to someone who committed vote fraud. There is a difference. But note that Blaise is also implicitly acknowledging vote fraud by someone who received money from the Kochs, presumably someone on the Right. I see not one such implication in Blaise’s comment about vote fraud on the Left.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to dollared says:

                How little you know of me. I repeat myself, (for the rest of you, skip a bit Brother Maynard) I was once a Liberal Republican who gave up on the GOP and became a Democrat. I am a member of the NAACP and the proud child and grandchild of white people who were working for civil rights in the 1930s and 40s, the founders of Carver College, an institution for the training of black pastors, the greatest institution for the advancement of voting rights in the history of the USA and I have worked to register black voters alongside Barack Obama during the mayoral campaign of Harold Washington. My grandfather and grandmother were personal friends of Martin Luther King Sr. and my grandfather had occasion to teach MLK Jr’s Sunday School class. I grew up in Niger and Nigeria, a white face in a black crowd and I will not be lumped in with Karl Rove, you tendentious jackass.

                As for ACORN, I’ve worked with them, too. Now you get right, you contumacious little maniac, I’ve given them money.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Some of his best friends are black. Bona Fide City, dude, back off.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Thanks, Tom. I no longer believe in the concept of race anymore. It’s one of those stupid constructs which has bedeviled mankind since the dawn of time.

                Though I was born in the USA, I do not remember anything before France and Africa. I remember the day my family got off the jet in New York City, completely stupefied by what I saw. We had heard about black people in the USA, but when my younger brother saw his first black American family, he whispered in my ear “Ils ne sont pas assez noir!” They aren’t black enough. Isn’t it equally true to say Barack Obama is too white to really be black?

                It’s all so ridiculous, this race business. I just can’t accept it. Cultures? Sure, those exist. Races? No.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                A family story has me saying very loudly upon seeing a black person at the zoo, “Look, Mommy, there’s the mailman!”

                [In an Irish-Italian neighborhood in Philly, he was the only one I’d ever seen at age 4. We had a B&W TV with a fuzzy picture, so that was no help either.]

                As for race, I’m moved every time I think of Frederick Douglass, who suspected he wasn’t quite fully human—until he taught himself to read.

                Culture, yes. Sowell has a very interesting theory that Black America got its pathologies from close interaction with Scots-Irish lowlifes. “Black Rednecks.” As an example, he illustrates that in Detroit of the 1930s, there was greater prejudice against hillbillies than blacks.

                Google book preview.

                I’ve also run across data that suggests marriage rates and [un]employment rates were comparable between white and black as recently as 1950 or so. In other words, not the legacy of slavery, as is a common perception.


                In rebuttal, Herbert Gutman:


                “Gutman has successfully challenged the traditional view that slavery virtually destroyed the Afro-American family.”

                — John Hope Franklin

                whose bona fides on race are almost as strong as yours. 😉


              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There’s an apocryphal story where Dizzy Gillespie claimed Irish Gaelic was spoken among blacks in North Carolina.

                I’ve got loads of problems with Thomas Sowell, but I’m cynically glad he exists, just to put the lie to the stupid simplicissimes wherein blacks are all Democrats. The black people I’ve known are mostly conservatives, but the black church no longer has the influence it once did in American life. Sowell is an insecure old crank, Clarence Thomas another, burning the Affirmative Action ladders people of goodwill erected for them to climb.

                If AA was bad law, nobody walks away from a civil rights case happy: had the Congress grown a pair of balls and dealt with discrimination, the courts would never have entered the picture. Perhaps we could take up that discussion at some point.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Yes, AA deserves a look, BlaiseP. One might easily defend it to rectify direct harm. But did you have to go there with Sowell? Such things take all the joy out of across-the-aisle ecumenicalism.


              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Because, Tom, I’ve heard first hand why black people resent AA. It’s not the answer to injustice it was meant to be, and in my heart I know it only perpetuates the racial basis for the initial discrimination.

                Racism is wrong, whether it works to someone’s advantage or not.Report

              • David Cheatham in reply to BlaiseP says:

                AA is an unholy mix of a liberal problem and a progressive solution, after they got thrown together in the 50s. It’s insane. What _should_ have happened, if liberals and progressives were separate political parties, were:

                Liberals fight for very strict anti-discrimination laws. The merest hint of the ‘voter id’ poll tax crap, or whatever, should have them leaping into action with pitchforks. They would also demand state-level education funding, period, so that whole areas aren’t left to rot.

                Progressives, meanwhile, should be doing something about generational poverty, and demanding that the government help people _of all races_ out of it, with ‘affirmative action’ to give jobs to poor people attempting to betting their life. They should be demanding free vocational training, better education, etc.

                In fact, the two sides should actually be somewhat fighting with each other, as liberals demanded exact equal treatment of everyone, period, and progressives attempt to give a hand to the poor. ‘We must treat everyone the same!’ ‘No, the poor need extra help!’, etc.

                Instead, because the Republican party went batshit crazy and became anti-liberal, the liberals ended up with the progressives in the same party, and it all got mushed together, and we now have this insane mixture of ‘affirmative action’ that doesn’t work either way, and causes an untold amount of resentment and suspicion.

                You can’t reduce racism by more racism, and you can’t reduce the poor by only helping minorities out of it…white people aren’t stupid, they see that if the poverty rate stays the same, and less of them are minorities, obviously more of them will be white.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, black opposition to affirmative action is certainly sub rosa, even if widespread. Ward Connelly is a pariah for nothing more than campaigning for the end of preferences.

                Having worked in both the medical and legal fields, I can say there’s a suspicion of the black professional, particularly MDs.

                In law, the elite schools seem to mask their grades, so genuine achievement is hard to assess. I’d say that black candidates are hired, but the washout figures in Big Law are far higher for blacks [and Latinos].

                And that said, my clients beg [again sub rosa] for qualified black attorneys, even with a nod and a wink that the bar will be set a bit lower than customary.

                In my judgment, able blacks tend to be pushed to their Peter Principle limit. Better to excel at a smaller school than get by at Harvard; better to head a smaller firm than wash out at a big one.

                As for the best, of course they need no preferences, and will excel wherever and wherever. These may be the types you run across, that their achievements are suspect just because of the existence of AA.

                More on blacks in Big Law. Quite shocking, really. 1-in-6 of black non-partners were laid off in the Great Bloodbath of 2009. Sidley & Austin, Mr. & Mrs. Obama’s first firm, fell by 40%!


              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                As always, it’s the GOP’s fault. Well done, Mr. Cheatham. You’ve really got the hang of things around here.Report

              • David Cheatham in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m pretty certain the GOP’s acceptance of Dixecrats and the later Southern Solution is the GOP’s fault, and there’s really no possible claim otherwise. Liberals leaving the GOP _is_ the GOP’s fault.

                And someone is about to make a comment about ‘classic liberals’…that’s exactly whom I’m talking about. Classic liberals don’t put up with racism. The liberals on the left have just gotten strangely infected with progressivism, but there is no real difference between them and classic liberals.

                Affirmative action isn’t the GOPs, fault, though. It’s just the sort of nonsense you get when all the people actually trying to solve problems end up in one political party, instead of spread between two and fighting it out.

                In fact, that’s a pretty good summation of the last three decades of America. A hell of a lot of the problems have been caused by the left not being opposed by people with any solutions, so the choice was between ‘a crappy solution’ and ‘no solution at all’.

                I point to the ACA as the most obvious example.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Sho ’nuff. When we run out of argument, it’s time to play the Blame Game.

                The Blame Game means your facts don’t matter and mine do, and I’m justified in saying any old goddamn unfair thing I like.

                I’m sick of the Blame Game. If I can’t turn the chess board around in my mind’s eye and see things as my opponent does, I have lost all perspective. There are loads of good arguments for AA: the government tried to make laws which sensible people would have interpreted as enough to end discrimination in law. The bigots found ways to keep the Nigras out of power. So the solution grew some teeth with AA. The bigots turned it around and sidetracked their black talent anyway, viz. the bloodbath Tom describes. We are not going to legislate bigotry out of the hearts of men and I don’t know how things got so bad to the point where AA was proposed.

                This much I do know, the courts shouldn’t have been forced into this predicament. And this I know, too, it was about that time when Congress realized, hey, we don’t have to make robust laws, we’ll let the courts deal with the messes we don’t have the courage to address. Activist courts, my ass. My complaint is with the Do Nothing Congress that forced the courts to come up with these solomonic decisions which only perpetuated the race line.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I don’t know if you’re agreeing or assaulting again, BlaiseP. I will say that Big Law is so diversity-conscious that it’s my opinion the black associate would be more likely to get the benefit of the doubt than the ax. I mean, Sidley & Austin, man. The Obamas’ firm and thisclose to the Chicago machine.

                Big Law leans left, dude, even if only in penance for defending the Black Hats. [Philip Morris, Exxon, etc. It’s really quite funny.]

                My observation is more about the Peter Principle, that black professionals might tend to be pushed just a rung beyond their capabilities through no fault of their own, out of benefit of the doubt and in the name of diversity.

                The washout problem of black associates before the Bloodbath of 2009 was usually voluntary. And frankly, I have no Rx, just reporting what I’ve read.

                But able black associates kick ass in Big Law, as do able black folk everywhere, as prev noted. It’s all about the Benjamins, and if you know any able but unappreciated black attorneys, tell ’em to look me up. I’ve got plenty of clients who will treat them like gods.

                As for the courts’ involvement in AA, it was LBJ and Nixon. The courts just let it through. It’s been two generations since race discrimination was legal, and the courts’ authority to remedy direct harm is fading by attrition.

                As for the courts or gov’t doing social engineering instead, that is open-ended. Justice O’Connor [ret.] here:


                I hope we’re agreeing, at least in the large part.


                As for the Dixiecrat>GOP thing, I’ve not met a lefty who gins up this canard who knows that of the dozen or so Dixiecrats who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights bill, only one, Thurmond, joined the GOP. The rest remained Democrats in good standing, including Al Gore, Sr. and of course that lion of the Senate, Robert Byrd.

                But I have come to expect that gentlepersons of the left, unable to defend their own position, must resort to race-baiting their critics with whatever slime is at hand, even if it’s many decades old.

                I see the other side of the chess board just fine, Blaise. 🙁Report

            • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “I have come to LOOG, a Liberal among Libertarians…”

              Sir, there is barely a libertarian bone in this body, even by its own account and self-profession.

              I believe you got off on the wrong floor, BlaiseP. But pleased to meetcha. I made the same error.Report

      • Jay C in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Sorry: late getting back to the thread: and also “sorry” by way of apology: I did NOT know that any Koch-funded entities were active on the plaintiff’s side of Kelo or any other such cases; if they were: good: IMO, the Kelo decision was a horrific perversion of the fundamental meaning of “public use” as regards expropriation of private property: anyone fighting to reverse/modify that ruling won’t get complaints from me. Eeeeeeee-vil or no….. 😉
        Koch-smear (in this instance) was inadvertent.Report

        • Mark Thompson in reply to Jay C says:

          The other thing here, though, is that this is not an example of Koch funding something on the side of the angels. It is an example of Koch funding something that is clearly on the front lines of a fight against Big Business. This fact blows the whole theory that the Kochs only fund causes that are sufficiently pro-business out of the water.

          This does not mean they’re entirely benevolent – I don’t know many humans who are. I’m also not going to pretend that their ideological leanings are entirely unaffected by their business interests – again, I don’t know many for whom that is true. But it also doesn’t mean that others must treat causes taken up by the Kochs as inherently noble. And it does blow the theory that they are just a shadowy enterprise seeking an anti-democratic corporate takeover of America out of the water.Report

  19. zach says:


    That is an accurate read. Kelo didn’t expand power at all. It just confirmed power that State governments always had. The States were allowed to delegate the power. If the legislature deemed the purpose “public use”, the courts defer. The method of limiting takings is legislation and elections. In Kelo situations there could be local elections that affect it (this would affect the individual decisions to use ED), and state wide (affecting what ED powers are given).

    The difference here is that only a state wide election or referendum can affect the powers. Though, electing a different governor could affect who gets to be the emergency manager.Report

  20. Mike says:

    I live in the city of Benton Harbor, so I’m right in the middle of this situation. A lot of these fears are, so far, a bit overblown. As we start to operate under the new law we’ll get a chance to see if this is really all that undemocratic, but to be frank, the current crop of commissioners has been so corrupt and have mismanaged affairs for so long I hardly see what’s going on now as making things any worse. I still feel fairly well represented here, and am hopeful that things will get turned around, once this is all done, in our city’s government. I would guess that more people than not support the EFM and the new law. But that is only a guess.

    “There’s a golf development in the works, and yes, it’s on city property — as reported by Rachel Maddow. That same property was supposed to be open to the town’s children in perpetuity. Pretty lousy, if you ask me.”

    They didn’t take ALL of the park for the golf course–not even close–but in fact took only about 3 acres for one hole. The park still exists, and the development has cleaned the place up. It was, due to much of the corruption and lack of funds in the city, left in pretty dire straights. They’ve also cleaned up a lot of land that was very polluted by businesses that are long gone from the city. In edition, the group involved is cleaning up the downtown area, long neglected, helping to bring in a lot of new business in an area that was pretty much a mess less than a decade ago.

    I’ve seen a lot of commentary from people that seems to be very disconnected from the situation I’m seeing here in Benton Harbor; the views expressed here on the new law may be right, but from what I’ve seen the state needed to do something drastic because the old model wasn’t working. The commission fought the EFM at every turn.Report

  21. les says:

    RE the Kelo comparison: how is a court decision affirming the right of local government to determine public use for its own jurisdiction, worse than a law essentially abrogating local government at the decision of a higher jurisdiction? Seems bass ackwards, libertarian wise.Report

    • Pat Cahalan in reply to les says:

      Quick answer from a non-libertarian: because the court is supposed to be the equalizer between layers of abstraction in government (individual, local, state, federal).

      The court affirming the right of local government to determine public use for its own jurisdiction unjustly infringes upon the right of the individual; Kelo is “individual vs. local”, not “local vs. federal” in the right to decide.

      Effectively, Kelo gave unto the locality the right to define “public use” without bound. This is an unjust expression of the locality’s right vs. the individual’s.Report

      • les in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Without bound? Kinda straw man–local courts still have jurisdiction on public use; Kelo says economic development is a permissible category, not that the mayor can give the park to his buddy for grins. Is it easier or more difficult for citizens to replace/get a response from local govt., or higher jurisdiction? Isn’t it an article of faith that local governance is to be preferred? Unless you expect SCOTUS to rule that no govt. jurisdiction can ever transfer its property to a private entity–seems unlikely to me–isn’t it better to put the decision in local hands?Report

        • Mark Thompson in reply to les says:

          Without bound? Kinda straw man–local courts still have jurisdiction on public use; Kelo says economic development is a permissible category, not that the mayor can give the park to his buddy for grins.

          The issue is that “economic development” winds up being a term without bounds. Literally any transfer of the property to a private concern can legitimately be claimed to be “economic development.” Indeed, the Kelo case is illustrative of this fact – that plot of land was never developed at all.

          Is it easier or more difficult for citizens to replace/get a response from local govt., or higher jurisdiction?

          This is somewhat of a loaded question. First, the answer is: it depends. In theory, the answer is yes, of course. In reality, political machines exist and most people are even less interested in local government than they are in state and federal government.

          Meanwhile, even in a small town, eminent domain abuse isn’t going to affect the overwhelming majority of people in a given taking. The neighborhoods targeted will also assuredly be the neighborhoods with the least political power, the least ability to put up a fight. They didn’t consent to the taking of their home and they probably didn’t even vote for the officers authorizing the taking. And even if they did, there’s a non-zero chance that they didn’t have much choice in the matter, thanks to local machine politics. Not to mention of course that once their home is taken from them, it’s gone. The damage is done and voting for another regime is small consolation. Especially since in order for that vote for another regime is going to be effectively meaningless unless they can convince a whole heck of a lot of other, mostly apathetic, people to care enough about their cause to vote in the next election for the opposition (with whom those other, apathetic, people might have myriad other disagreements).

          Isn’t it an article of faith that local governance is to be preferred?

          It depends on who you’re talking to. I believe – and I’m pretty sure Jason believes – that although local governance is generally preferable to federal and state governance, amongst the most fundamental purposes for federal or state governments to exist at all is the protection of individual rights against lower levels of government. It is individual liberties that are sacrosanct. A preference for local government is but a means for the protection of that end, but only a fool is idealistic enough to believe that local governments will not abuse their powers against a politically powerless minority.

          So to turn back to your original question:

          how is a court decision affirming the right of local government to determine public use for its own jurisdiction, worse than a law essentially abrogating local government at the decision of a higher jurisdiction?

          Government is a tool, not an end in itself. A low abrogating local government at the decision of a higher jurisdiction infringes the rights of that local government. It may or may not result in the infringement of individual liberties. I can certainly think of myriad instances where we are quite comfortable with abrogating the rights and jurisdiction of local government for the protection of individual liberties. Sometimes, as in the case of Reconstruction, that abrogation is quite severe. Other times, such as in much of the Civil Rights era legislation, it is limited to a particular arena.Report

        • David Cheatham in reply to les says:

          As I tried to point out the last time this was talked about, the problem isn’t eminent domain _at all_. Would we be better off if the city had collected large amounts of tax money, purchased the property voluntarily from the owners, and _then_ sold it cheap it to a developer for ‘economic development’? No, we wouldn’t. It would be exactly the same sort of theft.

          The problem isn’t what property governments can and cannot take, or for what reasons. The problem is ‘sweetheart deals’ under a justification of ‘this private development will make things better for the community’. If _that_ stops, all this nonsense stops, and there’s not any _reason_ for governments to run around taking private property and giving it to other people.

          Eminent domain laws are fine. The problem is the government letting people walk off with stuff. It doesn’t matter if that money is taxpayer gained or from eminent domain or what.

          Incidentally, this is exactly where libertarians get blamed for this sort of nonsense, because it’s exactly that sort of public-private arrangements that they like, usually under the guise of ‘privatization’ of one thing or anything.

          Aka, they say that we don’t need the government to fix this broken neighborhood, or stop the massive amounts of crimes, we can have private industry do it. Now let us look the other way while private industry please lines up for handouts of property to do it…

          That second part is not a libertarian idea, but somehow ‘libertarians’ often seem to end up standing right next to it, promoting the ‘we don’t need the government to fix this, private actors can fix it if the government will let them’ idea, and ignoring the rest of what’s happening.Report

          • > It would be exactly the same sort of theft.

            Not exactly the same.

            You’re screwing the corpus of the taxpaying public in that scenario, but you have at least allowed the individual homeowner the ability to determine their own price for their home. Right now, I personally would not sell my house for what the market would give me for the house. You’d probably have to give me about 40% over-market for me to consider the idea, and my market is still crazy batshit inflated. That’s how much I don’t want to move from my current location.

            In an Eminent Domain case, that’s not the same. There, I come up with fair market value and pay you that amount of money and take away the house. Now, I can be an honestly good dude and give you comps plus 20%, or I can be a jackass and give you cheap comps, but in either case you don’t have much say in how much your house is worth.Report

            • Exactly. Market value is just that: the price that the average person would pay on the market for your home. But “market value” and “value to the homeowner” are two very, very different concepts. “Value to the homeowner” includes priceless things like “memories,” “friends and family in the neighborhood,” etc. – none of which are replicable or replaceable. And this says nothing of the stuff that actually can be valued but which doesn’t get included in “fair market value,” stuff like “negative equity.”Report

              • Exc reply to Kelo, Messrs. Cahalan & Thompson.

                This morning I woke up thinking that aesthetics aside, the majority in Kelo was sounder constitutionally. I have gone back to mugwumping it, because I can’t get all the way to subjectivity about price/value either.Report

              • I wasn’t so much thinking of the Constitutional issue when I wrote the comment to which you’re responding here- takings are permitted one way or another and there has to be some at least quasi-objective standard for setting the price.

                But precisely because of the fact that they are permitted, and over the homeowner’s objections no less, it is extraordinarily important that the situations in which this action is considered legal be tightly limited and restricted. And that is a Constitutional issue since the Constitution makes clear that the use for which the property is taken must at least be “public.”

                That clause pretty clear prohibits takings for purely private “use.” To say that a “public use” exists as long as the relevant government entity just utters the entirely unfalsifiable and meaningless words “economic development” is to deprive this requirement of any meaning. And that phrase really is meaningless – there’s no requirement that the alleged “economic development” be guaranteed to provide a particular amount of economic growth (nor could there be). The bar is so low that one could actually envision a situation where a taking of a ramshackle-ish house could be justified even if the new private owner just promised to put up a slightly nicer looking house on the grounds that the slightly nicer looking house would encourage other people to move in or new businesses to come in. And, of course, “ramshackle” vs. “slightly nicer looking” is a matter of pure aesthetics.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

                As I argued at the time, there’s a difference between “public good” and “public use”.

                Imagine if they had taken those houses away in order to build a highway or railway tracks. Heck, imagine if they had taken those houses away in order to build a Courthouse!

                Nope, what they did was take the land away to give it to a corporation that tore the stuff down and then never developed the land. There is no business park there. There are no parking lots filled with cars that will be driven home by people paying taxes. It’s an empty lot.

                “Well, we can’t make policies based on outcomes, can we? The anecdote of plural being data and all that.”

                How many cases have there been where houses were taken away from folks in order to give them to corporations and things turned out *AWESOME*?

                Other than Andrew Jackson, I mean.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                The Ballpark at Arlington.? It really is a nice place to watch a game. It was a fishing great place to watch what the Bushes look like when they get their asses handed to them.Report

              • Mr. Schilling, as is their custom and character, the Bushes behaved with class while getting their asses handed to them.

                Nice hijack, tho. In the end, it’s all about Bush.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Now, Tom, you know quite well why Kelo brings The Ballpark at Arlington to mind and why that bring the Bushes to mind, and did so well long before Timmy, Brian, and Buster reminded the state of Texas that San Francisco Democrats are not to be trifled with.Report

              • > I have gone back to mugwumping it,
                > because I can’t get all the way to
                > subjectivity about price/value either.

                Money may be fungible, but value is pretty fungible too in the eye of the evaluator.Report

              • Oh, and thanks for the compliment, Tom 🙂Report

              • Cheers, Pat & Mark.

                I did some remedial study on Kelo:

                Seems the 4 libs relied on precedent that held that “public use” [in the text of the 5th Amendment] is the same as “public purpose.”

                The 4 Conservatives held that the precedent was flawed, and “public use” means that and only that. Stare decisis> is for suckas!

                Richard Posner and I think Volokh argue that had the city of New London built the office space, etc. and rented it out, that would clearly have been “public use,” no constitutional issue.

                Anthony Kennedy voted with the libs, but with the proviso that the process be open-ended: the city must decide to condemn and rebuild without any developer in mind, so that private property isn’t eminent domain-ed from one private party just to give to another. Tony like-a da nuance.

                Yr objections to takings for nominally aesthetic reasons or condemning ugly properties to enhance the value of prettier surrounding ones is well-taken; such a principle would conceivably have no limits.

                And as I’m a text man, I’m uncomfortable with mutating “public use” into “public purpose.”

                However, as a practical matter, it seems that the city of New London could have manipulated the process by maintaining the legal fiction that it was going to put the property in question to “public use” itself, and “change its mind” and sell it off a year later.

                Or as Volokh [?] said, develop the property itself and rent it out, although that would be inefficient. For some reason, many thought “libertarians” would like Kelo, as libertarians presumably hate inefficiency, legal fictions and formalism, and general stupidity. But that’s not the way Kelo swung with them: it went more to property rights and a distaste for the Heavy Hand of Gov’t.

                [Which is OK—not alleging hypocrisy or any of that boring stuff.]

                So, in conclusion [at last], the funny thing is that as “wisdom,” where theory meets practice, the majority lib position is pretty wise, since a clever municipality can jump the “textualist” hurdle with just a bit of legal cleverness.

                Respectfully submitted, and thx.Report

              • Thanks, Tom! All interesting and good points. It still just confuses the hell out of me when I hear that people think libertarians are supposed to support the Kelo decision. Not only did libertarians support it, but ferchrissakes it was a libertarian organization that brought the case and fought it all the way to the SCOTUS. It is in fact probably the closest that libertarians had come to that point (and probably since, for that matter) to making a meaningful difference on their own, without having to rely on mainstream institutions to do the fighting for them. In that sense, opposing Kelo is in many ways the single achievement for which the libertarian movement should best be known….and yet people are convinced we were on the other side.Report

              • > However, as a practical matter, it
                > seems that the city of New London
                > could have manipulated the process
                > by maintaining the legal fiction
                > that it was going to put the property
                > in question to “public use” itself,
                > and “change its mind” and sell it off
                > a year later.

                Yes, that’s a valid point, and I think more or less upon this is what David’s objection to the framing of Kelo rests.

                One of the problems with strict text approach to the law is precisely this problem, that one has to presuppose that everyone is acting in good faith and that can certainly *not* be the case. Particularly in the instances of cap-J justice.

                This is why I’m not really on board with strict textualism for SCOTUS. More or less a prerequisite for a case to get that far is that someone (usually the government) is in fact not acting in good faith.Report

              • Kelo is a vindication of textualism. Non-textualism mutated “public use” into “public purpose.”

                It was textualism that provided a powerful and principled first line of defense against the New London taking in the dissents.

                Just because some clever attorneys and bad-faith public officials could conceivably evade the letter of the law doesn’t mean that this first line of defense should be abandoned. The non-textualism that would take its place, “elastic” interpretation, is just the thing that the majority [and several precedents] used to evade the text of the 5th Amendment here.

                Why should clever attorneys even bother to evade the letter of the law when the Supreme Court will do it for them?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Given what the business park looks like today (grim), would the plaintiffs have a case to sue given that their land was *NOT*, in fact, given over to public use and not even public purpose?Report

              • > Kelo is a vindication of textualism.

                See, I look at Kelo as a representative example of the failure of the explicit legal code to model the implicit principles of justice upon which it is based, myself. It’s neither a particular victory or loss for either approach.

                I don’t think this is a solvable problem, really, not with any particular single solution.

                > Non-textualism mutated “public use”
                > into “public purpose.”

                I don’t see it this way. Although I can see your point, and you do have one.

                Sorry, this is the ex-mathematician in me talking here. This will be pedantic.

                The problem with textualism is that it presupposes that the letter of the law includes those definitions that are necessary for the law to be fully described. I don’t really see this happening. Standard duhsclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and my reading of formal law is therefore severely limited by my own interests.

                If you don’t describe what “public use” means *with rigor* (and back to the ex-mathematician, I see a hugely laughable level of rigor in the law), then it doesn’t really morph into “public purpose”, per se. The phrase itself isn’t made explicit enough to forbid such an interpretation from the beginning. It may or may not commonly be used that way, but it’s not explicitly *not* used that way.

                Far too many of our common legal terms depend upon context *outside* of the particular law in which they are used in order to have meaning. I mean, shoot, a lot of our legal code was just punted from day one where interpretation of terms was assumed to come from English Common Law, right? If you’re not using explicit definitions, but implicit ones, it’s astonishingly easy to construct a reasonable argument to argue that the tacit knowledge embedded in the term means something *in particular*.

                In the recent history of SCOTUS, at least, there’s usually a lot of fitting to get those definitions to match political inclinations… rather than justice implications by both sides, I’d say. At least, that’s how I read both camps, anyone is free to take issue with that evaluation. Put another way, I see a lot more “liberal justices are liberal” and “conservative justices are conservative” than I do “justices are interested in justice in particular incidents”.

                But, back to the point, you can’t model justice fully with either approach, in my humble opinion. And that is, more or less, what we want our justice system to do. So trying to rely strictly on either approach is limiting.Report

              • Well they did mutate “public use” into “public purpose.” The majority explicitly said so, and cited several precedents.

                Further, textualism is only the first line of defense against Leviathan. The second is some method of reasonable interpretation tethered to the understanding of its ratifiers, not “expanded” or “elasticisized” for what you rightfully recognize as result-based interpretation, and twisting the Constitution to justify it.

                I mean, your skepticism is giving way to a nihilism, fuck it all. Since no method of interpretation is airtight, screw even having one.

                I’m with James Madison:

                “…the legitimate meaning of the Instrument must be derived from the text itself; or if a key is to be sought elsewhere, it must be not in the opinions or intentions of the Body which planned & proposed the Constitution, but in the sense attached to it by the people in their respective State Conventions where it recd. all the authority which it possesses.”—Letter to Thomas Ritchie, September 15, 1821

                “All the authority it possesses.” Untether the Constitution from that, and we are a gov’t of men, not laws. There’s truth to the skepticism that the Constitution is whatever 5 SC justices say it is, but that doesn’t make it right or legitimate.

                The minority in Kelo explicitly argue that! Even the oft-mushy Sandra Day O’Connor:

                Over two centuries ago, just after the Bill of Rights was ratified, Justice Chase wrote:

                “An ACT of the Legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great first principles of the social compact, cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority . . . . A few instances will suffice to explain what I mean . . . . [A] law that takes property from A. and gives it to B: It is against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with SUCH powers; and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that they have done it.”

                Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded — i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public — in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings “for public use” is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property — and thereby effectively to delete the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent.

                The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” When interpreting the Constitution, we begin with the unremarkable presumption that every word in the document has independent meaning, “that no word was unnecessarily used, or needlessly added.” In keeping with that presumption, we have read the Fifth Amendment’s language to impose two distinct conditions on the exercise of eminent domain: “the taking must be for a ‘public use’ and ‘just compensation’ must be paid to the owner.”

                [Bold face mine. IOW, you don’t delete from the Constitution’s text what stands in your way. The text is the law, not the judge.]Report

              • > I mean, your skepticism is giving
                > way to a nihilism, fuck it all. Since
                > no method of interpretation is
                > airtight, screw even having one.

                It’s more along the lines of “no method of interpretation is airtight, so rather than try an settle on one method as a grounding principle, settle on whichever method gets you to justice in this case”. And yes, I realize that there are *serious* potential problems here; by my own admission, the justices currently seem to get to “their dogma” over “justice” distressingly often. About the only mitigating factor here is that it’s not all that often that a defining case gets to SCOTUS in the first place.

                And you *do* have a point that strict textualism probably would have saved us from Kelo’s bad justice decision, I’m not arguing that.Report

              • Neither I nor the Ratifiers consented to be governed by philosopher-kings.

                Besides, even if/when they exist, by definition they make law itself superfluous.

                The law is a[n] ass, admittedly, but it’s the ass we consented to be governed by.Report

              • > Besides, even if/when they exist,
                > by definition they make law
                > itself superfluous.

                Only assuming that you’ve got enough philosopher-kings to hear each case, which is pretty unlikely. You’ll probably need the framework of the law to handle most of the work no matter what happens.

                I can’t really argue against where you’re coming from, Tom. Jason would agree wholeheartedly with you and (while I think the position is limited) no other position that doesn’t rely on philosopher kings being beneficent isn’t. And relying upon philosopher kings has its own limitations (primarily the “beneficent” part).

                On the flip side in your position’s defense, it’s also the case that while occasionally philosopher kings enable something that I find just, it’s also the case that philosopher kings enable things I find unjust. To borrow your phrase, I’m mugwumped. It may be that strict textualism is the least worst method of ensuring justice in the long run.

                If I ever get around to a more thorough analysis of SCOTUS decisions, I might have a better opinion on this in a risk v. reward scenario. It’s entirely possible that you and Jason are completely right.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                The text reads

                “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

                A strict textual reading says that just compensation is not required when private property is taken for non-public use.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Marshall has his opinion, let him enforce it.Report

              • Thx for the fair hearing, Pat. MLK had an elegant point: unjust laws must not be ignored, but confronted, even suffered under, and thereby hopefully, changed at last. At the beginning of the CRM, law [Jim Crow, etc.] was its enemy; eventually, its friend, ally, and greatest shield and sword.

                “In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”


            • David Cheatham in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

              You’re screwing the corpus of the taxpaying public in that scenario, but you have at least allowed the individual homeowner the ability to determine their own price for their home.

              No you haven’t. What if the local government taxes at at six bajillion dollars a year? Hey, look, you just lost your house, and the government didn’t use eminent domain at all.

              Oh, or what if the government purchased the house using eminent domain, and used it to build a toll road…and used those tolls to make a tax loophole for people making over 5 million dollars, which happened to be one guy?

              There are two entirely orthogonal issues here. This is the thing that drives me crazy when trying to talk to conservatives. There are two issues here, and they really are not related at all.

              One is them is ‘What can the government take from you?’

              The other is ‘How does the government use what it’s taken?’

              The first merely requires some level of fairness and due process. This doesn’t happen when governments write weird exceptions and loopholes in the tax code.

              The second is where almost _every single_ injustice comes from. It’s not even close to a contest. It’s where the injustice in Kelo was from. It’s when the government illegally pays for wiretaps. It’s…everything.

              The right seems to have them linked somehow in their minds, and this is why so much pushback over Kelo, and why it’s aimed in entirely the wrong direction…people in this country have been trained that it’s somehow permission for governments to hand out big fat blobs of money and land and tax reductions to private industry.

              It’s just, this time, it was newly acquired land. Apparently, no one would have any problem if it was land that had been consensually purchased by taxpayers over the last decade. It’s okay to just _give out_ their money on hypothetical bullshit ‘increased tax base’, it’s just a problem…hell, I don’t even know what’s triggering ‘a problem’ for you guys, finally.

              Public-private joint projects are just a way to funnel taxpayer resources into private hands. They have always been that. Don’t be surprised they’ve started funneling land there also.Report

              • > No you haven’t. What if the local government
                > taxes at at six bajillion dollars a year? Hey,
                > look, you just lost your house, and the
                > government didn’t use eminent domain at all.

                And so did everybody else. Not sure what that hypothetical is going to show.

                > Oh, or what if the government purchased
                > the house using eminent domain, and
                > used it to build a toll road…and used those
                > tolls to make a tax loophole for people
                > making over 5 million dollars, which
                > happened to be one guy?

                Putting in a toll road wouldn’t be “public use”, not to my way of thinking.

                > There are two issues here, and they really are
                > not related at all.

                > One is them is ‘What can the government
                > take from you?’
                > The other is ‘How does the government use
                > what it’s taken?’

                I’ve got this in my head…

                > The first merely requires some level of
                > fairness and due process.

                … am not certain that I agree with this one (and I’d certainly be surprised if the Libertarian crowd did). I’m sympathetic to the point (as I’ve mentioned before on some other threads); arguing about root principles (this is or isn’t Constitutional, for example) is less important than arguing about practical consequences. But I don’t think it’s out of bounds to say, “Clearly an objective standard is at least *useful* in determining the boundary conditions”.

                Saying “public good” != “public use” is a fairly non-arbitrary and very easily defensible position as to what constitutes fair use of eminent domain.

                > The second is where almost _every single_
                > injustice comes from.

                Oh, this I agree with, largely. Almost entirely. I’m a consequences sorta guy, myself.

                > People in this country have been trained
                > that it’s somehow permissible (ed) for
                > governments to hand out big fat blobs
                > of money and land and tax reductions
                > to private industry.

                Oh, yeah, I’ll agree with that one, too.

                And yeah, that’s in no small way a bigger problem than one person getting screwed into moving out of their house when it comes to net consequences.

                One dude is perhaps not fairly compensated for his house many members of society having to put up with the cost of incarcerating murderers indefinitely.

                Not saying I’m unsympathetic to your point.Report

              • David Cheatham in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I will agree with “Clearly an objective standard is at least *useful* in determining the boundary conditions.” But it’s nearly moot. The government, frankly, doesn’t need a hell of a lot of land.

                If we’d stop *giveaways* to public-private ‘partnerships’, we’d really have no actual problems in the first place. That’s not to say we _couldn’t_ have such problems, but all of them currently are based in that.

                For some reason, everyone seems to address this issue facing the wrong way, worried about the process instead of the end result. The end result is just as bad if they had use an entirely different process. I don’t know why you tried to nitpick my examples, but there are literally hundreds of ways the government can operate to the benefit of a few people, and the expense of all, that have nothing to do with eminent domain.

                The government *has* the power of force, and while I know a lot of libertarians don’t think this is good, tough. The government can always take stuff from people.

                If you _don’t let_ the government do idiotic public-private ventures, then it can’t ‘take land from some people and give it to other people’, because it cannot give it to those people. It’s hardly going just start _collecting_ land.

                There are two steps there, one of them a legit government function, and one of them not. Fight the one that isn’t legit.

                The government’s legitimate role in economic development is making loans available and building infrastructure and public services, and I’m for doing more of those. And none of this bullshit tax breaks or repurposing land or building stadiums.Report

        • Pat Cahalan in reply to les says:

          > Kinda straw man–local courts still have
          > jurisdiction on public use; Kelo says economic
          > development is a permissible category, not
          > that the mayor can give the park to his
          > buddy for grins.

          I’d respond more fully, but “what Mark said” suffices for the most part.

          In any event, I see a very low barrier between “the mayor wants to give the park to his buddy for grins” and “something that can easily be ginned up under the guise of ‘economic development’ and thus pass Kelo test criteria.”

          To Mark:

          > The neighborhoods targeted will also assuredly
          > be the neighborhoods with the least political
          > power, the least ability to put up a fight. They
          > didn’t consent to the taking of their home and
          > they probably didn’t even vote for the officers
          > authorizing the taking. And even if they did,
          > there’s a non-zero chance that they didn’t
          > have much choice in the matter, thanks to
          > local machine politics.

          Local case in point: compare the 105 freeway in Los Angeles (cut through South Central Los Angeles, Compton, Inglewood), to the 710 Freeway extension in Los Angeles (cut through South Pasadena).

          Both were part of the Caltrans plan from the 1960s to improve the local freeway system. Both required fairly major property transfer.

          Can anyone guess which freeway has in fact been constructed, over community opposition, and which one is likely to not be anytime in the next 30 years, still?Report

      • darms in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        One thing I don’t see when folks are discussing Kelo v. City of New London is which justices were on the majority side of the 5-4. Shockingly enough it was the ‘liberal’ justice Stevens joined by the ‘liberal’ Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, & Breyer. Kelo v. City of New London

        Jason, thank you for an insightful well-thought-out post.Report

  22. cfpete says:

    I agree that the new law is too overbearing.
    Maybe even the old law is too overbearing.
    Why not let the city hold a referendum to either accept the EFM or not.
    And if not, they are on their own.
    (They were asking for a financial stabilization bond from the state before Granholm appointed the EFM. One would have to be insane to give this town more money no questions asked)

    I understand your collective action argument, and I also think there is a bigger muni – default problem here. Left to their own devices, this town would definitely default and so would the other towns in MI with an EFM. You might see a cascading increase in borrowing costs across MI similar to the PIGS in Europe.

    There are no good answers here. After reading about the conditions in the city, I believe the people would have accepted the EFM.
    It is like the town in CA with the million dollar city manager.
    With the right information the people cleaned house.
    Some time people just need a kick in the ass to wake up.Report

  23. David Cheatham says:

    The fact that this city needed to be taken over by the state (Actually, it needed to have the state step in earlier and actually correct things, but whatever.) does not mean that a _properly_ run city that finds tax revenue has dropped and they don’t have a lot of funds should be taken over by the state, and it certainly doesn’t mean that a city should be taken over because that is just _claimed_ to be true.

    Saying ‘You’re either for or against this law’ is like saying ‘You’re either for or against the police being allowed to arrest people’. Well, no, I’m in favor of some sort of actual process to do that, and checks and balances so the system doesn’t get abused.

    Not just the governor saying ‘Hey, throw that guy in jail.’ Even if, in this specific case, this guy _did_ need throwing in jail, and everyone agrees.

    It’s fine for a state to have emergency powers to take over cities. Cities do not actually have any sovereignty at all. What is not fine is crouching such powers, and allowing them under, ‘fiscal problems’. If a city literally cannot pay their bills, fine, he state can step in, but not vague unspecified ‘the governor says they have problems’.

    Especially with the slam at unions by Mackinak. Did unions have anything to do with this city’s problems? Not at all. In fact, this city’s problems had nothing to do with money at all, they had to do with a total failure of management.Report

    • > What is not fine is crouching such powers, and allowing
      > them under, ‘fiscal problems’. If a city literally cannot
      > pay their bills, fine, he state can step in, but not vague
      > unspecified ‘the governor says they have problems’.

      That’s kinda the same point I was making above about Kelo. If the city literally needs to use the land, fine, they can file eminent domain, but not some vague unspecified ‘we’ll get some economic value out of this’.Report

  24. kindness says:

    Well done post. Bonus points for all the accurate research.

    One thing though….no disrespect to those affiliated but just because Cato or Mackinak say something, that doesn’t mean that statement is automatically a libertarian principle or thought. I’m sorry but that isn’t always the case. We have all seen organizations make statements and proclamations that seem to be at odds with the organizations stated goals. Why do they do this? I suspect they do it because the people who fund them want them to lend their political capital as cover to the actual actions taking place. (ie – the Koch organizations use this one a whole bunch). So often times a large grain of salt is needed.

    In the case of this thread that grain was dutifully noted. Thanks much.Report

  25. I just did a lot of research on the golf course question this morning. Don’t have time to summarize but urge you to read Eclectablog. He’s done some yeoman’s work on that Q. Very interesting connections between Lansing, Whirlpool and other pols. Also other golf courses with the same political connections.Report

  26. Will says:

    Forgot how much I missed these comment sections.Report