Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute published this week an article about the economics of eminent domain for economic development (i.e., for redevelopment purposes) entitled "This Land Ain’t your Land; this Land Is my Land." I found the piece interesting, despite the fact that it seemed the author started from the conclusion "eminent domain is bad" and worked backwards crafting an analysis to get there.
Ultimately, however, Mr. Scribner does provide some interesting insight. He does not simply come out and say eminent domain for economic development is unconstitutional or that it qualifies as eminent domain abuse (though it seems clear that is how he really feels about it). Instead, his article purports to analyze whether using eminent domain for economic development makes economic sense in the long run. And this is where the piece creates some interest.
Mr. Scribner claims that the mere fact that eminent domain for economic development is possible has a chilling effect on entrepreneurship, especially in lower income areas where an entrepreneurial spirit may be most needed. The reasoning behind this is somewhat complicated, but relies in large part on the idea that the government is simply incapable in most cases of accurately assessing the various economic forces at play:
An increase in the discretionary use of eminent domain for economic development would lead to a decrease in entrepreneurship. As local officials lack the knowledge and expertise to effectively promote private development, their political missteps can keep their localities in poverty by undermining entrepreneurship, and forgo the wealth it would have created.
In the end, Mr. Scribner and I part ways on his conclusion that eminent domain should never be used for redevelopment purposes. I think that in some cases, the open market simply cannot adequately address truly blighted situations, and having the government step in — even when eminent domain is required — can trigger revitalization and economic growth.
That said, the forces Mr. Scribner identifies no doubt exist, and suggest the government should go down such a path only after careful thought and analysis. Had local officials in New London, Connecticut, viewed the issue as Mr. Scribner views it, the string of events leading to the infamous Kelo decision might have played out differently.