Eminent domain: not only wrong, but stupid too

Steven Malanga writes in the LA Times:

The city of Boston couldn't accumulate enough land to build the gleaming new $800-million convention center it wanted on the south side of town. So the city government used its powers of eminent domain to snatch about 20 properties from private owners to provide space for the center, justifying the seizure on the grounds that the new center would boost the local economy. Today, the recently opened Boston center sits idle much of the time. First-year bookings and attendance were only one-sixth of what the city projected. Taxpayers now find themselves on the hook not only for the center's construction cost but also for its operating deficit.


As one after another economic development scheme fails, politicians often wind up throwing good tax money after bad, and eminent domain encourages that bad habit. For instance, governments have rushed to "fix" their convention center mistakes with other nearby development that theoretically will boost the centers — which themselves were supposed to be the economic engines. Officials in upstate New York, for instance, used eminent domain to take property away from an owner who was unwilling to sell in order to build a planned subsidized hotel in downtown Syracuse, which the officials say will boost the city's flagging convention center — which itself was originally built to boost the hotel industry.

Politicians often justify such projects with consultant studies purporting to show big potential economic gains. But the track record of such government-sponsored economic studies is dismal. Urban policy expert Heywood Sanders of the University of Texas at San Antonio analyzed more than 30 studies supporting convention center construction and found them "consistently flawed and misleading."

Eminent domain, like the war on drugs, is not only immoral and anathema to Constitutional principles, but also a terrible waste of resources.

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