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June 24, 2005

Politics is Disgraceful

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Cheery bulletins about the people who run your government.

  • Tyler Cowen points out the terrible news that the Supreme Court has ruled that it's officially OK for local governments to seize people's homes and businesses for private economic development. Which means that, if your town council wants to take your house away from you so that a developer can build a mall? Well, you no longer have a legal leg to stand on. Shannon Love and Randall Parker breathe fire.

  • Alex Tabarrok spots a WashPost article reporting that the number of registered lobbyists infesting Washington D.C. has more than doubled since 2000.

  • All by myself I noticed this amazing NYTimes account of how the New York City school system managed to "misspend" $870 million in Medicaid funds. $870 million: That ain't pocket change. "Special Ed" indeed.

I wonder if I'm the only person who sometimes suspects that this whole government thing is little more than a conspiracy to rip off the public ...



posted by Michael at June 24, 2005


I agree with your sentiments on the first and third items. On the second, however, I'm afraid I don't see the problem. Lobbyists are exercising their, or their clients', right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Darn that pesky first amendment and its enumeration of a few of the fundamental rights of citizens anyway.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on June 24, 2005 2:49 PM

I congratulate myself on my timing: puting "for sale" sign on the house.

Socialism caught up with me: I thought I'm safe in US from expropriators of private property...

Posted by: Tatyana on June 24, 2005 3:56 PM

Doug -- I can see your point in principle. On the other hand, what the boom in lobbyists represents may be a drag. This from the article linked-to doesn't sound too cheery:

The lobbying boom has been caused by three factors, experts say: rapid growth in government, Republican control of both the White House and Congress, and wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits...

Lobbying firms can't hire people fast enough. Starting salaries have risen to about $300,000 a year for the best-connected aides eager to "move downtown" from Capitol Hill or the Bush administration. Once considered a distasteful post-government vocation, big-bucks lobbying is luring nearly half of all lawmakers who return to the private sector when they leave Congress.

Tatyana -- But maybe government always does know best.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 24, 2005 6:20 PM

For all the hand-wringing about the Supreme Court's decision, I suspect that its actual impact will be very limited with few properties taken. A city would have to pay fair compensation to affected property owners - and in eminent domain situations, the compensation tends to be on the high side of market value - in the hopes that the project to be built on the condemned land would at some future point generate enough direct and indirect tax revenues to make the payment of compensation worthwhile. In other words, there would be a more or less immediate cash outlay but a speculative future return. Also keep in mind that a private developer with enough influence to get a city to carry out condemnations on the developer's behalf also is likely to demand tax concessions for the development.
What I foresee is that cities will use their newfound condemnation powers only in a relatively few, clearcut situations, for instance a recalcitrant property owner whose refusal to sell is blocking construction of a large industrial or commercial development.

Posted by: Peter on June 25, 2005 1:04 AM

"its actual impact will be very limited with few properties taken."

As to the number of properties taken, first we would have to define, or re-define, the word "taken." Basketball commentators years ago came up with a good point regarding shots blocked, noting that not only does a great defensive center block a number of shots, but he also affects the game in a way that is difficult to measure, that is, by his presence, reputation and efforts, a number of shots are not even attempted. This emininent domain decision is like a taller center. Now how many are going to litigate all the way/drive the lane? This decision is a disincentive to defending one's property in court and an incentive to sell and move out and on.

Posted by: Chris on June 25, 2005 2:53 PM

eh, I'm young, so I like the heady feel of progress where the old is swept away to make way for the new and shiny. Admittingly cold of me considering that people's sentiment for an old homestead can have deep roots, but you can't stop the march of progress, and I think streamlining development overall improves things for the greatest number of people. As long as I get fair+ cash compensation I'd be pretty happy, figuring it's a chance to find somewhere new and even better to live. I imagine age and how deep of roots you have is a big determinate in how you feel about this issue...

Posted by: Zetjintsu on June 25, 2005 5:14 PM

All the Democrats and a third of the Republicans on the Supreme Court voted for this monstrosity. Evil! Evil evil evil!

I hate the Democratic Party. I hate the people who think government should be supreme. A man's home is no longer his castle. We live under the dictatorship of the Supreme Legislature.

When leaders of other countries are appointed for life a lot of American commentators condescendingly sniff at those inferior foreigners. Well, we live under the rule of high and mighty people appointed for life and pretend this set-up is somehow virtuous.

Posted by: Randall Parker on June 25, 2005 8:29 PM

This Supreme Court decision illustrates a conundrum of modern politics. Big government is publicly presented as the only force that will look out for 'the little guy.' But ever so slightly behind the curtain we see Big Government happily shilling for Wealth and Power.

Am I the only person to see a correlation between several of Michael Blowhard's fascinating facts...this Supreme Court decision, the enormous expansion of registered lobbyists, and the shrinking social mobility reflected in enrollments at elite colleges. It all reflects the fashion in which the professional-managerial-bureaucratic ("PMB") class is using the government to simultaneously enrich themselves and insulate themselves from economic risk.

And, of course, that also explains the relative apathy of Big Government toward the immigration issue...masses of poorly educated immigrants don't threaten the PMBs, but they do provide cheap labor for nice restaurants and childcare.

Ah, the PMBs...ya gotta love 'em. Of course, you gotta love 'em, because they've got you by the short hairs...

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 26, 2005 2:26 AM

Friedrich, something very similar I heard yesterday while watching Steven Malanga giving the talk @ Manhattan Institute (C-Span); recorded in May.
Here's his article in Sun;
Here's his new book.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 26, 2005 7:05 AM

ooops, wrong article, sorry. I linked before my jog and a coffee.

He talked about fairly recent phenomenon of convergence of government, unions and "public advocacy" groups, which in theory are supposed to fight each other in interest of the public. Government funding of social groups campaigning for "living wage", community groups grabbing more city/state/fed money (and thus raising taxes) using support of Church, groups like Acorn blackmailing banks for "protection from government" paybacks all the while receiving dough from the gov, Jackson and his Rainbow coalition, sharp increase in professional "social workers" in body of labor force (if I recall correctly, in NY from 4 thousands to 180 th. in a decade) - all indicators of ever-extendeding government machine feeding itself to colossal proportions.

The result being regular citizen is powerless against combined forces of government, unions and social groups created to defend his interests.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 26, 2005 10:35 AM

Oh, c'mon Michael.

Kelo is indeed a very bad decision -- (and you actually misstate it slightly but importantly as Kelo merely affirms the current state of the law.)

But because it is such a bad affirmation, it needs to be discussed in a way that is a bit more sophisticated than as middle-aged baseball-cap white-guy with "...this whole government thing is little more than a conspiracy to rip off the public..." The public is real happy to go to baseball stadiums -- like GW Bush's in Texas -- which used condemnation to acquire the land. So please, no faux populism, please.

Posted by: David Sucher on June 26, 2005 11:21 AM

To the extent that lobbying government is more worthwhile now than previously, as a result of the dramatic expansion of federal government power, I share your apprehension. Still, since federal power seems to expand without apparent limit, our only recourse is to attempt to change the course for our individual or collective benefit.

Sorry about the tone of my first reply; I get tired of complaints about "special interests*", and read your note as one such.

*Special interest: any interest I don't share.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on June 26, 2005 12:27 PM

There's something wrong with faux populism?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 26, 2005 8:23 PM

this reads as if written especially for you:

...I trust that decent Democrats who are not in the pockets of public sector employee associations and who actually have at the core of their convictions the desire to help the 'have nots' against whom the system can at time be so slanted, will set aside partisan politics and join with Republicans who are not in the pockets of well funded business interests to rebel against this savage wound to the US Constitution which in effects rips out the Fifth Amendment.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 26, 2005 9:34 PM


Posted by: david Sucher on June 27, 2005 1:00 AM


Posted by: David Sucher on June 27, 2005 7:07 PM

Re: speech therapy

While I don't doubt this is a lucrative loophole -- and wherever poverty increases so too does opportunism -- the only information we gain from this article is that a) not all the cases could be verified b) not all the kids had signed doctors' notes. Perhaps kids and teachers are hard to keep track of in poor city schools, and perhaps they don't have great access to speech pathologists.

Just making an observation; my point, if I have one, is that you could just as easily question whether teaching students obscure and irrelevant facts about American history (for example) is a misappropriation of public funds. Could you verify that all the students were taught American history? That they need to be taught semi-famous dates in American history? That the person teaching was really qualified to do so?

Also, Brooks Brothers is having a huuuge sale!

How about a link to the audit online? After all, that's what this Internet thing is for. Nah, the NYTimes is too busy selling ads on the entire right half of the screen to connect to other Web sites.

Here's something similar about autistic students:

Posted by: Rob Asumendi on June 28, 2005 3:14 PM

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