October 5, 2017

Out of Frame: The Real Life Wilson Fisk

Filed under: Government, History, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:00

Foundation for Economic Education
Published on 5 Oct 2017

Wilson Fisk is one of the most terrifying villains in the Marvel universe. Good thing he’s just fictional, right? Wrong!

In this episode of Out of Frame, we explore the real-life Wilson Fisk, a central planner from America’s not so distant past.

Learn more about Robert Moses and his greatest nemesis, Jane Jacobs at FEE: https://fee.org/articles/jane-jacobs/

May 26, 2015

Ilya Somin’s new book on eminent domain

Filed under: Books, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The book is being published in time to mark the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s dreadful Kelo decision:

My new book, The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain is now in print. It is the first book about the Kelo decision and the massive political backlash it generated, written by a legal scholar. The Grasping Hand is coming out just in time for the tenth anniversary of Kelo on June 23.

Kelo-Book-Cover-Final-Version-e1432095413354Here is a summary from the University of Chicago Press website (the book is also co-published by the Cato Institute):

    In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London, Connecticut, could condemn fifteen residential properties in order to transfer them to a new private owner. Although the Fifth Amendment only permits the taking of private property for “public use,” the Court ruled that the transfer of condemned land to private parties for “economic development” is permitted by the Constitution – even if the government cannot prove that the expected development will ever actually happen. The Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London empowered the grasping hand of the state at the expense of the invisible hand of the market.

    In this detailed study of one of the most controversial Supreme Court cases in modern times, Ilya Somin argues that Kelo was a grave error. Economic development and “blight” condemnations are unconstitutional under both originalist and most “living constitution” theories of legal interpretation. They also victimize the poor and the politically weak for the benefit of powerful interest groups, and often destroy more economic value than they create. Kelo itself exemplifies these patterns. The residents targeted for condemnation lacked the influence needed to combat the formidable government and corporate interests arrayed against them. Moreover, the city’s poorly conceived development plan ultimately failed: the condemned land lies empty to this day, occupied only by feral cats.

    The Supreme Court’s unpopular ruling triggered an unprecedented political reaction, with forty-five states passing new laws intended to limit the use of eminent domain. But many of the new laws impose few or no genuine constraints on takings. The Kelo backlash led to significant progress, but not nearly as much as it may have seemed.

    Despite its outcome, the closely divided 5-4 ruling shattered what many believed to be a consensus that virtually any condemnation qualifies as a public use under the Fifth Amendment. It also showed that there is widespread public opposition to eminent domain abuse. With controversy over takings sure to continue, The Grasping Hand offers the first book-length analysis of Kelo by a legal scholar, alongside a broader history of the dispute over public use and eminent domain, and an evaluation of options for reform.

March 1, 2011

American high speed rail plans an expensive mirage

Filed under: Economics, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:35

Philip Klein looks at the faulty notions behind the Obama administration’s push for high speed railways:

To most Americans, the passing reference to California was likely an afterthought, lost amid all the dreamy rhetoric of rebuilding the nation. But upon closer inspection, the state’s proposed high-speed rail system serves as a perfect example of the gap between the promise of transformational liberalism and the reality of big government. Taxpayers everywhere should pay attention, because the project has already been granted $3.2 billion in federal funds, mostly through Obama’s economic stimulus package — and its backers hope to gobble up billions more over the next decade.

The $43 billion transportation project to link Los Angeles to San Francisco with a bullet train by 2020 would be considered grandiose during the plushest of times, yet it’s being pursued during an era when governments at all levels are mired in deep fiscal crises. The plan has been subject to a series of scathing reports by independent analysts, raising concerns about everything from its cost estimates to its business model. The University of California at Berkeley has questioned its lofty ridership projections. And even the Washington Post has editorialized against it.

It’s a huge wodge of cash from a government that’s already struggling with record deficits, handed to state governments who are in many cases even worse off financially, yet must match the federal funds or lose the subsidy.

Calling it a “system” is misleading, as none of the currently imagined lines would inter-connect. Nobody seems to be worried that there will not be enough passenger traffic to justify the enormous acquisition, construction, and operational costs for these train services.

“The cost projections are overly optimistic,” Wendell Cox, a public policy consultant and co-author of a critical report for the libertarian Reason Foundation, says. “The ridership projections are absolutely crazy. The thing will have no impact on highway traffic and will have little or no impact on the amount of planes in the air. This project really defines the term ‘boondoggle.'”

[. . .]

BRINGING HIGH-SPEED RAIL to America has been a decades-long dream for liberals, who have long envied Europe’s extensive rail system. Building a high-speed rail network, they hope, would move the nation away from automobiles and reduce pollution. It has the added bonus of being a massive, centrally planned public works project. The problem is just because rail has worked elsewhere, that doesn’t mean it makes sense here.

“We’re not like Spain or France, where the population densities are a lot higher, and the cities are not as spread out,” Ken Orski, a former transportation official in the Nixon and Ford administrations and publisher of the newsletter Innovation Briefs, says. “So you can connect cities like Barcelona and Madrid or Paris and Marseilles easily.”

The best place to build a high speed rail system for the US would be the Boston-New York-Washington corridor (aka “Bosnywash”, for the assumed urban agglomeration that would occur as the cities reach toward one another). It has the necessary population density to potentially turn an HSR system into a practical, possibly even profitable, part of the transportation solution. The problem is that without an enormous eminent domain land-grab to cheat every land-owner of the fair value of their property, it just can’t be done. Buying enough contiguous sections of land to connect these cities would be so expensive that scrapping and replacing the entire navy every year would be a bargain in comparison.

The American railway system is built around freight: passenger traffic is a tiny sliver of the whole picture. Ordinary passenger trains cause traffic and scheduling difficulties because they travel at higher speeds, but require more frequent stops than freight trains, and their schedules have to be adjusted to passenger needs (passenger traffic peaks early to mid-morning and early to mid-evening). The frequency of passenger trains can “crowd out” the freight traffic the railway actually earns money on.

Most railway companies prefer to avoid having the complications of carrying passengers at all — that’s why Amtrak (and VIA Rail in Canada) was set up in the first place, to take the burden of money-losing passenger services off the shoulders of deeply indebted railways. Even after the new entity lopped off huge numbers of passenger trains from its schedule, it couldn’t turn a profit on the scaled-down services it was offering.

Ordinary passenger trains can, at a stretch, share rail with freight traffic, but high speed trains cannot. At higher speeds, the actual construction of the track has to change to deal with the physical problem of safely guiding the fast passenger trains along the rail. Signalling must also change to suit the far-higher speeds — and the matching far-longer safe braking distances. High speed rail lines cannot be interrupted with grade crossings, for the safety of passengers and bystanders, so additional bridges and tunnels must be built to avoid bringing road vehicles and pedestrians too close to the trains.

In other words, a high speed railway line is far from being just a faster version of what we already have: it would have to be built separately, to much higher standards of construction.

Getting back to the California HSR line; it goes from A to B on this map:

Okay, you think, at least Fresno will get some snazzy slick rail service . . . except this section will be built but not operated until further connecting sections are built . . . at a later date. Maybe. It will be the track, including elevated sections through Fresno, and the physical right-of-way, but no electrical system to power the trains; but that’s fine, because the budget doesn’t include any actual trains.

Of course, this is an old hobby horse of mine and I’ve posted about High Speed Railways a few times before.

August 26, 2010

If you like Eminent Domain, you’ll love Montgomery’s version

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:02

Christina Walsh reports on an Alabama city’s even-more-tyrannical-than-eminent-domain law:

Imagine you come home from work one day to a notice on your front door that you have 45 days to demolish your house, or the city will do it for you. Oh, and you’re paying for it.

This is happening right now in Montgomery, Ala., and here is how it works: The city decides it doesn’t like your property for one reason or another, so it declares it a “public nuisance.” It mails you a notice that you have 45 days to demolish your property, at your expense, or the city will do it for you (and, of course, bill you).

Your tab with the city will constitute a lien on your property, and if you don’t pay it within 30 days (or pay your installments on time; if you owe over $10,000, you can work out a deal to pay back the city for destroying your home over a period of time, with interest), the city can sell your now-vacant land to the highest bidder.

H/T to Institute For Justice for the link.

February 26, 2010

Detroit has no problem that the government can’t make worse

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:11

Detroit has had a rough time lately — if you define “lately” as 50 years. But never fear . . . in spite of depopulation, de-industrialization, urban decay, crime, and soaring rates of illiteracy, the government is going to do something:

From its status as one of the wealthiest communities in the country, with a population of close to 2 million people 50 years ago, it has shrunk to a chaotic, sclerotic mess of 900,000 souls.

So in America, land of the free, the city elders of Detroit are now planning a forced march down Woodward Avenue. Citizens will be relocated from desolate neighbourhoods, their former homes bulldozed.

How will the city get people to move? In some cases, it will invoke eminent domain legislation, that favourite weapon of central planners, and expropriate. In others, it will simply cut off more services as they become too expensive to provide.

Mass state-driven relocation has happened in Communist China, the former Soviet Union, but America? Not since the creation of Native American reservations, and certainly not in 21st century urban areas.

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