“They Can Take It If They Want It”

J. Justin Wilson · July 29, 2015

Harvard Professor Edward Glaeser asks readers of the Wall Street Journal a simple question: “What limits should be placed on the public power to take private property?”

IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock and Litigation Director Dana Berliner responded:

Edward Glaeser’s review of Ilya Somin’s book about the Kelo case and eminent domain (They Can Take It If They Want It, July 25, 2015) takes a curiously anti-constitutional rights approach for dealing with eminent domain abuse.  Mr. Glaeser agrees that such abuse happens, but he doesn’t want laws limiting the use of eminent domain for private development or courts enforcing limits on eminent domain.  Instead, he thinks the way to discourage it is to increase compensation for private takings and to force government to take a hard look at the projects for which they plan to take other people’s property.  These are both perfectly fine ideas, but it is strange to advocate them as the only means to protect the constitutional right to have one’s property taken only for public use.  Cost-benefit commissions are no bulwark against tyranny.

Yes, of course Mr. Glaeser is right that government agencies should refrain from these types of ill-advised projects of which they seem so fond.  And they should pay people decently.  But protection of rights requires laws and engaged courts. That is the design that our founders adopted.  It may not work perfectly all the time, but it remains the best system adopted by any nation.