Out of Control Policy Blog

Eminent Domain, Zimbabwe-style

Sometimes a fictional analogy can offer a perspective on a real-life situation that traditional news and analysis can't provide. Such is the case with Ilya Shapiro's Tech Central Station piece today.

He takes a CNN article on Zimbabwe's disastrous Operation Murambatsvina ("Drive Out Trash") -- an "urban renewal" effort that has left hundreds of thousands of city dwellers homeless and is widely thought to be a retaliation against the urban poor who voted against the ruling party in recent elections -- and changes the context to reflect eminent domain in the U.S., post-Kelo :

    More than 200 international human rights and civic groups called on the Organization of American States and the United Nations to stop the United States government from destroying the homes and livelihoods of poor city dwellers.

    The groups, including Amnesty International and Belarussian Lawyers for Human Rights, sent out smuggled videotapes of banned FOX News footage showing hundreds of thousands of people on the move after state troopers and National Guardsmen bodily evicted them and bulldozed their homes in economically under-developed areas across the country -- like this one in central Connecticut. (Police prevent journalists from filming the demolition campaign, so the video was collected clandestinely.) In a joint statement Sunday, the groups said the campaign known as Operation Private Property for Public Use, was "a grave violation of international human rights law and a disturbing affront to human dignity."

    Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe hailed the drive as an urban renewal initiative, defending the policy being pursued by state and local governments across the country as "a fine example of America finally seeing the wisdom of how we do things elsewhere in the world."

    President Bush, in a terse statement issued by his spokesman, disavowed the African dictator's support but stated that the federal government was only enforcing the Supreme Court's recent 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London, which authorized the public "taking" of private property for "carefully considered" development plans.

Read the whole thing. Sure, it's fiction; sure, it's hyperbole. But it's still useful to keep in mind the extreme, logical ends of such demoralizing policies, if only to inspire or maintain public vigilance.

On a somewhat related note, if you missed it yesterday, check out this post on the implications of property rights evisceration in the U.S.

And do read the original CNN article on the Zimbabwe situation for a truly frightening glimpse of modern tyranny and oppression. Neither fiction nor history, that tragedy is happening in real-time in the twenty-first century. Only the coldest of hearts would not be outraged by this latest example of Mugabe's power-drunk despotism.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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