Out of Control Policy Blog

Put that bulldozer away

An oped from the Detroit News:

The Michigan Supreme Court has overruled one of the worst judicial decisions of modern times. In County of Wayne v. Hathcock, the court reversed the infamous 1981 Poletown decision that allowed Detroit to use the power of eminent domain to take and bulldoze an entire neighborhood so General Motors could build a new factory. As a result of Poletown, more than 4,200 people lost their homes, 600 businesses and 16 churches were destroyed, and a historic community – known as Poletown after its large Polish-American population – was wiped out.

Courts had previously been rather cautious about when they would allow government to use eminent domain, but the Poletown decision changed everything. All politicians had to do was assert that taking private property from one person and giving it to another private entity would create public good by "bolstering the economy." But how would this "bolstering" be measured?

Ironically, condemnations that transfer property to private businesses usually don't even provide the economic benefits their advocates promise. General Motors and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young promised that the new factory would create more than 6,000 jobs. In reality, the plant employed less than half that many workers; possibly, more jobs were lost from the destruction of Poletown than were created by the factory.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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