Commentary

Pol: “Donít want to turn into a shantytown? Then stop whining about property rights!”

Sam’s recent post and his article on how Kelo has validated the collectivization of land and property reminded me of something the OC Register’s eminent domain-watcher Steven Greenhut mentioned. A local politician wary of anti-Kelo sentiment recently used a picture of a Brazilian favela in one of his campaign brochures to suggest that if wise planners weren’t allowed to control communities as they saw fit, American cities would transform into third-world shantytowns. In other words, we Americans need to get over our obsession with property rights or some day we won’t even have indoor plumbing. But as Hernando de Soto has pointed out, shantytowns are ramshackle largely because folks there lack of secure property rights. If they owned their land formally, they’d be more likely to improve it, more likely to be able to get loans, and so on. So each time our property rights get dinged we take a baby step toward those shantytowns. And speaking of Greenhut:

Check out this cover article in the LA Times’ Weekend section today by David Reyes. It features the booming nightlife in Fullerton. Lots of hip restaurants, night clubs … It’s a real downtown. What caused this amazing boom, the creation of a Pasadena-like city in the midst of Orange County? The marketplace. As the article points out, “[T]his isn’t the downtown that redevelopment built. Talk to the business owners and they’ll confide that they shied away from redevelopment bucks because it had strings attached.” And, fortunately, redevelopment officials didn’t do what they did in Brea — bulldoze the downtown and huge subsidies to boring chain-outlets and movie theaters. In Brea, interesting independent businesses would not be able to start up. City planners and officials make sure the right places locate there. In Fullerton’s real downtown, if you’ve got an idea and the money to get started, you can start interesting nightclubs. Brea is like an outside strip mall with fancy signs, wheras Fullerton is a real place, with interesting shops and places to discover. They don’t need all the silly stuff to tell people that they are downtown. Said Supervisor and former Fullerton Councilman Chris Norby in the article: “This whole area was driven by the market. No bulldozing. No eminent domain. This is what free enterprise developed.” Because Brea’s eminent-domain-supporting council members like central planning and tax subsidies rather than free markets, their city’s downtown will never be like Fullerton’s.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.