Seattle’s city council voted unanimously Monday to use eminent domain to take private property. They say they must seize the private property, which is currently being used as a parking lot, in order to turn it into … a parking lot. (Here is the link to the original notice).

Which reminds me: if you haven't read Richard Epstein's Takings, you should. It's an analysis of eminent domain from a centrist, utilitarian, game-theoretic angle, and it's quite good. Right libertarians like me might find it a soft on ideology, but that's a feature for most potential readers. With used copies costing just 61 cents, can you afford not to read this?

Last 5 posts by Clark


  1. Ollie says

    The timing of this is extraordinarily helpful. Who would have thought my daily dose of Popehat would contain a useful source for my paper on how the U.S. government has forsaken its Lockean heritage?

  2. Kevin P. says

    I know Ken's more involved with free speech issues, but is there a Clark version of the "Popehat signal" to encourage the formation and funding of a legal defense for this (really old) woman's property rights?

  3. Dion starfire says

    Given the requirements for eminent domain seizures (specifically, the section requiring owners to be compensated for the fair market value of the property) the prices offered to her would likely be for quite a bit more than the market value (as long price < (value + seizure costs + reputation costs) the gov. body still comes out ahead), I've got to wonder why she's so resistant to selling. Probably just an old lady who can't cope with any more change in her life, and is too proud to ask for help (in handling the things she'd have to do to convert the payment into a the sort of regular income stream she's used to).

  4. Dan Weber says

    "Tear down the parking lot to put up a parking lot" is an ancient joke. Even the Monkees referenced it as cliche.

  5. David C says

    The people of Seattle need to make it clear to their city council that this is not acceptable.

    Eminent domain makes sense when building roads. It does not make sense in this situation.

    I wonder if there could be a constitutional challenge on this… I know the protections are ridiculously weak, but can the city even show that there will be a benefit from taking the property and using it for the exact purpose it's already being used for?

  6. David C says

    @Dion: Parking lots are not the type of business where you can just buy any old parcel of land. If you want to make a profit, location is key. And even if she were to find some other suitable parcel of land, unless it was literally across the street she would lose all of her existing customers.

    Some people enjoy running a business. It's not your place to claim she's too old and should just quietly sell because the city wants a city-owned parking lot rather than a privately-owned parking lot.

  7. says

    Dion – "(specifically, the section requiring owners to be compensated for the fair market value of the property)"

    That would be the fair market value today. What if the owner thinks the property will be worth triple that amount in 10 years. Getting compensated for what its worth today is not a good deal for them.

    "I've got to wonder why she's so resistant to selling"

    Maybe she like the business. Or maybe she lets her grandkids park their for free. Or maybe she wants to give the business to her kids when she dies. There are lots of reasons, and none of them should matter at all to you or the government.

  8. luagha says

    And if they wait for her to die, someone else will inherit. Someone who maybe has a lot more time and energy to show up in court and protect the business.

    And maybe they know something about who is applying for permits in areas served by that parking lot in the upcoming year or two.

  9. says

    Sparking from a post-libertarian viewpoint, this is all perfectly fine. When Ms. Wolson or her predecessors originally purchased usage rights to that particular section of land, certain rights were retained by the Government, including (amongst others) the right of taxation, zoning restrictions, and the right to assert eminent domain. If she didn't like that deal, she shouldn't have made the purchase.

    It is unreasonable for libertarians to demand that the Government give away those rights free of charge. That would amount to a windfall to the already (relatively) wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

  10. Steven H. says

    I see how this works…

    City seizes property, pays for it mostly with State money which doesn't have to be paid back.

    City then continues to operate parking lot, and uses the revenue from same to pay off their part of the purchase price.

    So, this only makes sense because the State is giving them a pile of money to do this. Note that the State money is, theoretically, for expanding the "public" parking available – technically this will do that, by adding 130 or so "public" parking spaces to the city's total, but it ignores the spirit of the law by NOT adding to the REAL number of parking spots downtown – it just changes 130-odd slots from "private parking" (open to the public for a small fee) to "public parking" (open to the public for the same small fee).

    wonder which relative of a City Council member is going to get the contract to run the place on behalf of the City?

  11. says

    @Harry Johnson,

    What if Ms. Wolson isn't wealthy? Is your moral calculus a utilitarian one, whereby it's OK to seize things from those who have "enough?" (And, of course, you'll decide what's enough…)

    This could be a really fun thought experiment. I could run a hamburger joint, but be a really bad businessman and barely scrape by, thereby making it wrong for the gov't to seize my property. But if I sold out to a capable entrepreneur, and he made a killing at it, the moral calculus would change and seizure would be not only permissible, but perhaps mandatory.

    Also: Does all land inherently belong to the government?

  12. says

    @Not Claude Akins:

    What if Ms. Wolson isn't wealthy?

    Irrelevant. (Sorry; I see where you got confused. Only the first paragraph of my original post was about this particular case, the second paragraph was a general and I guess more or less irrelevant point about libertarianism. That could have been clearer.)

    Does all land inherently belong to the government?

    I'd prefer to say to society, as represented by the government, at least in theory. Note that there's precedent for governments selling land to one another, sovereignty and all. Alaska, for example. IMO, this establishes precedent that sovereignty is a form of ownership, or, if you prefer, is something that can be owned.

  13. Steven H. says


    Also: Does all land inherently belong to the government?

    For all practical purposes, yes.

    Fact is, land ownership requires agreement between large numbers of people. Agreements between large numbers of people are the basic purpose of government (actually, that's pretty much the definition of government).

  14. Graham says

    Nah, in some ways your Emenent domain laws are worse than the only major communist state. Remember everyone having a giggle over this, last year?


    The communish authorities didnt just say, "You're moving. This is how much we are paying you. No, you dont get a say in the matter." of course, the publicity may have helped with that.

    I would have put it down more as Feudalism rather than Communism. As communism at least implies working together, whereas Feudalism implies you dont get the choice. Of course, both systems suck….

  15. Not Sure says

    "Does all land inherently belong to the government?"

    I'm pretty sure anyone who refuses to pay the government what they demand for the use (and pretense of ownership) of their "property" will find out quickly enough about that.