Eminent Domain in China (Cont’d.)

More news from China. This batch has an informative twist. Our recent dispatches from China have dealt with peasants rioting because they were being displaced by the authorities from their farms, in order to turn their land over to favored developers. Click on http://gideonstrumpet.info/?p=2003. But now, the current problems demonstrate the old verity that where a society disrespects the rights of some, sooner or later it will also do the same to the rights of others — including others who deem themselves to be immune to government lawlesness.

Today’s New York Times brings a dispatch from the exurbs of Beijing, informing us that questionable land seizures by the authorities have now come to the upscale Chinese, not just the peasants. (Andrew Jacobs, Harassment and Evictions Bedevil Even China’s Well-Off, N.Y. Times, October 28, 2011, at p. A4 — click here.) Inhabitants of World Famous Gardens, an upscale community populated by doctors, financiers, and retired government bureaucrats who thought themselves to be immune to government capriciousness, are being kicked out unceremoniously from their homes on three weeks’ notice. Compensation has been fixed uniformly at 1.6 million renmimbi (which comes to $252,000 per house). The problem, according to the homeowners, is that this figure is being uniformly offered to all houses, even though some of them are considerably more expensive.

But that is not the whole story. The owners complain that the real purpose behind this caper is to take land adjoining the proposed right-of-way in order to — you guessed it! — turn it over to the aforementioned developers. In other words, though they don’t use our terminology they say it’s a pretextual taking, as discussed by Justice Kennedy in the Kelo case, and they point to the fact that the government refuses to provide copies of the expanded right-of-way and any information on how it arrived at that rigid compensation figure, so you can’t tell to what actual use their taken land will catually be put.

So here is a lesson to be pondered. When these things happen, they don’t just happen to “them.” Once they become established practices, they can happen to you — yes, you. You don’t think so? Then ponder the case of Rosenthal & Rosenthal, 605 F.Supp. 612 (S.D. N.Y. 1985), where the condemnees sued in federal court and pleaded that their property was added to the Times Square redevelopment project in Manhattan in order to reconvey it to the Mayor’s influential friends. So what? said the court. Even if the taking was so motivated the question was whether the subject property was being taken for urban redevelopment. The improprieties charged by the owners may have been illegal under other state laws, but not under eminent domain laws — whatever the taker’s motivation, the use was the elimeination of blight which in New York can mean anything.

What we find interesting is that whereas the New York Times now sheds tears over the plight over those Chinese folks, it did nothing of the sort when similar improprieties were taking place right under its nose in Times Square.

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