Those Spreading Eminent Domain Riots in China, and Their Implications

The Los Angeles Times reports that riots in China over the government’s disregard of private property rights are intensifying. “Farmers want a stop to confiscations of their land or to get better compensation for lost property. Homeowners want to stop demolitions. People want cleaner air and water and safer food. . .” However, “[p]roperty confiscation is probably the largest single trigger for extreme protest.”  Barbara Demick, Protests in China Over Local Grievances Surge, and Get a Hearing, L.A. Times, October 8, 2011. Click here.

“The number of reported ‘mass incidents’ rose from 8700 in 1993 to more than 90,000 in 2006, according to the Chinese Police Academy. A professor at Tsinghua University, Sun Liping, has told Chinese reporters he believes the figure last year was up to 180,000.” That, in our book, is a lot of “incidents” (it comes to about 500 per day), and it demonstrates that the Chinese people have had it up to here with a kleptocratic system of government that disregards their natural right to property ownership, and to the fruits thereof. Not to put too nice a turn of phrasing on it, it’s a system that robs them of their substance, to further a system that under the banner of communism is really another form of cozy, crony capitalism.

How cozy? “Local governments last year earned $470 billion from land deals, up from $70 million in 1989, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources, and farmers — who lease their land rather than own it under the communist system — have scant protection if local officials want to give the leases to real estate developers who will pay more.” We don’t mean to overstate it, but that sounds like the Kelo case, doesn’t it? And that isn’t the only similarity. “Ms. Jinhua, a 43-year old resident of Siping, in the northeasern province of Jilin, said she wa sowing corn seeds on fields her husband’s family had farmed for generations when local officials, accompanied by unifortmed police, ordered her off the land.” Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that would be permissible under American law too. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the power of eminent domain may be exercised through physical seizure of the subject property without benefit of any court proceedings or due process. Two U.S. Courts of Appeals (the 5th and the 9th) have held in those words, that the American government may do just that — physically seize private land, and say to the protesting owner “Sue me.” Check it out if you don’t believe us.

And so it goes. Still, be all that as it may, we experience a feeling of revulsion whenever we come across this sort of thing, where American law that is said to be of the people’s government that is the embodiment of due process, fairness and equity, turns out in some ways to be not all that much different than the law of a barbaric government like China’s autocracy.

Only in eminent domain law!