Friday, May 02, 2014

Closer to the Heartland


You know those blog posts that start "a lot of people have been asking me ...?" This isn't one of those. I almost never have "a lot" of people ask me anything, because frankly I'm not especially famous or influential. But I did have one person ask me, and another kind of hint at asking me something, so I'm going to answer publicly on the assumption that one, maybe even two more were wondering but didn't ask.

You know those "long post" warnings you see at some blogs? Consider this one of them. I'll give a short answer first, but the long answer is very long. Consider yourself warned that this isn't a two-minute read.

The Question: Knapp, why have you been so hard on the Heartland Institute lately?

The Short Answer: Because I expected better from them.

The Exceedingly Long Answer:

If you religiously read this blog, you've probably noticed a couple of negative, maybe a little snarky posts about Heartland recently. At issue is that organization's support -- or at least the support of several of its writers -- for the Keystone XL pipeline.

How long have I been following Heartland? Well, not as long as it's been around (it was founded in 1984), but for around half that time.

I began reading and linking material from Heartland back in the late 1990s when I was an editor/aggregator for Free-Market.Net's daily newsletter, Freedom News Daily (which I eventually became managing editor of and later took over as publisher of -- it's now a rebrand of Rational Review News Digest, which covers Heartland to this very day).

In the mid-two-thousand-oughts, I went to Chicago to spend a weekend in creative meetings with the late Vince Miller, who was president of the International Society for Individual Liberty (which had bought the Freedom News Daily imprint from Free-Market.Net's bankruptcy sale and eventually tapped me to publish it). Vince and I schlepped down to Heartland's offices where I met the Institute's President, Joe Bast, and the Institute's executive director, Diane Bast. Vince and I had lunch, and a good discussion (IIRC it had to do with why he and Vince were more, and I less, skeptical of anthropogenic global warming theory, but it was friendly), with Joe.

So look: I don't hate Heartland, and I actually like most of the people affiliated with it.

BUT! I have a big problem with them on one particular issue. Which I will begin addressing after the jump.




Part One: How Things Ought To Work

This is part is long and will seem irrelevant. It isn't irrelevant. The other two parts are long and their relevance will be obvious to the conclusion, which should be fairly short.

In the mid-1970s, my parents bought a house in Lebanon, Missouri. I lived in that house from the time I was 10 years old until I went out into the world on my own (and a couple of times, short-term, when the world drove me back). The numbers are a matter of memory and family lore and may not be exact, but bear with:

The price of the house was $13,600. If I know my parents (and I do) they took the shortest mortgage they could get and made higher payments for a shorter time, probably 10 years, on it. Kentucky windage guess: They had $25k in the house including mortgage principal, mortgage interest and capital improvements (my dad and I poured a concrete slab and built a carport next to the garage; that kind of thing).

The house was located maybe 100 feet from an Interstate highway overpass and across the street from an aging, dilapidated, two-story, pale green nursing home, which may explain why the house was cheap for a nice, two-bedroom home on a reasonably sized lot even from a 1970s standpoint.

Some time in the late 1980s, a gentleman in suit and tie knocked on the door and asked my dad if he would be willing to sell the house. Of course, dad said, everything is for sale if the price is right.

Turned out the company that owned the dilapidated nursing home was thinking about tearing it down and building a newer, bigger, more modern facility, so they were buying up every house on the block.

OK, said Dad ... $50,000.

And the guy laughed in his face and told him they weren't paying more than half that for the other houses in the neighborhood. Well, Dad said, you'll pay $50k for THIS house if you want to buy it ... today. And the guy left.

Several years pass. Eventually the nursing home company owns every house on the street except for ours. And the guy comes back. OK, he says, $50k. And Dad says no, $95k. And the guy's jaw drops and he asks why. And dad says well, I offered it to you for $50k if you bought it that day, years ago. Now it's been years, and I'm sitting on the last property between you and your project. And also, you laughed at me, and I charge extra for providing entertainment. So $50k just isn't going to work.

If I'm not mistaken, the sale price ended up somewhere between $85k and $90k. The buyers didn't want to pay that, but it was my dad's house and they either had to pay it or go pound sand. They didn't (to their credit, assuming that they possibly could have) go to the Lebanon, Missouri city council and say "make him sell us the house for $50k because ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT." They decided they wanted it badly enough to pay what they had to pay. Or, alternatively, they might have decided they didn't, and gone away again.

Which is exactly how it should be.

Part Two: How Heartland and I Agree Things Ought NOT to Work

Who wins and who loses? Consultants who produce reports claiming to show big employment and tax base growth from redevelopment schemes will likely prosper. Property owners will need to have a friendly alderman or mayor to protect themselves from a taking, so the former will lose whatever bribes and "campaign contributions" they are compelled to give to the latter. The biggest losers are people who have the least political power, since they are the most at risk of being Keloed.

Paul Fisher, "Attorney Paul Fisher Reacts to Supreme Court Decision in Kelo Eminent Domain Case," Heartland Institute, 06/23/05

The U.S. Constitution plainly allows local governments to take control of private property for "public use" after payment of just compensation. But what happens if the homeowners refuse to sell their property, as happened in New London?

Private property ownership is good for individuals and for society as a whole, and government should preserve it but not interfere in its distribution.

...

Kelo is a clear case of liberal judges harming the economic future of African Americans with a wrong-headed decision.

-- Lee Walker, "Supreme Court's Kelo Decision Not Good for Blacks," Heartland Institute, 08/01/05

The New London case makes news because of the scale of the abuse and the infamy it produced:

the Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, in which five so-called justices spat on the Constitution they had sworn to uphold.

They ruled no one has a right to their own property if someone else wants to use it in ways that might -- might! -- generate more tax revenue or jobs.

-- Steve Stanek, "Economic Development From Kelo Case Fails," Heartland Institute, 11/12/09

Now, I'm probably somewhat more "free-markety" about eminent domain than the Heartland line -- I'm an anarchist and don't acknowledge any eminent domain "right" for the state at all, even for "public use." Heartland seems to be more in the "constitutionalist" vein where a bona fide "public purpose" is allowed for.

BUT! Heartland and I definitely agree at any rate that no, the state must not be allowed to steal people's property just to hand it over to whomever promises "economic development" from quasi-private profit. We're on the same page to this point.

Part Three: Where Heartland and I Disagree, Big-Time, and Why

The case for the Keystone XL pipeline is straight forward. Jobs will be created. Families will benefit. Local businesses and professions will grow. Governments will increase their tax receipts.

...

The President should end the polarization of energy policy and begin uniting the country by supporting the real job creators. He should give the go-ahead for the XL pipeline immediately.

-- Marita Noon, "Keystone XL: not just a pipeline, a life-line," Heartland Institute, 08/26/13

Our hydrocarbon wealth especially offers amazing benefits: improved human safety, health, welfare and living standards, in a more stable world, with new sources of jobs, wealth and income equality. Not tapping these resources is contrary to Obama's promises and our national interest. It is immoral.

Of all the opportunities arrayed before him, the 1,179-mile Alberta to Texas Keystone XL pipeline (KXL) is the most "shovel ready." Indeed, it awaits merely a presidential phone call or signature, to slash bureaucratic red tape, streamline the permitting process, and create construction and manufacturing jobs.

-- Paul Driessen, "Build the Keystone Pipeline, Already!" Heartland Institute, 02/05/14


We've sent enough jobs to China. It's time to keep thousands of environmentally friendly jobs here, on American soil.

-- Joe Bast, "Submit Comments Now to Support the Keystone XL Pipeline!" Heartland Institute, 02/10/14

So, what's the big difference between Kelo and Keystone? I can only think of one, and that is size and scale.

The Kelo case involved only nine plaintiffs and 15 residential parcels of land in one small Connecticut town.

Keystone will run through nine states. As of 2011 it had already racked up 56 eminent domain actions in only two of those states. As of three months ago, three more property owners in Nebraska were contesting the theft of their lands. Ultimately, it is obvious that Keystone will involve hundreds, possibly thousands, of eminent domain takes over thousands of miles of territory, as opposed to Kelo's measly 15 lots in one small town.

I opposed the Kelo thefts. I oppose the Keystone thefts. Heartland opposed the Kelo thefts, but has been almost completely silent on the Keystone thefts (I'll get to the one exception in my conclusion) and supports the project. Why?

Conclusion

In a 2013 piece titled "Keystone XL Opponents Hypocritically Talk Property Rights," Heartland senior fellow James M. Taylor writes:

Politicians and environmental activist groups who appeal to private property rights as a reason to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline should be required to abide by their own private property rights advocacy when hereafter pushing for costly, affordable energy-killing renewable power projects. I share the concerns of private property advocates regarding Keystone XL. I also believe everybody should be required to play by the same set of rules.

I'm no longer a politician. I'm not an "environmental activist group," although I consider myself a (100% free market!) environmentalist. But I still think I'm part of the group Taylor addresses himself to and I agree ... none of us should be hypocrites.

Keystone can't be built without government stepping in to steal land on behalf of "private" actors for its construction. Therefore, no matter how economically beneficial it might be for anyone, no matter how environmentally sound it is, it should not be built. Period.

Heartland's line on Keystone, compared to its line on Kelo, is hypocritical -- so much so that its board, fellows, leadership, staff and supporters should be extremely embarrassed and asking themselves what the hell they're doing and how they can fix it.

And that's why I've been ragging on Heartland.

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