I was noticing the other day that all widely used transportation
technologies are OVER 100 years old. Why should that be? I think I
know: they're all subsidized. Canals, railroads, airports, and roads.
None of them bear the full freight of their passage. Now, invent some
new technology, e.g. a dual-mode monorail like the RUF. How can it possibly gain a foothold
against the subsidized modes of transportation? It can't. It has to
get a subsidy of its own. Politicians are bad at picking new
technologies because most of them fail, and no politician wants to be
seen as having backed a failure.
That is the cost of transportation subsidies: no
innovations can come to market.
Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, who writes articles for the
Economic Times and The Times of India under the name
"Swaminomics" (which is just a great name), has an interesting
suggestion. He calls it community-led
land acquisition. He means it to be applied to India, which has
its own set of land acquisition problems, but it would work for our
eminent domain ( Kelo v. City
of New London (04-0108)) problem as well.
Here is the gist of his proposal as it applies to us: Governments
should negotiate acquisition proposals with landowners, and then let
the landowners vote on the deal. If a large majority--it could be
two-thirds or three-quarters--vote in favour of selling, this should
be binding on the minority.
The biggest advantage of this rule is that it prevents
under-valuation of the property. The Constitution states "nor shall
private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
Right now, the government decides what is just compensation, and then
the government pays the price. Clearly there is vast
potential for injustice there, and when you look at the history of
eminent domain acquisitions, you will find plenty of charges of unjust
forced sales. But by ensuring that a supermajority of landowners
agrees that the price is "just compensation", that will ensure that
the price really is fair.
UPDATE 3/1: Marvin writes in to point me to an article
published in the Utah Daily Herald. Seems that the Utah Legislature had
completely revoked the power of eminent domain. They have now replaced it
with a scheme
very much like the Swami describes above.