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Barack Obama and Constitutional Property Rights II - Obama's Apparent Silence about Kelo:

As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, Barack Obama has expressed at least rhetorically strong support for constitutional property rights. On the other hand, it is striking that - as far as I know - Obama has never said anything about the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. City of New London, by far the best known and most widely criticized of the Court's recent property rights decisions. Obama's apparent silence is all the more notable in light of the fact that the decision was harshly criticized by numerous other liberal politicians and activists, including Bill Clinton, Ralph Nader, Maxine Waters, and Howard Dean (See Part I of this article for the relevant cites). Many African-American leaders were particularly critical, because as the NAACP emphasized in its excellent amicus brief in the case, "blight" and "economic development" takings often target the property of the minority poor.

If Obama has indeed been silent on Kelo, that may be an indication that his true level of support for constitutional property rights is actually quite weak. After all, if he's not willing to oppose an anti-property rights decision widely reviled by other liberals, it's doubtful that he would ever support property rights in other, more controversial contexts. Silence could even indicate that he actually agrees with the Court's decision but does not want to say so for fear of angering public opinion.

My searches of the Westlaw and Lexis databases, as well as Obama's campaign website, don't reveal any statements on Kelo one way or the other. However, it's possible that I have missed something in my research. If any of our readers have spotted an Obama statement on Kelo that I might have overlooked, please let me know.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Why Obama's Position on Kelo Matters - Even if he Doesn't Have One:
  2. Barack Obama and Constitutional Property Rights II - Obama's Apparent Silence about Kelo:
  3. Barack Obama and Constitutional Property Rights:
SassKwatch:
Without belittling the subject matter, don't you think it's at least *possible* his 'silence' amounts to nothing more than having had a pretty full plate the last couple yr. Hence, *maybe* he simply hasn't had time to study the issue to the degree necessary and ergo hasn't published an official opinion.(??)
11.26.2008 6:52pm
RPT (mail):
This may be am important issue to some here, just like the 2A issues (which seem basically ideological rather than practical), but the wars, corruption and financial debacles of the post-Kelo area are more immediate. It was certainly not an issue in the campaign for anyone, even Ron Paul, as far as I recall. Accordingly, drawing such definitive and adverse conclusions from silence is unwarranted.
11.26.2008 7:07pm
DangerMouse:
So, to recap: you're wondering why someone who said he wants to spread the wealth around has not come out harder against a Supreme Court decision that takes property from one person to give it to another person?

Gee, I can't imagine why he's silent.
11.26.2008 7:15pm
Hadur:
I think that most people who (1) are not libertarian bloggers and (2) have actually read the decision (or a good summary of it) generally agree that Kelo is one of the most overhyped court decisions of our generation, and that the fear the media has tried to trump up over the decision is not really warranted.

The Kelo rule at least lets many government policies get enacted by private parties. If the government's ability to essentially delegate redevelopment duties to private parties were destroyed, guess what would take their place: government bureaucrats. Is that really preferable?
11.26.2008 7:58pm
Barry P. (mail):
Mouse:

There is not a sucessful politician alive in this country who opposes a taxation system whereby the wealthy pay more than the poor. Thus, every politician in America wants to "spread the wealth around". Why do you single out Obama for saying what everybody believes in?

On a related point, Ilya is notoriously silent on the practice of putting babies on pitchforks. I'll take his silence as approval.

This is a fun game.
11.26.2008 7:59pm
loki13 (mail):
When did Ilya stop beating his wife?

(to use the old canard)
11.26.2008 8:17pm
richard cabeza:
There is not a sucessful politician alive in this country who opposes a taxation system whereby the wealthy pay more than the poor. Thus, every politician in America wants to "spread the wealth around". Why do you single out Obama for saying what everybody believes in?


Guh?

Your "everybody" == "successful politician" line is amusing, but very wrong.

Socialism grows government power.

Either he thinks that's a good campaign tool or he thinks it's a good governing rule.

Oh, but the old canard "I like politicians that tell me they're going to rape me and don't lie about it" is what really matters. After all, government in all things is so important that we simply can't afford to reduce its progressive policies.
11.26.2008 8:24pm
DangerMouse:
There is not a sucessful politician alive in this country who opposes a taxation system whereby the wealthy pay more than the poor. Thus, every politician in America wants to "spread the wealth around". Why do you single out Obama for saying what everybody believes in?

Paying more doesn't mean that the wealth is "spread around" unless the payments are directed into welfare or other grants. Just because you pay more doesn't mean it's being spread. Taxation does not equal support for welfare.

Furthermore, many politicians support various forms of the flat tax or a nationwide sales tax, or something other than an income tax.

Finally, Obama is singled out because he doesn't want to tax people to raise revenues. He in the Democratic debates that even if lowering taxes raised revenues, he wouldn't do it because people who earn more should pay more. Thus, he wants to punish success, like all envy-driven marxists.

There are very few politicians who support increasing taxes even if it lowers revenue. Obama is one of them. Most other Democrats think raising taxes raises revenue. Obama doesn't care. He wants to punish people and spread the wealth around. He's Wesley Mouch.
11.26.2008 8:25pm
Jake LaRow (mail):
So anyone hear any updates about that man attempting to get Justice Souter's house condemned shortly after the ruling? I think it was him anyways...
11.26.2008 8:26pm
CDR D (mail):
>>>So anyone hear any updates about that man attempting to get Justice Souter's house condemned shortly after the ruling? I think it was him anyways...


<<<

It was Souter. I believe they didn't get enough votes to do it. Too bad.

p.s.

I love one of the screen names above: "richard cabeza"

Whoever he is, he should run for office.
11.26.2008 8:35pm
Constantin:
This may be am important issue to some here, just like the 2A issues (which seem basically ideological rather than practical), but the wars, corruption and financial debacles of the post-Kelo area are more immediate. It was certainly not an issue in the campaign for anyone, even Ron Paul, as far as I recall. Accordingly, drawing such definitive and adverse conclusions from silence is unwarranted.

I don't want to put words in Ilya's mouth, but perhaps he's focusing more on Obama's silence in the direct aftermath of the decision. That was Summer 2005, when Barack was but a sitting senator who, to believe his recent telling, did not even consider running for president for another year plus. He had time if he wanted to fire off a statement.

For all of his idiocy, McCain actually made some hay out of Kelo on the campaign trail. In both the primaries and the general election, he would talk about Kelo as an example of judges gone wild.
11.26.2008 9:10pm
Waldensian (mail):
I'm firmly convinced that most of the outrage about Kelo would be directed at takings law generally, if only most people knew how takings law worked in typical cases.
11.26.2008 9:32pm
RPT (mail):
"Mr. Cabeza:

Either he thinks that's a good campaign tool or he thinks it's a good governing rule."

Actually, it wasn't part of his campaign.
11.26.2008 10:00pm
Eli Rabett (www):
It seems to me that in Kelo the court simply said that legislatures could regulate takings under the Constitution. So, you clearly want the courts to enforce your wishes rather than go to the legislatures. I take it you prefer judicial activism?
11.26.2008 10:03pm
Barry P. (mail):
Only about half the people in the country pay income tax. That is the wealthier half. But everybody benefits from things like defence, roads, SS, police, the courts, and the maze of regulations that makes life less risky for people who work with their hands.

So if only half pay for it but everybody benefits, then by definition,the wealth is being spread around. This is the default scenario, and it is one that almost nobody this side of Murray Rothbard wants to get rid of, or even change that much. If what Obama said was socialism, then this is already a socialist country.

But it isn't, and neither is Obama. There is, and always has been, plenty of wealth redistribution in America. I know that we don't like to couch the situation in those words, but that's what it is, like it or not. This is exceptionalism in degree, not kind.

Personally, I'd get rid of about 9 federal departments and shrink government by about 90%, paying for it with a modest import duty or sales tax, but my position gains little popular support whenever somebody runs on it.
11.26.2008 10:19pm
Bill Quick (mail) (www):

So if only half pay for it but everybody benefits, then by definition,the wealth is being spread around. This is the default scenario, and it is one that almost nobody this side of Murray Rothbard wants to get rid of, or even change that much.
Sure, why would anybody but Murray Rothbard want to change a system that is insane?

Have you ever heard of the Tragedy of the Commons? Probably not, but the US tax system, and Barack Obama's publicly stated tax and economic plans are textbook examples of that particular madness.
11.27.2008 12:09am
winstontwo (mail):
Obama has also been silent about his views about designated hitters. Eerily silent.
11.27.2008 12:13am
Zed:
Barry P., there is a fundamental difference between providing government services and providing money.

If the government built a new police station near my house, I undoubtedly received a benefit paid by richer taxpayers, but most people would not say that I got "wealthier." Public goods are not what people would call "wealth."

If the government instead pays me $500 by taking it out of the pockets of someone richer, then most definitely I received wealth and I became wealthier. Same result if I pay no taxes and got a "refundable tax credit."

The key concept in "spreading wealth around" is that people receive 'wealth' from the government. By popular definition, cash is wealth. Fire protection and roads are not. Notice how nobody is complaining about "spreading the benefits of government services around."
11.27.2008 12:39am
richard cabeza:
Actually, it wasn't part of his campaign.


He just said it while he was out campaigning.
11.27.2008 12:50am
PC:
Prof. Somin, does a senator and potential presidential candidate need to weigh in on every SCOTUS decision? I would certainly like to know Obama's position on Kelo now, or even during the campaign, but the lack of a stance on a question unasked is a flimsy basis for criticism.

How many other SCOTUS decisions has Obama been silent on? It would be irresponsible not to speculate about his true position due to that silence. Or, you know, you could write a letter to him and see what kind of response you get.
11.27.2008 12:51am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Zed, the "spread the wealth" comment was fairly close to the way Brian P portrayed it. It had to do with who is paying taxes, not who is getting payouts. I haven't heard Obama talk about increasing welfare payments yet. Maybe he has and I have missed it? Or do you mean spreading the wealth by taking it from the wealthy and paying the government employees (who actually do jobs)?

I read Kelo an had some fairly strong misgivings in the case. However the key question really had to do with what Constitutional constraints are in place when the eminent domain clause is invoked. While I might generally prefer J. Thomas's viewpoint, I think that the court did not widely err by reducing their role slightly. This gave state governments a chance to step up and strengthen their protections for property rights which indeed happened. Many of them have done so.

Me? Having thought about it a great deal, I think that Kelo was probably correctly decided at the time, but that I would support revisiting it if such programs became widespread for the same reason that separate but equal works well for mens' vs womens' restrooms but not where race is concerned. Sometimes one does not want to draw lines to boldly.
11.27.2008 1:23am
Ricardo (mail):
Finally, Obama is singled out because he doesn't want to tax people to raise revenues. He in the Democratic debates that even if lowering taxes raised revenues, he wouldn't do it because people who earn more should pay more. Thus, he wants to punish success, like all envy-driven marxists.

The question was based on a false premise. Tax cuts -- at least under the contemporary tax code that exists in the U.S. -- do not raise revenue. It's like asking a politician if there was perpetual world peace would he support cuts in defense spending.
11.27.2008 2:00am
Hadur:

How many other SCOTUS decisions has Obama been silent on? It would be irresponsible not to speculate about his true position due to that silence. Or, you know, you could write a letter to him and see what kind of response you get.


I can see the flood of 1L's...

"Mr. President, please explain Twombly to me..."
11.27.2008 3:23am
Public_Defender (mail):

. . . .by far the best known and most widely criticized of the Court's recent property rights decisions. . . .

If Obama has indeed been silent on Kelo, that may be an indication that his true level of support for constitutional property rights is actually quite weak.


Give me a break. Kelo may be the most criticized property decision, but it is certainly the most rationally criticized as a matter of constitutional law? Hardly.

The only thing surprising about Kelo was that it was only decided 5-4. The Fifth Amendment gives extraordinarily broad powers of eminent domain. Government can constitutionally take just about anything as long as it is willing to pay fair market value. The text says that the government can take property "for public use[.]" It doesn't say "for government use." You may not like that as a matter of policy, but it is expressly set forth in the Fifth Amendment.

One reason for the "silence" may be that the democratic response is working. Kelo acknowledged the power that governments have had for centuries, but it did not require governments to use that power. After Kelo, many governments have placed limits on themselves. Also, voters are more aware of improper (but constitutional) uses of the power.

Kelo was rightly decided as a matter of constitutional law. But I also think the democratic response is right as a matter of policy. Win-win.

Professor, you have a lot of interesting and thoughtful property rights positions. I think many are good as a matter of policy, others not so much. But even the good ones are not necessarily protected by the the text of the Constitution. Of course, maybe they're in the penumbra.
11.27.2008 7:26am
Goldie:
Two comments:

1) einhverfr, you are correct, Obama didn't "talk about increasing welfare payments." And THAT is the problem. What he talked about is cutting income taxes for people who don't pay income taxes. Is he a magician? How does he plan to do this? He's changed the traditional meaning of words to suit his purpose.

True, beneficiaries won't have to go down to the Welfare Office like in the old days. Instead, they will go to their neighborhood H&R Block, have their tax return prepared and wait for their check.

So what's a good term for a financial means tested direct government payment to individuals? How about "welfare?"

2) Public_Defender, you're right the text reads "public use" not government use and therein lays the basis for many of these disputes. There's a difference between "use" and "benefit" -- taking property for a new road is for public "use." Taking a blighted property for private use may provide some public "benefit" but it is a one-off, second order benefit. I think there is a continuum with some examples being more egregious than others. Here are two examples from recent history Detroit:

o City "took" blighted homes for a new auto factory to be owned and operated by General Motors -- a lot like Kelo -- takings for "public benefit."

o This one was over-the-top! City contemplated "taking" privately owned parking lots in the shadow of the new ballpark, planning to turn them over to the developer for . . . parking lots (this didn't happen, if I recall correctly, because in the condemnation proceedings, the property owners showed how the offers were inadequate).
11.27.2008 9:26am
erp:
There is no private property in a socialist state, so there was no need for Obama to speak to Kelo.
11.27.2008 9:38am
Sagar:
"On a related point, Ilya is notoriously silent on the practice of putting babies on pitchforks. I'll take his silence as approval.

This is a fun game."


The "practice of putting babies on pitchforks"? where is the said practice in the US, and was there a significant court case about it?

Many pols have condemned Kelo and Ilya was wondering what Obama's silence means. What Ilya thinks doesn't affect the public; but what Obama thinks may. Can't see the difference?

is it still fun?

to the idiot who asked if Ilya stopped beating his wife,

WTF has that got to do with anything?
11.27.2008 10:33am
MarkField (mail):

Public goods are not what people would call "wealth."


Sure they are. When people think of America as a wealthy country, they include the public goods that contribute to that. If Bill Gates moved to Burkina Faso, he wouldn't be anywhere near as wealthy as he is now despite having exactly the same amount of money.
11.27.2008 10:59am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
I am surprised no one has posted anything arising from the Federalist Society 2008 National Convention.

I attended the Convention in Washington, DC, Nov. 20-22, and video recorded some of the sessions. I am uploading them to Google Video and have created a page for them here . I have not finished doing that as this is written, so revisit to get the additions.

At most of these sessions the floor was open to questions from the audience and I took advantage of that opportunity to ask questions that convey messages of interest to libertarian constitutionalists. You will find some of the responses from the panelists revealing.

Many of the sessions were covered by C-SPAN or C-SPAN2 and have been replayed there. Check their archives to view them.

The Federalist Society will also have their own videos of the events online here and
here .
11.27.2008 11:28am
MIke G in Corvallis (mail):
Without belittling the subject matter, don't you think it's at least *possible* his 'silence' amounts to nothing more than having had a pretty full plate the last couple yr. Hence, *maybe* he simply hasn't had time to study the issue to the degree necessary and ergo hasn't published an official opinion.(??)

During the campaign, one of Obama's big selling points was his supposed intelligence and good judgment -- why, the man was a Professor of Constitutional Law! So I found it very strange, and quite frustrating, that the journalists covering the campaign and the moderators at the three debates didn't ask him about one of the most controversial Supreme Court cases of the past decade.

Gonzales v. Raich is another decision I'd like Obama's opinion on.
11.27.2008 12:08pm
Barry P. (mail):
Zed:

I would say you have it about 100% backwards. Money is not wealth. Being wealthy means that you live a longer, safer, happier life. Being wealthier means that you are able to provide your kids with a good education, live without reasonable fears for your personal safety, be able to take a vacation once or twice a year, not have to put in 6.5 days a week of backbreaking labor. Living in a society of law and order does, in fact, make you very, very wealthy on any scale, so saying that a new police station does not make you wealthier is a particularly bad choice of example.

Confusing money for wealth is a common layman's mistake. Wealth = happiness. Money is a tool that is good only for exchanging for stuff.

Bill Quick: you don't understand the concept of the Tragedy of the Commons. Go back and reread your Hardin. It is about the suboptimal exploitation of a natural resource that is not owned by anybody. It's typically solved by allocating property rights, creating a more optimal allocation. I think we agree that government does too much, and subsequently taxes too much, but we have got to where we are largely because of the public will.
11.27.2008 12:11pm
Goldie:
Barry -

I think you have made a common layman's mistake in logical inference.

o Conventional Wisdom: Money Can't Buy Happiness;
o Barry's Assertion: Wealth Is Happiness;
o Barry's Conclusion: Money Can't be Wealth

But I think it's your assertion that is incorrect.

Consider http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wealth: "abundance of valuable material possessions or resources."

And consider http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_billionaires where these individuals, starting with Warren Buffett are ranked by their net worth in US Dollars. Please take note of the absence of any "Happiness Score!"

Perhaps you attended Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty School of Language where any word can "means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

Of course, one can contemplate the Wealth of a Nation and, yes, that wealth increases when a bridge or highway or police station is built. It also increases when a private company builds a new plant and a family builds a new home.

My last quibble is over your assertion that money "is good only for exchanging for stuff:"

Money is good for exchanging for services and can even be given away for nothing at all (see Rambam's Ladder http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rambam%27s_Ladder)
11.27.2008 2:03pm
Steagles:
Ilya:

SCOTUS nominees do not even weigh in on all SCOTUS decisions, except in the most antiseptic, non-offensive, non-insightful way.
11.27.2008 3:33pm
Javert:

Obama has also been silent about his views about designated hitters. Eerily silent.
This, and similar comments, is just inane. He was a law school prof and senator. His silence on Kelo is like the baseball commissioner remaining silent about the designated hitter.

His silence, though, should be unsurprising, as this is the man who is infamous for voting "present." In public, he speaks in empty abstractions and foggy metaphors -- all of which are intended to bypass the listener's rational faculty and pull at one's emotions. His desire for power lust should be apparent to anyone who has seen the same techniques used by any of history's despots.
11.27.2008 3:40pm
Brian Mac:
Turns out there was a blog post on this a few months back. One of the commenters claims he had correspondence with Obama on the matter, who told him he supports eminent domain for economic development and public development. He left his email, if you want to contact him.
11.27.2008 3:57pm
Elliot123 (mail):
If 100% of the population consumes government services, forty percent pay no income tax, many get a payment rather than make a payment, then the money is indeed being spread around.
11.27.2008 4:43pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Barry P. Income taxes are not the only taxes which support governmental expenditures. There are excise taxes, taxes on alcohol, real estate taxes, gas taxes, etc. and, if you want to actually be honest about it, payroll taxes that have been supporting all the things you mention. It is fundamentally dishonest to claim that only those paying income tax are supporting public expenditures.
11.27.2008 4:45pm
eyesay:
Barry P. wrote: "Personally, I'd get rid of about 9 federal departments and shrink government by about 90%, paying for it with a modest import duty or sales tax, but my position gains little popular support whenever somebody runs on it."

That's hardly surprising, since the math doesn't add up. Interest on the national debt is 9.0% of federal spending, so you'd have to eliminate just about everything else in order to get to a 90% reduction.

Here's 2008 Federal Spending — just what would you eliminate to shrink government by 90%?
11.27.2008 5:04pm
eyesay:
Javert wrote "[Obama's] silence, though, should be unsurprising, as this is the man who is infamous for voting 'present.'" In fact, Barack Obama voted "present" in an earlier career as an Illinois state senator (not as a U.S. senator) to express dissatisfaction with the legislative process: for example, he favored a ban on so-called partial-birth abortions if there was an exception for the life and health of the mother, and his request for such an exception was rebuffed, so he voted "present" for reasons he has repeatedly and clearly explained.

"In public, he speaks in empty abstractions and foggy metaphors" is an odd criticism given that, if anything, Barack Obama is known for detailed, wonkish responses to questions. For example, when Joe the Plumber asked Obama about taxes, Obama replied with details about income levels and tax rates, without fog.

"all of which are intended to bypass the listener's rational faculty and pull at one's emotions" is an odd comment again given his detailed wonkish statements. On the contrary, it is President Bush who has given us years of empty abstractions and foggy metaphors ("war on terror"?) that are intended to bypass the listener's rational faculty and pull at one's emotions.
11.27.2008 5:25pm
markm (mail):
Increased real estate tax collections a public good? Not hardly. Taxes are a zero-sum game at best. Taking money from one set of people for another set of people to spend is neither a public good nor a public benefit.
11.27.2008 5:33pm
eyesay:
Goldie: Please be aware that many prominent conservatives, including Richard Nixon and Milton Friedman, have proposed negative income taxes as a more efficient way of delivering a minimum income to our nations children and unlucky adults than existing welfare programs. At present, some federal income tax credits are refundable, so Obama's proposals in this area are more evolutionary than revolutionary.
11.27.2008 5:33pm
Goldie:
eyesay:

Oh, I am more than aware. I used to do tax return preparation for low income people and included claims for the Earned Income Credit for many of them.

My issue was with einhverfr's, "I haven't heard Obama talk about increasing welfare payments yet. Maybe he has and I have missed it?"

I wanted him to know that, indeed, he had missed it; or maybe that he didn't understand the code.

With regard to your "evolutionary" -- you are correct -- but that doesn't mean it's not an issue.

FWIW, I liked the idea of the Earned Income Credit when it was targeted to filers with dependent children and pretty modest incomes -- under, IIRC, at the time $17,000.

But today, it is worrisome to me (and I think would be to Nixon, who I don't really think of as a Conservative, and Friedman) that we're moving from having something like 40% of filers not paying any FIT to, under Obama's plan, according to some estimates, more than 50%.

That's why they call these "slippery slopes."

My conservative self believes 1) that there is no free lunch and 2) that it is dangerous to our civil society to send the message that there is.

Have you heard the definition of democracy that goes, "Two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner."
11.27.2008 6:57pm
Brian Mac:

On the contrary, it is President Bush who has given us years of empty abstractions and foggy metaphors ("war on terror"?) that are intended to bypass the listener's rational faculty and pull at one's emotions.

Heh. There's a whole world of valid criticisms of Bush out there, but attacking him for being overly abstract and metaphorical is one of the least plausible.
11.27.2008 7:04pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
Re divining Obama's policies from his statements and silences, we'll be experiencing at the real thing soon enough. My own sense is that he's going to give us the worst of all worlds: FDR-like assaults on the private economy together with a foreign policy only slightly less interventionist than Bush's. Hope I'm wrong.

On progressive taxation as "spreading the wealth:" Not necessarily. It may (might, theoretically) serve the interests of the wealthy to pay sufficient taxes to get a certain level of, say, roads and defense, even if the poor could not be expected to contribute as much, whether in absolute amount or proportional to income. There may be a spillover benefit to the poor, but the intended effect need not be redistributive. I don't think it improves the clarity of debate to equate progressive taxation with "spreading the wealth." Those arguing for redistribution might find the slippery slope inviting in this case, but possibly not in many other cases.

EYESAY: I'd like to shrink the federal government by as much as 90%, but as you point out, interest on the debts already run up makes that difficult in the near term. So, the debt has to be paid off first. Some of it might be accomplished by selling off a portion of federal lands and buildings.
11.27.2008 8:14pm
eyesay:
markm: "Taxes are a zero-sum game at best." True, if you look only at a single slice of time, such as a year. But if you look over a longer period of time, tax revenues invested in things like roads, the Internet, an effective legal system, health research, and much more, spin off huge dividends for everybody. "Yes, but in Libertopia, we could fund all these things through private investment." That is not a valid retort, because we we live in the United States of America, constitutional republic, not in Libertopia, and the political will to switch our system to that of Libertopia does not exist.
11.27.2008 8:19pm
eyesay:
Allan Walstad: I'd like to shrink the federal government by as much as 90%, but as you point out, interest on the debts already run up makes that difficult in the near term." Not just interest on the debt. Nearly one-third, 33.25%, of federal spending in 2008 goes to Social Security and Medicare. These programs can't reasonably be zeroed out, because current recipients have paid into the system and it wouldn't be right to tell retirees that their lifetime of payments haven't purchased them anything. Besides, the public wouldn't accept that.

Another 1.36% goes to Veterans Affairs. Again, this can't reasonably be zeroed out, because these benefits were part of the pay package promised to those who signed up to serve our country, and it wouldn't be right to tell them after the fact that the benefits are gone.

Another 22.77% goes to "Defense," War on Terror, and Homeland Security. I would be pleased to see some savings in this area, but remember that over half of all discretionary spending is in these areas, so if you don't cut here, there isn't much anywhere else.
11.27.2008 8:34pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
EYESAY: Right, getting out of a hole is quite a different thing from not getting into one in the first place. SS can be eliminated over a period of time by raising the age to collect benefits by, say, 3 or 4 months a year indefinitely. That gives people time to adjust. Maybe Medicare could be treated the same way. A lot of public debt was paid off in the latter 90s, and if Bush had governed in accordance with the platform he ran on, we'd be in much better financial shape now. I'm under no illusions about the political prospects for smaller government at this time.
11.27.2008 9:30pm
eyesay:
Allan Walstad: Heh heh heh. Apparently you have forgotten why we have Social Security in the first place. We have Social Security because we are unwilling to allow old people who contributed to the economy in their productive years to become destitute, no matter what misfortunes plague their retirement savings and investments, or the lack thereof. In La-la-la-libertarian land, apparently some people don't care if old people starve or freeze, but most Americans are too civilized to accept this.

While raising the benefit age gradually from the traditional 65 may be fine for desk workers, for those who worked at manual labor all of their lives, as they get old, the aches and pains often don't give them the alternative of continuing to work.

Social Security is here to stay. Not only that, despite dishonest fearmongering, under the most likely economic projections, Social Security is solvent forever.
11.28.2008 3:15am
Brian Mac:

Social Security is here to stay. Not only that, despite dishonest fearmongering, under the most likely economic projections, Social Security is solvent forever.

Did you even look at the table in the article you linked to? Between 1999 onwards the predictive accuracy of the three projections (low, intermediate and high) are broadly similar, implying some change to the modelling techniques or assumptions used. This somewhat undercuts your claim.
11.28.2008 9:01am
Michael Kessler:
And I suppose that his failure to voice support for round earth theories indicates strong support for the flat earth folks.
11.28.2008 11:57am
David M. Nieporent (www):
The only thing surprising about Kelo was that it was only decided 5-4. The Fifth Amendment gives extraordinarily broad powers of eminent domain. Government can constitutionally take just about anything as long as it is willing to pay fair market value.
Well, if you assume your conclusion, then of course you'll conclude that your conclusion is correct. In fact, the Fifth Amendment gives extraordinarily narrow powers of eminent domain. Government can't constitutionally take anything unless it pays fair market value and the taking is for public use. You simply want to ignore that latter requirement, even though you do cite it here:
The text says that the government can take property "for public use[.]" It doesn't say "for government use." You may not like that as a matter of policy, but it is expressly set forth in the Fifth Amendment.
Right; it says "for public use." But the property in Kelo was being taken for private use. What the majority dishonestly did in Kelo was replace the word "use" with "benefit." But the Fifth Amendment expressly says "use."

Then, after the majority rewrote the text, it decided to ignore even that modest requirement by holding that -- even though we were talking about a constitutional right -- on the issue of whether the property was being taken for a public benefit, they would simply refuse to decide that, deferring to the legislature on the subject. But since when does the Court do that with respect to constitutional rights it cares about? It doesn't defer to other branches on whether a particular search is "reasonable," or whether a particular restriction on speech fits into one of the many tests it devises, or on whether a religion is being established. But suddenly, here, we have the Court saying, "Well, yes, there's a restriction here, but we'll let them decide for themselves whether they've satisfied it."

They did not remand the case to decide whether the taking would result in a public benefit. They did not even remand the case to decide whether the motive was public benefit. They simply said, "As long as the government does it, it must be for a good reason."
11.28.2008 12:07pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
Well, EYESAY, looks like we agree on the "heh heh heh" part.
11.28.2008 4:34pm
Javert:

We have Social Security because we are unwilling to allow old people who contributed to the economy in their productive years to become destitute, no matter what misfortunes plague their retirement savings and investments, or the lack thereof.
So you enslave and impoverish the rest of us because some are too irresponsible to save for their own retirement? By that logic, we should have a Federal Child Raising Agency. After all, some people abuse their children, so the Feds should treat all parents as potential child abusers.
11.28.2008 5:35pm
road warrior99 (mail):
I have a feeling Obama has been silent about a lot of stuff. but as soon he get's in office i think he will start speaking up! Obama had to be quite about a lot of his liberal illuminati stances because a lot of his voters are much more conservative than he is. the conflict of interest will be interesting to see once Obama takes charge.
11.28.2008 6:18pm
Ken Arromdee:
And I suppose that his failure to voice support for round earth theories indicates strong support for the flat earth folks.

If flat-earthism was backed by court decisions, made the national news, and was widely commented on by other senators, yet he was suspiciously silent about it, yes, it would.

The closest we have to actual flat-earthism in serious politics is creationism. If Obama refused to say anything about evolution, I'd certainly suspect he's secretly supporting the creationists and doesn't want to say it.
11.28.2008 10:45pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"The closest we have to actual flat-earthism in serious politics is creationism."

I'd say it is the idea that the earth's climate is changing because of human activity. It's far more dangerous and damaging than creationism.
11.29.2008 1:32am
eyesay:
Oh, Javert, don't get your undies in a bunch. Nobody is enslaving or impoverishing you. Social Security is not slavery. It is a retirement program that you pay into during your working years, and receive payment after retirement. Social Security doesn't impoverish people; on the contrary it lifts millions out of poverty.
11.29.2008 2:39am
Public_Defender (mail):

Right; it says "for public use." But the property in Kelo was being taken for private use. What the majority dishonestly did in Kelo was replace the word "use" with "benefit." But the Fifth Amendment expressly says "use."


"Use" is a very, very broad term that can include "benefit." Also, the public can "use" "private" space (say, shopping malls) a lot more than the public can "use" many government buildings. Your construction would prevent eminent domain for privately-owned tollways (a libertarian favorite) as much as it would for shopping malls.

As to "re-writing" the text, both sides can play that game. Often, text could be more clearly written to support either side. A common rhetorical trick is to re-write the text to more strongly support your opposing side's point of view, and then say, "see, they want to re-write it to say this." You want to re-write the text to add that the government can take property "as long as the government will retain ownership."

I generally agree with you as a matter of what makes good policy. Fortunately, the legislative branches are fixing the policy problems with legislation. But to say that the Constitution gives "extraordinarily narrow powers of eminent domain" is just silly.

I won't continue to re-fight the Kelo fight, so you can have the last word if you want. I'll just finish by pointing out that the i>Kelo dissent and the Heller majority show that conservatives are more than willing to interpret (and sometimes twist) the Constitution to enforce their policy preferences. That ain't a distinctively liberal disease.
11.29.2008 5:52am
Elliot123 (mail):
"I'll just finish by pointing out that the i>Kelo dissent and the Heller majority show that conservatives are more than willing to interpret (and sometimes twist) the Constitution to enforce their policy preferences."

The number of accusations of twisting the constitution seem to equal the number of interpretations of the constitution.
11.29.2008 11:58am
David M. Nieporent (www):
"Use" is a very, very broad term that can include "benefit."
Something that benefits the public may indeed be a public use, but the two are not synonymous, nor is one a subset of the other. Public use has an additional criterion that benefit does not -- that the public use it.
Also, the public can "use" "private" space (say, shopping malls) a lot more than the public can "use" many government buildings. Your construction would prevent eminent domain for privately-owned tollways (a libertarian favorite) as much as it would for shopping malls.
Assuming arguendo that everything you say here is true (*), it would still be inapplicable to the Kelo situation, where the taking was not for the public use at all. It was for a private space not open to the public, unlike a shopping mall or road.

(Worse than that, however, is that it wasn't really "for" anything. It was just for a naked transfer of private property from one owner to another without any legal guarantee as to how the land would be used.)


(*) It certainly isn't; private tollways may be a "libertarian favorite," but eminent domain for such tollways is not.


You want to re-write the text to add that the government can take property "as long as the government will retain ownership."
That would indeed be a rhetorical trick, since I didn't say that. But I'm not talking about what the Supreme Court "wants" to rewrite the text to say; I'm talking about what it did rewrite the text to say. Under the majority's interpretation, there are no takings that fail to pass muster, except perhaps one in which the government makes an announcement, "Taking this property from A and giving it to B is a terrible idea; B's use for it will be far more detrimental to everyone than A's. Nevertheless, we're doing this because we don't like A."
11.29.2008 1:11pm
Javert:

It is a retirement program that you [are forced to] pay into during your working years, and receive [a pittance compared to what you could have gotten in the free market] after retirement.
If you are going to support something, at least describe it precisely.
11.29.2008 8:51pm
mischief (mail):

We have Social Security because we are unwilling to allow old people who contributed to the economy in their productive years to become destitute, no matter what misfortunes plague their retirement savings and investments, or the lack thereof. In La-la-la-libertarian land, apparently some people don't care if old people starve or freeze, but most Americans are too civilized to accept this.


Because, of course, it is utterly impossible for any private citizens to lift a finger to save their fellow men from starving or freezing.
12.1.2008 11:44am