NSFWCorp Article on Eminent Domain Relies on Inaccurate Name-Calling Instead of Argument

The NSFWCorp website has published an article by Yasha Levine (subscription required) attacking me and other libertarian critics of the City of Richmond’s plan to use eminent domain to condemn mortgages. Unfortunately, Levine doesn’t actually answer any of the arguments against the plan advanced by libertarian critics. Instead, he devotes his entire article to claiming that libertarian critiques of eminent domain can be dismissed because Koch Industries contributes money to various libertarian organizations, the Kochs benefit from the use of eminent domain for oil pipelines, and libertarians (presumably in order to protect the Kochs’ interests) do not criticize oil pipeline takings.

If Levine had actually bothered to research this issue, he might have learned that I in fact have criticized oil pipeline takings (see here and here). So has the Cato Institute (another target of Levine’s attacks), which published an article by legal scholar Alexandra Klass urging the imposition of tighter constraints on such condemnations in 2008 [I had accidentally typed 2011 here earlier]. In this more recent law journal article, Klass discusses how eminent domain reform laws championed by libertarians (among others) have recently been used as the basis for lawsuits seeking to constraint pipeline takings.

Levine also ignores the reality that there are important constitutional and policy distinctions between pure private-to-private takings and those that transfer condemned property to public utilities or common carriers (the latter include some, but not all, oil pipelines), which are required to serve the public by law. These differences are well known to eminent domain experts; I discuss some of them in this article. It is not necessarily inconsistent to oppose takings that transfer property to, say real estate developers and auto manufacturers, while supporting at least some takings for public utilities and common carriers (though I believe the latter should be subject to much tighter constraints than currently exist in many states).

In addition to misrepresenting my and others’ position on eminent domain, Levine also misrepresents my personal history, claiming that “Ilya’s parents rescued him from Soviet Communism and tried instilling in him a respect for freedom and democracy, only to have their son fall under the sway of inverted communism — or ‘Kochunism’ — here in the USA.” The insinuation that I somehow went against my parents’ values by becoming a libertarian is silly. It was in fact my father who was among the first to introduce me to libertarian ideas, such as the works of Milton Friedman. This is yet another subject on which Levine could have avoided error through a little research (I wrote about it here). Of course my personal story has no relevance to the merits of libertarian critiques of eminent domain, even if Levine had gotten it right. The same is true of virtually everything else Levine says in his article.

UPDATE: It’s worth noting that Levine’s description of me as a “Koch lackey” is particularly ridiculous in light of the fact that I was one of the more visible critics of the Kochs’ efforts to acquire control of the Cato Institute last year (see, e.g., here and here).

UPDATE #2: Some commenters suggest that Yasha Levine’s article is not worth responding to. They may be correct. In general, I try to respond to attacks only if they either 1) make at least reasonably good arguments, or 2) are made by prominent people or in prominent venues (on the theory that even if their arguments are weak, they might influence people if left unrebutted). My impression is that NSFWCorp is at least a moderately prominent website, and Levine at least a moderately prominent writer (he has apparently published articles in several well-known, mostly left of center publications). Therefore, I decided not to just let it go. But it’s certainly possible I have overestimated the importance of Levine, NSFWCorp or both.