China, the Power of Government and Eminent Domain

December 2, 2012

Gillian Wong of the Associated Press reported on a lone, rural Chinese farmer that had resisted selling his house to the local government so a new road could be completed.  The photo shows a house sitting in the middle of an almost finished road with pavement surrounding it.

If that had been in the US, the house would have been gone long before the road was build—something Wong fails to mention is that this sort of thing happens in the US all the time and it started during the decades that the roads and highways spread across the US like a spider web.

In fact, local US governments do not need to wait for the owner of a house to agree to sell. It can force the owner to sell and then use the police/marshals to move him or her out using force if necessary.

I still remember reading about one incident in The Los Angeles Times that happened in Southern California during the craze to build freeways there.

The home owner was a combat veteran from World War II, Korea or Vietnam (I do not remember which war).  This vet refused to move out of his house even after the local government forced him to sell it.  He claimed he wasn’t being paid what he had invested in the house in improvements.

This American vet filled sandbags and stacked them against the walls of his house; he stocked up on canned foods, bullets, rifles and a gas mask along with a bullet-proof vest. No one was going to take his house away from him.

A swat team had to be called in, tear gas was used and the swat team broke into his house and swarmed him before he could shoot anyone. Then off to jail and court he went to be judged by a jury of his peers. I never did find out what the outcome of that trial was.

In the US, as states, cities and towns expand and improve roadways, sewer and power lines, communications and other system, local governments often secure or acquire access to private land. Without the government’s power to do so, the size and capability or public infrastructure would become inadequate to serve the needs of society (the people) and often in the US the estimated value of a property does not match, because the government uses a different method to determine value not based on what the owner spent on the property but based on the value of other properties in the same community based on an average.  To the government, the value of the property is an estimated value. To the owner, it may be every penny he or she invested in the property.  Source: Find Law.com

In the US, this has been called legalized theft and it has been debated for decades. The following source is one example of that debate: Fee.org

The law is called Eminent Domain and it gives a government the power to buy private property for public use, usually with compensation to the owner.

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia says: “Government power to take private property for public use without the owner’s consent. Constitutional provisions in most countries, including the U.S. (in the 5th Amendment to the Constitution), require the payment of just compensation to the owner. As a power peculiar to sovereign authority and coupled with a duty to pay compensation, the concept was developed by such 17th-century natural-law jurists as Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf.”

Therefore, why is this incident in China worthy of media attention in the US, and I wonder if China’s media ever reported on similar incidents in America?

After all, they happen all the time and are often ignored by the American media because they are so common. If you doubt what I say, watch the three-part PBS program embedded in this post.

Discover Dr. Li’s illusive Memoires

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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