June 23, 2005
Kelo Comes Down (Way Down)
Posted by Christine Hurt

The Supreme Court has sided with New London, Connecticut and said that the city could take residential property by eminent domain, even though the public use cited is actually a use by a private developer.  (CNN story here).  I'm sort of surprised.

In my Ethics of Business seminar, we talked about Kelo, and my students argued that New London's plan and all similar plans would be defensible under utilitarian analysis.  But remember in college Phil 101 when you played the thought experiment about the human organ lottery?  At first glance, it looked like an organ lottery was entirely defensible under utilitarian analysis because more positive utils would be created by sacrificing one human to save four.  But, remember that living in a society where you could be legally killed at any moment would create a lot of negative utils, so the lottery actually isn't utilitarian.  Well, doesn't living in a society where your house can be taken away at any minute (for just compensation) create some negative utils that might counteract the private development utils?

Wait, did you just say to yourself, "yeah, but they wouldn't take my house.  Those aren't the kind of houses that they take."  Aha.

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