Cal Am

The Dangers of Stealing Private Property

By Lawrence Samuels

There have been calls in the Monterey Peninsula community for a detailed financial study of the Cal Am public buyout. Such a study will unequivocally prove that a forced buyout would be extremely expensive to consumers. That is a given. It will take a billion or so to buy Cal Am and maybe another 2 to 3 billion dollars to service the 30-year loan, culminating in sky-high water rates and property taxes. But while such a study would be fruitful, it should be a secondary concern to the public. The primary danger of eminent domain is the bad consequences for a liberal society built on choice and liberty.

The seizure of private property not only gives eminent domain the illusion of being moral and legal, but that government takeovers can be extended to any private asset for any reason. Such unfettered authority conveys a carte blanche for potentially anything private; even to deny the self-ownership of people as if we still lived under feudalism. The stealing of property from an individual or group gives the impression that such criminal activity is somehow constitutional. But historically, this was never the case.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provided a clause to prohibit expropriating property without compensation. At the time, the “Public Use” clause dealt only with roadways, since there were no government-owned and operated schools, hospitals or other facilities in 1700s America. Most roadways were private easements that allowed public travel, but were poorly maintained and rarely upgraded. Most Americans willingly donated or sold road easements to government agencies in order to have them assume financial responsibility for maintaining and repairing thoroughfares. Nonetheless, eminent domain powers were rarely carried out since the public considered such actions a violation of property rights.

But then came the 20th century which ushered in a radical change in attitudes towards the power of the state. The Founders’ anti-state sentiment was replaced with the concept that any politician or government could be trusted to do good works. Many Americans no longer saw government as an evil force just waiting to pounce upon unsuspecting people with despotic ambitions. No, it was now believed that the tyrannical traits of government could be reformed and domesticated, even made benign. It became fashionable to believe that the state could be easily defanged and neutralized by intellectual persuasion. In this environment, the political elite would be trained not to harm a fly. Of course, history proved them terribly wrong.

Europe was first to experience the fully protruding claw of totalitarian regimes, exposing the folly of misjudging the true horrific nature of political institutions. With the rise of ideological armies and dictatorships during and after World War I, collectivism, socialism and violence took classical liberal and monarchic governments by storm. Europeans experienced firsthand the savage and genocidal temperament of unfettered governments as they barreled over property rights, pillaged the public trust, and confiscated assets from individuals and companies without any thought of compensation. The greatest admirers of state-sanctioned kleptomania were revolutionary socialists, fascist syndicalists and national socialists who favored a hodgepodge of ideologies that espoused racism, nationalism, classism, tribalism, anti-Semitism, and statism, all in opposition to the John Lockean concept of individual rights.

These European collectivists were extremely hostile to private property, liberal capitalism, and individualism, and wanted to concentrate political power for social justice ends. Mussolini, a former Marxist, declared that Fascist Italy would “impose social order” on society. Not to be outdone, Hitler, in a speech to factory workers, promised to create a “socially just state.” And to achieve their particular ideological determinism, they were willing to confiscate the property of racial minorities, outcasts, opponents, and almost anybody else, eager to redistribute the plundered spoils. For instance, by 1943 the Third Reich had taken ownership of 500 companies in key industries, along with more property seizures in conquered nations. These ideologues were so determined to seize private companies and create new government ones that Albert Speer, Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production, worried that “a kind of state socialism seemed to be gaining more and more ground” in National Socialist Germany. In the case of Fascist Italy, Mussolini he went hog-wild with nationalizing the greater part of his economy, boasting in 1934 that “Three-fourths of Italian economy, industrial and agricultural, is in the hands of the state.”

A number of German Industrialists were extorted, threatened or imprisoned, such as Fritz Thyssen, who, after criticizing the invasion of Poland in 1939, was stripped of his political privileges. His company, the United Steelworks (Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG) with over 200,000 employees, was nationalized. He had to flee to France, but was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau Concentration Camp.

The Founders were wise to oppose government ownership, wishing to avoid the type of harsh authority that monarchies mercilessly wielded on their subjects. In England, for example, the King claimed ownership of all land and people, far and wide, and if a starving peasant killed a deer in the forest, he would be hung if caught. The Founders hated such practices so much that they put into place policies to give Americans and immigrants free land across the entire continent.

Eminent domain is a horrendous injustice. Dubbed “Negro Removal” during 1950-60s by the black community, eminent domain seizures can only lead to greater losses of liberty. Why not just let Cal Am decide if they want to sell their water company? What’s wrong with choice? Why put a threatening sword over a company’s head? Why expropriate private property like the German National Socialists, Italian Fascists and Russian Soviets? Such confiscatory policies are not American, but actually an authoritarian type of “ism” that should be foreign to every American.

Assessing blame for water price

Published in the Monterey Herald – July 31, 2017

Assessing blame for water price

By Lawrence Samuels

Special to the Herald

      A report from the Food and Water Watch has Cal Am water rates as the most expensive in the nation. Maybe. But who is really responsible for the high rates?

      The story began with a 1995 proposed dam in upper Carmel Valley. The dam would have been the lowest-cost alternative since the fresh water is already free, naturally. Moreover, the dam would let the river flow during the dry summer months to accommodate the steelhead salmon, red-legged frog and other important species. Easy peezy. But no, the radical environmentalists said that a desalt plant would be better, although far more expensive. The dam was voted down. The cost of water seemed to be unimportant.

     When the dam was no longer politically viable, the radical environmentalists changed their tune. No, the desalt plant would not do. As for the temporary government agency—the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD), explicitly organized to resolve our water problems—they seemed impotent to do much of anything. After spending around $100 to $150 million dollars to find a new water source, there was little to show. In fact, the taxpayers’ money spent by MPWMD would have provided the lion’s share of the funds to build a dam. Ironic.

     Other alternatives to provide water got the attention of Clint Eastwood, who offered to donate a large parcel of land for a reservoir near Carmel River in early 1990, a project called the Cañada Reservoir Project, which most people wholeheartedly supported. That is, almost everyone except the MPWMD that had elected a number of radical environmentalists who opposed the lower-costing water gift. The project died. Apparently, cost was again no object.

     It took the local city mayors’ Monterey Regional Water Authority to get a desalt plant off the ground after almost 25 years of do-nothing. But here again, the radical environmentalists sued, obstructed, and delayed in every possible way to stop the desalt plant. This pattern only increased water rates. And even if Cal Am had been a public entity, the water rates would be still be high, since the State’s court order forced the water provider to get customers to use less water, thereby making the production of water more expensive per gallon.

     So, what is the game plan of the radical environmentalists? We know they don’t like water because it might inspire some growth, despite the harsh restrictions against building anything in Monterey County. Maybe they simply want to show their political muscles by actually stealing the water company before they eminent-domain whole neighborhoods into wildlands, returning Monterey to its pre-Columbian days. But that would bring up another problem; water would be fairly cheap then, and the make-water-expensive crowd could never allow that.

     Lawrence Samuels is author of the 2013 book, “In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action.” He lives in Carmel Valley.

Using eminent domain against Cal Am is like stealing

Published in the Monterey Herald, June 29, 2017

Guest Commentary

Using eminent domain against Cal Am is like stealing

By Lawrence Samuels

In an effort to expand the government sector, Public Water Now not only advocates a buyout of California American Water, but if the water company refuses to sell, an expropriation of their business. This ideology of stealing has an ugly history that few people today would publicly support.

The story begins with Willian Lloyd Garrison, leader of the American Abolitionist movement that eventually led to the demise of slavery. Garrison was famous for labeling slavery “manstealing,” a word that connected enslaved labor with a type of stealing. At the time, most Americans saw stealing as morally wrong, so Garrison’s association of slavery with stealing was a powerful argument against the theft of a man’s time, life and assets. So, in this sense, the ballot measure proposed by the pro-eminent domain ideologues to forcibly seize Cal Am, is reminiscent of antebellum slavery.

Garrison was also a proponent of “self-ownership,” meaning that people owned themselves and therefore cannot be stolen and enslaved. He worried that if government itself attained the authority to legally steal, it could take anything by force. Government law had already given private citizens that power, but if government itself engaged in such authority, to legally steal people and their belongings, another kind of enslavement would rise. John Locke had earlier addressed this issue, warning that without private property rights the individual had no rights whatsoever.

There were numerous ideologies in the 20th century that opposed classical liberalism by promoting stealing in the name of community good; plundering nations and minorities. In fact, these collectivists from the 1920s-1940s believed that the state could take anything from anybody, even their labor. One such social justice militant in 1920 Germany demanded the “nationalization of trusts” (corporations) and “the common good before the individual good.”

Of course, the pro-stealing cohorts don’t like being victims of stealing themselves. They would rather be the stealer, not the stealee. So, to avert this dilemma, they seek political dominance with the muscle to impose their brand of utopia upon society.

Nonetheless, one could argue that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander? If stealing becomes acceptable, should we eminent domain Public Water Now supporters, confiscate their homes and bank accounts for the common good, bulldoze their buildings for public parks? Wouldn’t this be the appropriate karma?

But alas, this scenario would lead to a kleptomaniac society where nobody owned anything and the bigger the brute the greater his violent plunder. Fortunately, America was founded on the idea of equal treatment for everyone, which would include the owners of Cal Am. That should be the focus of Public Water Now, not its political demand to steal from others.

Lawrence Samuels is author of the 2013 book, “In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action.” He lives in Carmel Valley.