By Don Corace
Harper Paperbacks 2008
Reviewed by Russ Harding
DON CORACE HAS done a service to all freedom-loving Americans by detailing government abuses that threaten a bedrock principal of a free people — the right to own and use private property — in his book "Government Pirates." Corace takes a balanced and reasoned approach in making a case for the constitutional and historic importance of private property rights in the founding and development of our country.
Corace's approach is more practical than ideological, and he makes a concerted effort to stick to constitutional principals. However, he recognizes there is legitimate government use of eminent domain when there is a clear public benefit. From this perspective, Corace details how the courts have expanded the definition of public benefit from such public projects as roads and schools to include economic development. Abuses of this sort culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court Kelo v. New London decision. In the Kelo decision the Supreme Court declared that it is legally permissible for government to take property from a private owner and give it to another private party for the purpose of economic development.
The author places most of the blame for the loss of private property rights on courts that through rulings have disregarded constitutional protection of private property from government takings. While these court decisions play a large part in property rights abuses by government, there is less attention given in the book to the role of elected officials in allowing government bureaucrats to trample property rights while pursuing their own agenda. Many state legislatures have strengthened physical takings protection, but there has been much less progress made to protect property owners from regulatory takings.
The case stories detailed in the book are both real and compelling. The detailed accounts of property owners running afoul of government regulators and planners should send a chill down the spine of any reader. The common thread running through these accounts is one of ordinary law-abiding citizens discovering that government is not an impartial, benevolent institution but rather a police power with the force of law. The outcomes of these accounts vary but the force of government is a constant.
Students of property rights will find "Government Pirates" easy to use as it is subdivided by categories of government takings such as eminent domain, zoning regulations, wetlands and endangered species.
The book should be required reading for any government official with regulatory or zoning authority. Corace has done a great service in telling the stories of real people that have been harmed by the government and makes some excellent recommendations on how to prevent these private property abuses in the future.