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Archive for January 23rd, 2011

Will there ever be “just compensation”?

In my last post, I mentioned that the just compensation received through the use of eminent domain has typically been viewed as “fair market value”. In chapters four and five, Epstein accurately analyzes the shortcomings of this form of cash compensation and instead comes up with a new definition that would “require the state compensation to leave the landowner as well off when the property is taken as before.” While I understand his reasoning and agree that fair market value is often to the benefit of the government, there is no way we can accurately apply the standard Epstein has given us.

Epstein pointed out that when a person’s use value exceeds the sale value of the property, he or she will keep the property off the market. If we were to abide by Epstein’s standard, in order to be left as well off as before, the government would have to compensate enough to account for the use value. However, use value cannot be accurately measured. If I were to live in a house on Darwin Avenue near USU, my use value of that property would include my ability to walk to classes, easily take the bus system around the valley, and the ability to receive the Bluezone wifi. Since this is a hypothetical, let’s say everything on the property is worth $150,000 (it’s a small one). If the government were to use eminent domain to buy my house, using Epstein’s standard, the government would have to start with a minimum payment of $150,000 and then factor in what it would cost me to buy a car, rent a moving van, pay the appraiser who came up with the $150,000 figure, buy internet services, and other incidental costs. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the sentimental value of the house. If my grandfather had built that house from the ground up with his own two hands and a little help from friends, then I’m certainly not going to want to let it go. There is no “just compensation” for sentimental value like that. While forcing the government to factor in those extra costs when using eminent domain would certainly make them think twice about it, we still would never reach truly just compensation, if only because there are some things we simply can’t put a price on.