of Happiness

The cornerstone of liberty; the thing that all our other rights are built on.

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Previous Episode
Incentives Matter

We hear life, liberty and property, the Lockean version, or life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which was something that the Founding Fathers of course used in the Declaration of Independence. It’s really interesting and important that property was replaced with pursuit of happiness. In order to be able to pursue the American dream, something that people even today risk their lives coming from other countries to come to the United States to be free and to be able to pursue their right to earn an honest living, to earn food and shelter for their families and to create things. You need to have property rights. You need to have ownership. You need to know that the things that you own and the things that you create are yours.

Music by Cellophane Sam.

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00:11 Tess Terrible: In this season of The Pursuit, we have learned much about the intersection of private property rights and government action. We explored two methods government can use to seize private property: Eminent domain and civil asset forfeiture. If you listen to the entire season, you might realize that property rights in our country are not nearly as secure as we think. From where I’m standing, I see the need for a lot of reform. This is the last episode of The Pursuit, so I’ll try to answer a question I imagine a lot of people have, “What now?”

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00:53 Tess Terrible: This is The Pursuit, a podcast about government action and individual liberty. I’m Tess Terrible.

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01:03 Tess Terrible: This is Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock from the Institute for Justice. If you recall, they argued the Kelo versus New London case. They spoke with me about the state of eminent domain today.

01:16 Scott Bullock: The commercial real estate market is starting to come back and you’re starting to hear cities and private parties saying, “You know, we’ve gotta get serious about increasing our tax base. And we’ve got some developers here that are interested in doing that. And we’ve got a great plan, great idea for a project in our neighborhood. And unfortunately, we have to use eminent domain, only if necessary, only as a last resort.” And so we at the Institute for Justice, other folks, have to remain vigilant, because even though enormous progress has been made, you’re starting to see the groundwork being laid for this abuse to come back. So we’ll be there and we’ll make sure that these protections that were put into place in the wake of Kelo are there and given life and strengthened, which are definitely needed.

02:06 Scott Bullock: Dana and I have done numerous eminent domain cases over the years. But she and I and the other folks here at the Institute for Justice do work in a wide variety of constitutional issues. And we do it because we love it. We get to vindicate essential constitutional principles, ones that protect individual liberty. We give life to those guarantees and we also get to represent real people whose rights are at stake, whose lives are at stake, whose property is on the line. To be able to do both, to be able to vindicate the principles that all of us here believe in so passionately, the principles of individual liberty and limited government and constitutional rights. But being able to do it on behalf of people like Susette Kelo and Mike Cristofaro, and the numerous other folks that we’ve represented for so long, is really, really special.

03:01 Tess Terrible: This is Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Kelo versus New London.

03:08 Susette Kelo: I want them to remember what happened to us. I used to worry that we would be forgotten. And Jeff Benedict came and wrote a book, and I said, oh, here we - people won’t forget. And then the book turned into a movie and I think people really need to remember what happened to us. And I think another thing too, that people need to realize that they can say no and can attempt to keep what’s theirs and attempt to do the right thing.

03:44 Tess Terrible: Even more prevalent than eminent domain is civil asset forfeiture. This is Darpana Sheth from the Institute for Justice.

03:53 Darpana Sheth: There are numerous ways in which civil forfeiture should be reformed, primarily to increase the protections afforded to property owners by offering… Guaranteeing counsel, by guaranteeing the right to a prompt probable cause hearing, by reinstituting the presumption of innocence so that the government has the burden to show that the property owner is guilty before their property can be taken. And primarily, it’s by eliminating the profit incentive. Forfeiture proceeds should be deposited in a general or neutral fund, not given back to law enforcement or the people who have the very power to seize property and the discretion to bring civil forfeiture actions.

04:39 Tess Terrible: This is Christina Sandefur. You might remember her from our first episode. She works extensively in the area of property rights.

04:48 Christina Sandefur: So we call private property rights the cornerstone of liberty because they’re absolutely fundamental human rights, and they really are a critical ingredient in freedom. So the reason why is because they’re the guardian of all other rights. So a cornerstone is something upon which everything else is built. And private property rights are the foundation of all other rights. And what I mean by that is you really can’t fully exercise your other constitutional or natural rights without private property rights. So for example, you can’t have freedom of the press if you’re not allowed to own a printing press. You can’t have freedom of religion if you’re not allowed to own the church where you’re worshipping or if the government can come in and seize your church and everything in it if they don’t like what it is that you’re preaching. So, really, all other rights rely on property rights and our Founding Fathers knew that. And that’s why when they drafted the Constitution, they refer to private property rights more than any other right. We talk about our right to own property. Our right to use it. All other rights flow from that concept of private property rights.

05:56 Christina Sandefur: We hear life, liberty and property, the Lockean version, or life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which was something that the Founding Fathers of course used in the Declaration of Independence. And I think it’s really interesting and important that “property” was replaced with “pursuit of happiness.” Because I think that tells us a lot about the Founding Fathers’ concept of property rights. That in order to be able to pursue the American dream, something that people even today risk their lives coming from other countries to come to the United States to be free and to be able to pursue their right to earn an honest living, to earn food and shelter for their families and to create things. You need to have property rights. You need to have ownership. You need to know that the things that you own and the things that you create are yours.

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06:52 Tess Terrible: The cornerstone of liberty. The thing that all our other rights are built on. The right to own yourself, your life, what you do, what you say, what you own and what defines you. Life, liberty, property. The foundation of the pursuit of happiness. This has been The Pursuit. I am Tess Terrible. We will be back. The Pursuit is produced and hosted by me, Tess Terrible. It is a project of the Cato Institute and Libertarianism.org. Music by Cellophane Sam. Production assistance by Jonathan Fields and Jeff Geld. Script supervision by Trevor Burrus and Cara Wood.

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