The other day, I posted an extraordinary story of abusive political power.
ZipDialog Post: Your property? Yeah, right, pal. I got friends who want it
First, the story in a nutshell. Then, the larger meaning.
Alderman Bullies Property Owner to Help a Friend
Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno wanted to help a business [Double Door Music Hall] that had contributed to his campaign coffers. So he told Brian Strauss, a firefighter and property owner, to rent his building to the business or suffer the consequences. When Strauss refused to comply, Moreno made good on his threats, downzoning Strauss’s building and scuttling multiple attempts to sell the property.
Strauss is now suing, arguing that Moreno’s abuses of his aldermanic powers violate Strauss’ rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. –Reason blog (Link here)
Fortunately, some of the strong-arm tactics were caught on cellphone video.
It has also been investigated and reported by CBS2 Chicago, but largely missed by the local media.
Chicago politicians acting badly is a “dog bites man” story in Chicago, just as it is in New Orleans or New Jersey–but not Minneapolis. Some jurisdictions are actually pretty honest; the voters demand it and toss out the miscreants.
The Larger Meaning, Beyond the Usual Chicago Political Stench
- Extract donations from Chick-Fil-A or Walmart
- Extract donations from their potential competitors or others who don’t like them, such as grocery owners and their unionized workers in Walmart’s case.
Those political uses of weak property rights illustrates something significant–well beyond Chicago.
When most people think of strong property rights, they think (correctly) that they are essential for economic growth. Why invest if the state can come and steal your profits?
What they miss is a second implication: strong property- and contractual-rights constrain overreach by the state.
That’s why FDR had to knock them down in 1937. They were blocking his New Deal programs, which had been ruled unconstitutional because they violated citizens’ economic rights.
FDR told the Supreme Court Justices that, if they didn’t rule his way in the future, he would pack the court with more judges who favored him. This threat went beyond traditional appointments; there were no Constitutional limits on how many judges sit on the Supreme Courts, just as, at the time, there was only a norm (not a law) saying Presidents could not run for a third term. Faced with FDR’s threat, the judges caved in and began ruling New Deal programs were just fine with them.
Aldermen use the same logic in a slightly different way: they say, I already have the power to crush you. So, give to me or I will.
Whether the rights are free speech, free association, property, or contract, the message is the same. The state will overreach unless its limits are well-specified and institutionalized.
That’s a Core Western Value. It ought to extend even to Chicago aldermen.