Leave it to NPR's Marketplace to uncover a story about land-grabbing in Communist China that has disturbing parallels to what's going on in our own country.
Not long ago, I wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court's consideration of the case of Kelo v. City of New London. At issue is whether the government can use the power of eminent domain to transfer private property from one private owner to another, justifying it as a "public use" (as required by the Fifth Amendment) on the basis that the new owner will generate jobs, taxes, or other desirables for the local community.
It seems that Chinese government officials have been listening to the lawyers for the City of New London and their developer allies. The only difference is that in Communist China, all land is technically owned by the government, although private individuals and companies can lease the land for long terms of up to 70 years.
On tonight's Marketplace program, correspondent Jocelyn Ford reported the story of a family in central Beijing who had their home stolen from them in a neighborhood she characterizes as "one of China's many urban battle zones. In China, the government owns all the land and has begun letting developers kick out old-time residents so that local authorities can lease the land for a much higher price." She quotes the family's matriarch:
The family's eldest son, Ford noted, said that they are not "against gentrification per se":
"My husband's grandfather was born here during the last dynasty. Our family has lived here for more than 300 years. We can't move, we have no other home."
"Of course we support urban renewal. But they shouldn't send us into exile and turn us into second-class citizens."The family, though old and poor, is not uneducated or unaware of their rights. Ford reports that
"The family plastered their garden walls with slogans about last year's constitutional amendment protecting private property and about human rights. One son filed suit against the government for illegal eviction orders."All to no avail, however. One morning the police broke down the door to their house and dragged the elderly couple from their beds, confining them to a hospital, guarded by police and local political operatives.
Ford quotes a political economist whose words eerily echo the attitude and actions of local American authorities:
"You have a developer come into a local neighborhood and just tear down all the buildings and kick people off their property. Even if people have ownership, they'll send gangs and the gangs will negotiate. But of course middle-age, older people they don't have an army of thugs behind them, how can they negotiate with a gang?"Ford ends her report by paraphrasing the family's son's lament: "The government is using the planned economy to take away their land and the private economy to redistribute it, and it's just not fair."
"You have a relationship between the developer, the local government officials, the local branches of the state owned banks who are financing this, and the local planning departments. And of course when you put the formula together you have a kind of a Mafia situation."
Is it too late to get Justices Kennedy and O'Connor to listen to this radio program? They might learn something important about creeping -- and creepy -- totalitarianism.