Libertarians Blinded to Corporate Eminent Domain Abuse?

Generally, the writers from the Ludwig von Mises Institute make good economic sense. They do until they start talking about Wal-Mart, at least. At this point, they seem to don blinders which shield them from seeing the eminent domain abuse and corporate welfare that provides Wally World with unfair economic advantages.

The latest article from the Ludwig von Mises Institute begins this way:

The attack on Wal-Mart essentially comes down this: opposition to economic progress, defined as greater availability of goods and services people want at ever lower prices that indicate an ever wiser use of resources in the service of society.

The writer could not be more wrong. This is an attack on Wal-Mart, as is this, this, this and this. In each of these cases, Wal-Mart is being challenged for sucking the public teat or acquiring property through the use of eminent domain.

If the bright and generally accurate people writing at mises.org ignored Wal-Mart’s use of tax dollars or land seizing habits once, I’d simply let the matter drop. However, they keep singing free market praises for Wal-Mart again and again — while challenging those of us who oppose local government providing Wal-Mart with tens of millions of dollars of tax abatements and outright financial gifts. I never thought I’d see the day when a libertarian institution criticized me for being in opposition to the use of eminent domain which serves some corporate interest.

Hey Lew, would you mind enlightening your colleagues about the elephant sitting in the living room?

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

21 Comments
  1. It is true that Wal Mart profits from eminent domain, corportate welfare, etc, but these benefits pale in comparision to the amount of penalties Wal Mart is forced to endure for being successful (not being allowed to open for 24 hours, worker benefits, etc.) I am of course not saying that this justifies their use of eminent domain, etc; im just putting it in perspective.

  2. It doesn’t justify libertarians (not just von Mises) placing Wal-Mart on a pedestal, though. They are as bad as the other corporations these same organizations criticize.

  3. We libertarians look like tools when we go around praising or condemning when we don’t know what we’re talking about. Good rule of thumb: any sufficiently large corporation or other big institution probably possesses a complex mixture of praiseworthy and contemptible attributes.

  4. i’m confused by a couple of things here. one is the same thing that’s confusing stephen – namely, that the von mises institute would go out on a limb for a company which receives enough in corporate welfare to feed a few small countries – and that’s aside from the ED issue…

    my second confusion isthe comment by dennis – while i can see complaints about restricting legitimate business (ie the 24 hour thing) – i’m not sure that tips the balance. and i would also say that such restrictions are coming from local governments and ordinances – 24/7 wall marts are everywhere

    as far as the benefits thing – everyone whines that wallmart doesn’t treat their workers well, but then they all continue to shop there! there’s more to having ideals than just “voting your conscience.” every time you spend a dollar, you’re voting too – you need to spend your conscience as well – and yeah, i’m broke, so i know it’s not always easy, but if i can do it, anyone can.

    btw i HATE your char limit!

  5. Because of the local ED and pay out situation, I very rarely shop at WallyWorld. When I do, I ensure that it is not one where ED or 10 million dollar tax breaks were offered.

  6. It may well be that they are using “Wal-Mart” as an abstract concept representing the idea big retail, not as a real entity.

    We probably should look at each case individually. I’ll bet some Wal-Marts didn’t use ED, but if offered, how could they not? My city council would drool over them and use it to lure them in. That’s the problem with generalizations.

    This is natural selection at work: the bigger government gets, the bigger businesses have to be to avoid being eaten. They have to gang up and form associations (like zebra) or develop stronger defenses (like skunks), or hire lobbyists.

    Roll back government, and the smaller, more adaptable businesses will prevail. Market forces (natural selection) are too strong to escape. That’s why we, too, must band together, be smarter and faster, and invent the Internet ;)

  7. Sandra,

    Some/most Wal-Marts don’t use ED.

    Using tax dollars or ED is the moral equivalent of receiving stolen property, though.

  8. They all get tons of corporate welfare and even have an organized policy of referring their employees to government welfare programs instead of giving them benefits, another sneaky form of corporate welfare. They are not really a free market business at all, just a diseased tentacle of the gangster state.

  9. Stephen,

    I think you’re a bit off the mark on the Mises Institute. I’ve read many op-eds there and at LewRockwell.com defending Wal-Mart. The reason they so often choose Wal-Mart is not that they worship this company as some saintly, can-do-no-wrong organization, but simply because they are the probably the most unfairly maligned company out there.

    The popular attacks on Wal-Mart are always about how they are non-union, don’t offer their employees good enough pay/benefits, put the little ma-and-pa shops out of business, and a litany of other economically ignorant charges. If the charges were typically about the eminent domain and corporate welfare issues, the Mises folks wouldn’t be so quick to defend them. I’m certain that not one of those writers would ever defend *any* company with regards to their acceptance of government funds.

  10. To add to what I said previously, it’s perfectly in Mises/LewRockwell.com (LRC) character to defend and/or endorse individuals and/or organizations on *specific* issues even though they may be strongly opposed to them on other issues.

    LRC often links to articles written by leftist (even outright socialist) authors on anti-war and civil liberties issues. Paul Craig Roberts is a frequent columnist usually covering foreign policy topics, yet he is strongly criticized by other LRC columnists for protectionist, Buchananite economic views.

    As long as their defenses of Wal-Mart are strictly limited to the specific areas in which they are being unfairly attacked, then I see nothing unprincipled about their doing so.

  11. Robert,

    Don’t get me wrong. I like Lew and support the von Mises Institute. I was just there a few weeks ago, even.

    Wal-Mart may be receiving some unfair attacks, but to continue to use them as a model makes all of us who believe in the free market system look bad. In this case in makes us look like we support the merger of business and the state.

    It’s sort of like saying America is a really great country and disregarding that trivial Iraq War thing and the little Patriot Act nuisance.

  12. Maybe the Mises/LRC writers need to agree to paste a standard disclaimer into all of their Wal-Mart articles testifying that they don’t support any of the company’s eminent domain abuses!

    Actually, I’m sure at least 90% of their readers are fully aware of the Mises/LRC stance on eminent domain and corporate welfare, so maybe they’ve never felt it was necessary to go there.

  13. I agree that more should be said about their use of eminent domain. How much? I am not sure. How many of their stores have used ED or some other type of state assisted bullying?

    Their benefitting from tax breaks does not bother me. What does bother me is that not every other property owner is receiving the same tax breaks. I am completely against the existence of the property tax. A tax break isn’t a state handout. You may mention the way that some of these “tax breaks” are structured as being wrong, and I would agree. Sometimes a municipality will help finance the developement of a property by issuing bonds garanteed by the municipality to be paid for with future tax revenues. This is wrong.

    Also, they don’t owe employees any benefits that aren’t promised to them already. Is WMT to blame for the existence of the welfare state? Maybe to a small degree if it supports it remaining in place.

  14. Their benefitting from tax breaks does not bother me. What does bother me is that not every other property owner is receiving the same tax breaks. I am completely against the existence of the property tax. A tax break isn’t a state handout.

    First of all, much of the corporate welfare Wal-Mart receives is direct payments, not tax breaks. And while I do agree that the property tax should be abolished for everyone, abolishing it only for select government-favored corporations is most definitely a form of corporate welfare. It puts everyone else at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

    Nor is the USSA the only regime providing Walmart with corporate welfare. They also benefit from literal prison labor in places such as China. I don’t know to what extent they may be involved with the prison-industrial slave labor system in the USSA, but I would be surprised if they aren’t involved heavily.

    There’s also this

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/artman/publish/article_3116.shtml

  15. Referencing the article in #15, Walmart is by far the largest retailer of such slave-labor manufactured articles, including those from other regimes.

    Also, they don’t owe employees any benefits that aren’t promised to them already. Is WMT to blame for the existence of the welfare state? Maybe to a small degree if it supports it remaining in place.

    Hardly a small extent, when it hides its “low price” behind literal slave labor, literal government handouts, an unlevel playing field in taxes and regulation, eminent domain, and…

    …being by far the largest user of state welfare benefits for its workers, *which it points them to* in lieu of benefits. So you see, the workers do get benefits, just not from Walmart – but from the welfare state. Walmart and its consumers save the money, but all taxpayers pay it instead. How is this anything except corporate welfare?

    Walmart has by far the largest number of employees on welfare of any company.

  16. MS,

    While I personally know Lew, most of the employees at von Mises, and many of the writers at mises.org and LRC, I’ve never been asked to contribute an article to them.

  17. Stephen,

    If you submit something to LRC that is on-topic and of respectable quality, which I don’t doubt you’re capable of, I’m quite sure they would publish it.

  18. While I personally know Lew, most of the employees at von Mises, and many of the writers at mises.org and LRC, I’ve never been asked to contribute an article to them.

    If you submit something to LRC that is on-topic and of respectable quality, which I don’t doubt you’re capable of, I’m quite sure they would publish it.

    http://www.mises.org/content/faq.aspx#submissions

  19. For the record, Lew did recently write a daily article on Mises.org criticizing Wal-Mart (“Wal-Mart Warms to the State”) for Wal-Mart’s support of an increased minimum wage.

  20. Okay, let’s see libertarian Wal-Mart proponents try to defend THIS:

    The world’s largest retailer, battling to build a huge new distribution center in Putnam County, is threatening a handful of rural residents that they may have their land taken if they don’t agree to sell it to the company.

    Representatives of Wal-Mart have told the landowners they will ask Putnam County to use its powers of eminent domain if the families won’t sell. The retailer needs about a half-dozen parcels to widen a road that would provide access to a proposed 800,000-square-foot distribution center just over the Volusia County line — a project Volusia officials have gone to court to block.

    A letter to the landowners gave them until 5 p.m. Thursday to agree to a deal with the company.