Flooding one town to save another doesn't make much sense to most people, but that is precisely what the national government has decided to do.
The government justifies its position through a cost-benefit analysis of the action, but people cannot just be plugged into an equation.
In trying to save additional areas from the floods that have ravaged the Midwest, the Army Corps of Engineers decided the best course of action was to blow a hole in one section of the levee that would flood nearly 132,000 acres of farmland, including hundreds of homes. As a result, people lost their homes and their livelihood.
These farmers will miss at least an entire year of productivity even after they rebuild their homes. And to make matters worse, the government has not reimbursed them as required by the Fifth Amendment.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires the government to provide just compensation when private property is taken for public use, known as eminent domain. Of course, the Supreme Court has loosened the public use requirement in recent years, particularly in the infamous Kelo v. City of New London.
In the Kelo decision, the Supreme Court upheld the action of New London city leaders when it seized low-income homes in order to build new upscale residences. Because the high-income homes would produce greater tax revenues, which could then be used by the government for the benefit of all citizens, the court decided the public use requirement was satisfied.
In other words, the government can take your home, so another person can build a new, bigger home as long as that person will pay more in property taxes than you. Owners of inexpensive homes, it seems, don't do as much for their community as owners of expensive ones.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when Missouri appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from blowing the levees along the Mississippi, the Supreme Court refused to even hear the case. The Supreme Court has loosened the public use requirement to a point where it is no longer recognizable, and now it seems the government is exempt from fulfilling its obligation to compensate for a taking.
While the court's refusal to hear the case may not be the death knell for eminent domain, the finale might not be too far off.
None of us should be surprised that the Supreme Court and the Army Corps of Engineers are willing to take this type of action for they are not held accountable by the public. This makes it easy for them to view us as mere statistics. But such "bean counting" has permeated through the halls of Congress and the Oval Office. Eminent domain protections have steadily decreased as our population has increased, and those who represent us in Washington have moved farther and farther away.
With a president representing more than 300 million citizens, one representative in the House for every 700,000 citizens and one Senator for every 3 million citizens, none of us should be surprised that we are seen as statistics and that decisions about destroying homes and farms can be reduced to a simple equation.
The local and state officials drawn from the areas along the Mississippi stood up for those they represented in a way national officials have been unwilling to.
The consequences of moving from a federal system to a more centralized system of government have rarely been more clearly seen in our nation's history.
So, the next time the national government has plans to expand a freeway through your house, don't be surprised if you get kicked out without explanation or without proper compensation. Even worse, it might not even be for a freeway or a military base but for some obscure calculation that says your livelihood or home is worth less than someone else's.
If you don't believe me, ask Susette Kelo or the thousands of displaced farmers who formerly lived and made their living along the Mississippi.
Kyle Scott, Ph.D., teaches political science at the University of Houston. His third book, "Federalism," has just been released. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.