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You're Still Young, That's Your Fault
It seemed that everything he said sparked a fit of rage in her. It made her angry, not that he had said it, but because he believed in what he said and saw nothing wrong with it. It made her even angrier that she had accepted his support for as long as she had, this man who helped evil men stay in power.
After more than twenty years helping politicians get into office and stay there, her father was the most important campaign manager in the city. In his two decade career as a political mercenary he had worked for both parties, and destroyed the character of both good and bad men in the race to win the office for his clients. They were very often pragmatic men who believed, much as her father did, that results mattered more than what you had to do to achieve them.
But now it was different. Well, not exactly differentóher father still made his living helping the politicians maintain their seats in office, they were thieves then and still are nowóbut now she knew that it was wrong. She had spent a lot of time thinking about this; standing up to the ones you love takes more than just a sense of morals. But she had decided to tell her father that she would no longer take his money, and more, she decided that she was going to tell him why.
Could she do it, really? Tell him and go on to support herself? Could she afford to stay in college with her current job? She would have to get another job to make ends meet ... but she could do it, she knew she could.
With a sigh she grabbed a copy of the local newspaper and her two large suitcases. She rolled them down the hall, through the dining room, and into the living room where her father sat reading The New York Times in his easy chair before the bay window that looked out at the front lawn.
He looked up as she came into the room and frowned inquisitively at her suitcases. Then he folded his newspaper onto his lap and waited for an explanation, as her face seemed to imply one was forthcoming.
"Dad ... " she began, and her voice wavered. She started over, stronger this time: "Dad, I am leaving to go to my own apartment now."
Her father chuckled a bit. "Why whatever for? Your two sisters seemed not to mind living here. Why waste your money? I am perfectly happy to support you through college. I thought with all that capitalism philosophy you keep talking about that youíd be happy to save yourself money."
She glowered at this. He was always attempting to make fun of her for believing strongly in anything. No matter how many times she tried to explain to him that capitalism wasnít about money-at-all-costs, it never made a differenceóhe would say it again.
"No, Dad, I canít take your money anymore. You may not mind supporting me through college, but I mind you supporting me."
"Oh ho! I see ... my money is not good enough for you then?"
"No Dad, I donít want money that you made helping career thieves stay in power. I donít want to profit off my neighbor's losses."
"What are you talking about now?" Her father looked more confused now than angry.
"The government officials that you helped get elected are using eminent domain to steal the houses of our neighbors, four blocks from here, so that they can hand them over to private developers and increase their loot next tax season. Whatís more, we canít do much about it because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of this type of government theft; property rights are nearly meaningless. Either way, I wonít be a part of it, I wonít take another dime." She felt a moment of relief at having finally said most of it out loud.
"Not another dime, huh?" he shouted, "My money was good enough for you when you were growing up but now it's Ďnot another dime, Dad.í You had better get your head on straight, girl, because this world is cruel to idealists. Youíll see your ideals are worthless in time, it just doesnít work the way you want it to in the real world. Itís not time to make such a drastic change as you want." He calmed himself and then continued, "Besides, you canít afford to go it alone on your income."
"Iíll get another job, keep my expenses low. Drop out of college if I have to ... but I canít take your money anymore. Not when I know that it's money made at the expense of my neighbors, looted by your clients. Not when you support them."
"They arenít bad men! Eminent domain is an important and legitimate power that our government needs, especially in modern times. The Supreme Court ruling merely expands this useful tool so that the government may more readily gather land for economic development. This ruling hasnít outlawed property rightsówe still own our homes. In fact this ruling helps homeowners because the newly developed areas increase the value of neighboring properties. For example, the development that is going in a few blocks from here that you mentioned. When that goes in, it will increase the value of our property and that of our immediate neighbors. Iíll probably be able to get over a quarter million for this house in five years."
"But you profit by infringing upon the rights of others." She was making a concerted effort to keep her cool. Try to help him understand why, she thought to herself. Maybe heíll understand.
"How so?" he shot back with the hint of a dare.
"Our neighbors are going to be forced from their homes, their long term financial plans cut short by government interference, and what will they receive in compensation? A measly portion of the money they might have gotten for their property had they sold it on the market. You say that homeowners are helped by this development, that the city is helped by this development, but the only homeowners who profit by this deal are the ones who get to keep their homes. The people who have lost their homes to the government never see any major return for their property while you and the city reap the benefits of looting your neighbors. Its financial cannibalism sanctioned by the government. You are infringing upon the rights of others so that you can profit. Those are the actions of a thief, a moral delinquent! Donít you see that? The government has no place taking people's houses for economic development."
Her father leaned forward, poking his finger at her from his chair, "Donít you judge me, young lady! You know what I see? An ungrateful brat who dares to look a gift horse in the mouth. But regardless little Ms. Greed. It should be left to the market then? Private developers should collect the land for development on their own, buying each homeowner out of their home?"
"Yes, absolutely. This way no one's rights are infringed upon by government force. No one has their property stolen then," she said, hopeful that she was making progress. But her hope was short-lived.
"Itíll never work. Lets presume that a developer wants to buy a neighborhood for development. But he canít develop the property unless he gets unanimous sales from all the homeowners. There is always going to be some crotchety 85-year-old person who refuses to sell at any price. You mean to tell me that you want one crotchety old person to interfere with everyoneís right to sell their property for good money? Surely, with your infatuation with money you wonít want that ...."
She sat down in the chair across the window from her father, aware that this was going to take a little longer than she thought. She put the newspaper she had in her hand on the top of the suitcase.
She took a second before responding, "But the crotchety old person is not interfering with the rights of his neighbors by not selling his property. His refusing to sell is his right as an owner, and refusing to buy is the right of the developer. If everyone else was willing to accept the all or nothing provision in their contract with the developer then they knew the risk involved in that type of contract. The risk being that the developer would not buy if one of them refused to sell. Either way, there is no such thing as a right to a good deal. The old man's refusing to sell is not an infringement on the rights of his neighbors. Whereas, if his neighbors got together and ousted him from his home in a mob or with eminent domain, they are infringing on his rights to property. As for my infatuation with money, I am interested in property earned through one's skills, not property looted through ones' political connections."
"Nonetheless, you canít make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Economic development today canít happen in our city like it used to happen. The government needs to involve itself to get things done and eminent domain is how it does it. Sometimes people have to sacrifice their rights for a good of the community. It's another one of those facts of life youíll learn about out in the real world."
"But weíre not talking about sacrificing eggs here, Dad. Weíre talking about peopleís way of life. A personís property is their means to survival, the way that they support their life and the lives of their family. They have tied up their long-term finances in their homes and are counting on them to help maintain their way of life. When you and your mob come to take their homes from them in exchange for Ďjust compensationí you are not just knocking down their homes; you are knocking down their lives. And you are forcing them to waste time and resources on rebuilding their lives after you knocked them down. That is what you are asking them to sacrifice so you and your mob can profit. I wonít be a part of it any longer. If you want to know why the economy of our city is in such dire straights, well, it is precisely because of this call for sacrifice; this ignoring of property rights that makes talented entrepreneurs move away from our city. Why build anything if in the long run someone can come by with their mob and steal it from you with government consent? Why do you think we have to use tax dollars to give businesses incentives to move here from other cities?"
"If we didnít offer incentives with tax dollars then we would have no business at all in this city! The government has to facilitate the growth of the economy, otherwise people would never come here. We have to compete with other municipalities for their interest if we are ever going to make progress. Yet ideologues like you stupidly oppose this progress, in the name of what? A man's right to live in his run-down shack when someone else could build a palace in its place? But to do this we have to give up money in taxation to lobby these developers, and we must all be willing to turn over our property for the betterment of the cityís economy, if we are ever going to get out of this slump. But if you donít want my money any more then fine. Get out!" He pointed agitatedly towards the front door.
She stood now, and grabbed the newspaper in one hand, rolling it up, trying to collect her thoughts, without becoming overrun with anger at her fatherís ignorance. She realized now that he would not come to understand why she had to leave and that was yet another reason why she had to leave.
"Dad I love you, but you're wrong, the economy is not some huge machine that requires us to feed it our rights. It is not some huge money-producing tree tended to by the government for the betterment of the people. The economy is made up of millions of individuals with rights! And when the government treats the economy like its personal plaything, taking property from some for the profit of others, then it does so at the cost of individualís rights. The economy begins to collapse into the moral equivalent of cannibalism. There is no justice or safety for anyone when cannibalism is the law of the land. You said we all must be willing to turn over our property for the betterment of the cityís economy? Well, your chance has arrived, the developer who is knocking down the homes of our neighbors has managed to get the city council to approve the rerouting of the city storm creek right through your living room to help fill the twenty-acre lake he wants to build in the middle of the new development. The politicians you helped get elected have sold you out too."
With this she tossed the newspaper onto his lap, and it unrolled to expose the headline, "Council Approves Creek Rerouting: More homes to be taken for development project."
Her father just stared down at the headline and turned pale. Then he looked up at her, his face turning red with rage, "Weíll see about this!" He crossed the room to the phone and dialed the phone number of his most recent client, a councilman in the city government. "Get me Councilman Jacobs ... Yes, this is Mr. Kipper ... What do you mean heís unavailable, I am his campaign manager for Christ's sake! Well, you tell him when he gets in that he has a fight on his hands if he thinks heís going to run a creek through my house! I donít care about development, this is my house weíre talking about damn it! My livelihood!" He slammed the phone down, and the receiver bounced off its mount. He grabbed the phone, tore it from the wall, and tossed it into the next room.
"No friends amongst the cannibals then I guess? And now thanks to the Supreme Court, no recourse for their main course either."
She grabbed her suitcases and rolled them towards the front door. He was slumped against the wall next to where the phone had stood holding his head up when she closed the front door behind her. He understood now, though not fully. She was choosing to leave and if he didnít understand now he would in the following weeks when the bulldozers came to level his home to make way for a ditch filled with water. Maybe then he would finally understand.
She started her car; the suitcases secure in the back seat. As the wind blew by her car she felt something new, things were changing for the better, and for the first time she really was beginning to feel free.
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