The third meeting of the Publius Society took place at 8PM Sunday at the Alexander Hamilton Institute. After dessert and coffee, AHI Co-founder James Bradfield, Professor of Economics at Hamilton College, spoke on property rights and the use and abuse of eminent domain.  Bradfield relied on the use of principles of economics to develop criteria for a defensible use by government of eminent domain to take private property.  If a proper function of government is to promote the ‘pursuit of happiness,’ he maintained, the evaluation of a government’s ‘taking’ of private property must rest on one’s definition of justice. He then proceeded to describe ‘restorative justice’ and ‘distributive justice’ as definitions, before settling on Judge Richard Posner’s suggestion that economic efficiency should be the operative definition of justice.

Economic efficiency is a criterion of an allocation of resources in which there are no further opportunities for mutually beneficial exchanges. This definition of justice implies that a government should limit its participation in the economy to those situations in which the government can mitigate a failure of the market system to create an efficient allocation of resources. A ‘taking’ is, of course, one kind of governmental participation. Professor Bradfield described several situations in which a government’s ‘taking’ would be justified, and other situations in which a ‘taking’ would not be justified.

Using Professor Bradfield’s presentation as a context, Members of the Publius Society discussed the economic and the juristic aspects of ‘takings’ at some length. Informal discussions continued over coffee and dessert. Several questions related to the controversial case Kelo v New London.

Professor Bradfield’s talk marks a proper interface between the AHI’s first year of thematic programming (on the meaning of freedom) and its second year (property rights).  The Hamilton College Republican Club will be sponsoring this semester the appearance of Carla Main, author ofBulldozed, a blistering account of the abuse of eminent domain in the community of Freeport Texas.  Stay tuned for additional information about her appearance.

You can find relevant readings on the issue at the Publius blog. The Publius Society is a remarkably diverse set of students with a shared interest in civil discussion about important issues. Students and faculty meet at the AHI’s headquarters as citizens and value the participation of informed persons from different disciplines, political persuasions, and walks of life.

The historic headquarters of the AHI now provides a venue for multiple scholarly organizations: Some organized by students; some organized by the AHI’s founders.