On Feb. 11, the U.S. Congress approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline’s fourth phase, with the bill scheduled to land on president Barack Obama’s desk for a likely veto. Near-unanimous support for Keystone from self-proclaimed “conservatives” and “libertarians” is disappointing but unsurprising. This government land grab is just the latest example of alleged “small government” advocates abusing their power at the expense of ordinary Americans. Despite their ceaseless rhetoric about free markets and limited government on the campaign trail, most Republican legislators — and the GOP’s 2016 presidential front-runners — openly embrace such robbery once in office.
Completing Keystone requires the state to forcibly take large tracts of land from American farmers and homeowners through a process known as eminent domain. TransCanada Corporation — the company behind Keystone — has sent Texans and Nebraskans threatening letters demanding they enter “negotiations” (read: Sell, at prices acceptable to TransCanada) or face legal condemnation and loss of their land. The company, with government assistance, has already stolen more than 100 tracts of land from Texans. Homeowners along the line connecting Oklahoma to Alberta are next. TransCanada also plans to use eminent domain against Oklahoma’s Sac and Fox Indian Nation, undermining tribal sovereignty and adding a new chapter to the US government’s long history of land theft from Native Americans.
In a free society, people and companies seeking to build on others’ lands must reach voluntary agreement with rightful owners. This stands in complete contrast to the approach of Transcanada and its GOP allies. Such theft gives unfair competitive advantages to its beneficiaries, greatly distorting the economy. It is no coincidence that the firms benefiting from eminent domain lobby heavily for its use. In a real free market they’d have to negotiate and compete without government favors of this kind.
The Keystone land grab illustrates how supposedly conservative and libertarian politicians violate the freedoms and property rights of others. They have become part of a corrupt, coercive system that freely uses force against ordinary people when doing so suits its purposes. Ultimately, the state corrupts even the most principled advocates of liberty who join its ranks. Replacing the current system with a society based on voluntary interaction should be our ultimate goal. Until this happens, Americans need to recognize that allowing government to give stolen land to business interests is incompatible with freedom and must be opposed.
James C. Wilson is an intern at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).