Saturday, September 7, 2013

We're from the government......

Prof. Carl Kitchens of the University of Mississippi has been doing some great work on the history of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and my colleague Gary Fournier found this history in Slate on the use of federal government action (eminent domain) to oust a Tennessee family from their land. The article mentions that this case was one that helped inspire the movie Wild River. I think there are a couple of interesting historical takes on this article.

First, it may seem strange to a younger generation of people (with their modern picture of environmentalism) but the Progressive strain of environmentalism was very comfortable with building dams on free flowing rivers. Flood control and hydroelectric projects were considered by these Progressives to be "conservation." The fight over the Hetch Hetchy dam project in California led to a split in what was then called the conservation movement, with John Muir (later the Sierra Club) leading the opposition. (See Robert Nelson's The New Holy Wars for more background). That fight continued for decades, with the defeat of several of the dam projects in what became the Central Arizona Project the point at which the Sierra Club wing became ascendant.

Likewise, there should be no surprise to any student of the Progressive movement on the aggressive use of eminent domain to take private property for "public" [so-called] purposes.

Secondly, I know that many proponents of limited government view the U.S. as having moved essentially in a straight-line towards more coercive and expansive government. In terms of things like federal spending, this is true. But I wonder if our society today would really accept the intrusion of federal government "agents" writing reports and case files on how individual citizens did or did not keep their kitchens clean and which spouse seemed the be the more active talker, together with related things evidenced in this report. I predict that there would be more effective opposition today. Limited-government supporters lost the federal legal case in Kelo, but I believe that they won a change in the political momentum.

Interestingly, this area of Tennessee is the home of the Combs/McAdoo branches of my family, although my great grandparents had moved to the area of Seminole, Oklahoma [I'm not making that up, Noles fans] before the 1930s. Nevertheless, I can really picture my grandmother in the role of the matriarch of this story.