October 16, 2006
The Synergy of Harry ReidBy Christopher Chantrill
The people of Nevada have a problem. About 90 percent of the land in the state is owned by the federal government. This makes it difficult for them to develop land for homes, schools, offices, and strip malls, the infrastructure they need to support their families.
But they are not fools. They have elected to the United States Senate a man with the skills not only to untangle their Social Security benefit problems but also to provide them with the land they need, a man with the cojones to wrestle with bureaucrats, zoning boards, and rich environmental groups and force them to surrender good Nevada land for the beneficial use of Nevada families.
In the corporate sector, this is called synergy.
Recently, the synergistic work of Senator Harry Reid (D—NV) has come under public scrutiny. On October 11 Associated Press reporters John Solomon and Kathleen Hennessey detailed how Reid, with considerable skill, managed to get a parcel of land on the outskirts of Las Vegas rezoned from residential into a shopping center. And a blogger, AJStrata, showed that Senator Reid is no amateur. Clark County, Nevada, has recorded numerous real estate transactions in recent years involving Harry M Reid.
Like most working people, Harry Reid likes to be compensated for his trouble. In the Vegas land deal, "Reid took $1.1 million of the proceeds, nearly tripling the senator's investment" of $400,000, according to the AP. Some people call this kind of profit "price gouging," but what do they know?
And what of the incalculable benefits? With this land now available for development, Nevada residents can stay where they are in Las Vegas, working at good jobs and raising their families. California families, embattled with the high taxes and government regulations for which their state is famous, can move to Nevada. They can be confident that the brilliant manipulations of real—estate speculator Harry Reid will provide them with the homes and the urban infrastructure they need. What price for that?
The real question is whether Senator Reid's activities come up to the mark for transparency and global best practice. Should United States Senators be allowed to trade in land when they are using their power and influence to increase the value of that land? Maybe they should.
If so, then should United States Senators be obliged to post details of their land transactions on the Internet within 24 hours of any change or face a $100,000 fine and a year in jail? Should they even be obliged to publish their land transactions in advance?
The problem isn't that United States Senators trade in land and use their power and influence to improve the value of the land they own.
The problem is that that the American people are shut out of the process. And that is wrong.
This might not be a problem for Republican Senators. As University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone asserts in connection with the legal system, conservatives want to
like Senator Reid and his partners. So if a wealthy conservative senator grabs all the profits from a land development deal, no problem for conservatives.
But surely liberal Democratic senators cannot endure this sort of thing. As Stone says,
And there is no area of government activity where exercise of government power is more particular than in the zoning of real estate.
Here is an idea. We should set up an on—line market in senatorial land deals. Every senator would be required to post his land holdings, whether direct or through an investment company or partnership. Ordinary Americans could then buy futures in the land in an online market similar to the Iowa Electronic Markets.
No, wait. Here is a better idea. All senatorial land holdings should be displayed in an online map application like Google Maps or the real—estate site Zillow, where you can look up the value of your neighbor's house. And then just by clicking on the map ordinary Americans could access an online market in senatorial land futures.
Please do not think that Senator Reid, a Democratic senator sensitive to competing values, was swinging these land development deals just for the money. Oh no. He was undoubtedly engaged in delicate research to determine the particular ways in which government power is exercised in the zoning of land and the management of urban growth for his Nevada constituents. Now that his researches are complete we can expect that he will shortly introduce legislation in the Senate to curb abuses in commercial land development practices and will donate all his windfall profits to worthy Nevada charities.
It is a comforting thought.