Recent theoretical work has investigated the exact mechanism(s) by which the holdout problem creates inefficiency and thereby justifies eminent domain. In parallel, recent empirical work has demonstrated that state courts and legislatures either grant discretion to, or prohibit, local authorities from using eminent domain for economic development. This article extends Miceli’s (2011) strategic holdout model to incorporate political inefficiencies that may emerge when granting discretionary powers. Using eminent domain for non-efficiency-enhancing purposes substitutes for voluntary exchange, which is optimal, and attracts rent seeking by developers. Therefore, the efficiency justification for eminent domain is conditional. It depends on the relative magnitudes of the market and political sources of inefficiency. This analysis informs the efficiency consequences of court rulings, most notably Kelo v. City of New London, and the various changes in states’ laws that followed.
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