Thursday, July 24, 2008

Common Sense

An editorial in the July 20 Houston Chronicle called for a partnership between government and private developers to plan for Houston’s future. I wrote the following Letter to the Editor:

Your editorial “Common Sense” (July 20) implies that market forces are no longer sufficient to guide the city’s growth. Those market forces, you say, now make commutes expensive and stressful.

On the surface, this may seem plausible. However, you fail to identify the nature of market forces—the voluntary choices of each individual who chooses to participate in the marketplace. The market consists of individuals—both developers and home buyers— choosing what is best for them.

In place of individual choice, you state that greater government planning to increase density “just makes common sense”. Your position ignores the fact that developers must respond to the demands of consumers, and if greater density is desired, developers will react accordingly.

This in fact, is the case with the Ashby High Rise. Yet, in response to noisy home owners in the area, the City seeks to stop, or greatly reduce the scope of, the project. This is an example of what government planning will produce—disparate groups seeking to influence the planning process.

Individuals have a moral right to pursue their values without interference (so long as they respect the mutual rights of others). The free market—i.e., voluntary, private planning— allows this, and has provided Houstonians with a wide variety of affordable housing.

In its place, you endorse greater government planning. In place of the private, voluntary planning of individuals, you endorse the coercive planning of public officials. In place of allowing each individual to plan his own life, you endorse centralized planning to be imposed on everyone.
Such calls for greater government planning are common among the zoning crowd. They used that argument in the 1990’s, and apparently they will use it again.

They imply that the planning of individuals is somehow inferior to public planning, which reveals a great deal about their true intentions. Individual plan according to their personal values—what they want, need, and/ or desire. They make those plans because they are then free to implement them. In other words, they can choose their values and they seek to obtain those values.

Central planners do not like the fact that some individuals will choose values that the planners find objectionable. They don’t like urban sprawl, or strip malls, or myriad other uses of land. They don’t like the many choices and options available to consumers, because some of those uses are “ugly”, “inefficient”, or something else they regard as negative.

Rather than accept the right of each individual to choose his own values, they seek to impose one set of values upon the entire city. They want to dictate where we can live, what our homes and businesses look like, and virtually every other aspect of land use.

I suspect that many pro-zoners would deny the above statement. They would claim that they simply want more uniformity in land use, that they want to provide the city with the means to better provide necessary infrastructure, etc. Yet, they endorse a policy that in principle grants government complete control over land use.

If they truly want to improve the city’s roads, water, and sanitation, then I suggest that they re-evaluate their premises. There are other ways to accomplish these goals without subjecting the entire city to a tyranny over land use.

© J. Brian Phillips 2008

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