Monday, September 8, 2008

An Open Letter to Houston’s Developers and Builders

Throughout this year we have heard countless stories about the collapse of the housing market around the nation. During this same period we have also heard many stories about Houston’s relatively stable housing market.

For decades you have provided Houstonians with affordable housing. You have provided an abundance of options, from modest starter homes to luxurious custom homes. You have helped make the lives of all Houstonians better and more enjoyable.

You have been able to do this because Houston, unlike most cities, has not erected a myriad of regulations and obstacles to impede you. Houston is arguably the freest city in the nation, and that freedom has allowed you meet the demands of the marketplace. That freedom has allowed you to judge the appropriateness of a project, and then proceed on the basis of your independent judgment.

Our abundant and affordable housing and our low cost of doing business are the economic benefits of that freedom. Our glorious skyline is the monument.

There are those who would like more control over you and your business. Over the past few decades we have seen a growing number of restrictions on businesses, builders, and developers. Many potential candidates for Mayor in 2009 have expressed support for more restrictive land use controls.

While you may be the most visible and obvious victims of these restrictions, all Houstonians will suffer. The cost of housing and doing business will increase. Consumer choices will decrease. If our political leaders seek to emulate the restrictive land use policies of the northeast and California, we will also bear the same economic results those regions have recently suffered.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is not necessary that you allow city officials to dictate the terms and conditions under which you operate your business. It is not necessary that you helplessly watch while others decide your future. It is not necessary that you be a victim.

City officials have no power over you or your business unless you give it to them. They cannot be successful in their power grab unless you allow them.

Regardless of the particular manner in which city officials seek to enact more restrictive land use regulations, their justification rests upon a specific moral premise. And they depend on your acceptance of that premise to sanction their actions. If you withhold your sanction, you will expose the true nature of their position and they will be literally powerless.

You may think that you are bound to follow the will of the majority or their representatives in city government. You may think that in a democratic society the interests of individuals must be subjugated to the interests of society. This is the premise upon which they rely, and it is the premise that you must reject.

Our nation was not founded as a democracy, but a constitutional republic. In a democracy, the majority may do as it pleases simply because it is the majority. Thomas Jefferson stated that “a democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

The Founders created a constitutional republic, in which the rights of individuals were to be protected from violation by a tyranny of one—the King—or a tyranny of many—the majority. They restricted the powers of government precisely to protect individuals from the arbitrary edicts of government officials.

The benefits you have provided to Houstonians was not motivated by service to others, but by your desire to profit. You have provided value for value, offering your knowledge and skills to a discerning public. When you were right, you benefited. When you were wrong, you did not.

You use your judgment to determine the market and to act accordingly. You rely on the self-interest of your clients to purchase your products, while you simultaneously pursue your own self-interest.

You are not a sacrificial animal whose life can be disposed of by others, no matter their number and no matter what alleged benefit will result. You have a moral right to your own life and the freedom to take the actions required to sustain and enjoy it. Our Founding Fathers understood this, for that is the meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those who seek control over you cannot justify their plans. They depend on your acquiescence. Your moral sanction is the only weapon they have. Your willingness to sacrifice your ambitions, your plans, your desires is their only power. Withdraw your sanction. Refuse to sacrifice your interests to those who seek to control you.

It is not easy to stand alone when the mob declares that your ideas are wrong. It is not easy to reject the consensus, to rock the boat, to question the status quo. But Christopher Columbus did it. Galileo did it. Henry Ford did it. Thomas Edison did it. Our Founding Fathers did it. The world is a much better place for their courage to see the truth.

These individuals, and many, many more like them, are the rocks upon which civilization has been built. Just as the homes and buildings you construct need a solid foundation, so does a free society. That foundation lies in the realm of morality, in the right of each individual to sustain and enjoy his own life.

You would not concede to City Council the power to dictate what shingles to put on your roofs or what paint to put on your walls. You and your customers are the best judges of those criteria. Do not concede to City Council the power over any aspect of your business. They are not interested in your customers. They are interested only in the next election. They will sacrifice you and your business for the necessary votes, but only if you allow them.

In place of self-sacrifice, declare your moral right to live your life for yourself. Do not apologize for asserting your rights. Do so proudly, for you have earned it.

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