Saturday, September 6, 2008

Avoiding the Z Word

Zoning advocates are careful to avoid using that word. After all, they have been rejected three times by Houston voters. Further, any zoning proposal would have to be submitted to voters and the pro-zoners certainly don't want to suffer another bitter defeat.

So how will they get around both the city charter and voters? They will simply call it something else, like planning. In April, Chronicle reporter Mike Snyder posted on former Houston Planning Director Patricia Knudson Joiner:

She'd like to reframe the discussion, partly by steering it away from talk of zoning, which she considers an irrelevant and polarizing distraction. Instead, Joiner would like the public to see planning the way she portrays it in her own professional life: "Planning is seeing the future before you get there and deciding if you like it."

Since zoning is "an irrelevant and polarizing distraction" we'll just call it something else. Why get distracted by labels or principles?

But Joiner does more than simply brush the issue aside, she completely drops context. Private planning requires the voluntary consent of all involved; public planning is imposed by government force. Private planning is based on the values of the individuals involved; public planning ultimately allows some to impose their values upon the entire city. Joiner admits as much:

In other words, think of planning as an agreed-upon set of values and outcomes, then use the best available tools to achieve them. Regulations, which tend to be the focus of public discussions about how to guide growth and development, are only part of the answer, she says; local governments can also use decisions about where to invest public funds for streets and utilities to steer growth in a desired direction, and can supplement the "stick" of regulations with the "carrot" of financial incentives.

What happens to those who do not consent to the "agreed-upon values and outcomes"? Joiner is clear about that-- the "stick" of regulations will be used. In other words, those who do not agree will be forced to "agree". However, "agreement" achieved with a stick is hardly an agreement. It is the imposition of one set of ideas and values through the threat of physical force. And, as a safe measure, the City can also use bribery, aka "the 'carrot' of financial incentives".

In other words, the City will develop a plan and then impose it on everyone, including those who disagree. The recalcitrant will first be prodded with financial incentives, and then with a stick.

But none of this can happen, Joiner said, until the city develops and adopts a
plan expressing its desired outcomes. The document could be known as a
comprehensive plan, a general plan or even a business plan. (The last option may
be a good choice in a city that seems to prefer a private-sector vocabulary.)

"What business -- private or publicly traded, large or small -- doesn't
operate with a business plan?" Knudson asked.
Joiner is correct that the City can't poke and prod until it identifies the goal of its coercion. But the ends-- no matter what they are-- do not justify the means.

Further, it's not enough to just avoid the "z word". Joiner proposes to cloak it in "private-sector vocabulary". This evades the fact that there is a fundamental difference between the private sector-- which is voluntary and consensual-- and the public sector-- which is coercive and mandatory. By equating the two she simply dismisses the difference as irrelevant.

But the difference is not irrelevant. Government holds a legal monopoly on the use of force. A government plan is imposed by force. A business cannot compel others to abide by its plan. It can only seek the voluntary agreement and cooperation of others.

Unable to achieve their goals through the voluntary consent of others, advocates of greater government controls seek to use coercion to impose their values on others. Fearful of the results if they engaged in an open and honest dialogue on the principles underlying their proposals, they seek to obfuscate the issue through equivocation and evasion.

If Houstonians wish to retain their property rights, then they must see through such tactics. If Houstonians wish to maintain the prosperity they enjoy, then they must reject proposals to expand government power.


jimmy said...

While I agree with your defense of private property. I saw no mention of actual land use regulation. The fact is the stick and carrot approach is more than likely in the realm of public infrastructure improvements and permitting. In that realm the govt has every right to discourage negatively impacting land uses that affect your neighbor's freedom to maintain and improve their property value or in some extreme cases the health of neighbors. It is a tentative balance and of eternal vigilance. Thank you for eying the politicians as they will try to expand their jurisdiction and pocket books at our collective expense.

Ad Hoc Committee for Property Rights said...

"Negatively impacting land uses" is not a legitimate reason to regulate land use. If I build a better widget, it has a negative impact on my competitors. Should I be prohibited from marketing the product?

Government's only legitimate purpose is the protection of individual rights, including property rights. Land use regulations violate property rights by initiating force against the property owner.