Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Opportunity City

For the better part of 2008 analysts from around the country have pointed to Houston as an example of what a lack of government controls on land use can provide for citizens. Houston has ranked near the top in list after list of the nation's best cities. Our economy is still growing and our housing market has remained stable. As I have pointed out numerous times, these economic benefits are the practical consequences of freedom.

Interestingly, the example being set by Houston isn't limited to the United States. In "Affordable Housing No Accident in Houston", Hugh Pavletich of New Zealand writes (HT to Houston Strategies):
Houston’s great strength has been its ability to stop political and commercial elites from capturing control and denying Houstonians the ability to make their own decisions about how and where they wish to live and work. It is indeed “the people’s city.”

This did not happen by accident in Houston, but has been the result of a long tradition of sound governance ­underpinned by a political culture fostering constructive discussion and debate that consistently enhances competition and opportunity. In fact, Houston is now widely recognized, internationally, as the model “opportunity city.”

Unlike most large cities, Houston remains affordable for a middle-class family. While others argue that we need greater planning, more mass transit, and increased government control of our lives, it is the absence of such government intrusions that makes Houston affordable.

Despite the evidence that continues to pile up that Houston's lack of government control is the reason for our prosperity, there are those who seek to expand regulations and controls. If individual Houstonians are better off for the lack of such controls, we must question the motives of those who seek more controls. They certainly aren't motivated by improving our lives, because if they were, they would be repealing controls rather than seeking more.

The lack of government control means that individuals are free to pursue their values without burdensome obstacles, so long as they respect the mutual rights of others. It means that if someone has an idea, he can pursue it without jumping through hoops, filing for permit after permit, and appeasing an endless parade of bureaucrats.

This lack of controls is why Houston is "the model opportunity city". What then, do those who seek to erect more obstacles, more red tape, and more bureaucracy seek to accomplish? It certainly isn't opportunity because such obstacles reduce opportunity. It certainly isn't more affordable housing because the costs of those obstacles are ultimately passed on to consumers. It certainly is more choices for consumers because those obstacles limit what is offered in the marketplace.
I was privileged to spend two weeks during May in Houston. The lasting
impression I have is the refreshing openness, tolerance, optimism and commitment
of the Houstonians I met from all walks of life, ­characteristics often
lacking in other urban markets currently suffering housing stress.

Houstonians need to understand and appreciate the reality that your
great city is indeed a global leader with respect to its political culture and
urban governance. And, importantly, that this is being increasingly recognized
both within the United States and internationally.

This may seem a little trite, but freedom breeds benevolence. When individuals are free they regard their fellow citizens as potential allies in their mutual pursuit of happiness. When they can collaborate in the pursuit of their mutual best interests they do so without the arbitrary restrictions of government. However, when citizens are shackled by government controls and regulations, individuals must compete for government favors. They must join special interest groups to influence politicians and bureaucrats.

I completely agree with Mr. Pavletich that "Houstonians need to understand and appreciate the reality that your great city is indeed a global leader with respect to its political culture and urban governance." Houston is a great city because it is a free city. We will remain great only as long as we remain free. And we will be greater when we are freer.

No comments: