Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Interview with Brian Phillips, Part 1

Since announcing my virtual candidacy for mayor of Houston, I have patiently waited for the media to interview me on the issues facing the city. Since that is not occurring, I will take it upon myself to conduct such an interview.

You are conducting a virtual campaign, and have indicated that you are not a serious candidate. Why take that approach, rather than an actual campaign?

There are several reasons. The most significant is that I really don't want to be mayor. However, I would like to see a candidate who actually defended individual rights. Since there doesn't seem to be one emerging, I thought that I would try to inject those ideas into the debate and show Houstonians that there is an alternative to the ideas we keep hearing. If you look at the current candidates, it is almost impossible to differentiate between them. Their individual focus is slightly different, but all see government as the solution to whatever ills face the city, real and imagined.

What do you see as the most serious issue facing Houston today?

In the broadest sense, the growth of city government. The city is gradually legislating more areas of our lives and expanding its control over the economy and businesses. As an example, the current mayor has declared war on sexually-oriented businesses and closed one last winter, along with a "hot-sheet" hotel last week. Last year, city council banned "attention-getting devices" and mandated tags on taco trucks. These are not proper activities for government. And it is hypocritical for government officials to talk about growing our economy while they are shutting down legitimate businesses.

Let's talk about sexually-oriented businesses for a moment. You sound like you are very anti-government and would prefer to just let people do whatever they want. Shouldn't citizens have some recourse if a strip club moves in down the street?

First, I don't accept your premise. I have never said that citizens should be allowed to do whatever they feel like doing. I am not a Libertarian. Government has a legitimate function--the protection of individual rights. Each individual has a moral right to act according to his own judgment, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others.

In the case of strip clubs, the solution isn't as clear cut as Mayor White pretends that it is. Such businesses have a right to exist. However, they do not have a right to be a nuisance to their neighbors. A property owner has the right to enjoy his property. If a neighbor makes loud noises at night, or attracts excessive traffic to a residential area, his rights have been violated. Such actions are legitimately dealt with through nuisance laws.

Mayor White has used nuisance laws to shut down the Penthouse Club and the motel.

Yes, but that isn't the mayor's proper function. These are civil matters, and those whose rights have been violated should be filing suit, not the city.

But the average citizen can't afford to take on large corporations. They need the government to protect them and their rights.

I don't think that citizens are as helpless as you seem to. There are other alternatives besides running to government every time we don't like something. As one example, civic groups can pool resources. It is becoming increasingly popular to run to government every time someone gets a splinter. Too many people are looking for government to make their life pain free. And I hate to be the one to bring them bad news, but that can't happen. The more we attempt to use government to take the pain out of life, the more we give up our ability to achieve happiness. The simple fact is, expanding the role of government means shrinking individual freedom. And freedom is a necessary condition for individual prosperity and happiness.

You have proposed selling parks and libraries, and privatizing water and trash collection. Aren't these proper functions of government? Private businesses can't supply these services, and if they could, they would have a monopoly.

No, these are not proper functions of government. Government's only proper function is the protection of individual rights. In providing these services, government must necessarily violate the rights of some individuals for the benefit of others. Government must prohibit competition in order to provide many of these services, and thereby obtains it customers by force. If citizens want libraries and parks, they should be willing to pay for them voluntarily. We do that with our food, internet service, and countless other services. And we have an abundance of alternatives and options. And if we don't want internet service, we don't pay for it. But we all pay for the libraries and parks, whether we use them or not.

What if a developer purchases all of the parks and builds condos?

That isn't likely to occur. In many cases, it simply wouldn't make economic sense. But we would take safeguards to prevent such an occurrence. For example, we would offer the neighborhood parks to the home owners in that neighborhood. They are the primary beneficiaries of those parks, and they would have a vested interest in keeping the parks. We would use deed restrictions to limit the use of the land for a period of time, and when the deed restrictions lapse, the owners would have the choice of renewing the deed restrictions or changing the use of the land.

It would be a gross injustice to sell such parks to developers with no deed restrictions. Many home owners purchase a home because of a nearby park. To suddenly take that away from them would be unjust.

But most home owners couldn't afford to buy a park and then maintain it.

Again, civic groups could pool money. Besides, they are paying for the park now through their tax dollars. As we sell parks we would also be cutting taxes. And, while we would ideally like to get market value for the parks, we might consider selling them for a nominal amount simply to relieve the city of the expense.

Part 2 of this interview will appear tomorrow.

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