Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Interview with Brian Phillips, Part 2

You've called for dramatic tax cuts. How do you plan to balance the budget if you are cutting revenues by 10% or more?

Actually, I'd like to cut revenues by much more than 10% because I intend to cut spending by much more than that. The city is currently engaged in many activities that are improper for government. By privatizing those services and selling the associated assets, the city would save hundreds of millions of dollars, and raise substantial sums at the same time. For example, we could save $60 million by eliminating building inspections and similar functions. Nearly $5 million can be cut from the city budget by eliminating sign administration. We can cut $10 million from the city budget by eliminating the Mobility Response Team. Nearly $9 million can be saved by eliminating the Planning and Development Department. There are a lot of other areas where the budget can be cut--this is just a start.

You are talking about getting rid of virtually everything the city is doing. What will be left?

Ultimately just the police and the courts. Those are the only proper functions for a local government. Everything else should be provided by the private sector, if the citizens want it. But it would take many years to get to that point. It would not be practical or moral to simply yank the rug out from everyone and shut down illegitimate government services. The private sector wouldn't be in a position to offer alternatives.
You have mentioned morality several times. Yet you seem to be advocating selfishness and greed, which many claim is what got us in our current economic crisis. Care to comment?

Such characterizations are a gross misrepresentation of the facts. Both the housing industry and the financial industry--two industries getting much of the blame for this mess--are also among the most heavily regulated. It is intellectually dishonest to say that the free market failed when we didn't have a free market. It was government intervention that failed. In contrast, Houston has shown a greater respect for property rights than other cities. Houston hasn't enacted zoning for example, which allows property owners to use their land as they deem best. The result has been lower housing costs, a growing job market, and a higher standard of living than other cities. In other words, Houston is a refutation of that argument. Morally, each individual has a right to his own life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. This was the founding principle of America and it led to our economic prosperity. To a large extent, it has remained a guiding principle in Houston, with similar consequences.
Would you endorse any of the actual candidates running for mayor?

Not unless they dramatically change their positions. For the most part, they are offering nothing new and there is very little to distinguish one candidate from another. They disagree on some minor details, such as how much we should expand light rail. But all of them agree that we need more government control over the lives of citizens. They just disagree on what they want to control.
But the candidates are simply endorsing positions that Houstonians want. Isn’t that the democratic way?

America was not founded as a democracy. Democracy means majority rule—that the majority may do as it pleases simply because it is the majority. In theory and in practice this means that there are no restrictions on what the majority may do, including violating the rights of the minority. And the individual is the smallest minority.

Government’s purpose is the protection of individual rights, not implementing the “will of the people”. The Founders understood this, and repeatedly warned of the passions of the mob. Might does not make right.
While all of this sounds good in theory, do you really think that it could work in real life?

I think the first part of your question answers the second part. How do we determine if something is good in theory? If something is good in theory, it is because it works in practice. More importantly, we must identify what we want in practice.

If we want economic prosperity and individual happiness, then the only way to achieve that is through individual freedom—the right of each individual to pursue his own values. Government can’t make us happy, and if you believe otherwise then I suggest that you simply look at the misery, destruction, and death that has occurred everywhere that that premise has been put into action.

Houstonians are facing a crucial choice in the coming years. We can continue down the path that we have been traveling—slowly eroding individual rights. Or we can reverse this trend and protect those rights more consistently than we have been doing. The choice that is made will ultimately determine if Houston continues to prosper, or will become just like the dying cities of the northeast and California.

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