Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Developer and the Antiplanner

The Antiplanner (HT: Houston Strategies) tells about a developer who doesn't like Houston's land-use policies:
There is too much competition down there. My company can’t make a profit. You
have to have some barriers to entry to be able to make money.

Unfortunately, this is a common attitude among businessmen. Rather than succeed on the basis of superior production and efficiency, they would prefer to "succeed" on the basis of superior lobbying and political pull. They don't want to provide superior products and services; they want guaranteed profits.

Such businessmen find a free market to be a threat. A free market requires them to appeal to the self-interest of consumers by offering better products and services. Success in the free market rests on the ability to convince individuals to purchase one's products voluntarily, based on their own independent judgment. And this is what frightens businessmen such as the developer--they fear that when individuals have choices they will not choose what the businessman offers.

The developer wants to limit the options available to individuals. He wants to prohibit them from exercising their own judgment by limiting the number of competitors in his industry.

The Antiplanner correctly disputes this position, but for the wrong reasons:
But the goal of government is not — or at least should not be — to make sure that his particular company makes a profit. That’s his job. The goal of government should be to keep a level playing field. If it represents anyone at all, it should represent consumers, not producers. That means maximizing competition, not limiting it.

The truth is, the purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. This applies to all individuals--consumers and producers. It should not be representing any particular group, and it should certainly not be concerned with "maximizing competition". Competition is a byproduct of freedom, not its goal.

Any attempt to "maximize competition" or represent consumers ultimately has the same results that the Antiplanner opposes--the use of force against producers. To "represent consumers" means that coercion must be used against producers, that producers must be forced to provide certain products. In principle, this is no different from erecting barriers to entry into an industry. In both instances, government compels producers to act contrary to their own judgment.

Further, such efforts to "maximize competition" are also destructive to consumers. Economically, any restrictions or controls placed on producers means limitations on the options available to consumers. Morally, the violation of the rights of a single individual is a threat to the rights of all individuals.

A "level playing field" can objectively have only one meaning--the freedom of all individuals to act according to their own judgment, so long as they respect the mutual rights of others. As producers, this means offering the products and services that they determine appropriate; as consumers, this means purchasing those products and services that they believe satisfy their values. Anything short of protecting individual rights--completely and consistently--means forcing some individuals to act differently than they would voluntarily choose.

When government is granted the power to violate individual rights, the political process will necessarily evolve into a battle to weild that power. It will encourage the very lobbyists the Antiplanner decries, as they seek to influence legislation.

Both the developer and the Antiplanner agree that government should be putting controls and restrictions on individuals. They only disagree on which individuals should sacrifice their life and property and who will benefit from those sacrifices.

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