Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The City Budget and Crime Prevention

In a Sunday Op Ed city councilman C. O. "Brad" Bradford illustrates how easily it can be to "justify" expand government into areas it doesn't belong. Addressing the city's $100 million budget deficit, Bradford writes:
What can and should the city be doing right now? It should tighten its belt, reduce spending and provide relief for businesses and citizens. Businesses tend to flourish, and citizens fare better, when they have as much free rein as possible to operate legally and ethically. Reducing some burdens on businesses, particularly while our local economy is sagging, creates an incentive to reinvest, expand and grow businesses.
This is certainly a good starting point. But the article quickly goes downhill from there:
How do we reduce spending? Acknowledge and operate under the model that the city of Houston's business is the delivery of core services.... Any activity deemed not to be a part of core services must be subjected to reduction, privatization and/or elimination. We must get back to a commitment to basic sanitation (garbage and water), infrastructure issues, police and fire. After all, the delivery of core services is why we exist as a local government. 
Actually, the purpose of the city government is the protection of our rights, including our property rights. This involves the police and the courts, and nothing else. Services such as sanitation, infrastructure, and fire protection can and should be privatized. Of course, this is unlikely to occur any time soon, particularly given prevailing views regarding government and the dominance of Pragmatism. Unable to identify the principles underlying his statements, Bradford goes on to advocate that conflict with his previous claims.

Stating that the city's primary purpose is public safety, Bradford goes on to argue that we need more crime prevention "strategies", such as summer and after-school programs. Such programs, he claims, are more effective than putting more officers on the street. I don't doubt that Bradford could cite studies that show that such programs are less expensive than apprehending and incarcerating criminals. But so what? There are a multitude of actions the government can take--such as curfews or martial law--that might be cost effective, but violating the rights of citizens under any pretense is immoral.

Indeed, virtually anything could be justified under the guise of a crime prevention strategy. Random searches of homes, arrests based on "gut feelings", and road blocks would all undoubtedly prevent some crimes. Crime prevention however, is not a proper use of government force. Apprehending and punishing actual criminals--those who initiate force--is.

The city government engages in such activity far more often and in more ways than any common criminal could ever dream of. Whether it is trying to shut down sexually-oriented businesses and sign companies, or bullying Spec's Liquor, or harassing CES Environmental Services, or pandering to opponents of the Ashby High Rise, or countless other examples, city officials have not and do not hesitate to use force against the citizenry.

I have previously addressed how to solve the budget deficit, return city government to its proper purpose, and solve the crime issue. If Bradford, or any city official for that matter, truly wishes to address the budget deficit or crime, he would be well advised to begin by identifying the proper purpose of government.

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