Friday, April 9, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 44

When Reality doesn't "Cooperate"
"Quality of life" advocates repeatedly tell us that Houston must tear down its billboards, shut down sexually-oriented businesses, build light rail, promote "green" industries, and engage in various other interventions if the city is to continue to grow. But apparently folks in other parts of the country aren't listening. U-Haul reports (HT: Elaine Phillips) that Houston was the number one destination for its rental trucks. In other words, individuals exercising their own judgment are picking Houston over other American cities, despite what the interventionists have been claiming for decades.

While the interventionists keep making their dire predictions, reality keeps proving them wrong.

Kiss Our Ass
The city's latest experiment in forcing environmentalism down our throats got off to a contentious start this week. On Monday, the solid waste department stopped collecting petroleum based lawn bags, forcing citizens to use biodegradable bags approved by the city. The Chronicle reports numerous complaints from citizens that the bags are too small, too thin, and too hard to find. To which the city essentially responded, "Kiss our ass and do it anyway." Or else.

When I visited my local Lowes last week the shelves were full of lawn bags, except for those mandated by the city. The owner of the company that mows my yard told me he has been unable to locate the quantity that he needs. So what are we supposed to do? The city is forcing us to use something that we can't purchase.

Our choice is to break the law and face fines of $2,000 or build a compost pile the size of a small city. Despite my love of compost, these are not attractive alternatives. To which the city has essentially responded, "Kiss our ass."

Small Thinking, Small Solutions
As one step in reducing the city's budget deficit, the budget for public libraries has been cut by $2.2 million, forcing the system to cut its hours by 28 percent. Apparently, city officials think that a paltry $2.2 million is going to make a big difference in the $100 million deficit it is facing.

Here is a thought: Sell the entire system. The city could cut the $39.8 million budgeted for the libraries, as well as pocket the money raised from selling the libraries. Depending on what kind of deal city officials could negotiate, this one simple measure would almost cut the budget in half.

But city officials won't consider such a step. They would rather whine about the need to made tough decisions rather than actually make them. They would rather argue over a million here and a million there, rather than do something that actually addresses the problem. They would rather continue to drain money from citizens (such as increasing water rates by 12%) than protect our rights. Neither libraries nor water service is a proper function of government, and the sooner city officials recognize this fact the sooner they can actually solve the budget deficit.

Small thinking leads to small solutions. Unprincipled thinking--which city officials are continually "perfecting"--only leads to more problems.


Rational Education said...

Here's a market based company in India that offers a circulating library service for book lovers. This way the entire city, including individuals that never use the service are not forced to pay through taxation for the interests of the few.
I was very impressed last time I was visiting- my niece who had a membership had selected the books she wanted delivered online and I presume given them the info on time logistics. The delivery person dropped off the books she had asked for and picked up the books she was returning. Unlike Netflix, she could even have called the company and had them deliver the same day if it was urgent.
Bless a free market's trader priciple that allows innovators to constantly innovate and offer services that customers want without sacrifices borne non-customers!

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks for the link. That is a pretty neat business, and the rates seem very reasonable. (Thanks to another market innovation--the Internet--I was able to convert rupees to dollars.)

Circulating libraries were very popular in colonial America. Some were very specialized in subject matter, while others were more general. And as you point out, only the users had to pay.

Neal Meyer said...

Right on, Mr. Phillips, concerning selling off libraries. While we are at it, the City of Houston could privatize the water supply. There's quite a bit of evidence around the world that the political allocation of water results in the drying up of water resources.

The City of Houston is quite blessed when it comes to water, having locked up Lake Houston, Lake Conroe, and especially Lake Livingston. Hence, Houston will not face the problems that the political allocation of water causes in many cities around America and the world for many decades. However, allocating water politically hides what is the true opportunity cost of water, usually leading to its overconsumption. It also leads to political outcries whenever cities decide to raise water rates.

Brian Phillips said...

I agree with the water system. I would also suggest that the city sell the parks, community centers, and virtually everything else except for what is need for police, the courts, and administration.