Thursday, May 27, 2010

When Will They Get It?

The world continues to sing its praises of Houston, with the most recent example coming from Joel Kotkin. In an article on, Kotkin writes:
Politicians in big cities talk about jobs, but by keeping taxes, fees and regulatory barriers high they discourage the creation of jobs, at least in the private sector. A business in San Francisco or Los Angeles never knows what bizarre new cost will be imposed by city hall. In New York or Boston you can thrive as a nonprofit executive, high-end consultant or financier, but if you are the owner of a business that wants to grow you're out of luck.

Houston, however, has kept the cost of government low while investing in ports, airports, roads, transit and schools. A person or business moving there gets an immediate raise through lower taxes and cheaper real estate. Houston just works better at nurturing jobs.
Unfortunately, Houston's "leaders" don't get it. They continue to push for more controls and regulations, whether it is outlawing "attention-getting devices", mandating tags on taco trucks, forcing taxpayers to subsidize home purchases, seeking to shut down businesses (such as Spec's and CES Environmental), arbitrarily opposing development, or any of a myriad other interventions that discourage job creation, destroy existing jobs, or both.

City officials act as if Houston is somehow immune to the laws of economics, that if the city trods down the same statist path as other big cities, it will somehow not wind up in the same place. They are wrong. The same cause--government intervention--leads to the same effect--high housing costs and a stagnant economy--no matter where it is enacted.

I do disagree with Kotkin's conclusion:
Houston, perhaps more than any city in the advanced industrial world, epitomizes the René Descartes ideal--applied to the 17th-century entrepreneurial hotbed of Amsterdam--of a great city offering "an inventory of the possible" to longtime residents and newcomers alike. This, more than anything, promises to give Houstonites the future.
Houston's success has not been the result of Cartesian ideas. The city's growth and economic prosperity has been the result of a general respect for property rights. Politically, this ideal was identified and defended by America's Founding Fathers. Its moral basis was identified and defended by Ayn Rand:
The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.
If Houston wishes to continue as the city that others want to be, this is what city leaders must understand. But before that will occur, Houstonians must first demand that city government respect and protect the inviolate right of each individual to his own life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and property. When they do, and vote accordingly, city officials may begin to get it.

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