Thursday, June 24, 2010

Houston: Model City...But Not for Long

I previously commented on a piece by Joel Kotkin titled "Houston: Model City" that appeared in Forbes. 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.
Kotkin is only partially right. Certainly, business owners in most major cities never know what arbitrary edicts will be forced upon them. But our politicians are working overtime to catch up.

Consider what city officials have done just in the past 2 years: taco tags, a ban on "attention-getting" devices, shutting down a Spec's liquor store, harassing CES Environmental Services, ever shifting demands regarding the Ashby High Rise, tougher restrictions on billboards, a "crackdown" on sexually-oriented businesses, a proposed tightening of the preservation ordinance, mandated use of biodegradable leaf bags, and more. Each of these measures drives up the cost of doing business, kills jobs, or both. Is this an environment that "nurtures jobs"?

Despite the praise that is regularly heaped upon Houston, including that of being a model city, our alleged leaders keep telling us that we must do this and do that if we want to be "world class". They keep telling us that we should emulate other cities, while the rest of the world is being told that they should emulate us. Why such a different view of our city?

The truth is, city officials are not concerned with Houston being a "world class" city. They aren't concerned with creating jobs, or protecting the environment, or improving our "quality of life". These are just empty platitudes that they toss out to the pressure group of the day in an obsequious attempt to win political support. All they want is power--the power to dictate and control our lives. And if you don't believe me, how do you explain the list of dictates and controls I cited above?

The pattern is generally the same. Some group gets mad because others are doing something that they don't like. So they assemble a bunch of nosy and noisy cohorts to pester City Hall. Once they find a council member willing to pander to their demands--which isn't hard--the issue is declared a matter of public safety, or "quality of life", or "neighborhood protection", or something similar that makes everybody feel good about themselves because they are "doing something".

And that "something" is forcing their values on the rest of their fellow citizens. That "something" is using the coercive power of government to dictate how others may or may not act. That "something" is the exact opposite of what made Houston great. That "something" is destroying the city that the rest of the world wants to emulate.

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