Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Market

Tory Gattis, at Houston Strategies, directed me to another article singing the praises of Houston. Sam Staley, writing for, says
Underappreciated in the city’s success may be its uniquely flexible and adaptable approach to land-use regulation. Unlike every other major city in the US, Houston has shunned zoning regulation, preferring to leave choices about land uses up to the real estate market.
The real estate market that he refers to consists of all Houstonians who care to participate in it. The real estate market consists of the independent choices of thousands of Houstonians, each making decisions based on his own values and acting accordingly. The lack of land use regulations in Houston makes this possible.

In cities with restrictive land use controls, developers and builders must jump through hoops, appease politicians, bureaucrats, and special interest groups, and essentially beg for permission to do their job. They are prohibited from reacting to the market, and instead forced to react to the arbitrary demands of those with political power.
Redevelopment occurs at a rapid pace inside the Loop, creating a mix of land uses rare in most U.S. cities, where aggressive zoning segregates and highly regulates land uses. High-rise apartment buildings and commercial towers emerge on redeveloped property quickly, and notices of higher density and mixed-use redevelopment dot parcels of land throughout the inner-loop area.
In other words, when developers and builders see a need for greater density, they respond accordingly. And they can respond relatively quickly because they do not need to spend years seeking the approval of those who do not own the property.

The market is a dynamic place. Each participant is motivated by his own self-interest, seeking to find the best use for his abilities and assets. When the market is unfettered, individuals can act as their judgment dictates, even when others think their ideas are folly. They need not convince the ignorant, the short-sighted, or bureaucrats. They need only convince those who choose to deal with them-- their investors, their employees, and their customers. And each of these are motivated by their own self-interest.

Those who seek to impede the market, which means impede the voluntary choices of individuals, are motivated by something entirely different. For all of their rhetoric about protecting the public or promoting the common good, their real goal is control. Their real goal is control over the men and women who build and produce.

The failures of command economies are numerous and well-known. The successes of freedom are less numerous, but certainly easily found. And no city better demonstrates the success of freedom than Houston.

Houston is a slap in the face to every advocate of government intervention in the economy, land use restrictions, and violations of property rights. Houston demonstrates, day after day, year after year, that freedom leads to individual prosperity. But individual prosperity is not the goal of those who seek more controls. Their goal is control.

You may think that I am exaggerating, that those who propose greater government controls are motivated by benevolence. You may think that they go "too far" sometimes, but that they have good intentions. You may even think that some controls are necessary, or our city will run amok in anarchy.

If you think any of these things, you are wrong.

Those who are motivated by benevolence do not use coercion to impose their ideas and values upon others. They respect the judgment and the rights of each individual. They interact with those who support their values and trade with those who will provide them those values. They shun those who are antagonistic to their values, or offer them no value.

Human survival and happpiness is not automatic. It requires specific actions to transform our environment to provide for our sustenance and enjoyment. Each individual has a moral right to the freedom to take those actions, so long as he respects the mutual right of others. And each individual has a moral responsibility to provide for himself.

In other words, no individual has a right to demand that others provide for his sustenance or happiness. He cannot compel others to provide for him, just as others cannot compel him to provide for them. He cannot force others to sacrifice for him, nor can others force him to sacrifice for them. That is not anarchy, that is the rule of objective law. That is freedom.


Stephen Smith said...

I think you may not be appreciating enough the impact of minimum parking regulations. I've heard that in most cities, they end up being more restrictive than zoning, and that they're really the most pernicious example of land use regulations. For example, for apartment complexes, the developer must build 1.25 parking spaces per efficiency, and 1.33 spaces for each bedroom in larger apartments. Also, before 1999 (which includes 98% of the current housing stock), the city imposed a 5000 sq. ft. lot minimum for single-family homes. And then there are Houston's abnormally large streets, which choke walkability.

The Reason Foundation is really not a very credible resource when talking about transportation or land use – they don't dig very deep into the land use issue, and end up advocating some distinctly non-libertarian solutions.

Brian Phillips said...

My post was not really about the Reason Foundation-- it was about another example of positive comments about Houston. Those comments, and the arguments behind them, are correct and valid.

As far as parking space regulations, I am opposed to them, just as I am opposed to all forms of land use regulations. That I have not addressed a particular form of land use regulation does not mean I favor them or regard them as less onerous.

Finally, just to be clear, I am not a libertarian. Unlike libertarians, I hold that politics derives from morality. Unlike libertarians, I hold that objective moral standards are not only possible, but have been defined. Unlike libertarians, I hold that freedom is not a license to pursue any whim.