|Wednesday, March 1, 2006||Classified ads||Get a job||Buy a car||Find real estate||Go shopping|
|Home > Opinion > Book Reviews|
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Does a city need a city government?
Senior editorial writer
At the state and federal level, political debates are partisan and often rooted in ideological differences. At the local level, the public still labors under the Progressive Era delusion that there is no partisanship. City councils, most people believe, are simply about filling potholes and patrolling the streets.
Yet the most important issues of freedom play out at the local level, where officials pass and implement laws that impact your life. We need to pay more attention to the ideologies that drive the policies that are implemented at the local level. Too often these policies emanate from groups such as the League of Cities or the California Redevelopment Association, which advance the idea of an activist government that micromanages most everything within city boundaries.
Yet there is a countercurrent to big government at the local level. The city of Anaheim, for instance, is having great success promoting development by deregulating land use, reducing government regulation and lowering rather than raising taxes. Yes, freedom still works even on Main Street. Local government power also is in the news after the U.S. Supreme Court's disastrous Kelo decision, allowing cities to use eminent domain for development.
It's a good time to revisit the book, "The Voluntary City," which offers examples of how private groups have provided services we now expect from the government. Despite what many officials would have us believe, civil society can grow and flourish without their planning imprint. The book shares many past and present examples from America, England and elsewhere. Private societies and developers can provide roads and infrastructure far more efficiently than the public sector. Private covenants can handle matters zoning officials now handle, according to essays in the book.
Locally we see that Orange County's private master developers have done a more efficient job than governments in developing infrastructure that undergirds their developments.
"The Voluntary City" provides examples of entrepreneurial-based planning and compares the successful private-education model to the government-domainted one today. One chapter looks at the way police services were not provided by the municipality but were a function of private associations in England. "The monopolizing of law-and-order enforcement by the state is a relatively recent development," according to one essay. In many examples, mutual-aid societies provided social welfare services without the wasteful hand of government. Private groups organized to educate their children and achieve other functions we assume to be fundamental to government.
The book is not a guidebook for shutting down most municipal services, even though it argues that we could build voluntary cities. I see it as offering a thought experiment - a philosophical framework that can help all of us think about urban issues in a different way as we wrestle with current problems.
We learn that just because the government currently provides certain things does not mean those things would not be provided if the market were left to its own devices. And that in a world of freedom and private contracts, those services would be provided more efficiently and at a higher quality. Why not use that knowledge to push harder for privatization of certain services?
"What sort of civilization do we want?" asks one essay at the end of the book. "Sparta or Athens? A civilization in which a dominant majority imposes its view of the good? Or a civilization that is open to all equally?"
In other words, the issue isn't only about cost and efficiency, but about freedom. Urban societies shouldn't have to give up that concept because we are unwilling to think more deeply about municipal affairs.
|Media Partners: KOCE | MSNBC | OCExcelsior | SqueezeOC | Home magazine | Coast magazine | KPCC | KMEX | Nguoi Viet|
|Copyright 2005 The Orange County
Register | Contact us | Privacy
policy and User agreement | Corrections
opportunities | Advertise with us | About
us| Archives | OC Real Estate
Finder | OC Car
Finder | OC Job
Finder | OC Single
Scene | California
Lottery | Register in Education | Buy our Photos |
| Local Business Listings