Government Has No Solution To Anything!

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at VERIZON.NET
Sun Oct 21 21:09:20 MDT 2007

October 22, 2007

Government Plans Don't Work

by Randal O'Toole

a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and 
author of the recent book, 
Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms 
Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Unlike planners, markets can cope with complexity and change.

After more than 30 years of reviewing government 
plans, including forest plans, park plans, 
watershed plans, wildlife plans, energy plans, 
urban plans, and transportation plans, I've 
concluded that government planning almost always does more harm than good.

Most government plans are so full of fabrications 
and unsupportable assumptions that they aren't 
worth the paper they are printed on, much less 
the millions of dollars taxpayers spend to have 
them written. Federal, state, and local 
governments should repeal planning laws and shut down planning offices.

Everybody plans. But private plans are flexible, 
and we happily change them when new information 
arises. In contrast, special interest groups 
ensure that the government plans benefiting them 
do not change ­ no matter how costly.

Like any other organization, government agencies 
need to plan their budgets and short-term 
projects. But they fail when they write 
comprehensive plans (which try to account for all 
side effects), long-range plans (two to 50 years 
or more), or plans that attempt to control other 
people's land and resources. Many plans try to do all three.

Comprehensive plans fail because forests, 
watersheds, and cities are simply too complicated 
for anyone to understand. Chaos science reveals 
that very tiny differences in initial conditions 
can lead to huge differences in outcomes ­ that's 
why megaprojects such as Boston's Big Dig go so far over budget.

Long-range plans fail because planners have no 
better insight into the future than anyone else, 
so their plans will be as wrong as their predictions are.

Planning of other people's land and resources 
fails because planners will not pay the costs 
they impose on other people, so they have no 
incentive to find the best answers.

Most of the nation's 32,000 professional planners 
graduated from schools that are closely 
affiliated with colleges of architecture, giving 
them an undue faith in design. This means many 
plans put enormous efforts into trying to control 
urban design while they neglect other tools that 
could solve social problems at a much lower cost.

For example, planners propose to reduce 
automotive air pollution by increasing population 
densities to reduce driving. Yet the nation's 
densest urban area, Los Angeles, which is seven 
times as dense as the least dense areas, has only 
8 percent less commuting by auto. In contrast, 
technological improvements over the past 40 
years, which planners often ignore, have reduced 
the pollution caused by some cars by 99 percent.

Some of the worst plans today are so-called 
growth-management plans prepared by states and 
metropolitan areas. They try to control who gets 
to develop their land and exactly what those 
developments should look like, including their 
population densities and mixtures of residential, 
retail, commercial, and other uses. "The most 
effective plans are drawn with such precision 
that only the architectural detail is left to 
future designers," says a popular planning book.

About a dozen states require or encourage urban 
areas to write such plans. Those states have some 
of the nation's least affordable housing, while 
most states and regions that haven't written such 
plans mostly have very affordable housing. The 
reason is simple: planning limits the supply of 
new housing, which drives up the price of all 
housing and leads to housing bubbles.

In states with growth-management laws, median 
housing prices in 2006 were typically 4 to 8 
times median family incomes. In most states 
without such laws, median home prices are only 2 
to 3 times median family incomes.

Few people realize that the recent housing 
bubble, which affected mainly regions with 
growth-management planning, was caused by 
planners trying to socially engineer cities. Yet 
it has done little to protect open space, reduce 
driving, or do any of the other things promised.

Politicians use government planning to allocate 
scarce resources on a large scale. Instead, they 
should make sure that markets ­ based on prices, 
incentives, and property rights ­ work.

Private ownership of wildlife could save 
endangered species such as the black-footed 
ferret, North America's most-endangered mammal. 
Variably priced toll roads have helped reduce 
congestion. Pollution markets do far more to 
clean the air than exhortations to drive less. 
Giving people freedom to use their property, and 
ensuring only that their use does not harm 
others, will keep housing affordable.

Unlike planners, markets can cope with 
complexity. Futures markets cushion the results 
of unexpected changes. Markets do not preclude 
government ownership, but the best-managed 
government programs are funded out of user fees 
that effectively make government managers act 
like private owners. Rather than passing the buck 
by turning sticky problems over to government 
planners, policymakers should make sure markets give people what they want.

<>This article appeared 
in the <>Christian Science Monitor on October 18, 2007.
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