Posts tagged Development

Housing and Urban Development

Here’s a view of the Southwest neighborhood in Washington, D.C., in 1949, before government planners came along to Develop it. The buildings are mostly small rowhouses, some of them dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. A lot of the people living there were poor; most of them black folks or European immigrants. There were bustling commercial districts, grocery stores, a lot of little shops, and a movie theater.

It's an aerial view photo of a neighborhood filled with little rows of houses and shops, lots of green space, small roads criss-crossing.

Before.

Here’s a view of the Southwest neighborhood in 1963, after it got Urban Renewed. Every square inch on this map was claimed under eminent domain; this is what the award-winning urban planners and developers did with it.

It's an aerial-view photo of the same neighborhood. Almost every building has been leveled and a giant paved freeway is running through the vacant lots and the handful of buildings.

After.

Wikipedia describes what happened in between the Before and the After as the 1950s rebuilding.

Here’s another photo from 1979, when the highway construction was complete and the government had finished some brutalist office and residential buildings, new office complexes for HUD and the EPA, and some government housing projects. Some of these developments were widely praised; some even won an award.

Thank goodness government is around to develop these neighborhoods for us. Just think of all the blight and unlivable neighborhoods we’d have if they just left it up to the people who live and work in a neighborhood to determine the conditions under which they want to live and work.

(Thanks to BeyondDC.com 2011-01-10.)

See also:

Monday Lazy Linking

Wednesday Lazy Linking

Three notes for the critics of the critics of apologists for Wal-Mart

I’m a few weeks late to the party over Roderick’s Wal-Mart post. For various reasons; I’ve been meaning to write down these notes for a while, but other things have been grabbing my attention. But today seems like a good day to sit down and get to it, and in any case I expect that exactly the same old debate will be coming up some time in the next month or two, so I’d like this to be on record before the next go-around, because there are three arguments from the anti-anti-Wal-Mart side of things that I’m getting tired of reading, two of which I haven’t seen much in the way of substantive replies to, and all of which I’d like, if it is even remotely possible, to make some contribution towards killing dead.

Roderick complained about an article by Fazil Mihlar. Mihlar claims that Wal-Mart deserves both the Nobel Peace Prize and, in fact, sainthood. (I’m not sure that the Vatican has yet started canonizing corporations or other artificial persons. But never mind.) The reason he offers is that Wal-Mart does a lot of good in the world (providing jobs, making donations, making valued goods available at low prices), and that they are able to do that good because of entrepreneurial innovations and expertise in the market, especially the market for the inputs for their business.

Roderick pointed out, in reply, that this account left out a crucial factor: government interventions against the free market that benefit big retail business models, such as the seizure of land through eminent domain, corporate welfare, regulatory suppression of competitors, and government-subsidized infrastructure for long-distance transportation. Thus:

Both Wal-Mart’s critics and its defenders usually see it as an embodiment of the free market. But to me Wal-Mart looks like just one more special interest feeding at the taxpayers’ trough.

I’m opposed to Wal-Mart because I like the free market.

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-03-31): Advocatus Diaboli

I think that’s straightforward enough. But it brought the usual complaints from the usual suspects. There’s a long and very interesting and sometimes illuminating discussion in the comments, which you should read if you haven’t already. But what I want to focus on now is a couple of counter-arguments, which have been repeatedly raised by critics of this line of criticism (notably J.H. Huebert and Stephan Kinsella) which I think involve serious economic errors and a healthy dose of special pleading.

Before I begin, though, let me say a couple of things. First, this post will have absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether or not Wal-Mart is a morally criminal enterprise of the sort discussed in Confiscation and the Homestead Principle, and hence it will have nothing to do with whether or not Wal-Mart enjoys legitimate private property rights over its land, stores, trucks, goods for sale, bank accounts, or anything else, and hence it will also have nothing to do with whether or not it’s O.K. for people to vandalize their stores, loot them, shoplift from them, expropriate their means of production, or otherwise get up in Wal-Mart’s grill. In fact almost nobody who’s been a party to this particular conversation so far (as opposed to some other, separate conversations about protest tactics and Macy’s) has been talking about this, except for a dialogue between Stephan Kinsella and an imaginary left-libertarian in his head. I have my own views on that (which are fairly uninteresting; in short, that there isn’t one answer for the whole corporation and that it depends on the case), but it’s not the issue at hand in Roderick’s article, and it’s not an issue I’ll be addressing here, either.

Second, this article will also have very little to do with whether or not Wal-Mart deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, or sainthood, or praise, or censure, or some mixture or combination of the two. The arguments that I’ll be discussing might feed into a larger discussion about how to parcel out praise and blame, but that’s not my concern here. My concern has specifically to do with the extent to which Wal-Mart ought to be regarded as an example of free-market entrepreneurial success. (That’s related to but distinct from the question of whether Wal-Mart ought to be praised or blamed or neither by free-marketeers. If you’re curious about that topic, this post will disappoint, but you might get something out of my exchange with Will Wilkinson in the post and comments at GT 2008-11-10: The ALLied invasion of Cato.)

With that cleared out of the way, here are the specific arguments that I do want to address.

  1. Why single out Wal-Mart? When left-libertarians point out that Wal-Mart benefits from certain aggressive government interventions, and suggest that this is a reason not to cite Wal-Mart’s bidniz practices as an example of the free market at work, we are constantly asked — with the utmost innocence, even though this has been addressed over and over again every single time it has come up, generally without any response — why we are singling out Wal-Mart for criticism, given that many other market actors also benefit from the same interventions, or from other similarly objectionable interventions. Thus, for example, when Sheldon Richman writes:

    It would be impossible to sort out which profits are legit and which are not. I don’t think that’s the point. The point is to stop the machinery that makes illegitimate profits possible. That’s the state and its various methods of privileging and burdening.

    Kinsella replies:

    Yes. We libertarians are of course against this. So why single out Walmart? By imprecise, lax standards, 99% of society is criminal/suspect. Where does that get us?

    Let me just repeat here the same damn thing that I have repeated every time this stupid question gets asked. There are two main reasons that Wal-Mart gets singled out here. The first reason is often because some conventionally pro-capitalist libertarian brought Wal-Mart up as an example of the free market in action. Since Mihlar brings Wal-Mart up as an example of free market success, then it would be bizarre for Roderick not to have mentioned Wal-Mart in his reply; if we are informed that Wal-Mart ought to be praised because of a characteristic X that it possesses, but it turns out that Wal-Mart does not actually possess characteristic X, then the responsible thing to do is to discuss some specifics about Wal-Mart (not every other market actor toiling in this unfree market of ours) in order to demonstrate that it hasn’t got X. This is, in fact, what actually happened in the exchange that Kinsella was supposedly commenting on.

    The second reason why Wal-Mart often comes up is because Wal-Mart is a convenient example of something broader that they want to discuss — for example, the specific system of state interventions that tends to privilege big box retailers, as a group, at the expense of alternative channels of distribution, and of alternative uses of land more broadly. Of course, Wal-Mart is not the only retailer that benefits from eminent domain seizures, or from government-subsidized infrastructure for long-distance shipping, or from corporate welfare packages in the name of development. So does Target; so does Best Buy; so does Barnes and Noble; and on, and on, down the line, for just about any strip mall chain store you could think of. But Wal-Mart is a convenient example of the broader trend, because of its unique size, scope, and name recognition. If I intend to talk about a certain kind of business model and its relationship with state power, then I hardly think it’s unfair to pick a specific example to talk about, and leave the extension of the analysis as an exercise for the reader. And I hardly think it’s weird or wrong to pick the most prominent and largest example of that particular business model as my specific example. When I write about bad things that the city government in Las Vegas does — for example, its fierce devotion to police brutality, economic cleansing, and using eminent domain to ensure that land gets used the way the tourism and convention industry wants it used, rather than the way that its owners do — I often go beyond simply reporting on local events, and I draw quite broad conclusions about government in general, or city governments in particular, but even then, I don’t feel compelled to mention, in the same breath, every other large city government in the world that does similarly awful things. It’s not picking on Las Vegas, or singling it out, to focus in on it as an example for the sake of discussion. And it is sheer bluster to go on accusing critics of apologists for Wal-Mart of singling out Wal-Mart when they have explained over, and over, and over again why we are mentioning it as an example of broader trends.

  2. Who are Wal-Mart’s competitors? This is, actually, somewhat related to the earlier question, but the issue goes deeper. When Roderick and others (Kevin Carson, especially) point out that the success of Wal-Mart’s business model depends heavily on Wal-Mart’s capacity to convince city governments to grant them corporate welfare giveaways and steal land on their behalf, or on Wal-Mart’s having access to a large network of reliable interstate roads available at a low marginal cost, which are funded in a way that heavily subsidizes those who use them for high-volume cross-country heavy trucking (which is, after all, exactly what folks like Mihlar are referring to when they extol Wal-Mart’s genious at transportation, distribution, and logistics) it is often replied that Wal-Mart is just making better use of available resources than its competitors; that these resources are available not only to Wal-Mart but to its competitors as well, and that, therefore, Wal-Mart’s advantages over its competitors must be the result of something other than the availability of those resources — must, that is, be the result of greater acumen at serving its customers needs. Thus, it is argued, even though Wal-Mart depends on coercively-funded government resources for its current business model, they would (it is argued) have the same advantages (whatever those may be) that make them successful, in this an unfree market, even after the transformation of the market into a free market. Or, at the very least, they oughtn’t to be blamed for being able to successfully make use of those advantages under the present circumstances. Thus, for example, J.H. Huebert in an earlier reply to Roderick:

    We are still not sure why Long believes big businesses, and Wal-Mart in particular, disproportionately benefit from the existence of government roads. No one disapproves of government roads more than we do, but the roads are there for anyone to use — the would-be competitor has just as much access to them as Wal-Mart does. Where is the unfair advantage?

    And again in the comments on Roderick’s more recent post

    How does the existence of government roads hamstring Wal-Mart’s competitors? Anyone can use the roads.

    And Stephan Kinsella, in the same thread:

    Why do the subsidies help Walmart more than local mom and pop competitors? They all get goods shipped from far away

    The main problem with this kind of response is that it betrays a curious sort of anti-economic blind spot about just who Wal-Mart’s competitors are. It is true that, if we lookonly at the other actually-existing businesses that provide substitute goods and services — K-Mart, Target, Home Depot, and other big box retailers, or, expanding outward, smaller, non-chain retailers trying to sell some subset of the goods that Wal-Mart sells — then it is clear that those sorts of competitors do have access to the same kind of government privileges that Wal-Mart does; Wal-Mart just has succeeded more than they have at exploiting those privileges in such a way as to offer the goods most in demand and to offer them at lower prices. Fine. But of course, those aren’t all the competitors that Wal-Mart has — not if you consider the competitors for Wal-Mart’s inputs as well as the competitors for Wal-Mart’s outputs. In conversations like these, it is typical for conventionally pro-capitalist libertarians to act as if the business under discussion were only competing with other large chains in its sector — as if we were just picking on Wal-Mart because they’re an easy target, and rooting for Target instead — or as if it were only competing with retailers more broadly. But it’s not. The market does not just consist of passive consumers and a handful of formalized joint-stock companies. The market is a big and messy place, and whatever you might say about the ways that Wal-Mart gains advantages over other businesses that do basically what Wal-Mart does, it is certainly clear that Wal-Mart’s advantages over competing uses of the land, labor, and infrastructure that are currently devoted to serving its business model.

    Thus, for example, Wal-Mart currently enjoys preferential access to long, straight stretches of land that it needs to ship its goods in trucks. Preferential access compared to whom? Well, not to Best Buy or Mom & Pop’s; they both can get things shipped along the same stretch. That much is seen. But what is not seen is that they — Wal-Mart, and other retailers as well — do have preferential access to those resources when compared the people who used to have, or might have had, homes, farms, parks, small businesses, car-only roads, or any number of other competitive uses of the land, which would have won out if the question were decided by homesteading and voluntary exchange, rather than by tax-funded acquisitions, government land grants, and eminent domain theft. Similarly, other big retailers also typically get at least some of the same government privileges in corporate welfare giveaways and eminent domain seizures in the name of development. Thus, Wal-Mart may not have much advantage over, say, Target, or other fellow big chain retailers, when it come to this kind of government boodle. But those who were using, or would otherwise have used, the money or the land that the government seized, for purposes that government’s don’t count as development, since they don’t increase property or sales tax revenue — keeping up their own homes, growing their own food, running down-market or informal-sector businesses, street-corner hustling, and the like — those people are also would-be competitors for the use of the land, money, or other resources that Wal-Mart is having the government seize and redistribute by force. And those competitors certainly are hamstrung by the government’s redistribution of money, or its expropriation of land. We know that they are because the government is seizing it by force, and people were using it for other things, and would continue to use it for other things unless they were paid more than Wal-Mart and other development beneficiaries pay for it in the forced sale. That is, after all, the point of eminent domain.

    The problem here is that when you fetishize competition as the struggle between similar businesses to provide substitute goods or services, and forget about the other forms of competition for scarce resources that are at issue — often uses by individual property-owners, often uses of the property that may be heavily tied up in local communities and in the informal sector, and may be governed by incentives different from those faced by large, formalized, for-profit corporations — it will, no doubt, seem incomprehensible that someone would focus on how Wal-Mart uses the roads that anyone can use. Because the real nature of the problem is the fact that resources that are currently devoted to those roads cannot be used for what they would be used for in a freed market, which results in a big splash and some major ripples in the market distorted by that particular rock. Not because Wal-Mart alone benefits at the expense of K-Mart or Target, but rather because Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, and all the other big-box chain retailers — and, to a lesser extent, also locally-owned, small retailers — all benefit at the expense of somebody other than retailers, and at the expense of uses for land other than the servicing of retail sales, when the government uses force to seize long, straight strips of land, to build and maintain big highways on it, and to open up those roads, mostly without tolls and mostly without price discrimination, to anyone who cares to use it, regardless of what the marginal cost of the use may be. If those big highways weren’t being laid down according to political considerations and development politics, and if they weren’t being heavily subsidized by coercively-seized taxes, the land might well (would probably) be used for something quite other than a large, subsidized national shipping network; and if so, those who intend to go into retail, especially those who want to go into the retailing of goods from an international network of bargain-basement suppliers, might well lose a lot of the comparative advantage that the sword of the State currently grants them over other, non-retail uses of the same scarce resources. It’s not that Wal-Mart is special here among retailers, in anything other than degree; it’s that Wal-Mart is one prominent example of a larger dynamic — the way in which State coercion, State expropriation, and State redistribution sucks scarce resources out of one sector of the economy and spits them out into another — forcibly redirecting them towards large, centralized, formal-sector cash businesses, and away from other, smaller, more localized, more informal, or less commercial uses of the resources (like housing, open space, small farming, cottage industry, local nightclubs, and other typical victims of the Development machine). The reason that Wal-Mart is not a good example of free market dynamics is not because it somehow owes its advantages over Target to government intervention, but rather because Wal-Mart, Target, and the rest of the big retailers all owe their advantages over every other competing use of resources to the heavy hand of government. The result of removing those coercive advantages probably wouldn’t be to hurt Wal-Mart in particular in its competition with Target; but it would remove a mighty big subsidy that Wal-Mart, Target, and all the other big box retailers enjoy over alternative, non-retail uses of the same property. Which might just make for some changes in how our cities look, and in how we get around and make our livings in them.

  • Diamonds, water, and roads: Finally, when Kinsella and Huebert try to exonerate Wal-Mart from blame for the government interventions that it exploits, they often fall back on an argument that it has just made the best entrepreneurial use of a situation that it found but did not create, and in order to support that claim, they have often portrayed Wal-Mart’s relationship with the state as being quite different from what it actually is. Thus, on roads, J.H. Huebert puts it in the most starkly silly terms here:

    Kevin Carson writes: Wal-Mart’s business model is heavily reliant on susidized roads. It supplanted competitors which had local supply chains.

    Yes, but Wal-Mart found the roads there, it didn’t create them, and it used them better than its competitors to serve consumers.

    The funny thing about this kind of argument is watching an Austrian economist suddenly forget everything that he ever knew about marginal analysis, in order to paint a picture of Wal-Mart just bumbling along until — by George! — it finds a road out in the wilderness (perhaps by tripping over it), and thinks why, I might just be able to use this to efficiently serve consumers! Of course, if we are talking about the whole entire Interstate Highway System, then it is true that Wal-Mart did not play much of a role in creating that, and doesn’t play much of a role in the political process that maintains it. It was created largely at the behest of the military-industrial complex and the construction-pork-barrel complex, back in 1956, when Sam Walton was still running a local Ben Franklin franchise. And the political support for it hardly depends on Wal-Mart; the notion that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in seizing land and seizing taxes for the purpose of a huge network of toll-free interstate highways is so far outside the horizons of acceptable dissent in D.C. that nobody would need to lobby against that. So, yes, fine, in that sense Wal-Mart is benefiting from the situation at competitors’ expense (for the reasons I mentioned above), but it did not create the situation that it benefits from; it just got better than some other similar companies at dealing with it.

    But, of course, if you want to do a serious economic analysis of Wal-Mart’s business model, what you really need to know about is not the whole stock of its inputs. What you really need to know about is the marginal units of its inputs. And if we are going to talk about the highway system that services Wal-Mart, we need to look not only at Wal-Mart’s relationship to system of government roads as a whole, but also Wal-Mart’s relationship to the specific stretches of highway that Wal-Mart uses.

    And when we look at it that way, we’ll find that Wal-Mart is heavily involved in every sort of lobbying in order to get various levels of government involved in subsidizing its access to that. Just about every time Wal-Mart decides to build a new store, or especially a new distribution center, they turn to local governments to demand that they grab some money out of working folks’ pockets and put it towards building up business park infrastructure and highway interchanges, or widening or extending some existing stretch of road to service Wal-Mart’s trucking needs, or simply to build a new spur out to service nothing but the distribution center. (A few examples gleaned from a few minutes on Google: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.) Wal-Mart solicits and actively lobbies for this sort of thing all the time so that they can improve the marginal benefits they get from the road network, while being able to pass along the marginal cost to taxpayers and to those who would have made alternative uses of the land, capital and labor involved.

    So how far is Wal-Mart merely taking advantage of a situation that it did not create, and how far is it actively collaborating in, and pushing for, wider and more intense aggression by the state against private property owners, when it comes to roads? Well, it depends on what you look at. The problem is that those who have wanted to defend Wal-Mart have done so based on lazy arguments based on Wal-Mart’s relationship to the existence of the interstate highway system as a continent-spanning whole. Once you actually look at the construction and improvement of new stretches of road on the margin — which is, remember, what’s important for understanding how far Wal-Mart’s bidniz model does or does not depend on successfully wielding the sword of the State, since it is only on the margin that they are making all of their decisions, counting all their costs, and reaping all of their profits — it becomes clear that Wal-Mart is not just finding the roads there as some sort of given; it went to the government and got the roads it uses put there, typically by force and typically at the expense of unwilling third parties.

If you want to try and defend Wal-Mart, or its apologists, against their left-libertarian critics, fine, let’s talk about that. But please try to find some arguments other than these.

Hope this helps.

See also:

The State of the Debate

Las Vegas is having a city government election soon, and one of the noxious byproducts of the process are the debates among the ranting power-trippers who are scrapping for the jobs, which completely took over a perfectly good local news-talk program pretty much every singe day last week. The discussions are boring, and depressing, and mostly pointless, but they occasionally offer a bit of insight into the kind of a policy debate that electoral politics allows. For example, here’s an excerpt from Tuesday’s show, in which we hear from Jennifer Taylor (the challenger for the seat in Ward 6) and Steve Ross (the sleazebag currently in charge). Here they work out the range of politically acceptable debate over development in the desert around Las Vegas (which is to say, government hand-outs to politically-connected multimillionaire developers, and government land-grabs in which they arbitrarily dictate to landowners what sorts of things we do or do not need to put on their land).

Taylor leads off by proposing that she knows better than you do what sort of neighborhood you might like to live in, and that the city government ought to deal with this by forcing the developer to do what she wants rather than what they think their homebuyers will want.

JENNIFER TAYLOR: Let’s start specifically with some of the issues that I think Steve needs to address.

And of them is the absolute failure to work aggressively to truly diversify this economy. Two years ago, a group of us were down in front of Steve at City Council arguing about the Kyle Canyon development agreement, which would have allowed the construction of 16,000 homes on the eve of the foreclosure crisis. we said we really don’t need that kind of glut on the supply of homes because we were already seeing that there were problems. It would have also centered on a neighborhood casino, and I think it’s been pretty clear that when you lean solely on one industry that you end up in the type of quagmire that we are in now. We are suffering so much more than so many other cities who have taken proactive roles to diversify their economy….

DAVE BERNS: Back this up even more. When you talk about Kyle Canyon, and I hear you talking about homes out there and development… The 1,700 acre Kyle Canyon project would have put homes, shopping, offices, a casino, at the southwest corner of US95 and Kyle Canyon Rd, pretty much at the base of Mt Charleston. The developer, Focus Property Group, paid $510,000,000 for the land. In October of last year, Wachovia Bank foreclosed on the property after Focus Property defaulted on the loan. One of the criticisms that we heard of this project was that it was inappropiate. It didn’t belong at the base of Mt. Charleston.

JENNIFER TAYLOR: No it didn’t. It was just a basic, cookie-cutter repeat of projects that we had seen throughout the Valley, and really worse than that Dave, was that the contract was so poorly vetted and provided so little benefit to the citizens of Ward 6 compared to what Clark County and the city of Henderson had forced folks to do in Inspirada and Mountain’s Edge.

DAVE BERNS: Such as what?

JENNIFER TAYLOR: Such as open space. We had significantly less percentage of open space in that project; the density was significantly higher than those other projects; there was not as much public and service funding in the Kyle Canyon development agreement as there was for Inspirada and for Mountain’s Edge. And again, it centered on this whole concept of anchoring it around a neighborhood casino.

Of course, the real problem is not that the city government in Las Vegas has somehow failed to force developers to do the right things; the problem is the fact that the city government of Las Vegas controls who does and who does not get access to unused land in the first place. There was no right way for such a planned community development contract to be written, because there is no way to fake freed-market results through government monopoly on sales or politically-allocated ownership. So the solution is certainly not more aggressive government thuggery, but rather giving up entirely on the idea of half-billion-dollar politically-determined land sales for state-capitalistically planned communities.

Of course, Steve Ross is often referred to as a defender of private property rights and a friend of developers. No doubt he will point out the destructive thuggery of Taylor’s position, right? Well, here he goes: check out this principled defense of private property. (Emphasis is mine.)

DAVE BERNS: Let’s start off… let’s back up a step and then we’ll come to the campaign contributions. First of all, your position position on Kyle Canyon. Spell it out.

STEVE ROSS: You know, it’s a great thing that we live in America, where if someone wants to do something with property, they’re allowed to apply to do whatever they want with their property.

— knpr’s State of Nevada (2009-03-31)

Wait.

I’m not sure I heard that right.

You mean, they’re allowed to do whatever they want with their property, right?

STEVE ROSS: When somebody owns a piece of property they have the right to apply and do what they want with it. My role as a city councilman in the northwest is to ensure that development in that project is right for this city. Somebody owns the land at Kyle Canyon road and US95, they’re allowed to apply to do something with it. They want to build something, they’re allowed to do that. And that’s how our laws are.

— knpr’s State of Nevada (2009-03-31)

Oh.

Right.

So that’s your freedom, fellow citizen — and such an important freedom that Steve Ross had to make sure he repeated it three times within a few minutes: that, when you want to put something up on your own damn land, you have the precious right to apply to the government to do something with it.

This may be the purest expression I have ever heard of the only kind of debate that’s allowed in city politics, here in Vegas and in countless other cities across the country, when it comes to private property and land use: the Smart Growth tools who figure that you can somehow force government-privileged monopolists to do the right thing, and, on the other hand, the Growth Machine tools who will stand up resolutely and defend, come hell or high water, your freedom to apply for permission to do whatever you want on your own land.

In case you were wondering, here’s an example of why Steve Ross, by the grace of Law Warden of 6 and Vaquero Supreme of the Vegas Valley, might decide that your plans to do something peacefully on your own property just isn’t right for this city of his: it might interfere with neighboring property owners’ wishes to make sure that land that doesn’t belong to them gets subdivided into equestrian estates instead of affordable family homes.

DAVE BERNS: Can you think of a residential development where somebody owns some property — Focus Group, Olympic Group, whatever it may be — that you would vote No on. As you say, if they own the land, they have the right to do with it as they may, as long as they follow our laws. Can you think of any project, Steve Ross, that you would reject, as a member of the city council?

STEVE ROSS: Oh, absolutely.

DAVE BERNS: A residential project?

STEVE ROSS: Yeah, let me give you a heads up here.

DAVE BERNS: Give us an example of why you would.

STEVE ROSS: Well, let me give you an example of actually something that did get approved, but not according to how the homebuilder want to build them.

DAVE BERNS: Please.

STEVE ROSS: There was a project out in the northwest, on the north end of Jones Blvd. The developer wanted to build a highly dense community in basic ranch land. I mean, there are 2 to 10 acre ranches out there in the northwest, and it didn’t fit. This neighborhood was going to be next to a proposed 300 acre equestrian facility that’s still proposed for the northwest, one day when we have the funds to do it. The developer, again, I had the developer go meet with those neighbors out there long before it came to city council. Interest enough—projects are vetted out in the neighborhoods long before they get to the council level. And projects don’t make it to the council level if the neighborhoods don’t like them. And that’s just the nature of how it works. This one particular neighborhood, they wanted half-acre equestrian estates on this property. And the developer bent over and said, OK, I will do that. I will build half-acre equestrian estates, because it’s in a rural neighborhood; we want to maintain the rural nature of this area, and that’s what they did. And not because of me, but because of the neighborhood.

— knpr’s State of Nevada (2009-03-31)

When I tell people that I don’t see the use of lobbying or electoral politics as a means to social change, the first response that I get is typically some kind of complaint that I’m out of touch with the real world; that if I want to make a practical change, I have to jump in and try to intervene in the power-games of the existing political aparat. This kind of complaint is the worst sort of nonsense — the kind of dogmatic practicality that you constantly get from people who are unwilling to actually think about what gets the goods, rather than what the tiny minority of professional politicians and media professionals have decided to dignify as proper political etiquette. In the real world, the debate is perpetually, structurally locked into a very limited range of positions, oriented around two poles that are themselves fixed by the platforms of the two established political parties, and if you want to try proposing anything outside of that range of politically-acceptable debate — like, say, a genuine notion of personal freedom, or a principled opposition to government planning and privateering corporate development scams — you will quickly find that such arguments find no purchase, and no interest within any of the political parties. The message won’t fit through the channels that electoral politics makes available. If you want to advance the ideas, you are going to have to do so through other means, that aren’t filtered by the conventional idiocies, or constrained by the structural barriers, of electoral politics, because as long as you’re subject to those filters and that structure, you’re not going to get much out other than a debate like this, between the virtue of force and the importance of your God-given right to apply to the government to do whatever you want on your own property, as long as the neighbors don’t want equestrian estates, instead.

Good night, and good luck.

See also: