20 September, 2005

Can Government Build Cities?

Clifford Thies, Professor of Economics and Finance at Shenandoah University, wrote this article criticising the idea that the federal government should be responsible for rebuilding the Gulf Coast region.

I have not been won over that we should rebuild New Orleans at all, and I am generally in favor of letting private enterprise prevail when it can. (If it cannot in this case, then perhaps the federal government should get involved.) Nonetheless, I had some qualms with his argument.

I wrote this letter:

First, I would like to thank you for a well-researched, thought-provoking article. I have neither the time nor the resources to fact-check your statistics, but will trust you; they do not seem to lie outside of my vision of the reality of American cities.

I do, however, have a few issues I would like to raise regarding the article.

First, your statistics do indicate some sort of correlation between "liberal" policies and things we agree are negative (high crime, overly high unemployment). After empirically showing the correlation, however, you only suggest one theoretical conclusion: that the former caused the latter. Is it not equally possible that a history of bad results has resulted in a population becoming frustrated and turning to liberalism to solve its problems? We would have a clearer picture of this if we looked at these correlative graphs over time.

Second, you say, "It seems that liberals who focus their attention on redistributing wealth lose sight of the first responsibility of government, which is to protect its citizens." Certainly I agree that protection of property and violent crime fall under this responsibility of government. What about protection from the effects of the evils of previous generations, including misogyny and slavery? I see room for the argument that government ought to only protect us against current, active evils, but I would have to see that argument more fully developed to accept that liberalism (in the modern sense) supports goals outside government's due goal of protection.

Lastly, there is a degree to which Americans believe in personal freedom, and a degree to which we believe in fairness. The two are constantly at odds; for much of our early history, strong states' rights indicated we favored personal freedom; lately, attaching more and more rights to the 14th amendment has implied that we favor fairness in general. I would like to see data that correlate examples of positive fairness behavior (donating to charity, for example) with less liberal voting behavior. This correlation would give me more peace of mind that we could relax the government's control and still hope to have a good balance of freedom and fairness.

Again, thank you for writing this article. I look forward to discussing these ideas further.

Sincerely, [me]

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