Politicians smother cities

This is a good analysis by John Stossel of how politicians create failed cities. It uses Cleveland, popularly called “The Mistake on the Lake” as an example.

In a state that already taxes its citizens heavily, Cleveland’s politicians drown businesses in taxes.

One result: Since 2000, 50,000 people have left the city. Half of Cleveland’s population has left since 1950.

But the politicians haven’t learned. They still think government is the key to revitalization. While Indianapolis privatized services, Cleveland prefers state capitalism. It owns and operates a big grocery store, the West Side Market. Typical of government, it’s open only four days a week, and two of those days it closes at 4 p.m. The city doesn’t maintain the market very well. Despite those cost savings, the city manages to lose money running the market. It also loses money running golf courses—$400,000 last year.

Another way that cities like Cleveland cause their own decline is through regulations that make building anything a long drawn-out affair. Cleveland has 22 different zoning designations and 673 pages of zoning guidelines.

By contrast, Houston has almost no zoning. This permits a mix of uses and styles that gives the city vitality. And the paperwork in Houston is so light that a business can get going in a single afternoon. In Cleveland, one politician bragged that he helped a business get though the red tape in “just 18 months.”

Most often these “grand visions” fail because politicians and career bureaucrats have no concept of free market principles. They have never run a business or anything outside of government. They believe that government has the answer to everything. In fact, many of their regulations are decidedly anti-business, or they favor one business over another (depending on who greases their palms).

But the arrogance of city planners knows no end. Now Cleveland is spending taxpayers’ money on a medical convention center that they say will turn Cleveland into a “Disney World” for doctors. Well, Chicago’s $1 billion expansion of the country’s biggest convention center—McCormick Place—was unable to prevent an annual drop in conventions, and analysts say America already has 40 percent more convention space than it needs.

Politicians would be better stewards of their cities if they set simple rules and then just got out of the way. I won’t hold my breath.

Indeed. Read the whole thing…

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