Government II

The Schlieffen Plan was perfect. Germany would move rapidly through the Low Countries, end run French defenses at the border, reach Paris and the war would be over. The plan failed, and by the winter of 1914 there were millions dead. By then, the purpose of the Great War was unclear to the nations involved and certainly to the combatants, yet on it went – for four more years. Everyone had a plan.

Good government is like the dog that didn’t bark – you don’t appreciate it because it creates no disturbance; when it succeeds, you hardly notice it at all. When government fails, as it did with World War I, it creates catastrophic suffering, death, and tremendous destruction.

Like tobacco, I had never intended to be involved in housing. But my interest in good urban planning ran headlong into worries over “affordability,” a qualitative and unmeasurable, subjective relationship between people and price. Price, however, is simple. Price is the quantitative indicator of supply and demand. Today, I can’t buy toilet paper at any price; an airline ticket back to my hometown is less than $200. Lots of people want toilet paper but nobody wants to fly to Albuquerque.

When confronted with data and sentiment, politicians yield to sentiment, like how price feels. If we allow more housing construction, they think, prices will stay high, more money will be made, and people will still suffer. The only answer, therefore, is more constraints on development to limit profits.

Friedrich Hayek’s articulation of spontaneous order is not ideological but a report of reality. People know how to solve problems; they don’t need a plan. Plans are about outcomes, good government is about opportunity through order. Outcomes are good for campaign brochures; uncertainty means unlikely winners and losers. Freedom means uncertainty, but uncertainty creates opportunity.

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