The problems with government planning

This seems to have become the theme of the week with New London, Conn., Derby, Conn., and now Burlington, Iowa all having their own problems with developers. Cato Senior Fellow, Randal O’Toole wrote a piece that appeared in last week’s Baltimore Sun that deals with not so much the problems, as with the failures, of government planning. O’ Toole explains the fundamental character of government plans:

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 or plans that attempt to control other people’s land and resources. Many plans try to do all three.

O’Toole’s solution: market principles. Instead of seeking to control the details of development, O’Toole says local officials should make use of the market, which is inherently flexible, to ensure development. One city in California did just this, and Anaheim’s mayor, Curt Pringle, wrote about how he and his fellow city officials used market principles to develop without eminent domain.