A major weakness of the survey is, while it asks whether or not you deem certain issues important, it does not ask whether you want government to try to solve the problems or if they are best left to the private sector. An example would be the questions on homelessness. No normal person wants others shuddering out in the rain and the cold. The question is, do we reach into our own pockets or hand the problem over to government.
Something terribly lost on the new generation is the concept of charity. During the Great Depression and before, it would have been crazy to even have this discussion. But real people can’t stand pain. They can’t stand it in themselves and they can’t stand it in others. The natural response is to intervene and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. That is why, when somebody gives a piece of himself, in terms of time or resources, to help us; we feel the pain of his loss and try harder to lift ourselves so we don’t have to make another do without on our behalf. More importantly, we feel his love for us in wanting to make the sacrifice, and we pay this love forward by “growing up.”
But today, we are told we must not help the poor unless we are credentialed. We must refer people to certified professionals who are not only qualified to diagnose and prescribe, but can get people enrolled in the system for better case management and monitoring. To fund sufficient professional bureaucrats and service providers, government need only increase taxes, marginalizing more citizens out of self-sufficiency in a series of perpetual avalanches. By definition, government solutions perpetuate the problem. But the greatest loss to society is the love and bonds that could have formed if the giver and receiver had participated voluntarily, instead of the giver complaining his taxes are subsidizing too much waste and the receiver feeling entitled to everything government’s magic money tree can buy.
Another type of survey question asks you to, on a scale of 1-4, state how important you deem various items. Three of the choices represent positive levels of importance; the fourth and worst being “Not Important.” No option allows you to express concerns that an endeavor is actually “Disastrous,” in spite of bodies of literature that can be produced to defend that assessment of a number of the proposed “objectives.”
One specific item of concern is rent controls. Anybody not seeing the dangers of government distorting economies might take a course in price theory. But those lobbying government don’t trust individuals to exchange value for value, using their own allowances for mercy and risk aversion. For those not dealing fairly, there are already laws on the books to remedy fraud, extortion, and other vices. If it is too much to ask leaders to see that controlled rents are subsidized by developers raising rents or cutting costs elsewhere, and driving builders out of town who want to rent at market rates; a number of empirical studies show slums, nepotism, and alternative markets are some consequences claimed to be unintended only by those seeking public office.
Rather than controlling rents, the city could drive down the cost of housing by letting up on its design requirements. It is not enough for builders to hire a skilled architect, planners and city council must force redesigns demanding meandering sidewalks, better fenestration, buffers, and more. Merriman Avenue was a lovely mix of urban character and greenery until the planners came along. They tried to force a vision of all buildings being built to the curb for an “urban feel.” The result was the Great Wall of Staples, which would never have happened had planning specifications not been so out-of-touch. The vision required all buildings to be two stories, so at one charrette, when somebody asked who would want to live or work above a funeral home, somebody else jested they could put elderly housing upstairs for drop-in service.
So many buildings these days have an extra story or a “bird house” on top just to satisfy urban planners’ needs to “reduce massing” and articulate facades. If developers didn’t have to construct all that superficiality, they’d have more money to build housing. How many units could have been constructed with the bricks on Staples’ retaining wall? If we were to move away from the guiding oxymoron of “community rights” and back to a system that respects personal property rights, people could quietly build what suited their non-infringing interests without snowflake NIMBY’s driving costs up through rejection and micromanagement. Asheville would become less exclusive, and the tax base would grow – not to support the popular notion that governments should be “in it” for the money.
Scarier, though, is the thought of a planned economy. China and the USSR experienced economic devastation when economies were handed over to an exalted few to manage by remote control. Nightmares are told of rations, bread lines, chandeliers and even roofs too heavy to stay up because metal quotas had to be met, and resources left untapped because exploration was compensated for drilling and not discovery. When people are paid to follow orders instead of to be brilliant, initiative sags, and alcoholism increases. Diehards develop alternative economies.
It sounds so extreme, but here we go again. The survey asks how the city is doing on job creation. Does it afford an appropriate mix of jobs? Are its recruiting efforts satisfactory? Does it provide sufficient opportunities for you to apply your skills? for entrepreneurs? for minorities? How about training for a skilled workforce and diversifying the economy? Are there enough manufacturing jobs? We can only assume the city is the unnamed savior for all the economic ills, because one question asks if there is a need to “increase property investment, particularly along our commercial corridors.” If not by government, then whom?
But why stop with commerce? City leaders want you to have a beautiful body. The survey asks, for example, if you, “have convenient access to a range of food options, including access to healthy and fresh options.” It asks how important “promoting access to healthy food” and “planning for active living” are as “city objectives.” When basics like feeding and exercise become roles of government, we are indeed wards of the state. Missing are concerns for the mind, like access to books and lectures. Never mind, we probably wouldn’t approve of the content.