Boiling the Frog

An old adage holds that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, he will sense the danger and jump out. But if you put him in a pot of cold water and slowly heat it, he will boil to death before he senses the threat. The same principle often applies to the policies and programs advocated by statists. They are often content to implement government controls and regulations in a slow but steady fashion while working towards their ultimate goal. Houston provides a number of telling examples.

Consider the city’s sign ordinance as one example. When first passed in 1980, anti-sign activists were unhappy with the compromise law. And so, they returned to City Council in 1986 and demanded more stringent controls. And they returned again in 2007. Each time they turned up the heat, demanded more controls and regulations, and they slowly boiled the frog.

Consider the preservation ordinance as another example. When first passed in 1995, the ordinance contained a 90-day moratorium on the demotion of historic buildings. Preservationists were unhappy with that provision, but accepted the compromise, and returned to City Council in 1995, 2007, and 2010. Each time, they were able to get more restrictions on historic buildings. They gradually turned up the heat and the moratorium was eventually removed. They slowly boiled the frog.

Statists accomplish their goals because they remain focused on their goal—boiling a particular frog. Sadly, the frogs—builders, businessmen, and property owners—have refused to recognize the long-term consequences of their compromises. And when they finally do, it’s too late.

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