The Dishonesty of Statists

Statists aren’t known for their intellectual honesty, but on occasion they exercise such intellectual gymnastics that even Simone Biles would be impressed. A recent example comes courtesy of the Chronicle’s “Gray Matters,” a column that supposedly has the purpose of making us think about important issues.

The article is titled “Houston sidewalks aren’t improving fast enough.” The author is John S. Jacob, who is identified as Professor and Extension Specialist and Director of the Texas Coastal Watershed Program, part of the Texas A&M University System (Dept. of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences, Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Sea Grant).

You might think that someone with such impressive credentials would be able to identify the contradictions in his own writing. And you would be wrong.

Jacob tells us that developers are building the Market Square Tower downtown “because they know people want to live close in and be close to everything.” In other words, the developers are responding to a perceived need in the market. Jacob immediately follows this by telling us, “And yet the developers make absolutely no contribution to exactly what people want to move downtown for: Places where things are happening.” In other words, the developers aren’t responding to his perceived need in the market.

Jacob’s remedy for this “oversight” is for the city to control development.

As citizens we have a very large stake, through the taxes that built this infrastructure [sidewalks, streets, and parks], in how this city develops. We expect the market of course to guide exactly what goes where. But we don’t, or at least we shouldn’t, expect nothing in return from those who benefit from our investment.

Jacob has no problem with allowing the market to operate, so long as it provides the type of development that he desires. But when developers fail to build as he thinks that they should, he wants the government to intervene.

The streets, and the buildings or parks that front them, are in a sense public rooms. We own these public rooms, and the city therefore must protect and maintain the quality of this public resource on our behalf.

Nearly every building fronts a street, and is therefore a part of a “public room.” If government has a responsibility to protect and maintain these “public rooms,” then government has a responsibility to control all land use.

Jacob doesn’t openly call for complete government control of land use, but that is what he is advocating. He doesn’t have the intellectual honesty to explicitly state his objective, and instead attempts to hide his goal.

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