The Grey Ones in Christchurch just got very much greyer indeed. To the already growing layers of bungling bureaucracy, Gauleiter Brownlee has just added another to be added above the already tottering pile of the Council, Environment Canterbury, and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, and just under the Gauleiter’s own Reichsgau.
And to the “regime uncertainty” already plaguing and delaying would-be investors in Christchurch’s rebuild, he has just added another three months (plus cockups) while this new “unit,” headed up by a bloke pinched from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, prepares yet another top-down plan to be imposed on property owners—by planners pinched from the very same council who drew up the earlier plans.
Sounds like an abject bloody shambles?
The reason for this new bureaucracy to be added to all the others? In a word: coercion. “The unit” has “special powers” of coercion, as I was hearing all across the radio yesterday; “special powers” to compel property owners to do the bureaucracy’s bidding. “Special powers” of coercion that only a central government agency can wield.
A “compelling” argument, don’t you think?
And as they often say, if you have to compel people it’s only because you couldn’t otherwise persuade them voluntarily.
The idea of the agency and the new top-down plan it is supposed to produce, eventually, is flawed from arsehole all the way to breakfast.
Any “plan” to rebuild the country’s second-biggest city that begins by bludgeoning property owners into submission—the very people who will actually be rebuilding—is a plan, like every top-down plan ever born, that is bound to fail.
And the fact is cities just do not develop from the top down—they happen organically as a result of the seething, surging energy within; in the words of Paul Krugman (yes, that Paul Krugman) they’re self-organising systems—the crystallisation in concrete of the “spontaneous order” generated by every value-seeking interaction that happens in the city—“the result of human action but not human design.”
It arises from a myriad of individuals each pursuing their own interest and carrying out their own plans, within a framework of rules that encourages peaceful cooperation over violent aggression.
No planner can emulate the “spontaneous order” emerging from all that action, because no planner can replicate all the asymmetric information in actors’ heads. It is, as Jane Jacobs long ago pointed out, a "problem of organized complexity" which entails "dealing simultaneously with a sizeable number of factors which are interrelated into an organic whole."
The planners and the growing band of Grey Ones know nothing of this. They have been obsessed since Day One (as they have been in Auckland since the creation of its own Super-Bureaucracy) with their turgid top-down topologies. A “government rebuild,” with all that implies.
But the top-down approach fails to take into account the subtleties of the knowledge possessed only by the individuals on the scene. Real living cities are the very epitome of a bottom-up process, a condensation of all the “bottom-up” knowledge possessed only by value-seeking individuals out on the streets in the thick of the city’s driving energy.
And the Grey Ones have been killing that energy from day one. They’ve been killing the drive. And now they’ve explicitly announced the coercive war against property owners that has been implicit ever since the first quake, every property owner and would-be investor in Christchurch will be sitting up, taking notice, and quietly changing their plans accordingly.
The whole future of Christchurch just got very much greyer indeed.
PS: As an illuminating exercise, listen to the announcement of the new top-down plan by its various Gauleiters, Czars and panjandrums while pondering Ludwig Von Mises’ telling observation on the nature of planners:
"[The planners] are driven by the dictatorial complex. They want to deal with their fellow men in the way an engineer deals with the materials out of which he builds houses, bridges, and machines. They want to substitute "social engineering" for the actions of their fellow citizens and their own unique all-comprehensive plan for the plans of all other people. They see themselves in the role of the dictator—the duce, the Führer, the production tsar—in whose hands all other specimens of mankind are merely pawns. If they refer to society as an acting agent, they mean themselves. If they say that conscious action of society is to be substituted for the prevailing “anarchy” of individualism, they mean their own consciousness alone and not that of anybody else
Ludwig Von Mises: The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science).
UPDATE: Having already quoted Paul Krugman approvingly, let me also quote a blog post from The Standard (yes, The Standard):
It’s turtles all the way down
Anyone else see the irony in the 'bureaucracy-slashing National Government'TM reacting to delays in the Christchurch rebuilding - partly caused by lack of coordination between the local bureaucracy, the existing central government bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy National created especially to deal with the rebuild - by adding another layer of back-room bureaucracy?