Monday, 18 March 2013

It worked so well for Stalin…


Five year plans? Ten year plans? Twenty year plans? They worked so “well” for the Soviet Union, it’s no wonder today’s central planners wish to ignore their results—but ignore them they inevitably do.

Auckland’s central planners want to tell us where and how to live, regardless of how you and I feel about it. They have all the inbuilt chutzpah of the top-down planner, ignoring incentives and individual likes and dislikes as if they themselves know better.

But, in fact, top-down planners have a more limited capacity to “know” than those who are actually in the situation the planners seek to control. In small groups, people know by simple introspection about their own choices and values, and from day-to-day interaction they know much about others’ choices and values. But in large groups, of the size in which planners plan, knowledge about what others want requires vast expenditure of time and effort to even begin to approximate this “bottom up” knowledge—and even if the planners could properly approximate it, there is zero incentive for them to respond.  What we get instead is what the planners want, based on the latest planning fashions.

imageFolk argue that council’s District Plans give them certainty: that height limits, height-to-boundary restrictions, density rules and rules against knocking down your villa allow them to be comfortable that their backyard isn’t going to be bothered by boofheads knocking up a building so big it will block the sun and create a new gravitational field in their neighbourhood.

I wonder how they feel now they’ve seen the council’s proposed new “Unitary Plan,” in which the only certainty that exists is that rent-seekers will seek rents, council rates will explode in precisely those places the council’s planners have determined must have multi-storey, and go nuclear once we get the bill for the multi-billion dollar .

What’s my plan? My plan is choice.

Let people live where and how they want to live, either up or out or under or over, in any goddamn way they want to!

The argument over sprawl versus intensification, about whether the city should be growing up or growing out, is an over-inflated false dichotomy—the city, you and I and our neighbours, should be “allowed” to do both! Let builders build country houses; village hamlets; micro apartments; mews housing; courtyard, cluster and co-housing; and innovative medium-density housing such as Rotterdam's 'pole houses,' Frank Lloyd Wright's SuntopHomes and Crystal Heights apartments, San Francisco's Fulton Grove 'alley housing,' and Moshe Safdie's Habitat—all at least either illegal or discouraged under current plans—and at least allow the price system to signal the desires for these and other ways of living, unreservedly unencumbered by restrictions stopping developers from making them happen creatively and inexpensively.

It’s not just that we don’t need planners. These bastards actually make our lives worse.

City life requires that people coordinate their actions with the actions of many others, in a world in which each of us has very limited knowledge of how their own actions fit into the big picture.  Planners actually stop that coordination happening. Absent central planners, the price system (when it’s allowed to function) provides a vast and lightning-like integration of people’s choices and values; and absent central planners, property owners (when property rights are properly protected) are perfectly able to form voluntary “common law” agreements between each other, protecting what they value by means of covenants and easements and the like.  (You like my tree; I like the view over your house: let’s sign an agreement covenanting that tree in your favour and giving me an “easement” over your house for the view—and over time as these and other voluntary agreements are formed, a “network” of property relationships is formed reflecting everyone’s choices and values far more effectively than making a submission on a planner’s plan, and without any need for planners’ busy-bodying.)


I say allow everything from micro city apartments to co- and community-housing to village hamlets around the city’s outskirts (all of which are  either illegal or prohibitively expensive under current rules) and encourage (rather than stifle) the entrepreneurial ingenuity that will make them happen inexpensively.

I say give neighbours certainty by placing voluntary covenants on property based on existing “no bullshit” rules (height, height-to-boundary, density etc.), changes in which can be easily and voluntarily negotiated between neighbours without any need for planners. Let a network of these relationships and price signals grow up that truly reflects the values of those who live in the city.

I say sack the planners and dump their controls, and let people live where and how they want to live.

1 comment:

  1. What is described is an ordinary first order example of the problem of socialist calculation. The socialist calculation problem is insolvable. Solution has been proven to be impossible. There is a book you can get, Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth by Ludwig von Mises, where this is explained. Mises he knew about the problem way back in the time of 1920. People should read the book if they want to undestand why there is no solution and also why it is impractical and wrong to make attempt to impose socialist calculation (by central planning) onto other people.

    Amit Cim PhD


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