Freedom to...

Last week Yglesias commented on the ideological similarities between urbanists and Tea-Partiers, but concludes that the Tea Party isn't likely to take an interest in urban issues since most of them don't live in, or have any personal stake in cities, whereas, many of their political opponents do.

(from katerkate on Flickr)

I think another issue is that when talking about policies that best constitute liberty or freedom, it can be difficult for people to figure out when the government is actually taking less of a role, versus when they're taking on more power.

For instance, I could say that government ought to end sprawl subsidies. It should stop funding roads and public utilities. It shouldn't have bailed out auto manufacturers and shouldn't continue to make policy that is primarily auto-centric. Of course, the flip side of this argument is that doing so would mean that the government wants to make us live like in dense cities like Europeans. Is it true? No. But it's a compelling argument to someone who wants to believe it.

Similarly, I could say that it's the result of big government intervention that developers and businesses are forced to over-supply parking spaces in American cities. But a tea-partier could turn around and say changing the law just infringes on their right to park for free. I could say that we ought to toll highways, and someone on the other side of the fence would say that it's government trying to pick the pockets of ordinary citizens.

I recently mentioned that sometimes it all comes down to what's the default. Right now, sprawl in the norm, so any policy designed to reverse sprawl actually looks interventionist, even if it's designed to let the market, not the government, influence outcomes.


    On March 23, 2011 Eric said...

    “But a tea-partier could turn around and say changing the law just infringes on their right to park for free.”
    Somebody could see it that way, but I suspect few do. Perceptions aside, I would assume that most discussions of liberty in America really involve the question of the degree to which we permit and want government activity. Government activity can come in the form of spending programs or in regulations.
    Government spending programs, be they bailouts to GM--- or the UAW, really--- or be they highway subsidies, are paid for through taxes that come from a variety of sources. These programs forcefully confiscate wealth from people through taxes and redistribute the wealth to other favored lobbies and interests through spending.
    Whenever the government makes a decision to force someone to build X amount of parking or even when it distributes subsidies to some group, it made a decision about how somebody else’s wealth will be spent.
    I would like to eliminate corn subsidies, but I am forced to pay for them through taxes because corn-producing states have a lot of Senators collectively. I’d hardly call it a grave injustice, but the fact I had no choice in subsidizing corn is technically an infringement on individual choice.
    Lowering government spending lowers taxes and allows people more choice in how their wealth will be spent. Sure, one less highway means fewer driving choices (less freedom), but the driving choice was really a luxury forcefully subsidized by somebody else. The main difference here is that the taxation that supported the highway was forceful, where as the lack of a highway was never an act of force.