Revitalization

Why Parking Lot on HMP Site?

By Graham Crawford
Published May 20, 2008

Tim McCabe, MCIP, RPP
General Manager
Planning and Economic Development Department
Hamilton City Centre
77 James St. N. - Suite 400
Hamilton, ON L8R 2K3

Dear Mr. McCabe,

As you are aware, and as your staff have advised me, there is a by-law in the City of Hamilton that makes it 'illegal' (a term used by your staff) to operate a commercial parking lot on the footprint of a demolished building in the downtown core.

You are also aware that such a parking lot has existed at the corner of Bay and Main, on the site of the now demolished HMP Building generating revenue for its owner. A full six months later, the parking lot still exists and is still generating revenue.

May I ask that you provide me with an update as to sequence of actions you, and your staff, have taken to shut the parking lot down? Further, could you please help me understand why the lot is still operating? Finally, I would appreciate a 'staff opinion' on what actions will be taken to recover monies generated through the illegal operation of such a business.

I see from recent media coverage that a complete overhaul of the by-law enforcement department is underway. I trust that these necessary, and apparently overdue, changes will not impede continued by-law enforcement such as ensuring compliance of the parking lot in question.

A response would be appreciated. While I realize that you and your team are busy, especially given the overhaul of the department and recent heritage-related events, this ongoing and flagrant disregard for the law is something that I think communicates an unfortunate message about the quality of by-law enforcement to the thousands of people who drive by the site daily, not to mention the thousands of owners of vehicles who have paid for parking on the site since it began operation in 2007.

I believe that the math on the monies generated should be cause for concern for you and for your staff. Certainly, they are for me and, I suspect, other taxpayers.

Sincerely,

Graham Crawford

Graham Crawford was raised in Hamilton, moving to Toronto in 1980 where he spent 25 years as the owner of a successful management consulting firm that he sold in 2000. He retired and moved back to Hamilton in 2005 and became involved in heritage and neighbourhood issues. He opened Hamilton HIStory + HERitage on James North in 2007, a multi-media exhibition space (aka a storefront museum) celebrating the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton.

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By trey (registered) | Posted May 20, 2008 at 15:30:20

Well done.... you won't get a response tho. if you do please share it with us. Send it to his home in Kitchener.

"...recent media coverage that a complete overhaul of the by-law enforcement department is underway. I trust that these necessary, and apparently overdue, changes will not impede continued by-law enforcement such as ensuring compliance of the parking lot in question."

It does make you wonder that the City could potentially drag out this 'overhaul' for years and have a convenient excuse for picking and choosing what by-law offenders to enforce. Indeed that is probably the reason behind the overhaul. I've been calling By-law Enforcement for years over illegal mobile signs. The by-law states that only 30 days once within a 12 month period is allowed since the new by-law was drafted two years ago. The City told me by-laws are complaint based enforced, well what were my complaints? fake ones? As usual nothing changes, mobile signs become semi-permanent fixtures of our landscape, pesticides keep getting sprayed and car idling is the same as it was before the non-enforced bylaw was passed.

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By Graham Crawford (anonymous) | Posted May 20, 2008 at 18:59:36

I received a response from Tim McCabe on the weekend and sent the following reply today.

Yes, it is flagrant Graham. And we have been on this with zoning violation orders since late last year. The law does not allow us to just close them up unfortunately.
. There is a process we have to follow legislative. We also have no way to recover monies he gained through this illegal use.
I will have my staff give you more detailed info on our actions to date after weekend.
Tim
Tim McCabe
General Manager, Planning and Economic Development Department
City of Hamilton
Telephone: (905)546-4339

Tim,

While I appreciate your timely response, I am somewhat perturbed, to say the least, that you say you have been taking action on this file for over six months and have not been able to achieve anything. I guess my understanding of the term by-law was a little more literal than it should have been (i.e. by (according to) the law). Instead, I conclude that it really means something else (i.e. by (around) the law), much like a by-pass.

As for monies generated through illegal activity, surely there is some remedy available to the City of Hamilton, the Province of Ontario, the country of Canada, to stop people from, as you put it, flagrantly disregarding the laws of the land/municipality? Or, am I missing something? Further, if this is an indication of the power of the by-laws and the enforcement of same, then may I make a modest proposal and suggest that rather than overhauling the department that you simply eliminate it. This will save the taxpayers a lot of money, and the law-breakers a lot of annoying paperwork.

If my tone sounds a bit sharp, you will please forgive me as I assumed that the law was there to be enforced and upheld by people to whom we pay a salary.

I look forward to a more detailed response from you staff regarding my original request for a sequence of actions taken by the by-law enforcement people, and, as a result of your response, some help in understanding the role and power of the by-law related to the illegal operation of a revenue generating parking facility directly across from the seat of our local government?

Thanks for your understanding,

Graham Crawford

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By Concerned (anonymous) | Posted May 20, 2008 at 21:14:48

Little wonder, with the recent corruption scandal at City Hall with the Downtown Renewal Group. The manager of incentives has allegedly taken a kick back from this developer of the old HMP site. I wonder if that has anything to do with it. I've completely lost faith in the downtown incentives, this person should be canned, this investigation has been going on for years and now proof. We should demand the immediate shut down of this parking lot and a complete scrutiny of the developer and staff. Without staff input and spin doctoring.

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By Jurisprudence (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2008 at 11:11:32

In this country even those charged are presumed innocent til proven guilty in a court of law. While admittedly things look rotten, let's be patient for a while.
Don't jump the gun with your conclusions.

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By trey (registered) | Posted May 21, 2008 at 13:55:43

why of course.... there are plenty of reasons why a G&G cheque had Gord Moodie on the 'payable to' line. He was washing dishes part time, he did some painting, heck he might've even bounced at the door.

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By Concerned (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2008 at 23:34:50

Thanks Trey,

My point is that where there is smoke there is fire. Something is going on. Time will tell. Police do not lay charges willy nilly. They don't waste time and taxpayers dollars on hunches. Nonetheless, there is a dark cloud one way or the other. We can't continue on like this.

I've seen the courts let us down many times and I wouldn't be surprised if this person walks, he's got the dollars as they have hired one of the best defense lawyers (same one who represented Vranich who only got house arrest for sexual assault on a second conviction).

There's reality and then there is justice.

Quite frankly I'm surprised there isn't more outcry on this website. I'm sure if it were outside the downtown, involving a surburban residential developer RTH would be all over it casting some of my same sentiments.

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By downtowner (registered) | Posted May 22, 2008 at 05:55:14

And what's with Bratina giving this guy cover in the papers?

Have to agree though. Let justice take its course.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 22, 2008 at 08:47:56

"Quite frankly I'm surprised there isn't more outcry on this website."

You make a good point. I can't speak for the other RTH contributors, but I've been trying to get more information before commenting - for example, I'd like to see the details of the police charges and a copy of this cheque.

It seems incomprehensible to me that an experienced public official would accept a bribe via cheque (whatever happened to unmarked, non-sequential bills; and nobody knows a guy named Louie?).

At the same time, the police don't generally lay charges unless they have pretty strong evidence.

So far the public figures who have commented tend to be interested parties, i.e. they have some stake - even if just political - in the success or failure of the residential loan program.

I don't want to comment until I feel I have something to contribute rather than just adding to the noise.

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By downtowner (registered) | Posted May 22, 2008 at 12:57:21

Ryan said: It seems incomprehensible to me that an experienced public official would accept a bribe via cheque (whatever happened to unmarked, non-sequential bills; and nobody knows a guy named Louie?).

What a racially charged stereotype, Ryan. Wash your mouth out with soap.

As for the public officials who have commented, I find it strange that the comment may be interpreted as a character reference for the person charged. Is this 'interference' with the course of justice?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 22, 2008 at 14:21:31

"What a racially charged stereotype, Ryan"

Wait, what? Is it actually possible to misconstrue such an obvious cliche about mob tactics as being somehow about race? Or are you just being facetious and I've missed the joke?

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By downtowner (registered) | Posted May 22, 2008 at 21:23:08

If the cement shoe fits, McGreal, wear it!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 22, 2008 at 22:59:18

I'd love to respond, but I'm tied up right now.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 25, 2008 at 22:20:11

Tim McCabe is full of shite as is the rest of City Hall and the Hamilton Police Services. What a joke, they should all be ashamed and resign and be replaced by grade ten students and or mcdonalds employess. Robots dont need lights to do their jobs.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 01:35:04

Let me see if I understand this correctly...

1. The property owner "owns" the land.

2. The property owner offers a useful service to people, who willingly give him money in return for this service.

3. The money generated from offering this service allows the property owner to pay the city taxes.

4. People who do not "own" the property feel it is their right to tell the person who does own the land how it should be used.

5. No wonder people don't want to invest in Hamilton, who wants to risk their hard earned money, just to have government boss them around.

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By downtowner (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 03:55:03

You are right A Smith. You see, the property owner is a 'foreigner' while the holier than thou disputants are well, 'local'. How dare a 'foreigner' invest in this city?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 09:51:14

Gimme a break. Parking on empty lots is just about the worst thing you can do with downtown lots. Look at ALL the studies on what makes city centers successful -- street walls, store fronts, mixed use buildings, mixed streets (walking, cycling, transit and cars) etc...... A parking lot is a missing tooth, it sucks to walk past, it's ugly, it takes away a reason to come downtown in the first place. There's a reason why property owners aren't allowed to demolish buildings and put in parking lots (and I guess there's also a reason, only a different one why the city looks the other way when it happens anyway).

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By downtowner (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 10:50:19

Dear NoBrain,

I agree with you; but there is supposed to be a hotel on this lot. Why not use it until that construction begins? Have you tried to get a parking spot downtown to go to a meeting? Oh sorry, you probably don't own a car either. But believe me; i've had people ask to park on my little driveway in order to attend a function downtown.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 11:16:26

wow...now we have people calling a parking lot an "investment" in Hamilton???
If that's true, then yes, I'm all for their "investment" being made in another community. Find me one person going on a trip to Europe because of all the great parking lots.
It's a shame cities like Paris, Rome and London don't have all kinds of great "investment" happening in their cities too. Hamilton is the real world-destination city. People just don't know about our downtown "investments" yet. Once they find out they can park here for $4.00 a day they'll surely pass on that trip to Amsterdam and come here instead.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 11:39:28

Condescend much, downtowner? You're right, I don't have a car. I choose not to own one because I live right downtown near transit and can walk most of the places I need to go. If I need to pick up something big or go a longer distance I just rent a car. Last time I checked, it costs more than $10,000 a year to own a car after you pay for financing, gas, insurance, maintanence and depreciation. Since you're playing the One-Up game I'm gonna bet I have more disposable income than you do.

I think you should actually walk around downtown a little bit. There's so much freaking parking some whole blocks have nothing but curbs and gravel and a litle hut for the parking attendant. The more parking we add the less actual reasons there are to bother going downtown at all. Haven't you noticed a connection there? It's not like all the parking we already have has done us much good.

Instead we should turn those parking lots into offices and condos and storefronts so more people move back downtown and can find jobs nearby (that's what I did and I've never been happier).

But hey, we could also keep doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. Yeah, that's a good idea.....

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 17:02:22

I agree that having the downtown dominated by parking lots is not the ideal situation. I would simply suggest that it is a symptom of Hamilton's problem, and not the cause.

Perhaps the anti-parking lot group should put its money where their ideas are, and buy the property. Instead of having to watch short sighted property owners miss out on great investment opportunities, they could be the pioneers of a new Hamilton.

If the opportunities are there to build condos and actually break even on the deal, you should do it yourself. Prove to the naysayers that Hamilton can support your ambitious vision.

If you are not willing to risk your life savings doing this, than you have your answer, why would anyone else want to?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2008 at 23:44:31

A downtown dominated by parking lots is not merely "not the ideal solution". It is absolutely devastating to the goal of revitalization. Its persistence makes revitalization effectively impossible.

It is both a symptom and a cause of the core's problems, which, as I tried to argue above, are connected to what we might call the city's "bidness" culture:

http://raisethehammer.org/article/437

As for downtown advocates buying the property, part of the problem is that the negligent developers sitting on these properties refuse to sell.

Consider LIUNA, which owns the buildings on the Lister Block. They refuse to maintain property standards, refuse to redevelop the block with their own money, demand that the city subsidize their plan to demolish a structurally sound heritage building, and refuse to sell the property to someone who is prepared to invest in restoring it.

In other areas, local heritage advocates are buying downtown properties and restoring them. Look at all the new developments on James North - I guarantee you that Hamilton's coterie of developers and landlords are not leading that renaissance.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 13:57:56

I do not disagree that elected officials are influenced by more than the public interest. Knowing this, we should all agree that government should be limited in its scope of influence. By limiting governments role to narrow and specific tasks, the "bidness" culture you reference would not exist.

That is why property rights are such a great tool for the common good. Property rights ensure that all citizens can shape their own destiny, without fear of external controls. Property rights are based on the premise that rational people want to maximize their investments. In order to do this, property owners seek out the most valuable use for their property, and build accordingly.

The idea that a small group of experts need to tell people what is best for their property is arrogant. Democracy is not a license for allowing well connected individuals the power to shape their own personal utopia, by using the heavy hand of government.

The proper way of attacking "negligent" (your words) owners is moral suasion. Attack LIUNA's commitment to the Hamilton people, appeal to their sense of the common good. But do not force them to to what you want, when you do this, you lose the moral high ground.

When you look to government for help, it always has a way of coming back to bite you. Nothing is free in life, and using government decree to get
your own personal outcome, is not without a price. That is why Hamilton, in its fervour to beat the capitalists, has dug its own grave. Surprise, surprise, business does not love Hamilton. Why would they, Hamilton treats them like the enemy.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 12:32:03

@A Smith... Perhaps you've tried to talk to LIUNA? I promise you, you'd have more effect asking a brick wall to move out of your way than getting them to budge on their ideas of revitalizing downtown (i.e. letting buildings crumble and then "redeveloping" with parking lots etc). The reason we have zoning bylaws is to allow people to do what they want but not WHERE they want. If said "investor" wants a parking lot...by all means make one but not downtown where it's a proven fact that doing so is detrimental to the health of downtown. Perhaps you believe that humanity is "good" and that given the option the person who put this parking lot in place would have built an amazing building...chances are that you'd be terribly wrong. And since when is a parking lot a viable "business" for downtown? If you want to build a parking lot at least do it right! Make a parkade or underground parking with ground level occupancy for stores and shops and perhaps a floor or two of apartments don't pave the ground and set up a hut. That's insane.
Democracy is what now? Letting everyone do whatever they want without worrying about governments or elected officials stepping in? WHere I come from, that's called anarchy. In a democracy, governments are supposed to enact things that are for the greater good of the society and city they represent. Perhaps you can explain to me how building parking lot does that? You mention property rights...and they exist. However zoning bylaws are put in place to make sure that the individual exercising his right in a closeminded manner isn't able to damage the city's overall goals. You're empty arguments are typical of misinformed individuals who feel that they should be able to do whatever they want regardless of the outcome for the society they live in. Get real!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 14:51:26

I agree that filling the downtown with parking lots and other inspired creations is crap. The vast majority of people would love to see new buildings (condos, hotels, retail, etc), and I am at the top of the list. The point is you have to ask yourself why is this not happening?

What is it about Hamilton, that differs from Toronto or even Burlington? An obvious answer is that people want to live there. Investors know that if they build a condo in these cities, the demand will be there. Since investors are primarily interested in making money, if people wanted to live in downtown Hamilton, investors would build condos here as well.

You mention that without zoning bylaws the city would erupt in chaos. Why is that? What would land owners start doing, knocking down their properties for no good reason? Are you telling me every single land owner would destroy his or her building to create a parking lot. That is completely illogical. Imagine I own an apartment building, under your line of thinking, I would knock it down, and give up all the rental income I was making. That simply would never happen.

The only reason for zoning bylaws is to allow certain segments of the population to control other people's property without having to buy it from them.

Prior to 1917, Canada did not even have an income tax. So don't tell me that without the heavy hand of government, we would be living in chaos. My grandfather and his brothers lived rich, full lives, and did it in an environment with limited government regulation and oversight. A hundred years ago, a time when Hamilton was becoming quite prosperous, government played an extremely limited role in the marketplace. There were no land transfer fees, no height restrictions, et al.

If you compare the rate of development in that era (100 years ago), compared to today, and the obvious conclusion is that regulation and big government has slowed Hamilton's growth, not increased it.

With regard to the talk about the city's goals trumping the individuals goals, who are you referring to? What is the city, if not the totality of all the individuals that live there?
Anytime you stop an individual from maximizing his/her property, you hurt the city as a whole. When you start placing the collective ahead of the individual, you start treating individuals as second class citizens. Or is it that by city you actually mean a group of elites, politicians, professors, select business people.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2008 at 15:01:36

"You mention that without zoning bylaws the city would erupt in chaos."

Houston, Texas doesn't have zoning laws. The sheer magnitude of that city's sprawling development (including herculean commutes on congested superhighways) is threatening the city's basic livability, and they're doing everything they can now to increase density and use mixing - including a massive public investment in rapid transit. So much for the unregulated free market.

"Prior to 1917, Canada did not even have an income tax."

Prior to 1917, Canada was largely a preindustrial hinterland.

"the obvious conclusion is that regulation and big government has slowed Hamilton's growth, not increased it"

You previously contrasted Hamilton with Toronto and Burlington, but Toronto and Burlington also have regulation and big government. That suggests Hamilton's regulation and big government are not the significant factor impeding our economic revitalization.

The one example you gave of a Toronto policy that promotes development (the King-Spadina plan) actually undermines your argument, since it is an example of successful government regulation for the public good.

"Anytime you stop an individual from maximizing his/her property, you hurt the city as a whole."

Your freedom to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.

In a city, individual actions affect others more than usual because of the density and the close proximity of uses.

Now, I've written on several occasions that single-use zoning is a bad idea, because as Jane Jacobs explained, it does a poor job of targeting harmful actions. Instead, it blindly and stupidly mandates that all uses must remain separated.

Instead of this, she recommended moving to a performance based code - a code that defines a desirable built form and allows any use that does not cause measurable harm (loud noises, bad smells, etc.) to others.

It does not replace a bad regulation with no regulation. It replaces a bad regulation with a good regulation. Ironically, in Hamilton this approach is opposed by the developers, who have figured how to get rich on single use sprawl construction and are afraid of change.

That's the crucial point you seem to keep missing in your argument against the role of government.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 18:34:44

If you are comparing Houston with Hamilton, I think most people would conclude that Houston is more vastly more impressive than Hamilton. You mention "livability", I am not exactly what that means, but i do know that home prices in Houston are extremely cheap compared to almost every other city in the USA.

One of the major costs of buying a home today are excessive taxes, and land use restrictions that reduce the amount of available land to build on. Yes, if you are rich, it is nice to have a large protected green space as your neighbour, but not everybody is rich. Open up the land available to build on, and watch home prices drop significantly. But then again, the only people that would benefit are average citizens, not rich people who want their own private garden of eden right next to them.

You mention that Houston is having a huge problem with "sprawling" development. If only Hamilton had such problems. At least Houston is alive, it may be experiencing growing pains, but Hamilton is on life support. I for one would rather have a problem of too much growth, than a lack of it.

As for Hamilton being a hinterland in 1917, you are either lying, or are extremely misinformed. By 1917, the HSR had been operating in Hamilton for over 40 years. Another interesting fact about the HSR, is that it began as a private business, imagine that. Your love affair with transit began as a business venture.

By comparing Hamilton and Toronto/Burligton and implying that regulation has no effect since Toronto is growing faster than Hamilton, Toronto is also a net contributor of taxes to the province. I have stated previously that government is most harmful when it gives money, not when it takes it. Since things have a way of balancing out, if you want Hamilton to prosper, stop asking for handouts from other jurisdictions, and let the private sector work its magic.

Regarding the King/Spadina issue, you have already stated that the it was a relaxing of government restrictions that led to developers being allowed to build new structures. Had there been zero regulation or restrictions in the first place, the condos would have gone up even sooner. The government's policy was successful, because it removed the restrictions it had established in the first place. It's like taking credit for easing someone's suffering, because you stop punching them.

People talk about democracy, and claim that it is the best way of settling our problems. The free market is just another form of democracy, except people get to vote with their hard earned dollars, and get to do it every day. If no one ever used a parking lot again, than the parking lot owners would go out of business. Problem solved. The fact that parking lots exist in Hamilton, proves that some people like them, otherwise they would stop using them. It is quite simple.

Many people don't accept that individuals should be able to decide if they want to use a parking lot. These same people embrace the idea that government, with the backing of force, can tell others what is "good", and what is "bad". It is the experts, the "urban planners", who get to make all decisions regarding the city. It doesn't matter if a person owns his/her own land, that is irrelevant. All that matters is that people must be "forced" to follow the rules established by the "experts".



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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2008 at 22:39:26

"You mention 'livability', I am not exactly what that means"

I mean coherent neighbourhoods with mixed uses, transportation choices other than driving, sidewalks. For the most part, Houston doesn't have these things. You have to drive to do anything or go anywhere.

Apparently Houston's government agrees with this, because they invested in a new light rail line with zoning for dense mixed use in the TOD corridor, specifically to try and foster more livable, sustainable land use.

"You mention that Houston is having a huge problem with 'sprawling' development. If only Hamilton had such problems."

Oh, we do, only on a smaller scale (Hamilton is 1/4 the size of Houston).

What do you think is going to happen to all those single use residential subdivisions when gas prices double and double again over the next decade?

"As for Hamilton being a hinterland in 1917, you are either lying, or are extremely misinformed."

You wrote, "Prior to 1917, Canada did not even have an income tax." I replied, "Prior to 1917, Canada was largely a preindustrial hinterland."

Now you're trying to move the goalposts.

"I have stated previously that government is most harmful when it gives money, not when it takes it."

The city of Toronto receives transfers from both the province and the federal government. You can't run a modern city on property tax alone.

"you have already stated that the it was a relaxing of government restrictions that led to developers being allowed to build new structures."

No. I've explained repeatedly what Toronto did in the King-Spadina plan: the new regulations are just as strict as the old ones, only they regulate different factors of development (namely: built form, parking, street access, and compatibility of scale). Do you flat-out refuse to acknowledge this or do you simply not understand what I mean?

"People talk about democracy, and claim that it is the best way of settling our problems."

Democracy is one way. The market is another. Voluntary civic organization and advocacy is yet another. All have a place in producing healthy, fair societies, though they vary in how effectively they can address a given problem in a given context.

"The free market is just another form of democracy"

No. Democracy means all votes are equal. In markets, people with more money get more "votes".

I'm not opposed to markets; I just recognize that they don't and can't function in a legal, regulatory or cultural vacuum, and that there are some problems that markets cannot solve - including the problem of how to ensure that markets function effectively.

"Many people don't accept that individuals should be able to decide if they want to use a parking lot."

Your right to do what you want ends where your actions cause harm to others.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 07:21:54

What Ryan says: "Bad government is bad. Good government is good."

What A Smith hears: "...government is bad..."

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 08:29:18

I think A Smith just likes to hear himself talk... He's missing some letters from his name.

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By THE Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 09:08:36

If A Smith had actually READ my books, especially The Wealth of Nations and A Theory of Moral Sentiments, rather than merely skimming what one-dimensional hacks like Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek had to say about them, he might acquire a more nuanced understanding of the interaction between law, free enterprise and justice.

Alas, 'tis a mean and grasping time/That has so roundly succeeded mine.

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By Ayn Rand (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 09:30:19

He seems to have had no trouble reading mine.

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By Atlas (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 09:56:15

*shrugs*

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By likestodebate (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 12:30:41

The moderator may want to consider removing the last 4 posts.

Personal attacks like this show a real weakness of character and debating acumen.

No one expects this forum to be populated entirely by a audience of epistemologists, but keep in mind that this debate revolves arounds people's opinions, not FACTS.

It has not been PROVEN that parking lots are bad.

Some 'experts' have expressed their opinion sthat parking lots are bad. It just so happens that most of the people in this forum agree with that opinion.

While most of you may not agree with his opinion, I would find it hard to believe that any of you would have found this forum very interesting without A Smith's input.

So, in the future, maybe we could tone down the personal attacks and stick to kicking ass and taking names with ideas and arguments.



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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 12:53:41

"While most of you may not agree with his opinion, I would find it hard to believe that any of you would have found this forum very interesting without A Smith's input."

Interesting? Frustrating, more like, which explains the snark. If you're going to employ strawmen, repeatedly refuse to acknowledge evidence that runs counter to your argument, and cling to an ideology that has been debunked in the real world, you're going to get called out on it. That's what happened here. And I don't think A Smith was "attacked", but rather his opinions were undermined by humourous references to dead authors, etc. I thought it was a pretty civil response to his frustrating style of argument (and yes, it was his style not his substance that provoked, so let's lose that strawman too), but then I lead the charge, so I guess I'm biased.

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By likestodebate (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 15:47:42

Highwater,

No doubt A Smith was frustrating, but, and this is a big BUT, I don't see how he was any less dogmatic than the other posters.

Just because someone holds the minority opinion, it doesn't mean that his opinion is wrong.

At one time the earth was flat
oops
And the sun circled the earth
oops
And doctors still drill holes in their patients' heads to let out the evil spirits
oops
And whatever Jane Jacobs said has to be true

Keep cling those minds

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 16:08:04

I agree that parking lots are awesome for downtown! I regularly take my wife out on dates to Rebecca and John Streets...it's a lovely place with TONS to do.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2008 at 16:16:57

"Just because someone holds the minority opinion, it doesn't mean that his opinion is wrong."

A Smith is perfectly welcome to make an argument, but if he wants to persuade people he needs to defend it fairly with valid arguments and factual evidence.

So far, he has supported his claims with nothing but irrelevant red herrings (e.g. federal tax policy), examples that actually undermine his thesis (e.g. the King-Spadina plan), flat-out distortions (e.g. his characterization of the King-Spadina plan as an example of deregulation), and straw man attacks (e.g. accusing me of name-calling and of claiming that Hamilton was pre-industrial in 1914).

By no means would I dispute or revoke anyone's right to argue their case on RTH. That's why this website allows anyone to comment. At the same time, just as A Smith has the right to make an argument, so do others have the right to challenge that argument.

As long as the back-and-forth remains civil (and I believe it has, a few humorous quips notwithstanding), I believe a more complete picture of the issue gradually emerges for anyone who follows the full debate.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 16:22:17

Again LTB, it wasn't his opinions, but his style of arguing - strawmen, and an outright refusal to acknowledge Ryan's central point because it conflicted with his own narrow ideology. I wouldn't have piled on if he had argued his position cogently and provided evidence to back it up that was not easily refuted. I'm always open to looking at things in a new way, but I need more than Libertarian platitudes.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 21:56:24

A major point in your renewal plan for Hamilton is public transit (I think you mentioned light transit, feel free to correct me). I am not against mass transit, but I don't think the government needs to run it. If there truly is a demand for this service, consumers will willingly pay for it. The government does not operate car dealerships, or electronics stores, so why is mass transit any different?

The reason why car dealerships, and electronics stores exist, is because they fill a need consumers have, and do it in a way where both the consumer and the store owner are better off. If mass transit is as valuable a service as many people say it is, then the private sector should have no trouble offering this service to consumers. In this case, government involvement is unnecessary.

What do I think is going to happen to the subdivisions when gas doubles? Assuming that it does (big assumption), people will demand more fuel efficient cars, and auto makers will produce them. In fact, fuel efficiency will become the key selling point that auto makers focus on. This is how the market works, customers express their desires, and businesses fulfill them. It's a win-win situation.

Regarding the King/Spadina issue, are you telling me that investors were holding back their plans to build because they needed the government to tell advise them on what their customer wanted them to build. That is too funny. Next you will tell me that Tim Hortons, and Canadian Tire are consulting with government officials for marketing advice.

I find it interesting that you keep mentioning one's freedom as long as it doesn't harm others. What harm is being done to you if a owner of a building decides to create a parking lot? You may not like it, but you are not injured in any meaningful way. There are many people who have bad taste in clothes, that doesn't mean the government should force them to buy a new wardrobe.

Finally, if you choose to make life difficult on property owners, there is a consequence. Investors are primarily interested in making money, and anything that government does that decreases this likelihood is seen as a negative. Conversely, when government reduces the regulatory burden on developers, they are more willing to risk their capital on things other than parking lots.

You simply can't have it both ways, either you allow developers to maximize their investment, or you end up with risk free structures like parking lots.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 31, 2008 at 23:33:44

there would be ZERO market for cars if not for trillions of government dollars to provide the necessary infrastructure. Why is that acceptable, but government investment in transit is not??

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2008 at 14:41:46

It is not acceptable, I agree with you.

Roads are no different than any other product or service that consumers pay for, so there is no need for government to be involved.

All road building should be left up to private firms, and all current roads should be sold off, and the profits returned to the taxpayer.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 01, 2008 at 16:38:42

Interesting. What about other public services such as first responders, law enforcement, health care, education, jails, defense, etc. etc? Where do you draw the line? Is there a roll for government anywhere in your world view?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 02, 2008 at 08:33:42

Oh, absolutely. The government would be there to protect the property rights of the road-, highway-, fire department-, ambulance-, hospital-, school-, and jail-owning companies. If you try to drive on CIBC Ave. without paying your road bill, the police will be there to escort you off CIBC's property. The first time you just get a warning - after all, CIBC would still like your business; but subsequent offences will lead to arrest and trespassing charges.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2008 at 14:06:26

Ryan, you seem to have a love - hate relationship with government. On the one hand, you have no problem with government when they promote your vision of how things should be. However, government becomes evil if they side with property owners, in defending property rights.

Why not admit your that you goal is to get what you want, regardless of what others want. Your arguments show a complete intolerance for individual freedom, and a fondness for control, as long as that control favours your outcome.

Why not play the game fairly instead of relying on the government. Offer a benefit to the consumer, and then take your profits and create the type of structures you are so enamored with. Rich people are rich because they offer something of value to the consumer. Nobody forces consumers to give rich people money, it is strictly voluntary. Unlike government, which collects its money at the end of a barrel.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 02, 2008 at 15:57:13

"Ryan, you seem to have a love - hate relationship with government."

You're still attacking a straw man and dealing exclusively in abstract generalities rather than addressing specific arguments.

I've argued all along that the government has a role to play in regulating commerce, and that citizens have a role to play in ensuring that public governance is transparent, accountable and fair. Government power without accountability is corporatist: defending the interests of corporations against the public interest.

There are several vectors of accountability in an industrial liberal democracy. Your argument implicitly acknowledges one of these vectors: price signals in an open market, which can be a highly effective, decentralized feedback system for buyers and sellers (with some important caveats around whether competition is perfect or imperfect, whether costs are externalized or internalized, and so on).

Another vector is citizen engagement in the political process. You seem to have rejected this vector of accountability on the fundamental basis that it places constraints on the unrestricted rights of property owners to do as they please.

Your argument, as I understand it, is that markets do a better job of making decisions for the common good than citizens acting through the government. However, this assumption simply isn't always true. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that markets work better when they are regulated effectively, and that regulation works better when it is democratic, i.e. transparent and accountable to the citizens.

I would ask why this is so hard for you to understand, but I suspect I already know the answer: you are starting from dogmatic assumptions about unregulated markets government, and then reasoning backwards from there.

I would respectfully submit that you can't form helpful conclusions about public policy by proceding from a priori assumptions rather than empirical study.

Someone else on this thread made a mockery of my respect for the work of Jane Jacobs, but whether or not one agrees with her conclusions (I don't agree with all of them), her real contribution to urbanism was to break from the dogmatism of the urban planning profession and study how actual cities work by examining actual cities.

It was her observations that led her to recommend abandoning zoning-based regulations in favour of performance-based regulations, like the King-Spadina plan of which we have both spoken positively.

This approach leads away from dogmatism and toward public policies that work effectively and benefit everyone: citizens, residents, investors, property developers, business owners, and so on.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2008 at 21:04:56

Okay, back to the King/Spadina issue, according to the city's own paper, it was a "less restrictive" planning framework that sparked the new investment (page 7, King/Spadina Secondary Plan Review).

They note that there would be an emphasis on built form, but as I mentioned before, investors were not motivated to build because of rules telling them what they should build (i.e. building height, etc). Developers build what the market is demanding, not what they like personally. The idea that it required government to advise them on what the customer would buy is ridiculous.

Ryan, please address this specific point if you would.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 02, 2008 at 23:19:58

"please address this specific point if you would."

I have addressed that specific point repeatedly. As I already wrote, "the new regulations are just as strict as the old ones, only they regulate different factors of development (namely: built form, parking, street access, and compatibility of scale)."

If you don't think the regulations are strict, try constructing a building on Spadina that has only one storey, or has off-street parking in front of it.

I'm surprised that you could have read the city's Review and not taken away a clear understanding of how the regulatory emphasis shifted from the building's use to its form and performance.

Regulating for use, i.e. zoning, is bad. It separates complementary uses, restricts creativity, and reduces commercial interest in a property. It tries to prevent undesirable performances indirectly, by defining a list of appropriate uses, rather than preventing undesirable performances directly, by defining a list of prohibited performances.

Regulating for form is good. It ensures that adjacent buildings are compatible with each other and that the neighbourhood as a whole is coherent and consistent architecturally. Urban form creates street walls with porous buildings and tends to bring many uses into close proximity, which reduces the need to drive and supports interpersonal connections.

Regulating for performances is good. Instead of specifying what uses are allowed at a given site, performance codes prohibit a list of performances that are harmful to others: loud noises, foul odours, loss of vegetation, and so on.

It turns out that developers like form- and performance-based codes. It obliges them to build in a way that protects the interests of their neighbours, but it also protects them from other developers who might otherwise compromise their own interests. It provides a coherent, consistent set of rules that everyone has to follow and that demonstrably produce highly desirable results.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 00:24:11

The King/Spadina development did not take off because of rules banning excessive noise, parking restrictions, or height restrictions. This area took off because there was/is a great demand for housing in Toronto. Many people in the GTA would love to live in Toronto, but they can't afford to.

When land that was previously off limits to residential development (due to government zoning restrictions) was brought to the market, developers jumped at the chance to fill the need for residences. It's as simple as supply and demand. People wanted to live in Toronto, and developers had newly available land in which to build.

Since open land is scarce in Toronto, the obvious conclusion is that developers must build up, and not out, therefore government regulation is redundant on this point. Any developer that would build a single story structure would not be maximizing his/her property investment.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2008 at 07:56:03

You're still cherry picking. You pick up on the fact that one aspect of regulation (building use) was relaxed, but ignore the fact that other aspects of regulation (form and performance) were made more strict.

Developers like the consistency of a neighbourhood plan. They like that other developers will have to follow the same rules so their investments aren't devalued by an adjacent building that is far out of scale. They like that the city invested in high-quality public transit to make up for the strict parking rules.

You're so blinded by your ideology that you just can't or won't see how a well-crafted public policy can sometimes improve on an unregulated market.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 13:20:24

Developers should not be in a position to dictate to other developers how they can build. You state that developers like having restrictions on future developers, so as to not devalue established structures. Why is this a good thing? Why shouldn't new investors be able to build what their customers demand? Once again, you are showing your predilection for control.

Property rights ensure that no single party is shown favour over another. If "developer A" wants to build a very tall structure, that is his/her decision. The fact that another building owner feels that this may harm his/her own building is irrelevant. As long as property lines are well drawn, the market will decide what buildings are needed, and built. In my scenario, it is the customer and the builder who decide what gets built, not disgruntled third parties.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2008 at 14:20:52

To recap: you claimed that unregulated markets work and regulated markets don't work, citing what you called an unregulated market as evidence for your claim.

When I pointed out that the market in question is actually regulated after all, you promptly tacked away from evidence and back into the comfort of libertarian dogma - retreating from "is" to "should".

I respectfully maintain that you can't draw good policy conclusions as long as you continue to beg the question by assuming your conclusions through untested a priori premises.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 15:21:51

The key words in A Smith's post are "in my scenario..." This is basically what all his 'arguments' boil down to. When you're making up your own scenarios, and setting your own fantasy parameters, you're free to come to whatever conclusions suit you. Real-world evidence has no part to play in this insular equation. A Smith lives in a magical Libertarian paradise where no one minds getting whacked on the nose because everyone has already agreed that arm-swinging is the highest moral good. You've given it your best shot Ryan, but you're arguing from the real world and I don't think A Smith can hear you from there.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 15:37:39

I have not claimed that regulated markets don't work. I have pointed out that government restrictions get in the way of supply and demand. Had the King/Spadina area been free of building restrictions in the first place, the condo boom would have started much sooner, based on the huge demand for residences in Toronto.

Your argument is that without the new restrictions put in place in 1996, the condos would not have been built. What you are saying is that consumers heard about building height restrictions, parking restrictions, and decided that sounded like a great place to live.

If you believe this, than government should take over all development in the city. If the government knows what the consumer is craving, and the developers do not, ban all private development, and allow the government to take over.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 15:41:14

Highwater, you claim that I create strawmen? When have I said that violence is acceptable? Answer that before you start making my arguments for me. When have I said that violence is acceptable?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 16:18:01

Accusing me of stating that you said violence is acceptable is yet another example of you employing a strawman, since I said nothing of the sort. Surely even you realize that my remark about people being hit on the nose with swinging arms refers to the classic metaphor.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 16:40:59

Highwater, I state that government regulations disrupt the functioning of the free market, and the conclusion you draw from this is that I am in favour of violence. Your words..."A Smith lives in a magical Libertarian paradise where no one minds getting whacked on the nose because everyone has agreed that arm-swinging is the highest moral good."

Which one of my posts suggests that I am in favour of living in a world where people hit each other? Somehow you have taken my arguments against government regulation in the free market, and concluded that I must be in favour of violence.

You feel free to label me "libertarian", and you counter my arguments not with counterarguments, but with complete mis characterizations, and outright lies.

If you feel bad about this, that is not my problem, it was you that injected the issue of violence into the debate.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 16:43:23

Highwater, I state that government regulations disrupt the functioning of the free market, and the conclusion you draw from this is that I am in favour of violence. Your words..."A Smith lives in a magical Libertarian paradise where no one minds getting whacked on the nose because everyone has agreed that arm-swinging is the highest moral good."

Which one of my posts suggests that I am in favour of living in a world where people hit each other? Somehow you have taken my arguments against government regulation in the free market, and concluded that I must be in favour of violence.

You feel free to label me "libertarian", and you counter my arguments not with counterarguments, but with complete mis characterizations, and outright lies.

If you feel bad about this, that is not my problem, it was you that injected the issue of violence into the debate.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 19:02:51

For goodness sake, A Smith. Have you not heard the common metaphor, which I believe Ryan quoted above, that "your freedom to swing your arms ends at my nose"? Obviously this means that individual freedoms have limits. Specifically, they have limits where they begin to impact negatively on others. Ryan and I both used this metaphor to illustrate the limitations of your free market/libertarian ideology. To deliberately misconstrue this as an advocacy for actual violence, defies all reason and sense, but then so do most of your notions about government regulation and the free market, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

And now, after I warned Ryan about the futility of arguing with you, I've let you suck me into your bizarre parallel universe as well. Fare thee well, A Smith. I must bid adieu while I still have my bearings.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 21:56:44

Highwater, I am glad you see the futility of arguing against me. Come on back when you have something more than labels, and outright lies.

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By A Jones (anonymous) | Posted June 04, 2008 at 08:02:42

Your wasting your time highwater.
Subtlety and humor are lost on the devout.

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By trey (registered) | Posted June 04, 2008 at 11:42:19

"your freedom to swing your arms ends at my nose"?

what a great metaphor. I'm sorry that I haven't heard/read that before -- I read most of what I can that Ryan writes -- but I will use that now.

Extreme libertarianism leads to anarchy. Drive as fast as you like, too bad if your car is too small and doesn't protect you, buy a tank then. Can't afford a lifesaving operation -- I guess you should've worked harded to earn more money. What many Libertarians don't understand is that social cooperation is needed to build roads and hospitals and to create a functioning society of harmony and equity. However the words "social" and "cooperation" wrongly invoke thoughts of the USSR and big governments controlling our lives.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 04, 2008 at 12:28:20

Hi trey,

Don't credit me for that saying - it's been around for decades.

I'm sympathetic toward libertarianism, but it simply isn't a sustainable political system in practice. Here's why:

Libertarianism is the idea that the only thing governments should enforce is negative rights: life, liberty, property, and defence against invasion. There's not much room for democracy, because the government isn't actually allowed to do most of the things that citizens pooling their resources and cooperating would otherwise be likely to do.

If people are being poisoned at a restaurant, the market will deal with it through people no longer eating there. If houses start collapsing because they weren't built properly, home buyers can stop giving them their business. If employees at a manufacturing plant keep getting killed, they can always work somewhere else.

That isn't even nice in principle, and in practice it's even worse: competition isn't perfect (there aren't always large enough groups of buyers and sellers to ensure that markets are competitive), information isn't always synchronous (companies can hide evidence of mismanagement and negligence), and costs are not always internalized in price signals (the price a buyer pays doesn't always reflect the real cost of making and selling something).

As a result, markets don't regulate themselves very well. They ignore problems and then overreact once the problems become too big to ignore; they lurch spasmodically from opportunity to crisis; they are easily fooled; and they are often monopolistic (one seller, many buyers) or monopsonistic (one buyer, many sellers).

The flow of information in an unregulated market is mostly reactive: a restaurant loses business after people die; a home builder goes bankrupt after its houses collapse, and so on.

However, it gets even worse still: in the course of this libertarian paradise, corporations and their lobbying organizations are not sitting still. Instead, they are busy spending a lot of time, money, and energy to change political circumstances to their benefit.

You see, corporations do not want a free market. Corporations, for the most part, want protectionism, subsidies, and state enforcement of their interests. Corporations want to maximize their profits by any means necessary, and for the public to assume there risks wherever possible.

While the citizens are busy trying to recreate privately the basic public goods that characterize a mixed economy (buying health insurance, buying a licence to drive on RoadCo streets, and so on), corporations are remaking that libertarian government into a corporatist, authoritarian government.

Anarchy has warlords whose gangs shake citizens down for protection money; libertarianism has corporations whose lobbying firms turn the government into an agent of corporate power.

The best way - the only way - to cultivate the most robust, most expansive support of civil liberties is by citizens exchanging goods and services through markets that are regulated to ensure minimum standards of safety, pooling some of their resources into public services that support the widest possible participation in society, getting involved in the political process so it is not hijacked by special interests, cooperating on voluntary projects to improve their communities, and building strong networks of family, friends and neighbours for solidarity and support.

http://raisethehammer.org/blog/877

In other words, the most robust, humane societies emerge from citizens participating through all the dimensions of human interaction, personal (through relationships), private (through markets), and public (through the political process).

Life isn't tidy like a political ideology. People don't behave like models, and abstract systems don't magically regulate themselves. It takes work to keep society from flying apart or descending into warlordism. It takes deliberate organization at various levels, accountable to and supported by citizens, to free up our potential and help us to live full lives.

If the A Smiths of the world can stop conflating sensible rules with state control for long enough to recognize this, they might realize what the term "things balance out" really means: not an abstract market swinging back and forth like a pendulum, but a conscious, deliberative group of citizens learning how to live together, support each other where possible and not get in each other's way too much.

There's no tidy solution to this problem. The best we can manage is trying out ad hoc solutions to see what works, testing how they work out, tweaking as necessary, abandoning bad ideas, and cross-pollinating from one domain to another where appropriate, all guided by overarching principles of freedom, choice, opportunity, transparency, and mutual respect.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 04, 2008 at 14:45:58

Ryan, our posts are getting longer and longer, so I will try to debate a couple of points at a time.

I believe that all good things come at a price. Therefore when government tries to "help" us, there is a cost associated. Government can't simply order people to invest their money as they deem appropriate. There has to be something in it for the investor.

If your argument is that regulations actually benefit the developers, than even though I disagree with you on that point, at least you recognize the broader point. This broader point is that individuals prosper when they help others prosper. Thus, when the city of Hamilton helps developers make money, they end up helping themselves. It is a win- win situation.

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