Planners Save Missouri!
“There are few things as important as effective government planning,” I said to myself the other day while enjoying a leisurely stroll through St. Louis Center. But this post isn’t actually about urban planning. It is about the Missouri Strategic Initiative for Economic Growth, which began the other day as part of a series of discussions around Missouri. (Combest today links to a number of stories about the meetings held around the state.)
Unlike the ongoing tax credit review commission, which is stacked with supporters of tax credits, I don’t have any animus toward this initiative. It seems to me that the people involved probably believe they have good ideas for Missouri, and that they are not participating in this project for personal gain. The politicians and the other participants involved just buy into the notion that if a number of smart and dedicated people work together to come up with a plan for Missouri’s economy, they can do great things for our state. That belief is neither malevolent nor corrupt. It is just wrong.
The governor laid it out plainly in Kirksville (emphasis added):
“We can’t go down every road,” Nixon said. “We need to act, not react, and in order to do that we need a plan.”
No, we don’t need a plan. Missouri’s economy of the future will be shaped by individual people taking risks and seizing opportunity. The government has absolutely no idea what the economy of the future will — or, more importantly, should — look like. Committees like this (as common as they have been in our history) buy into the idea (intentionally or not) that the government should be involved in crafting the elements of our economy. That is a frightening notion, and one filled with enough examples of failures using public dollars that I would have thought the idea would have been disposed of by now.
My favorite example is the 1947 St. Louis plan that called for the destruction of Soulard often mentioned by Bill McClellan. (You can read about Bill’s column from a blog post by someone who considers himself a libertarian but supports Paul McKee’s grand plans for the north side of St. Louis. Crazy, eh?)
Here’s a realistic plan for actual growth: Perform the core functions of government as efficiently as you can, and reduce the tax and regulatory system as much as you can within the constraints of democracy (i.e., I recognize that other people want the government to do more things than I want it to do). Then sit back and let individuals and companies succeed or fail based on market interactions and their own efforts. That is the only plan we need for our economy.