Gov’t Should Guide Development

The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo has an article today discussing the rise of private entities as builders of infrastructure and funding research that will be the building blocks of the future of society.

Part of the takeaway is the Federal government is increasingly out of the business of backing research and building infrastructure.  And that will leave society vulnerable to the whims of a few well-intentioned but extremely powerful people.  People who are not in a position to maximize societal value and pursue a future that seeks to even the playing field and maximize opportunity.

I see a small-scale version of that happening in my town as well.  The town has successfully resisted growth for a number of years.  It built walls (rules and Boards) that restricted growth.  But while the walls were being built, the outside world changed.  State laws changed to promote a diversified population.  The economy has the lowest interest rates in a lifetime.  Private builders have money and laws on their side.  And the town is besieged by outsiders who do not give a darn about what the residents want; they see opportunity to make a profit so they are climbing the walls and storming the gates.

Thankfully my town has a number of residents that are willing to dedicate their time and energy to work on fixing the problems.  The town can not overpower the external forces, but the citizens and government of town can use the State laws to create master visions of town.  The town can re-zone spaces to control growth.  The town can consider options to slow the speed of change to better absorb any coming changes.

The point is that government is not something to be depended on to “do” what needs to be done.  We are in a capitalistic society and should remain so.  So the job of government (big or small) is to help the citizens think through the options for the future and then set guidelines for what private companies can do.

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