Friday, 9 January 2015

NIMBY's warped view of the role of government

From yesterday's FT letters:

Sir, Your leading article of December 29 (“Britain has nothing to fear but its politicians”) describes one of the greatest threats to Britain’s prosperity as “a dysfunctional planning system, held hostage by local politics”.

This statement gives depressingly little weight to the importance of local democracy. Individual communities should surely not have infrastructure projects forced upon them without sufficient debate and discussion to ensure that any sacrifice in the quality of life they may be asked to make can be properly weighed against any gains to the nation as a whole...

The Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, London SW1.


Dude, WTF?

Whether you are a large state authoritarian socialist or a small state libertarian with some modicum of intellectual honesty, the ONLY consideration is whether what the government does or desists from doing benefits the nation as a whole.

Of course, the "individual community" is part of the nation and their net gain or loss from any infrastructure goes into the overall cost-benefit analysis, but does not merit a higher weighting than that.

e.g. cash cost of Project X is £10, paid equally by all taxpayers and notional cost to (loss of amenity) "individual community" is £1. Total cost £11. If the benefit of Project X to the "nation as a whole" is > £11 + margin of error, it goes ahead, if < £11 + margin of error, it doesn't. Let's say the gross benefit is £15, so the net benefit is £4. It would be insanity to argue that the amenity cost of £1 trumps the £4 overall benefit.
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Of course, working out costs and benefits is a matter of judgment. Let's assume that rabid anti-smoking killjoyrs control the local council. They decide to employ a Tobacco Control Officer for £22,000 a year to patrol the high street and ask people to stub it out.

The money nets off, one man wins £22,000 and the community as a whole has to pay £22,000 (plus deadweight losses). That is a benefit to the new TCO and a cost to everybody else. Then there is the more difficult question of the value of smokers' rights to smoke and the value of non-smoker's rights to not ever see people smoking; whether there is a positive or negative impact on shopper numbers etc.

But then a more enlightened council takes over and it is established that the overall costs outweigh the benefits and so the council intends to sack the TCO.

If we allow the TCO to apply NIMBY non-logic, we end up with this:

Individual council employees should surely not have council decisions forced upon them without sufficient debate and discussion to ensure that any sacrifice in earnings they may be asked to make can be properly weighed against any cost savings to the local rate payers...

9 comments:

Steven_L said...

Individual council employees should surely not have council decisions forced upon them without sufficient debate and discussion to ensure that any sacrifice in earnings they may be asked to make can be properly weighed against any cost savings to the local rate payers...

In my 10 or so years experience working in councils, I've found they often do work something like that.

Steven_L said...

And I'm not sure if Andy Foster (the mananger named on that 2011 tobacco control officer job advert) is a bansturbator, but he's certainly a climber:

see here

and now here

mombers said...

I'm not sure how local democracy would work for people who don't have a position in a local community, i.e. don't own land.

Ben Jamin' said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Stigler said...

My "local community" would then get together and veto any change to electricity pylons or new ones that take electricity out to villages, that we find a bit unsightly. Also, we would veto any road work of the road going south of us that doesn't benefit us in any way.

Enjoy your return to 18th century village life.

Ben Jamin' said...

"the ONLY consideration is whether what the government does or desists from doing benefits the nation as a whole"

As measured empirically as aggregate land rent. End of story.

If by raising this for the whole community, it disadvantages one part, they would (under LVT), automatically be compensated by precisely the value of their loss of welfare. And as we all know this works the other way around too.

Government made simple. Really, really simple.

Which is why capitalised land rent/taxing income/capital corrupts absolutely everything.

Mark Wadsworth said...

SL, excellent stuff, have you ever met him?

M, their views are irrelevant, obviously.

TS, exactly.

BJ, yup, simple as that.

Dinero said...

Your mathematical analyisis is the same as the analysis in the letter, what you call loss of ammentiy to the individual community he calls sacrifice in the quality of life individual community. You are saying "properly weighted" and he is saying "properly weighted."

Bayard said...

Dinero, agreed, but his sentence "This statement gives depressingly little weight to the importance of local democracy" does rather suggest that he favours having the ability of local communities to veto infrastructure projects as a an answer to the problem, rather than LVT.