Reverse civic engineering


"Don’t just do something, stand there." — the White Rabbit in Walt Disney’s "Alice in Wonderland"

Public policy got a lot simpler this last year with money and people fleeing the insanities of progressive states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California. Opportunity is ours in Indiana if we can only sit still and avoid their mistakes.

Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban studies writing in the current issue of City Journal, lays the groundwork: “Most Americans don’t favor defunding police or instituting race quotas; they are wary of the costs connected with the Green New Deal and of allowing Washington to control local zoning. Many are already voting with their feet, fleeing places that promote these ideas and seeking out areas aligned with more recognizable American values.”

So this is easy. if anyone in New York City or southern California is doing it, you don’t want to. And you don’t have to sort through the conflicting policy studies; it’s just a matter of going down this list and setting policy contrarily:

Taxation — The old saw,“Tax what you want less of,” applies here. Indiana law allows cities to repeal the business personal property tax. With the tax gone, city councils aren’t tempted to waste political energy playing favorites. Tax rebates and exemptions are eliminated. The schemers and frauds are defunded. Investors, both existing and potential, know that they are getting a fair shake independent of City Hall influence.

Families — Support all policies that encourage the formation of two-parent families with strong connections to a church as well as independent civic groups (scouting troops, 4-H, shortwave radio clubs, peaceful motorcycle gangs, and so on). Discourage all that do not.

Quotas — Diversity should be understood to be of thought and not of pigment, gender or any other of the apparently infinite nuances in the human condition. Identity politics is for banana republics, not constitutional ones. “Content of character” is the thing. Equality of opportunity is lost in the pursuit of equality of results.

Machine Politics — Eschew public-private “partnerships” where the so-called private investor is guaranteed his profit up front. That is a signal of desperation, not progress. The “private” part of the equation always turns out to be simply the economy and the “public” part is the government. They cannot be joined without inviting corruption and creating the crony capitalist version of a political machine.

The Weather — Someone at City Hall needs to admit to the citizenry that the Green New Deal is hysteria. Its initiatives are merely wealth transfers to a new bureaucracy. It has nothing to do with changing the climate now or in the distant future. And you can begin by getting rid of expensive recycling programs that complicate an essential and otherwise efficient community service.

Zoning — Washington has no business messing with local zoning, specifically in residential areas. “Affordable" housing is where people can afford to live. Indeed, the zoning establishment should be dismantled entirely. If a property owner wants to convert his house into a restaurant, corner grocery or ice cream shop — or anything else acceptable to his immediate neighbors — he should be able to do so. Zoning laws operate not to protect property or lifestyle but to channel wealth into influential hands. Reduce them to the minimum. While you’re at it, allow neighbors to invest in each other’s businesses tax free.

Crime — This is the heaviest tax that can be levied on a community. Attack it with a strategy addressing that reality rather than schedule meetings so everyone can share their feelings. Murders have increased 84 percent this year in my city. Nationally, the mass shootings more than doubled during the "Summer of George" as the media portrayed all cops as bad guys. Nobody is surprised.

Regulation — Government is good at precious few things, primarily having to do with protecting individuals and their pursuit of happiness; it stinks at all the rest. Civic failure is certain if the people making the decisions bear no responsibility for the outcome. City Hall can quit regulating and managing everything that moves, and it can sell the golf courses, utilities, graveyards and other assorted properties and businesses picked up along the way.

Unions — If fiscal health is a goal, then public-sector collective bargaining must be brought to heel. Police departments and fire departments, the salaries of which amount to 80 percent of most city budgets, need to be made efficient enough to pay professional wages without handing over management prerogatives to union chiefs. Allowing employees to set their own wages, to make operational decisions and to ultimately determine revenue allocations, is unsustainable on any ledger. Did we mention ballooning pensions?

Finally, take care of the aesthetics. Keep your historic statues upright and your downtown free of official graffiti (commissioned BLM murals and such). The first is a signal to investors fleeing the failed states that there is no adult supervision in your city; the second tells them that the soft-headed are running the show here too.

And while everybody is arguing about all that, get rid of Daylight Savings Time — tcl

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review. Send comments to awoods@ Send comments to [email protected].

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