Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 425, July 8, 2007

"Freedom in trivial things matters too."


Who Needs City Government?
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

On the desk at my elbow that morning lay a blaze-orange sticker that some municipal parasite had slapped on my front door. It ordered me to cut my lawn to the city's specifications—which seem to change each and every year—upon pain of various punishments of dubious legality.

Never mind that my wife was recovering from a serious illness, or that I was wearing a cast on my broken right foot, or that it had been raining for days, making lawn cutting difficult and dangerous. Never mind that I had paid a friend to cut the lawn for me the previous week and the lawn Nazi had driven right by my front yard while he was doing it.

This all followed some incredibly rude, intrusive correspondence I had received at the beginning of the episode, making the same demands, offering excuses about public health that the local commissars didn't really give a rat's ass were valid or not, or if anyone believed them. Given other day, they'd have been ordering us not to alter the natural landscape lest we disturb the Holy greenicity of our Mother Gaia.

In the past, as some of my readers are aware, I've had similar problems with the municipal soviet socialists. The commissars even summoned me to court once, where I won by demonstrating that the damning photos taken by the lawn Nazi in question were made by lying on the sidewalk so that my grass and weeds looked as tall as my front porch.

On another occasion, one of them came to my door accompanied by a young female police officer whose gun-side elbow positively quivered for an excuse to shoot me. The same city lamprey also sent a slovenly thug to cut my lawn at an outrageously inflated rate—and whether I wanted it cut or not—who threatened to "kick my ass" because I'd published a couple articles on the Internet criticizing his glorious benefactor.

I told him he would try to kick my ass, and he ran away.

If there's a good side to any of this, it's that dealing with these subcreatures has caused me to consider whether there's any real need for city government at all, or if it's just another deep, flowing trough where otherwise unemployable hogs can gorge themselves at our expense.

Our involuntary expense.

Thanks to them—and I hope history will remember them for it—after nearly half a century of studying, thinking, and writing on this topic, it occurs to me that the activities of city government fall into two, and only two, categories: those things that can be done much better, more cheaply, and more safely by individuals and by the private market; and those things that shouldn't be done by anyone at all.

For example, since I've already mentioned the long, trigger-happy arm of the law, it's significant that municipal police departments are not, and never have been, directly accountable to the population they commonly brutalize, oppress, and terrorize. (if you have a moment's thought that I might be exaggerating, look up Philadelphia, and a group of people who called themselves "MOVE".) They are accessible only through a complicated chain of city council members, mayors, city managers, and bureaucrats in numbers expressible only in scientific notation—with countless lawyers, union mouthpieces, and drooling sycophants among the round-heeled mass media to run interference for them.

As we've seen over and over again, the cops can execute an unarmed private individual in the streets, shooting him multiple dozens of times, and nothing significant ever comes of it. As bad as Waco and Ruby Ridge were, this sort of thing happens far more often and claims many more lives. The uniformed murderers are far more likely to be given medals of valor—exactly as they were at Ruby Ridge—than get fired or imprisoned for their crimes, because their departments' pretenses at self-investigation and internal discipline are a sick joke so threadbare and dirty that nobody bothers to laugh at it any more.

Or maybe I'm just fed up seeing four police cars idling at the curb, having pulled over a single, dangerous bicycle rider. On slow nights when I was a police reservist, we used to sit up on a hill overlooking the last remaining drive-in theater within the city limits, and watch whatever was playing. I don't want to date myself, but I saw most of Sam Peckinpaw's Straw Dogs that way one summer night.

The drive-in is long gone, now, and the cops can only entertain themselves by bullying whatever unfortunate comes to their attention. Unquestionably, Chicago was a safer, saner, happier place when the greatest political power there was Alphonse Capone, than later, when it fell into the hands of corrupt authoritarian politicians like the Daleys.

Cities are essentially a neolithic invention no longer necessary to human survival or well-being. They have not been necessary since the invention of the telephone and the internal combustion engine which their operators hate and fear. Like other obsolete vestiges that our species has outgrown—opera, ballet, railroads—they could not continue to exist without massive volumes of stolen wealth from the federal and state governments. Cities are machines that exist now only to drain the Productive Class and violate the rights of individuals, bottomless cesspool sources of unending bribery, corruption, and extortion.

Incremental reforms, if we are to tolerate them, should begin with the abolition of municipal police departments in favor of sheriff's departments, which are directly correctable by the public. Even then, stringent limits must be applied to the officer/population ratio, in order to eliminate the "standing army" the Founding Fathers worried about, and which has manifested itself in our time as the "thin blue line" that is all that stands between the American people—and their freedom.

In my hometownn, city government is like The Blob in that old Steve McQueen movie, ever-expanding, all-devouring. Businesses come and go—often because of things the city government does to them—and when the Productive Class gives up and closes its doors, the city parasites move in, and suddenly there's another office, this time for the administration of left elbows or the preservation of the Norway rat.

It might be a good idea to limit the ratio of city floorspace to commercial floorspace the same way as the officer/population ratio. Whatever else we do, city governments must be strictly forbidden to own real property of any kind, and they must be forced to divest themselves of whatever real property they hold now. Moreover, if they can't keep the streets—all streets—clear of trash and snow, and maintain them in good repair, they should be allowed to do nothing else.

The plain truth is that such measures only put off the inevitable. Three decades ago, the Reason magazine crowd demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that both volunteer and commercial fire departments (just as an example) are superior in every respect to what cities provide at the involuntary expense of the Productive Class. It would clearly be better to organize water and sewer service as private corporations than as arms of the city government. And anybody could construct, maintain, and service roads and streets better and more safely.

The same three decades have also shown that self-defense is an individual bodily function, exactly like breathing, eating, making love, or going to the bathroom, that can't be safely or sanely delegated to anybody else. If you try, you end up with a gang of uncontrollable uniformed bullies doing things to your life, liberty, and property—depriving people of the means to defend themselves comes to mind—that you'd hoped to avoid by hiring them in the first place.

There are no benign functions of city government. It "provides" recreational facilities underwritten by people who probably had better use for the money that was extorted from them. Each note played by the city symphony is a harsh cry of innocent people being robbed—most often to benefit their richer concert-going neighbors—and who will have just that much more trouble putting food on the table, a roof over their heads, shoes on their children's feet, and braces on their teeth.

It's time to dissolve city governments and let them go. One less layer of bullying and threatening means one more layer of individual happiness.

And that's really what it's all about.


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