Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 573, June 6, 2010

"A sign of the tyrant is a failure to
distinguish between dissent and treason"

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From Catalhoyuk to Podunk:
It's Time to Abolish City Government
by L. Neil Smith

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Given today's technology, as well as the temper of the times, there is no longer any justification for the existence of city governments.

For maybe as long as 10,000 years, cities, constructed on the sites of resources such as obsidian (in what may be mankind's earliest city, mentioned in the title, above), metals, fuel, and water, have served humans as gathering and trading places, refuges of mutual defense, focal-points for the arts and sciences as they began to develop.

Without a doubt, these were extremely valuable services, and for all those dozens of centuries ordinary individuals have proven themselves willing to put up with almost any nonsense, any political larceny, any inconvenience, regimentation, or oppression from the typical city's rulers to obtain them. However thanks to the last two centuries of progress in fields like transportation and communication, that time is happily over, and with it, any remaining necessity for cities.

Today, city governments perform only two kinds of functions, neither of which could be said to be legitimate: those that can be performed better, cheaper, or more safely by individuals and private enterprise; and those that shouldn't ever be performed by anyone at all.

Among the latter is interfering with free enterprise, dictating how people use their own property, attempting to regulate personal conduct, and, perhaps worst of all, providing job security—and a power fix—for parasites, politicians, bureaucrats, and policemen, who are unable or unwilling to work for an honest living in the uncoerced market system. Another is wasting the energies and talents of productive individuals who would be better off in the uncoerced market.

How much are you personally willing to pay, out of your own pocket, to dragoon your neighbor at gunpoint into cutting his lawn to your specifications, or to keep him from smoking whatever vegetable you happen to disapprove of? Wouldn't you much rather spend it on a movie?

Mostly what city governments do today (and perhaps have always done, one way or another) is to violate as many of their constituents' unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human rights as they possibly can, to spy on folks and order them around, telling them what they can do with their own lives, liberty, property, and to help county, state, and federal governments drain the Productive Class dry. What city governments represent, then, is simply another layer of oppression—and taxation—for hardworking people to try to live with.

Is a golf course, skating rink, or orchestra worth the price of liberty?

Or the braces on your children's teeth?

In doing away with this expensive and burdensome relic of the past, the highest priority should be given to abolishing city police departments whose policies and leadership are only accessible to voters and taxpayers through several layers of mostly unresponsive bureaucracy. Instead, to the extent that the task of keeping the peace should be handed over to anyone, it is the county sheriff, who serves at the pleasure of the people, and with whom they can usually interact directly.

Traditionally, city governments clean and repair streets, alleys, sidewalks, and drainage and sewer systems, provide a clean and healthy supply of water, collect garbage, fight fires, furnish emergency medical services, and in some cases a reliable and inexpensive supply of electricity and gas. In some jurisdictions they operate the public schools.

Equally, in various parts of the country, each of these functions—including police patrols—is provided by private individuals and businesses, almost invariably at lower prices and with higher quality standards than government offers, and without the social cost of its snooping into the private details of our lives as it pretends to serve us.

It is time, now—past time—to put it all together, and to abolish this unnecessary, undesirable, archaic, and obsolete institution.

Politically, none of this will be particularly easy, but then real progress never has been. Many vested interests will leap up to support and defend the unnecessary and expensive structure of city government. In this state, for example, you can't simply vote, even unanimously, to disincorporate a municipality. Under state law, it will be declared an "abandoned city", and will be seized and controlled by the state government.

Tremendous amounts of money are involved, of course, salaries, contracts, and so on. But it isn't just the money. Too many sick individuals in our culture derive what amounts to a sexual thrill from ordering others around. If you threaten their fetish, they will fight back.

It's worth the effort, though, in terms of individual liberty, as well as the retention of wealth stolen to support these obsolescent excrescences. There are something like 30,000 towns and cities in America today. It is not suggested that they be done away with. As cultural artifacts and conveniences, they will continue to exist for centuries to come, many of them ultimately serving as large scale museums.

But the parasitic political structures that have been built on top of these social entities have to be eliminated, once and for all, if only because they serve as incubators and nurseries for the political class, feeding the epidemic power sickness that plagues our country today.

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Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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