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It’s not nice to stair, especially in Canada….

So, there was this slippery, muddy slope. But it was much faster as a way down to the gardens, or the soccer fields.

The city thought about building a stairway.  But it was expensive to obey all the rules the city council had imposed on public structures.

So a social entrepreneur built a stairway for $550.

But the city tore it down. And the city was quite right to do so.  Because rules.

Or so say I….

Published on:
Author: Mike Munger
  • Sean II

    First: “Officers of the government don’t have discretion in these matters, and in fact they shouldn’t….Discretion allows the representatives of the government to indulge their racism, their sexism, or to give privilege to those they favor.”

    Later: “The problem, in short, is not that those funny bureaucrats are lazy, or dumb. In fact, pretty much the opposite is true. Many of them are well-educated and actually dedicated to public service.”

    Interesting cold civil war artifact there. Even a libertarian woke to public choice can see the humanity in a group of bureaucrats. But his inner ally looks at those same people and sees a horde of bigots who need vigilantly to be watched.

    • King Goat

      Hmm. There is that part: Public officials are no worse, but also no better, than the rest of us.

      It’s easy to miss I guess. It’s in bigger font, and in bold. And links to a talk about public choice about how we should be wary of public officials but only because they have many of the same biases and prejudices as the rest of us.

  • stevenjohnson2

    This is a story about the libertarian solution of government by lawsuit. Anyone who got a splinter from the wooden railing, or fell, especially on rotting steps, would sue not just Mr. Astli but the city. Building to code is evidence showing due diligence in safety, while not building to code is prima facie neglect.

    The regulations requiring the government to do things well, without discrimination, are precisely why the more expensive stair was correct. The post’s irony on this is wrong. And, its apparent remedy, local control, is highly unlikely to hold up in court in a law suit, absent a far reaching sovereignty rule that no libertarian would endorse. Because property rights.

    The moral of the story is that public choice theory isn’t much use, except for providing an academic rationale for “government is bad.”

    • The post’s irony on this is wrong. And, its apparent remedy, local control, is highly unlikely to hold up in court in a law suit, absent a far reaching sovereignty rule that no libertarian would endorse. Because property rights.

      My reading of the post’s “apparent remedy” was privatization, not “local control.” Did I read that wrong?

      • stevenjohnson2

        This is an extremely uncharitable reading. If parks are only to be supplied at a profit for paying customers, then there is no problem, because there will be no park, much less a need for a staircase. Historically speaking, privatization is one of the most effective tools of political corruption. Less astute thinkers like to imagine something called “crony capitalism,” but conveniently forget that sale of public services is exactly that, insofar as it is a thing separate from plain old capitalism.

        • Well, here’s what inspired my reading of it:

          First this:

          And centralized state provision of goods like parks and staircases is often a bad system.

          And later this:

          If you want things provided by the state, you can’t complain when that provision is slow, expensive, and hard to manage.

          Taken together, it seems to suggest that if you want publicly provided goods, you have to live with the ills, but that the ills would not be present under conditions of private property since we’d avoid the Tragedy of the Commons.

          But I’ve been wrong before.

          • Sean II

            Here’s how I read the argument. Given three choices:

            A. Private property with private control, price systems, choice, etc.
            B. Public property with local control, discretion, flexibility, efficiency, etc.
            C. Public property with central control, strict enforcement of one size fits all policies, etc.

            Munger seems to be saying: “Although you prefer A to both, given only the latter two choices you should counter-intuitively prefer C to B.”

            Crazy, if that’s what he means.

            The implacable Nye Bevins of this world do a lot more harm than the corruptible Ron Swansons.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Obviously your reading isn’t impossible But I took the “centralized” as implying a preference for “local,” rather than reading “state” as implying a preference for “privatized,” i.e., none.

    • Theresa Klein

      Public choice theory provided you with the basis to make exactly the argument you just made. You can talk about why the government solution is superior to the reliance on tort law BECAUSE public choice theory has properly framed the problem for you.

    • Damon Chetson

      Here’s the proper libertarian story of a property rights violation. Man goes onto property not his own. Man injures property by building a substandard and potentially hazardous stairway. Property owner sends out workers to condemn and remove stair. Man should’ve been ordered to pay the costs of removal, plus imprisoned for violating “axiomatic” property rights. End of story.

      • Anton Maes

        yeah, it relies heavily on the idea that a $500 wooden staircase without a proper foundation, built by a mechanic and a homeless person is not a hazard in itself, except now with a false sense of security.

        Commentary by a civil engineer would be helpful here.