Big Government, Issues, Regulation

In One Story, Everything You Need to Know about Government


Every so often, I run across a chart, cartoon, or story that captures the essence of an issue. And when that happens, I make it part of

Image Credit: Paul Anderson CC by 2.0

my “everything you need to know” series.

I don’t actually think those columns tell us everything we need to know, of course, but they do show something very important. At least I hope.

And now, from our (normally) semi-rational northern neighbor, I have a new example.

This story from Toronto truly is a powerful example of the difference between government action and private action.

A Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park says he has no regrets, despite the city’s insistence that he should have waited for a $65,000 city project to handle the problem. …Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from the $65,000-$150,000 price tag the city had estimated for the job. …Astl says he hired a homeless person to help him and built the eight steps in a matter of hours. …Astl says members of his gardening group have been thanking him for taking care of the project, especially after one of them broke her wrist falling down the slope last year.

There are actually two profound lessons to learn from this story.

Since I’m a fiscal wonk, the part that grabbed my attention was the $550 cost of private action compared to $65,000 for government. Or maybe $150,000. Heck, probably more considering government cost overruns.

Though we’re not actually talking about government action. God only knows how long it would have taken the bureaucracy to complete this task. So this is a story of inexpensive private action vs. costly government inaction.

But there’s another part of this story that also caught my eye. The bureaucracy is responding with spite.

The city is now threatening to tear down the stairs because they were not built to regulation standards. …City bylaw officers have taped off the stairs while officials make a decision on what to do with it. …Mayor John Tory…says that still doesn’t justify allowing private citizens to bypass city bylaws to build public structures themselves. …“We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.”

But there is a silver lining. With infinite mercy, the government isn’t going to throw Mr. Astl in jail or make him pay a fine. At least not yet.

Astl has not been charged with any sort of violation.

Gee, how nice and thoughtful.

One woman has drawn the appropriate conclusion from this episode.

Area resident Dana Beamon told CTV Toronto she’s happy to have the stairs there, whether or not they are up to city standards. “We have far too much bureaucracy,” she said. “We don’t have enough self-initiative in our city, so I’m impressed.”

Which is the lesson I think everybody should take away. Private initiative works much faster – and much cheaper – than government.

P.S. Let’s also call this an example of super-federalism, or super-decentralization. Imagine how expensive it would have been for the national government in Ottawa to build the stairs? Or how long it would have taken? Probably millions of dollars and a couple of years.

Now imagine how costly and time-consuming it would have been if the Ontario provincial government was in charge? Perhaps not as bad, but still very expensive and time-consuming.

And we already know the cost (and inaction) of the city government. Reminds me of the $1 million bus stop in Arlington, VA.

But when actual users of the park take responsibility (both in terms of action and money), the stairs were built quickly and efficiently.

In other words, let’s have decentralization. But the most radical federalism is when private action replaces government.

This is a guest post by Dan Mitchell “a high priest of light tax small state libertarianism”
  • scott

    liberal retards would rather take and spend your money and control you.than have a common sense reliable bunch of citizens.dangerous to their democratic tyranny.

  • Reverend Joe Ruyle

    We had something like this happen down in Dallas where I *USED* to live. Guy had been complaining of deep potholes on his street for years and the city responded by doing exactly nothing. So…. the guys goes to Home Depot and buys a few bags of asphalt repair mix (since that’s what his street was) rented a power tamper to compact the patch and went to work. PRESTO!!! I less than three hours start to finish he had a nice smooth street again.

    WELL!!! Dallas couldn’t have that! Finding the road fixed they immediately got on the case. They researched complaints and quickly found their suspect. When confronted by officials the man admitted he fixed the road when the city failed to act after two years of complaining to government. His repairs were torn out (even though they were holding up quite well) because “the City of Dallas could not verify that the material used on the repair met the standards required by the city.” (one would think that simply going to home depot and checking a bag of the mix would have told them what they needed to know….. but logic has no place in bad government)

    The man was charged with doing Municipal work for which he was not contracted and “acting as an Engineer” without a license. I believe he got an attorney and fought both charges. Typical of Dallas when they finally got around to doing the repair themselves it was cold and wet outside. They did no preparation of the site to be patched, such as drying out the area with a torch and spraying some compatible petroleum product on the hole to make bonding of the old and new material possible. Nope! They dumped their cold mix into a cold wet hole, tamped it down and drove away. As expected the patch material didn’t bond and broke out in fewer than three months forcing the neighborhood to start making complaint calls again.

    The best thing to happen to humanity is good government. The worst thing to happen to humanity is bad government.

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